A Short History of Decay

Thomas Pavel writes:

Schopenhauer’s ghost is still present in A Short History of Decay (1949), Cioran’s first work in French. The young right-winger had by then come to understand the inner workings of fanaticism and was ready to denounce it: ‘In itself any idea is neutral or should be, but man spurs it on, charges it with his own fire and madness. Adulterated, changed into belief, it enters time, becomes event: the move from logic to epilepsy is made. This is how ideologies, doctrines and bloody farces are born.’ In a bitter, prophetic tone, now urging scepticism rather than transfiguration, Cioran describes human beings as idolaters by instinct who worship false absolutes and humiliate themselves in front of the improbable. They force their gods on everyone and would exterminate those who refuse to believe. Society is a hell populated by saviours. Diogenes would search in vain for an indifferent man. Nothing, Cioran sighs, is worse than collective enthusiasm.

(LRB 27 May 2010)