E.M. Cioran (1911-1995)
The following is part one of an explicative look at E.M. Cioran’s piece “The Tree of Life” from his book “The Fall into Time.”
It is written that there were two trees in the Garden of Eden, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The forbidden entrance into the knowledge of good and evil, that is to say, the entrance into human individualization did not come without consequences: the “horror of happiness,” the experience of the marginal, the pursuit of progress and the virtuality of fear, among several other Cioranian ideas haunt the human creature. In “The Tree of Life,” E.M. Cioran calls into question the strangeness of the human predicament while providing illuminations into what it means to have fallen into being the creature known as
“human.” Moreover, Cioran suggests a return to the theological, the sacred, to a communion not with others, but with God. That is to say, he calls for a way of living in light of and toward the tree of life, that forgotten tree, which was, for him, regretfully passed up for the curse of knowing.
The first idea presented by Cioran is the idea of humans as creatures that have deviated from the normal course of earthly life. He writes, “We perceive first the anomaly of sheer existence, and only afterward that of our specific situation: the surprise of being precedes the surprise of being human (Cioran 33).” For the creature endowed with the faculty of knowing, of being able to reflect, there comes moments of shock, moments of shock at feeling oneself to be somehow not a part of all that one perceives, to be part of and to be separate from all that one perceives. For Cioran, this unnatural state is particular to human beings. That is, for Cioran the natural processes of the environment, surprising and overwhelming to humans, are more natural than being the creature who is able to be surprised by them. That is, the human sticks out of the natural way of the environment as being more than animal, but less than a God. The human is the creature who symbolizes and deals with the world in terms of how it is not.
Cioran recounts the blissful Garden of Eden while reminding us that even our first ancestors must have felt, what he refers to as “a certain malaise (Cioran 35).” It was that malaise that prompted Adam and Eve to follow more closely the words of the Tempter, the words which for some reason rung more clearly than the communications from God. That is to say, our Edenic roots themselves were never pure, but were already poisoned with the powerful sap of malaise. Moreover, once the tree of the knowledge of good and evil had been accessed, the realization of their choice as a personal choice changed everything. He says, “Had we fallen from a total, a true innocence, nothing could withstand the vehemence of our desire to regain it; but the poison was in us already, right from the start, vague at first, increasingly distinct until it left its mark upon us, individualizing us forever (Cioran 36).” It is this ancient curse of individualization that we suffer in times of all encompassing negativity or in times of frantic action; the need to produce is a consequence of knowledge. This is also what Cioran refers to as “the horror of happiness (Cioran 36),” that is, the inability to find happiness as something implicitly within us, but as something that we must search for, something not a part of us.
That the human situation is marked by the condition of an individualized stance, that is, a self-reflexive, interpersonal interpretable experience, for Cioran is one that, had we concentrated our efforts on recovering a dissolving into God, would have proved successful, but having turned toward progress, resulted in the great downfall of personal and social human experience, civilization. He elucidates by saying, “Once man, separated from Creator and creation alike, became individual — in other words, fracture and fissure in Being — and once he learned, assuming his name to the point of provocation, that he was mortal, his pride was thereby magnified, no less than his confusion (Cioran 37).” For Cioran, humans are marked specifically by their weakness and need to conquer what they behold. The recognition of death is received with pride and at the same time humiliation. This means that for Cioran the vegetable and animal are much more in touch with God while the human creature weak, aware of death and time, inflicted with the primordial malaise, needs to compensate the disconnection from God by means of advancement. “The lion or the tiger, not man, should have the place he occupies in the scale of creatures. But it is never the strong, it is the weak who crave and who gain power, by the combined effect of cunning and madness (Cioran 39).”
Similarly, the human situation is one overrun by fear, by as Cioran mentions a “virtual fear.” What this means is that human is the creature who can exist through fear even in the absence of any actual present danger. The capacity to imagine the fearful, the horrible is a unique faculty of the human situation. For Cioran it is this virtuality of fear that drives the human to produce, to escape from the prison of one’s self, to act only to distract from the presence of fear. He writes, “Fear defines us to such a degree that we no longer notice its presence, except when it withdraws or relents, those serene intervals which it nevertheless impregnates and which reduce happiness to a mild, an agreeable anxiety (Cioran 41).” That is, fear is so much a part of the human that we can sense it only when it flees from us, and then, only briefly do we get a glimpse into the eternal Void lurking in between, peeking from the margins of fear. Plunging deeper into the descent of the human creature, Cioran writes, “Having abandoned his origins, traded eternity for becoming, mistreated life by projecting his early aberration upon it, he emerges from anonymity by a series of repudiations which make him the great deserter of being (Cioran 41).” It is along these lines that Cioran continues to sketch a portrait of the completely fallen human being, the being aware of being, proud and humilated in the face of death, reliant on technology and skilled in conquering all this is beheld, the time-ridden and depraved human.
END OF PART ONE