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On The Heights of Despair by E. M. Cioran

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

I insist you find your bearings in less intense writers before plunging into the mental construct that is the philosophy (or anti-philosophy) of Emil Cioran. Dostoevsky, Sartre, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Simone de Beauvoir. You’ll sense an underlying theme - existentialism, morality, the subconscious - and this, because I’ve read the above-named writers, is all the better for a reader to grasp.

On The Heights of Despair - Emile Cioran book cover - existential literature

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Emil Cioran draws parallels to condition the unconditional existence of life. His is the marriage of pessimism and misanthropy tinged with the underlying aspect of human nature. His “philosophy,” per se, feels like its antithesis. Rather he accuses the world, the society of constructing a delusion barrier that protects its people from the only philosophical problem - that is death. To unwrap the layers of a false and vicious cycle that abandons one on the edge of atrophy stripping them of their identity and spirit- this is what Cioran wants us to do. Can humans survive when stranded, as it were, on a level devoid of illusions? On The Heights of Despair is a collection of aphorisms teeming with provocative and razor-sharp revelations. They’re hard to miss, perhaps harder to digest, because they illuminate such acute distortions of reality. And how it impinges on our consciousness and on our entire waking lives, putting us in a death spiral through which there is no ethical escape. His interpretation of the “organic and existential thinker” is deeply individualized and psychological. Going against the grain of useless speculation - the superficialities of humankind, the greed, the strategic maneuvering of one’s livelihood in order to avoid pain and suffering - is nothing but Cioran’s manner of beseeching one to think for oneself through the lens of one’s inner agony. He speaks of no weighing scale, no equilibrium that keeps one’s metaphorical boat afloat. Rather, that inner unrest, the insistence of one’s ceasing existence in the infinite is what he wants us to mull over. Contemplating the immanence of death, solitude, knowledge, and love is all the more sobering in this arresting book. As much as I’d like you to read this, I don’t want anyone to read this.


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