On the Heights of Despair

Overview

"This book saved my life." So recalls the Romanian philosopher E. M. Cioran about a book that meditates on madness and death, the absurdity of existence, and the agony of consciousness. Cioran finds in our darkest fears not only reasons to continue living but also the comic, absurd humor in doing so. This early work by Cioran, whom Susan Sontag calls "the most distinguished figure in the tradition of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein," and Marc Fumaroli recently described as "a legend...a master of French prose," portrays the philosophical ...
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Overview

"This book saved my life." So recalls the Romanian philosopher E. M. Cioran about a book that meditates on madness and death, the absurdity of existence, and the agony of consciousness. Cioran finds in our darkest fears not only reasons to continue living but also the comic, absurd humor in doing so. This early work by Cioran, whom Susan Sontag calls "the most distinguished figure in the tradition of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein," and Marc Fumaroli recently described as "a legend...a master of French prose," portrays the philosophical mind in the crisis of its self-consuming fever. Born out of a terrible insomnia which Cioran characterizes as "a dizzying lucidity which would turn even paradise into hell," On the Heights of Despair was written in Romania in 1934 at the age of twenty-two. It presents us with the youthful Cioran, who described himself as "a Nietzsche still complete with his Zarathustra, his poses, his mystical clown's tricks, a whole circus of the heights." It also presents Cioran as a connoisseur of apocalypse, a theoretician of despair. For Cioran, writing and philosophy are closely related to physical suffering: both share the "lyrical virtues" that alone lead to metaphysical revelation. The result is a book that becomes a substitute for as well as an antidote to suicide. By enacting the struggle of the Romantic soul against God, the universe, and itself, Cioran releases a saving burst of lyrical energy that carries him safely out of his desperation. On the Heights of Despair shows the philosopher's first grappling with themes he would return to in his mature works: despair and decay, absurdity and alienation, futility and the irrationality of existence. Yet the bracing verve of Cioran's writing and his earthy good humor point toward the elegant stylist of later works. An exorcism of despair, On the Heights of Despair offers insight into the ironic anguish of this philosophical mind. It also gives readers a fascinating look at Ciora
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The dark, existential despair of Romanian philosopher Cioran's short meditations is paradoxically bracing and life-affirming. Written in 1934, when he was 22 and desperately insomniac, this feverishly lyrical, at times slyly humorous confessional outpouring reveals Cioran as an angry young man in morally decaying Europe--a far cry from the elegant, curt stylist of his later books. Here Cioran rails at life's irrationality and absurdities; embraces solitude, melancholy and the awareness of death; and breathes organic vitality into the great philosophical themes of truth, eternity, beauty, suffering and good and evil. After one separates mature wheat from adolescent chaff, Cioran's early philosophical prose, like his later works, puts him in the company of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. In the enriching introduction, Zarifopol-Johnston, who met the thinker in his modest Paris flat, described this book as ``a substitute for suicide and . . . its cure.'' (June)
Library Journal
Born in 1911, the author (who now lives in Paris) belongs to the group of 20th-century Romanian intellectuals that includes Mircea Eliade and Eugene Ionesco. This slim and elegantly translated volume, his first publication, originally appeared in 1934 and won him a national award for young authors. Its dark title should be taken as a whole: Cioran does indeed address death and despair, but from a healthy psychological perspective. While clearly a young man's work, this epigrammatic book is neither callow nor dated. For all Western philosophy collections and readers.-- Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley P.L., Cal.
Booknews
This audacious early work by the famed Romanian philosopher (b.1911), written in 1934, shows Cioran first grappling with themes he would return to in his mature works: despair and decay, absurdity and alienation, futility and the irrationality of existence. Translated and with an introduction by Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226106717
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/1996
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 150
  • Sales rank: 365,278
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

E. M. Cioran (1911-1995) was born and educated in Romania and lived in Paris from 1937 until his death. He is the author of numerous works, including On the Heights of Despair, also available from the University of Chicago Press.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Imagining Cioran
On Being Lyrical 3
How Distant Everything Is! 6
On Not Wanting to Live 8
The Passion for the Absurd 10
The World and I 14
Weariness and Agony 16
Despair and the Grotesque 18
The Premonition of Madness 20
On Death 22
Melancholy 29
Nothing Is Important 33
Ecstasy 35
The World in Which Nothing Is Solved 37
The Contradictory and the Inconsequential 39
On Sadness 41
Total Dissatisfaction 43
The Bath of Fire 45
Disintegration 46
On the Reality of the Body 48
I Do Not Know 49
On Individual and Cosmic Loneliness 50
Apocalypse 52
The Monopoly of Suffering 54
Absolute Lyricism 57
The Meaning of Grace 59
The Vanity of Compassion 61
Eternity and Morality 62
Moment and Eternity 64
History and Eternity 66
Not to Be a Man Anymore 68
Magic and Fatality 70
Unimaginable Joy 72
The Ambiguity of Suffering 73
All Is Dust 74
Enthusiasm as a Form of Love 75
Light and Darkness 79
Renunciation 81
The Blessings of Insomnia 83
On the Transubstantiation of Love 84
Man, the Insomniac Animal 85
Truth, What a Word! 87
The Beauty of Flames 88
The Paucity of Wisdom 89
The Return to Chaos 90
Irony and Self-Irony 91
On Poverty 93
The Flight from the Cross 95
The Cult of Infinity 98
Transfiguration of Banality 101
The Burden of Sadness 103
Degradation through Work 104
The Sense of Endings 106
The Satanic Principle of Suffering 108
An Indirect Animal 111
Impossible Truth 112
Subjectivity 113
Homo... 114
Love in Brief 115
Nothing Matters 116
The Sources of Evil 117
Beauty's Magic Tricks 119
Man's Inconsistency 120
Capitulation 122
Facing Silence 123
The Double and His Art 124
Nonsense 126
E. M. Cioran: A Short Chronology 127
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