The Virtual Creature: A reading of E.M. Cioran’s “The Tree of Life” ||Part Two||


The following is part two of my reading of E.M. Cioran

The simplified formula for the human being is set up by Cioran in the following way, “If God once announced that He was ‘that which is,’ man, on the other hand, might define himself as ‘that which is not.’ And it is precisely this lack, this deficit of existence which, wakening his pride by reaction incites man to defiance or to ferocity (Cioran 41).” This is to say that for Cioran the virtual is woven into the fabric of the Real. The human creature is the creature that exists through imagining and symbolizing rather than through a direct confrontation with reality. Moreover, it is this lack of confronting the real, that defining the human, can be perceived, for Cioran, in our moments of what he has called in other words “lucidity.” That is, we exist through a semblance of reality and rarely if ever through a direct confrontation of reality. However, he points out, that we do have moments of lucidity (moments of experiencing reality), moments that we can trace back to our decision to abandon the tree of life. That is, as he urges us, “Consider his absences, those moments when he slows down or comes to a halt: do we not see in his eyes exasperation or remorse for having spoiled not only his first home but even this exile for which he was so impatient, so greedy (Cioran 42)?” This “slowing down,” for Cioran encompasses our in-between moments, the moments that we, grappling between two points find ourselves, catch ourselves, in the middle, hovering and unsure, face to face with the abysmal Void, with a crack in the virtuality of reality. One can readily see this opening of the Void in Samuel Beckett’s play “Waiting for Godot.”

To be the animal who is caught up in his own image, for Cioran, is an unnatural state of being, a state of being only known to humans. He writes, “A shadow grappling with images, a somnabulist who sees himself walking, who contemplates his movements without discerning either their direction or their cause (Cioran 42).” It is in this recognition and experience of self-reflexivity that we have become human, the creature who is here, but is nonetheless distracted by the virtual image of how we see ourself to be as reflected by those around us (the virtual creature). It is through this indirectness that we confront the world, that we have seperated ourself from the purity of vegetative existence. Moreover, it is no accident that Cioran used the word “shadow,” for the shadow represents the terrifying and haunting, nonetheless blank image of oneself, the image that one cannot get rid of no matter how hard one tries, the blank space between us and the Real.

Despite this, Cioran writes the following: “Transcendence possesses certain curative powers: whatever disguise he assumes, a god signifies a step toward recovery. Even the Devil represents for us a more effective recourse than our own kind (Cioran 43).” That is, to escape from this as mentioned in the Claudio Fragasso film Troll 2, “kingdom of shadows,” one must seek that kernel of Being that is still apart of oneself, that point of Being and not being, that sustains one’s being. Again, for Cioran, to focus on the human, is to focus on that which is has emerged out of an error, out of a lie, therefore one must seek, as a mode of recovery, transcendence in the image of a god, that is, of a force still in direct communion with Being itself. In this way, the human should humble itself to the margin, to the cracks, seeking to regain the Void from which it came, the neglected tree of life. I quote, “Obscured by metamorphosis, by possibility, by the imminent grimace of ourselves, we accumulate unreality and dilate ourselves in the false, for once we know ourselves, once we feel ourselves to be men, we tend to gigantism, we want to seem larger than life (Cioran 44, 45).” To restate, along Cioranian lines, unreality is homologous to the human situation, “the kingdom of shadows.” Moreover, the consequences for living through this myopic falsity is gigantism, imagining oneself to be more than what one really is. Having severed ourself from the tree of life, this, for Cioran is the consequential status of our existence.