The Trouble With Being Born (1973) review: Stand-up routine at the gates of hell

EM Cioran is an addictive writer who is nihilistic but never devoid of humour

The philosopher Cioran in France in May, 1997. Photograph:  Louis Monier/Gamma-Rapho via Getty

The philosopher Cioran in France in May, 1997. Photograph: Louis Monier/Gamma-Rapho via Getty

 

EM Cioran is the most addictive writer I’ve ever encountered. At the height of my fixation, anything I read that wasn’t him felt anodyne, trivial and longwinded. Born in Romania, Cioran wrote most of his savagely pessimistic books in French, having moved to Paris in the 1930s and settled into a “parasitical” life there. His writing desecrates humanity, progress, virtue, reality itself, and anything else that looked at him funny. Cioran lays it on so thick, the rancour is so extravagant, you start to wonder if he’s taking the piss. And that’s the thing: the writing is relentless and splenetic and nihilistic, but it’s never devoid of humour – a stand-up routine at the gates of hell.

As a stylist, Cioran has as much flair as anyone who has written, and nowhere more so than in the aphorisms that make up The Trouble With Being Born, an orgy of cynicism and philosophical violence that circles around a ludicrous jibe: Cioran’s insistence that the thing to be avoided at all costs is – yes! – getting born. The renewal of Species is an endless holocaust, and in this “fallen universe” the one unpardonable crime is to inflict Life on the unborn.

No summary of Cioran’s thought can do justice to the visceral euphoria of reading him. Most of his ideas repackage the Eastern metaphysics of the Void and the Western sceptical traditions in which he was steeped; the distinction lies in his mode of attack, his ecstatic spleen. Scattered with autobiographical glimpses of a man at a comical extremity of torment, Trouble riffs on Cioran’s favourite themes: suicide; metaphysical exile; disdain for humankind (“that hideous and immemorial riffraff”); civilisational decline; the unreality of existence, and the wisdom of cultivating “the long serene disgust of detachment”.

For all his scepticism, Cioran strikes me as an essentially religious thinker, transfixed by ultimate questions, although for him any divine Architect is a drunkard and a hooligan, at fault for a “botched Creation” wherein even suicide isn’t worth the effort, because it always comes too late.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.