The joy of succinct sadness
Or, E.M. Cioran’s aphorisms
T.M. Scanlon was on a long-haul flight when his seatmate asked him what he did for a living.
“I’m a philosopher,” said Scanlon, a Harvard professor whose work on ethics and morality was prominently featured in the sitcom The Good Place.
“Oh really?” the seatmate replied. “What are some of your sayings?”
This exchange has been recounted by professional thinkers since the beginning of air travel, and it works for the same reason there was a running gag on The Good Place about how everyone hates moral philosophers: Brevity and simplicity are not in the job description.
If that curious passenger had been seated next to Emil Cioran, they would have had a succinct and satisfying answer to their question. He had sayings! But they also may have ended up like every passenger who sat next to the depressed Ted Striker in the movie Airplane!:
Cioran was a Romanian-born French essayist whose school of thought may best be called miserabilism. He cultivated a deeply pessimistic view of life, beginning from the “laughable accident” of birth to the “cessation of an anomaly” that is death. His crowd-pleasing titles ranged from On The Heights of Despair (1933) to The Problem With Being Born (1973) and he wrote terse epigrams like:
“It is not worth the bother of killing yourself, since you always kill yourself too late.”
“Our chief grievance against knowledge is that it has not helped us to live.”
“Being busy means devoting oneself to the fake and the sham.”
“There is something of the charlatan in anyone who triumphs in any realm whatsoever”
“A book is a postponed suicide.”
“Old age, after all, is merely the punishment for having lived.”
Needless to say, he’s huge in the death metal community.
Cioran’s chronic insomnia helps explain his miserabilism. “It is a special type of sleeplessness that produces the indictment of birth,” he wrote — though he did cheer up a bit when he started riding a bicycle. He lived in poverty and refused all awards the French tried to give him, so it was another indignity when they revoked his student ID at the age of 40, depriving him of cheap cafeteria food. His is the philosophy of the tired and hungry — but somehow he’s not a buzzkill.
Indeed, E.M. Cioran’s complete negation of all human achievement is actually quite funny. Perhaps because it’s true, perhaps because it’s a great release from the relentless can’t-get-no-satisfaction positivity of commercial culture, but certainly because his lines are pithy. In the words of Tim Parks, Cioran was “a man obsessed with transforming his negative intuitions into these splendid little firecrackers.”
His grim wit delivers pessimism with panache, a spoonful of sugar to help the poison go down. Nihilists everywhere (or nowhere) should follow E.M. Cioran’s example and get to the point(lessness).
If you believe in nothing, it shouldn’t take long to sum it all up. 0+0=0, QED.
Quick quips; lightning
“Philosophy, like medicine, has plenty of drugs, few good remedies, and hardly any specific cures.”
— Nicolas Chamfort
“Melancholy, indeed, should be diverted by every means but drinking.”
— Samuel Johnson
“If you are of the opinion that the contemplation of suicide is sufficient evidence of a poetic nature, do not forget that actions speak louder than words.”
— Fran Lebowitz
GWQ No. 143 believes in nothing, Lebowski. What better gift for the antinatalist parent than a Cioran onesie? Here’s the Chris Christie angle. Ultimately Cioran reminds me of Max von Sydow’s character Frederick from Hannah and Her Sisters. This line of his — “The only way of enduring one disaster after the next is to love the very idea of disaster: if we succeed, there are no further surprises, we are superior to whatever occurs, we are invincible victims.” — belongs next to Boris Johnson’s “there are no disasters, only opportunities. And, indeed, opportunities for fresh disasters.” My book Elements of Wit: Mastering The Art of Being Interesting came out in 2014, so it’s a stale fiasco. If existence is our exile and nothingness our home, tap the❤️ below. If not, leave a comment. I’ll tally the results and let you know next time.