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Isabela Vasiliu-Scraba


Ideas- A Variable Background in Cioran's Writings

(Nae Ionescu and Emil Cioran)


"Nae Ionescu had an extraordinary charisma. He was a fascinating man... It's not everyday that you have the chance to meet a professor such as him... He was a person seldom met in universities, a non-university figure. I simply can't imagine a university without him. Hadn't it been for him, that place would have made a stupid impression on me. Anyway, he was a unique apparition."

Emil Cioran


            The whole oeuvre of Nae Ionescu's most tormented disciple, Emil Cioran (1911-1995), according to his own sayings, would somehow have a "religious dimension." It draws its sap from "passionate" springs rather than from a metaphysical sensitiveness, spelling the "contempt for the temporal." Because to Cioran "the voluptuousness of the suffering alone turns existence into destiny" (The Fall into Time).Petre Țuțea had perfectly grasped the way in which his friend, Emil Cioran, was inclined to flirt with the idea that his gloomy spells would have metaphysical roots. In this respect, Țuțea says: "Cioran is not sad in a metaphyiscial way proper-although he thought so-, he is not sad because human condition in general dispirits him, but because man is a mortal animal" (Between God and My People).

            About Emil Cioran, Nae Ionescu (1890-1940) could have been right in saying that he lived his life in Renaissance patterns, "frozen in the individualist superbness." Horia Stamatu (1912-1989), who came to know Cioran well while in Paris, said that the latter was "the pessimist with the highest sense of humor of all pessimists that I've ever met." And Petre Țuțea put it even more clearly, saying that "Cioran is not desperate at all. I think he feigns it." Emil Cioran himself admitted at one time how much fun he had in crushing intellectual "solemnities." Or, the frenzy of lucidity, with its bending towards setting no limits to demolishing judgment, dissolves not only the intellectual "solemnities", the object of its actions, but also dissolves itself, as stated Nae Ionescu in 1937, the year when Emil Cioran published his article on "lucidity", making an inappropriate reference to Nae Ionescu's personality.

            The explanation of the "religious dimension" of his own work (Cioran presents it in one of his notebooks) can only be taken as a joke with a self-ironical tinge, proof of his fine sense of humor: "It's been quite a while, ever since my youth, that I've known that I'm no good in this world. This realization, and only this, gave me a sort of a religious dimension. Yes, I'm a person without a 'terrestrial' occupation, someone beyond the others' preocupations. Being a failure is my calling." However, beyond the humor sprinkled among these lines, when thinking of the "religious dimension" of his work, Cioran must have remembered what Nae Ionescu had written in March 1937: "He who disparages God is closer to salvation than the one who lies in God's denial, even though he morally lives a sinless life. Because the former recognizes Him by his very disparagements, while the latter..."

            As far as Cioran is concerned, the presupposition is obvious according to which self-fulfilment through "work" or any other means of getting set, triggers "death", the end of all torments, the annihilation of the "passional" sources of human existence. Petre Țuțea asked Cioran once: "Emil, my friend, do you have a system?" "Don't ask me whether I have a coffin before I'm dead," Cioran answered, as if he had wanted to show him how well he remembered this conviction once upheld by Nae Ionescu. As a matter of fact, the very title of one of his books, The Fall into Time bears the mark of his professor who had, some three decades before, spoken about the "fall into history" and the "fall into the Cosmos."

            According to Țuțea, Emil Cioran - despite his outstanding intelligence, breathing from everything he wrote- had one single flaw, "one single feature unacceptable to his being: he is unconsolatory." But how could have Cioran be comforting in any way when, by his excessive criticism, he had always judged things by his own measure and not by the measure of the things he had in view?

            Judging things by measures that are not theirs, but yours,-remarks Nae Ionescu-naturally leads to finding them wanting. If you judge like this, you can find fault with God Himself!"

            To Cioran, the insufficiency of the feeling of love does in no way surpass the insufficency of the counter feeling, detecting even a passional hybrid between the two, the love of suffering: "loving suffering is refusing to lose something of what you are, it is a way to savor your infirmities" (The Fall into Time). Within the same passional context, governed by egocentrism, but also by a certain juvenile terribilism saved unaltered in time, Cioran wrote that "to hate the world and to hate yourself is to grant too much credit both to the world and yourself, it is to create the inability to free yourself from the world and your own ego" (Ibid.).

            So much for the incapacity to escape from his own hatred-eaten soul. The counter feeling does not take him much farther either. Because love would by excellence distort the "object of love." To Cioran, it also acquires the primitive sense of the one who hurts and gets hurt in their turn: "Passion lends dimensions to things devoid of dimensions, proclaims idol or monster a shadow, and sins towards the real value of beings and events. It is cruelty towards the others and to oneself alike, since you cannot experience it without hurting and getting hurt."

            The recurring refrain, "everything is suffering", acquires in Cioran's writings a more vindictive hue in favor of the authenticity of suffering: "all that is not pain is imposture." This is also the conclusion to his discourse about love: "Leaving aside insensitiveness and, if need be, contempt, everything is suffering, even pleasure, especially pleasure, the function of which lies not in removing pain, but in preparing it. Admitting that it would not aim that high and it would only lead to disappointment, what better proof of its insufficiencies, of its lack of intensity, of existence even! There actually is about it an aura of imposture that we never detect about pain; it promises everything and gives nothing, being made of the same dough as lust" (Ibid.).

            According to Țuțea, Cioran's vice would be "the overbreeding of paradox." Țuțea also spoke about the  "sterylizing lucidity" of the latter who "does not settle to anything, and seemingly refuses to do so. He has a bending for the bright provisional state [...]. When you have basic, essential questions and only inconclusive answers, you're walking on fire. You're tormented. [...] When you're lucid, you're on the brink of the grave [...] Lucidity is a dissolving category."

            The refusal to bow before any intellectual "solemnities", but also the fear of annihilitating passional sources, placed by Cioran at the foundation of each human existence, lead him to the total failure to understand Nae Ionescu's metaphysics.

            That may be the reason why, in his brief bibliography included in his book Nae Ionescu as I Knew Him (p. 132), Mircea Vulcanescu writes nothing about Cioran's article on "Nae Ionescu's drama of lucidity" while mentioning the few fair remarks in the article Pamfil Șeicaru wrote upon Nae Ionescu's death, despite the "envious animosity Șeicaru nurtured for the Professor while he was alive."

            Utterly enflamed by Nae Ionescu's lesson about "weariness", as a state of the person left alone, face to face with themselves (see M. Vulcanescu, Op.cit.), although he grasps Nae Ionescu's metaphysical thinking to be centered around God, taking himself as measure, Emil Cioran comes to assert that the metaphysical solutions adopted by Nae Ionescu would be mere "voluntary and dramatic shadowings of his lucidity." Emil Cioran, - aware of the stylistic value of his writings -, therefore proud of the indisputable artistic achievement of his article on the "lucidity" of Professor Nae Ionescu, whom he loved and worshipped with all the might of his youth, - as he himself admitted in the beggining of his article -, was rather shocked to find that Nae Ionescu did not like what he had written about him.

            For reasons easy to detect, Emil Cioran had repeated the same error made by student Stanciu Stoian ten years before. In an article written in 1927, the latter had advanced the opinion that Nae Ionescu actually didn't believe in anything, that he was a man with no convictions whatsoever. At the time, the student's wrong opinion had been promptly sanctioned by Nae Ionescu in one of his lectures. Just in passing, although perfectly in line with his thinking at the time, Nae Ionescu said, during his logic lecture of February 10, 1926, that a "smart" student wrote "utterly false things" about his philosophy, because he had not attended his courses often enough to understand his thinking.

            The young Cioran, same as Stoian Stanciu, suspected Nae Ionescu of scepticism. The one invoked his "lucidity", the other his capacity to defend, like no one other, his viewpoint. Along with the many who tried, and failed, to speak about Nae Ionescu's thinking, Emil Cioran proved to be opaque to the professor's metaphysical ideas, although "Achilles' metaphysics" (See "The two aspects of Nae Ionescu's metaphysics", in the volume: Isabela Vasiliu-Scraba, Nae Ionescu's metaphysics, 2000) was not totally indifferent to him, may be on account of his youth that urged him towards heroic deeds, even under the circumstances in which any desire for action, other than that of writing, was completely alien to his soul's structure.

            In 1938, Nae Ionescu had received at the "Cuvantul" paper offices an impressive collection of 38 newspaper clippings that had dealt with his ideas, all of them showing a crass misunderstanding. Pointing to the difference of method and soul structure between himself and the ones who had vainly tried to decipher his philosophical thinking, Nae Ionescu ends his retort with the following observation: "for an allegation to circulate among people, those people should possess what scholastics called con-naturality."

            As this lacked, Nae Ionescu's philosophical thinking remained incomprehensible even to the ones around him, to his disciples, who worshipped him. In the foreword to Wind Rose (1937), Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) did not get any closer to the master's philosophy. He only dwelt upon his professor's journalistic writings that, as Horia Stamatu noted, "discharges an intellectual and spiritual energy unique in the Romanian journalism."

            When he wrote again about Nae Ionescu, Mircea Eliade, who confessed that the publishing of the philospher's selected journalistic writings had been "one of the greatest joys of his youth"-, reiterated his opinions on Nae Ionescu's "Socraticism" that he had advanced in the postword to the Wind Rose and that recurred in his article bearing the same title, written one year after Nae Ionescu's death.

            It is true that Mircea Eliade, in his writings of March 23, 1940, had made one step, although a small one, forward towards understanding Nae Ionescu's metaphysical stand, while speaking about the early university career of his former professor (when the latter pondered over love as an "act of cognition") and observing that it "has remained in the focus of his metaphysical preoccupations until recently."

            Emil Cioran also failed, in his article "Nae Ionescu and the Drama of Lucidity" (published in "Vremea" magazine, 1937), to unravel the philosopher's thinking. And how could have Cioran thought like Nae Ionescu, much as he was holding him in awe, when he was so much concerned with his own self? In what he allegedly wrote about his professor, Cioran ended up in outlining a fairly accurate self-portrait, under the pretext of the interest that Nae Ionescu's drama of lucidity had aroused in him.

            However, Emil Cioran, with his notable intuition and sensitiveness, managed to rescue his whole study on Nae Ionescu by a sole remark made as to the way the professor would hold his lectures of logic. "It's like a bell's wail had accidentally lost itself in a logic treaty," writes Cioran towards the end of his article.

            The accuracy of this observation masterfully written by young Cioran could easily be proved when, in order to find what Ionescu thought about "existence", a metaphysical subject by excellence, we had to open a course of logic and not one of metaphysics (See, Isabela Vasiliu-Scraba, Nae Ionescu's metaphysics, 2000).

            Whereas the 1937 article does not reveal much more of Nae Ionescu's thinking than the "bell's wail lost in a treaty of logic," this article however shows, like the few lines he was to write several years later, in what way Cioran had chosen his path in life.

            Alien to the whole arborescence of Nae Ionescu's metaphysical thinking, as mentioned above, Emil Cioran was open just to "Achilles' metaphysics."  Proof stands what he wrote in 1940 about "heroism" as the sole solution to escape the vacuity of the non-sensical human life (See his article Deceit by Action, 1940). Using the same explicative recipe, Cioran had attempted in 1937 to reduce Nae Ionescu's patriotism to a mere ideal meant to mask the "vacuum of life."

            Nevertheless, Cioran did not stop at this wrong supposition. He went further by adding the, eqully wrong, clarification that such an ideal would have been, as far as Ionescu was concerned, the result of a quite conscious operation of self-imposition. In his role as a sceptic, that he had taken very seriously as early as his youth, Cioran could only believe that "ideas are a variable background, they only hold an ornamental role in history." (Ibid.)

            This does not, however, rules out the interest he developed for "Achilles' metaphysics," with the due mention that to Cioran the love for the motherland and the action this love triggers would never remain what they were, but they would pale before the torment of conscience. This is how perfectly equal to himself wrote Cioran at twenty-six, in precisely the same manner that he would write his whole work: "whether we surmount through love the conflicts related to our subjectivity as such or that through action we leave behind our own selves and enter the sphere of objectivity- how much mean these solutions before the human tragicalness, the torment of the conscience, the existential harm of being aware that you're alive and, through this, that you can live no more!"

            Long after having settled in France, about the time Emil Cioran had published in Paris his first book written in French, philosopher Vasile Băncilă (1897-1979) was telling a former student of his: "Cioran is an intelligent maverick, conversant with the German culture who settled in France because the Romanian intellectual milieu had rejected his works."

            Deprived of any trace of ego-centrism, unlike Cioran's stand, Nae Ionescu's attitude towards reality shows a totally different understanding of life. Anyways, one altogether different from that of his disciple's. To Nae Ionescu, man is not prey to a "fall into time", but to a "fall into the Cosmos".  That is into a world very much similar to that of Eminescu's: "alive, sapful, dealing with a reality powerfully felt and thought in a unitary manner."

            Seeing the world as a "Cosmos" is a basic feature of Nae Ionescu's metaphysical outlook. All the more so as with him it implies a metaphysical and religious position of subordination, of "humility" towards the real. His metaphysics is underlied by the profound faith in a plane that transcends reality, - which is the principle and reason to be of the human existence -, in which man "participates, rounding their being through participation", same as man comes into being  "through participation" in the Platonic outlook and in that of Eastern Christianity.


Translated by Ileana Barbu

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