A Short History of Decay by Emil Cioran
I picked A Short History of Decay by Emil Cioran from the library because I wanted to read something by Cioran. He was a Romanian philosopher and I’ve known about him since I was a teenager, but I haven’t read any of his books. He wrote A Short History of Decay in French, so me picking up an English translation made no difference to me picking up a Romanian translation. As I like to do with philosophy, I picked some passages that caught my attention. For me, this is a 5 star book because it made me think and, at times, I found myself thinking of something I read in the book. That is what a philosophy book should do.
If you want to know more about Cioran, read the end of the post where I talk about him.
Bear in mind that a few of these quotations can be upsetting (regarding religion), as they are harsh. They do offer an insight onto his views though.
“The solutions offered by our ancestral cowardice are the worst desertions of our duty to intellectual decency.”
“In every man sleeps a prophet and when he wakes there is a little more evil in the world…”
“A doctrine of salvation has meaning only if we start from the equation ‘existence equals suffering’. It is neither a sudden realization nor a series of reasonings which leads us to this equation, but the unconscious elaboration of our every moment, the contribution of all our experiences, minute or crucial. When we carry germs of disappointments and a kind of thirst to see them develop, the desire that the world should undermine our hopes at each step multiplies the voluptuous verification of the disease. The arguments come later; the doctrine is constructed: there still remains only the danger of ‘wisdom’. But, suppose we do not want to be free of suffering nor to conquer our contradictions and conflicts.”
“The truly solitary being is not the man who is abandoned by men, but the man who suffers in their midst.”
“The man who does not assent to his nothingness is mentally diseased. And the believer, of all men, is the least disposed to assent to it. The will to endure, pushed to such lengths, terrifies me. I reject the morbid seduction of an indefinite Me… I want to wallow in my mortality. I want to remain normal.”
“When a nation no longer has any prejudice in its blood, its sole resource remains its will to disintegrate.”
“Prejudice is an organic truth, false in itself but accumulated by generations and transmitted: we cannot rid ourselves of it with impunity.”
“The man who wants to perpetuate himself at any price is scarcely to be distinguished from the dog: he is still nature; he will never understand that we can endure the empire of the instincts and rebel against them, enjoy the advantages of the species and scorn them: end of line.”
“Our truths are worth no more than those of our ancestors. Having substituted concepts for their myths and symbols, we consider ourselves ‘advanced’; but these myths and symbols expressed no less than our concepts.”
“It is no less unreasonable to grant more interest to the arguments around democracy and its forms than to those which took place, in the Middle Ages, around nominalism and realism: each period is intoxicated by an absolute, minor and tiresome but in appearance unique; we cannot avoid being contemporaries of a faith, of a system, of an ideology, cannot avoid being, in short, of our time.”
“Who, in good faith, could choose between the stone age and the age of modern weapons? As close to the ape in one as in the other, we scale the clouds for the same reasons we shinnied up trees: the means of our curiosity pure or criminal are all that have changed, and – with disguised reflexes – we are more diversely rapacious.”
A Short History of Decay by Emil Cioran
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My rating: 5/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: Yes
Published by: Penguin Books
Year it was published: 2010 (first published in 1949)
About the author: Emil Cioran was born in 1911 in Rasinari, a small village in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, to an Orthodox priest (main religion in Romania) and a mother who was prone to depression. He studied Philosophy at the University of Bucharest. He wrote five books while living in Romania, some are collections of brief essays, others are collections of aphorisms.
In his views, he was influenced by Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Chestov, Rozanov, Dostoyevsky, and poet Mihai Eminescu. He spent two years in Germany with a scholarship for his PhD. He was briefly pro-Nazi and Hitler, before recanted his views with fury and passion, and that led him to question individual involvement in history. Cioran arrived in Paris in 1936 with another scholarship. There he continued to write in Romanian for a few years, before deciding to give up his native language and speak and write in French.
Books by him: History and Utopia (1960), The Fall into Time (1964), The Trouble with being Born (1973), Exercices d’admiration (1986).
He was denied the right to return to Romania during the years of the communist regime, as many intellectuals were denied at that time. He attracted international attention late in his career. Emil Cioran died in Paris in 1995.
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