Anathemas and admirations by Maistre, Joseph Marie; Maistre, Joseph Marie; Cioran, Emile

By Maistre, Joseph Marie; Maistre, Joseph Marie; Cioran, Emile M

In this selection of essays and epigrams, E.M. Cioran supplies us graphics and evaluations—which he calls "admirations"—of Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, F. Scott Fitzgerald, the poet Paul Valery, and Mircea Eliade, between others. In alternating sections of aphorisms—his "anathemas"—he supplies insights on such subject matters as solitude, flattery, self-importance, friendship, insomnia, track, mortality, God, and the trap of disillusion.

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There are realms from which philosophers ought to abstain. To dissect a poem as if it were a system is a crime, even a sacrilege. Oddly enough, the poets exult when they do not understand the pronouncements made upon them. The jargon flatters them, gives them the illusion of preferment. Such weakness demeans them to the level of their glossators. To Buddhism (indeed, to the Orient in general), Nothingness does not have the rather grim signification we attribute to it. It is identified with a limit-experience of light or, if you like, with a state of luminous absence, an everlasting radiant void: Being that has triumphed over all its properties, or rather non-Being supremely positive in that it dispenses bliss without substance, without substratum, without support in any world at all.

As for these automata, these instruments, how were they more culpable than the “higher” power that had provoked them and whose decrees they were so faithfully executing? Would that power not be equally “villanous”? Since it represented for de Maistre the only fixed point in the midst of the revolutionary “whirlwind,” he does not indict it, or at least he behaves as if he accepted its sovereignty without argument. In his mind, it would in fact intervene only at moments of disturbance and would vanish during periods of calm, so that he implicitly identifies it with a temporal phenomenon, with a circumstantial Providence, useful in explaining catastrophes, superfluous in the intervals between them and when passions die down.

The truths of which he made himself an apostle amount to something only by the impassioned distortion his temperament infected upon them. He transfigured the insipidities of the catechism and imparted to ecclesiastical commonplaces a flavor of extravagance. Religions die for lack of paradox: he knew this, or felt it, and in order to save Christianity, he contrived to inject it with a little more spice, a little more horror. Here he was aided much more by his talent as a writer than by his piety, which, in the opinion of Madame Swetchine, who knew him well, lacked any warmth whatever.

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