Born in 1911 in Rasinari, a small village in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, raised under the rule of a father who was a Romanian Orthodox priest and a mother who was prone to depression, Emil Cioran wrote his first five books in Romanian. Some of these are collections of brief essays (one or two pages, on average); others are collections of aphorisms. Suffering from insomnia since his adolescent years in Sibiu, the young Cioran studied philosophy in the “little Paris” of Bucarest. A prolific publicist, he became a well-known figure, along with Mircea Eliade, Constantin Noïca, and his future close friend Eugene Ionesco (with whom he shared the Royal Foundation’s Young Writers Prize in 1934 for his first book, On the Heights of Despair).
Influenced by the German romantics, by Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and the Lebensphilosophie of Schelling and Bergson, by certain Russian writers, including Chestov, Rozanov, and Dostoyevsky, and by the Romanian poet Eminescu, Cioran wrote lyrical and expansive meditations that were often metaphysical in nature and whose recurrent themes were death, despair, solitude, history, music, saintliness and the mystics (cf. Tears and Saints, 1937) – all of which are themes that one finds again in his French writings. In his highly controversial book, The Transfiguration of Romania (1937), Cioran, who was at that time close to the Romanian fascists, violently criticized his country and his compatriots on the basis of a contrast between such “little nations” as Romania, which were contemptible from the perspective of universal history and great nations, such as France or Germany, which took their destiny into their own hands.
Denied the right to return to Romania during the years of the communist regime, and attracting international attention only late in his career, Cioran died in Paris in 1995.
Translated by Thomas Cousineau