The Beast of Fame – E.M. Cioran: An Explication of “Fame: Hopes and Horrors” (Lesson One)

People talk about us and we talk about other people, too. We are, simultaneously, connected and divided by our talk with others. What remains of me after I have a conversation with you is out of my control. Who I become for you is decided by you and through those conversations you have with other people. We arise out of what we do and out of of how we are perceived by self and others. Our name, our own special flavor, slips from our tongues and onto the tongues of others. It is a virus. “Reputation” is that slippery wraith, which we must wrestle with, from which we cannot escape.

E.M. Cioran, from his essay “Fame: Hopes and Horrors,” writes, “Just as each of us, in order to ‘make a name for himself,’ strives to outstrip the others, similarly in the beginning man must have known the vague desire to eclipse the animals, to affirm himself at their expense, to shine at any price (108).” For Cioran, this tendency toward, what could be called “personal branding” or “reputation” is not a recent phenomenon, but is rooted in our very being, in the everydayness of our “minding” of the world. That is to say, this desire toward recognition and reputation, while perpetually settled in front of our eyes as something as natural as falling snowflakes, comes from a suspect source: the Serpent’s kingdom. Nonetheless, us humans like to shine, to be in the “spotlight,” to be seen, to increase our visibility. More than “like,” we crave it.

Cioran continues, “Man alone, in the state of nature, wanted to be important, man alone, among the animals, hated anonymity and did his utmost to escape from it. To put himself forward, such was and such remains his dream. It is difficult to believe he has sacrificed Paradise out of a simple desire to know good and evil; on the other hand, it is easy to imagine him risking everything to be Someone (108).” The shift that occurred from selflessness to selfhood, is something that we cannot know, by virtue of our ability to be knowledgeable about the world and about ourself. But, a faint glimmer of selflessness remains, can flourish if nurtured, can, at times, overcome the Beast of Fame.

To be anonymous in a Web 2.0 world is to not exist, to fall off the map of the social media grid. Take away the technological connections from our life and we are once again in confrontation with the raw presence of ourself and those immediately present to us. Nonetheless, give us a sandbox and we will build profiles, vanity sites, products, commercials, microblogging clients and ten thousand other things. Why? Simply put, to be someone. “Personal branding” involves shifting the focus from the Other to oneself. The network that one chooses to be a part of shapes the image, helps build a sense of self and gives the Other a context from which to form an opinion about someone. Our name itself becomes more than a name, but a brand, a logo, a marketable representation of our greatness, of our strive toward fame.

“When one cannot save one’s soul, one hopes at least to save one’s name (109).” In our everyday experience, the soul seems to flee from us as we engage in various tasks. That elusive thread follows behind us, throws itself in front of us and projects itself onto us, faint and wispy. The name, on the other hand, is ever present, it is who one is to others (and to oneself). Reputation and name are intimately connected, are two sides of the same coin. The character in the old Western film declares, “Mah good name was a slandered.” In Japan, the family name is the first name you give when introducing yourself. The family name is the larger unit from which you came, to which you are still joined: your most precious circle. In American culture, the first name is one’s skeleton key to a world of unabashed self-creation and individualization. The way of the name may differ from culture to culture, but the value of the name does not. The name is conjoined with the human world, the soul sits between this world and another, the place before birth; it arises from the place of pre-birth.

On the “mania of reputation,” Cioran concludes, “If this mania were to seize any animal in its grips, however “retarted” that animal might be, it would press forward and catch up with man (109).” Thus far, no other animal has strived for the kind of otherworldly sense of reputation that us humans possess. We are the kings and queens of the imagined world, of the creation of our self and the responsibility to be someone. So, who are you?

E.M. Cioran – “Fame: Hopes and Horrors” from the book “The Fall Into Time.”

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