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Ben Sonnenberg

An Interview with Cioran
Author(s): Jason Weiss and E. M. Cioran
Source: Grand Street, Vol. 5, No. 3 (Spring, 1986), pp. 105-140
Published by: Ben Sonnenberg
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Regrettably, of the six books by E. M. Cioran that have
appeared inEnglish-all translated by Richard How
ard-only the most recent, Drawn and Quartered, is
still in print (Seaver Books). The others are: A Short His
tory of Decay, The Temptation to Exist, The Fall into
Time, The New Gods and The Trouble with Being Born.
Two of the untranslated titles deserve special note, Syl
logismes de l'Amertume (1952)-his second book, but
the firstone of aphorisms-and Histoire et Utopie (1960).*
Of the latter he says, "Iwanted to make an apology for
utopia, but when I read different utopias, I said this isn't
possible." At present, occasionally, he is working on a
new collection of writings, Ce Maudit Moi.
Cioran is not a systematic thiinker, rather his mind
advances with that "patience to go in circles, in other
words, to deepen,">as he described in The New Gods. At
seventy-four, he could almost be a survivor of himself,
though his fatigue seems more existential than physical.
Yet the ready humor of this Runmnian 4migr4 pierces
even the gravest considerations with the wit of the con
demned. Or as he once wrote, "In the blood an inex
haustible drop of vinegar: towhat fairy do I owe it?"
Cioran has never given an interview to the French lit
erarypressnor to theAmerican(exceptoncewith aTime
correspondent). A brief interviewwith him was published
some twenty years ago inGerman in the Zurich magazine
DU, as well as others in the Spanish and Italian press in
more recent years. The following interview took place
over two mornings in mid-August, 1983, in the Latin
Quarter apartment where Cioran has lived for the past
twenty years.

JASON WEISS:You've said that Sartre and others, in em
ploying a German mode of discourse, did some harm to
the philosophical language. Can you elaborate on this?
* An essay from this volume, "Odyssey of Rancor," begins on page



E. M. CIORIAN: Well, first I'll tell you that when I was
quite young Imyself was affected by thisGerman jargon.
I thought that philosophy wasn't supposed to be acces
sible to others, that the circle was closed, and that at all
costs one had to employ this scholarly, laborious, compli
cated terminology. Itwas only little by little that I under
stood the impostor side of philosophical language. And I
should say that the writer who helped me tremendously
in this discovery is Valery. Because Val6ry, who wasn't
a philosopher but had a bearing on philosophy all the
same, wrote a very pure language, he had a horror of
philosophical language. That jargon gives you a sense of
superiority over everybody. And philosophical pride is
theworst that exists, it's very contagious. At any rate, the
German influence in France was disastrous on thatwhole
level. The French can't say things simply anymore.
JW: But what are the causes?
EMC: I don't know. Obviously Sartre, by the enormous
influence he had, contributed to generating this fashion.
And then, it's the influence of Heidegger, which was very
big in France. For example, when speaking about death,
Heidegger employs so complicated a language to say very
simple things that I well understand how one could be
tempted by his style. But the danger of philosophical style
is that one loses complete contact with reality. Philo
sophical language leads tomegalomania. One creates an
artificialworld where one is God. I was very proud and
pleased when I was young to know this jargon. But my
stay in France totally cured me of that. I'm not a phi
losopher by profession, I'm not a philosopher at all, but
my path was the reverse of Sartre's. That's why I turned
to the French writers known as the moralists, such as La
Rochefoucauld or Chamfort, who wrote for society ladies
and whose style was simple, but who said very profound
JW:Was it philosophy you were first interested in?
EMC: I studied philosophy almost exclusively from the
age of seventeen to twenty-one, and only the great philo
sophical systems. I disregarded most poetry and other
literature.But I broke happily very soonwith the univer
sity,which I consider to be a great intellectualmisfortune,
and even a danger.

[1 06]

To tell the truth. So.And that great poetry was something extraordi nary. I was attached to him inmy youth. a great stylist. [Laughs. JW: Yet critics often compare you to him.while in his other work he's prisoner to his vision. though. the disappoint ment of philosophy thatmade me turn to literature. It was. Well. but not after. EMC: That was later. When one reads the let ters he wrote at the same time. saying you fol low in his tracks. He had things that other Germans didn't. at the point when I stopped be lieving in philosophy. but was more: a temperament.] It'swhen I finished studying it. But really I don't read him any more. In his letters one sees that he's just a poor fellow." EMC: [Laughs. yes. be cause in them he's truthful. It's because that whole grandiose vision of the will to power and all that. He's a great writer.] That's a bit excessive. JW: You write in The Trouble with Being Born that you stopped reading him because you found him "toonaive. like a character out of Chekhov. he imposed it on himself because he was a pitiful invalid. if you like. I realized that he wasn't a philosopher. that I began to read Nietzsche. one sees that he's lament able. That's very important. EMC: No. JW: Did your severe insomnia affect this attitude at the time? EMC: Itwas really the profound cause of my break with philosophy. that's a mistake. now and then. it's from that point on that I realized that Dostoyevsky was much more important than a great phi losopher. exactly the opposite of every thing he claimed. though its obvious that his way of writing made an impression on me. it's very touching. His work is an unspeakable megalomania. because he read a lot of the French writers. JASON WEISS JW:Were you reading Nietzsche then? EMC: When Iwas studying philosophy I wasn't reading Nietzsche. I read serious philosophers. I consider his letters his most authentic work. nonexistent. JW: You've said that you also read a lot of poetry in your youth. Its whole basis was false. I read him but never system atically. that he's ill. I realized that in moments of great despair [107] .

And I really consider that the most terrible. instead of starting a new life at eight in the morning. the time from going to bed at night to rising in themoming is all continuous. in short the principal experience of my life. you are the only one awake. Normally. There's also the fact that you are alonewith yourself. about six or seven years. Those sleepless nights opened my eyes. someone who goes to bed and sleeps all night begins the next day almost a new life. You no longer see what future to look towards. it's another life. I think it's a very important problem. Right away I'm no longer a part of mankind. GRAND STREEET philosophy is no help at all. it's the continuation of the trial. So.And so he can under take things. It wasn't simply a medical problem. where I found no answers either. So. JW: Do you still suffer from tlhem? EMC: A lot less. can manifest himself. a future. everything changed for me because of them. and offers absolutely no answers. So I turned to poetry and literature. since there's no difference since the night before? That new life doesn't exist.most unsettling. But for someone who doesn't sleep. but states of mind analogous to my own. in fact the fundamental and most serious experience of my life. when my wvhole perspective on theworld changed. it causes the sense of things. All the rest is secondary. he has a present. I can say thatmy sleepless nights brought about the break with my idolatry of philosophy. to be forcibly changed. In themiddle of the night. with no interruption. everyone's asleep. JW:When did these sleepless nights begin? EMC: They began inmy youth. while everyone rushes towards the future. start what. when Iwas about nine teen. and so on. JW: Succumb to what. it happens like this. I live in anotherworld. madness? [108] . because you don't have any future. you are left outside. It's not simply another day. The nightmare continues uninterrupted and. the conception of life. in the morning. And it requires an extraordinarywill to not succumb. The whole day is a trial. no suppression of consciousness. Well. when that's stretched out formonths and years. it was deeper.But thatwas a precise period. you're still as you were at eight the eve ning before.

is the great catastrophe. and then I'd come home and sleep a little. And so. and ready to explode. but not all day. until about ten years ago. apropos of anything. It's rather curious. fivemin utes. it's consciousness which is man's advantage. Then too. but for me it was a matter of intensity. Now it'sbecome too dangerous to go and walk like that at four in themoming. almost all suicides. because one is always a philosopher. But I was also doing better by then. Because Iwas conscious twenty-four hours out of twenty four. Perhaps in a lunatic asy lum one might. I'dwait till people were going towork. all night. I'd get up and go walking through Paris for two or three hours. if I couldn't sleep. And I found everyone idiotic. I did that in Paris too. JW: Have you met other insomniacs who suffered like that? EMC: Not to that degree. Iwas a bit like someone suffer [109] . the fact of being con scious. in the middle of the night. Very often. an intensification. this feeling that everything is a comedy and makes no sense. it's a sort of exasperation. Itwas the feeling of not belonging. I couldn't put up with anything. I quarreled with everyone. JASON WEISS EMC: Yes. I arrived at the conclusion that no. To the temptation of suicide. that's what's interesting. are due to insomnia. JW: That helped calm you down a little. about ninety percent. This period of deep insomnia came to a stop in France. the present as well. of the state of being conscious. I can't prove that. Not self-conscious. I liked to go all over the place. no. philosophically. Me. The state of consciousness as the great misfortune. In my opinion. I was far more violent. JW: How did it affect you physically? EMC: Iwas very tense. conscious. Curiously enough. this phenomenon. People are conscious by intervals.What I often liked to do was to go for walks at night. in a feverish state. and you know how? By the bicycle. The fu ture was meaningless for me. but I'm convinced. Everything took on another intensity. say. EMC: Yes. Normally. But I wasn't crazy at all. One can be conscious several hours a day. it's the con trary. and inmy case the permanent misfortune. of not being oblivious. Nobody understood what I understood. all the time.

"Other people [110] . JW: In The Fall into Time.. So. So. from 1937 until the war.which for me was a stroke of providence. like people who have the same illness. France was very cheap before the war. I'd eat whatever I wanted. I'd do one hundred kilometers a day. drink a bottle of wine. that was the big danger. I went all over France with that bicycle.When you do one hundred kilometers a day. someone offered to sell me a bicycle. unfortunately for me. I'd been in Paris a few months and. I'dbe gone formonths. GRAND STREET ing hallucinations. But then I'd have a headache all day. till 1940. there is a gang of insomniacs. for months. Because I had.When you lie awake like that. We understand each other right away. being alive. I don't take them anymore. All of us.with a sort of solidarity. and even with sleeping pills I only managed to sleep two or three hours at most. Because I had come here on a grant for several years from the French government to do a thesis. You know. and they all prescribed medications that messed up my stomach and everything.Michel. you wrote. are drawn along by time because we are in time. The drama of insomnia is that time doesn't pass. you are outside of time. there's no way you're not going to sleep. seen a lot of doctors in Rumania and in France. It was a racing bicycle. I'd come into a village. very healthy. You see. it's out of the question. unheard-of luck. not expensive at all. JW: Did other insomniacs recognize your cure? EMC: Yes. I lied. And so this providential bicycle saved me. I went all through the Pyrenees. it was horrible. It was a very natural life.. one day on the boulevard St. You're not in eternity either. itwasn't due tomedicine. and I said yes and bought it. But meanwhile I'd cover kilometers and kilometers. and then I'd go sleep in the fields. Time passes so slowly that it becomes agonizing. You're lying down in the middle of the night and you are no longer in time. I was poisoned by sleeping pills. Physical exercise from morning till night. time passes outside of you. you can't catch up with it. And it's this physical effort that allowed me to sleep. a thesis in philosophy . Certainly not! I never went to the Sorbonne. because we know that drama.

Insomnia is the worst illness. And I consider this sensation that I had. I was a child. But consciousness of time proves that you are outside of time. yet itwas a whole life away. [111 ] . Because I've never forgotten it. to oblivion. One could really call it a philosophical or metaphysical experience. of bore dom. because then time does not pass. because what is sleep? It is the return to unconsciousness. JASON WEISS fall into time.Men fall into time and further down than time. but it does have a remote effect. Iwasn't able to formu late the experience. the re turn to the before-life. I can even say the hour. to be my first conscious experience of ennui. itwas an afternoon during the First World War. and insomnia only ac celerated it. I consider my best writing to be those few pages on time. I recall the first occasion when I had a revela tion of time. I remember it was three in the afternoon. and I remember exactly. I was outside. So Iwas predestined a bit to that consciousness of time. JW:What happened to you on the level of dreams dur ing your most severe insomnia? EMC: Because of the sleeping pills I did manage to sleep two or three hours at most. that I wasn't a part of it. that you are also conscious of time.And so powerful that Iwoke up with my heart pounding. Iwas absolutely alone. I was five. that you've been ejected. I remember it like itwas yesterday. but I know what it was. to animality. JW:Were there others around at thatmoment when you were five? EMC: No. obviously. I had entered hu manity and begun to have the experience of being human. I have fallen out of it. A man who acts and is involved in doing something doesn't think about time. Abruptly I felt that Iwas watching time pass. Iwas predestined to lose sleep. Ennui is also a sort of taking consciousness of time. That would be absurd. I consider itwas there that I ceased to be an animal. Normally people are not. I feel it to be one of my more original points. which didn't last even ten min utes. absolutely horrifying. So."Was that from insomnia? EMC: No. but I had horrifying night mares.

and Iwas always outside in the open air. I even remember the hour. illusion. They hadn't for mulated it. It's not the obsession with death thatmakes you dis cover that life is unreal. very primitive. I believe I became un happy inmy life as punishment for having been so extraor dinarily happy as a child. I'll tell you an anecdote that played a part in my life. perhaps. and where my father was the orthodox priest. For me death was something so evident that itwas truly a part of my daily life. They acknowledged these sensations and I've received a lot of letters from them. All of a sudden. JW: In spite of your insomnia. JW:And you remained in that village tillwhat age? EMC: Until I was ten. that the obsession with death settles in. EMC: A wonderful childhood. I didn't start acting like Hamlet. We were living in Sibiu. everyone else had gone out. but they admitted having had the same feeling of existence. I remember them very precisely. I have wonderful memo ries of that time. which also played a role in my life. up to the age of seven or eight. I had a fantastic fit of [112] . you wrote that you had a very happy childhood. after which my life was a catastrophe. I was born in a mountain village.We had a garden next to the cemetery. that it's nothing at all. All this had an effect on my insomnia. a city in the provinces where I spent my whole youth. GCRAND STREEET JW: Have there been many responses to what you've written about this experience of feeling yourself outside of time? EMC: I have met people who recognized themselves in what I said. I lived as if Iwere in the wilds. it'svery strange -1 think it was around two in the afternoon. Only my mother and I were at home. and-when I remember things. I was about tventy-two and one day I was in a terrible state. I'm talking of early childhood. but it'swhen you discover that life iswithout substance. all the time seeing the disinterred. the skeletons and corpses. I was a friend of the gravedigger and was always around the cemetery. Anyone who is ob sessed with death already has a sense of the unreality of life. but after that I certainly began to be ob sessed with skeletons and the phenomenon of death. not more.

JW: Considering these experiences of yours. He is a great poet. you can say. but later there'sno point. abortion didn't exist. everyone is aware of it. it's allwithout substance."Yes." EMC: After certain experiences. Well. but an inner affinity.We should change our names right away. EMC: Yes. It's the fact of having that feeling constantly that's significant. not at all. yet Mallarme is greater. but only occasionally. But later. So. another life has to be started.Madame Perier-you know that Pascal was ill all his life and died relatively young. "That was very important. In a book about his youth. so is Rimbaud. when we speak of these things. I threw myself on the sofa. in effect. I thought." That made an extraordinary impression on me. noon and night. and said. that "we should change our name after each important experience. I would have had an abortion. from the age of seven [113] . when did you begin reading French writers like Baudelaire. that in the end you've touched on something extraordinary. rm simply an accident. It's another thing to know it morning. So. as ifwe're part of the same family. But it's in his deep sentiments that Baudelaire is amaster. Why take it all so seriously?" Be cause. It didn't hurt me. But thats an illusion too." And my mother said this: "If I had known. as in Drawn and Quartered. JW: You've said a number of times. Pascal and Baudelaire. "I can't take it anymore. It's an impression of themoment. But it proved that individual life is an accident. JASON WEISS despair. I'vewritten somewhere that there are two writers whom I always think about but whom I don't often read. Because you feel that you're another individual. and that's why it's maddening. They have been my constant companions. They're more original than he. considering that your father was a priest. who spoke of comparable states? EMC: I had a sort of cult for Baudelaire.we absolutely must speak of their frequency and duration. It's not a matter of vanity on my part. Pascal's sister. at the age of thirty-nine-wrote that her brother told her one day that. you're not yourself anymore. "But everyone knows that. JW:Which is interesting too. but it was said by my motherl At the time.

One gains nothing in getting old. I knew aswell at twenty. I'vewritten very little. But as one ismore tired. My life is inconceivable without ennui."Which surprised me a little. when I was a high-school teacher in Rumania. that's nothing at all. Forty years of a long. Contrary to what people think. above all it's a question of intensity. GRAND STREET teen on. JW:Were you able to use your insomnia as a tool in the exploration of your philosophy? EMC: Certainly. Iwrite these little books. perhaps because I didn't want to believe it. Through insomnia. and had to put my hand inmy mouth so as not to. if you like. Though I get bored now less frequently. one gives the impression of greaterwisdom. Iwas in a public library in Rumania. it would have lacked a certain frenzy without it. I only prac ticed a profession for a year.With old age things lose their intensity. he never knew a single day without suffering. I've never practiced a profession and have lived like a sort of student. You know. I toldmyself that thiswas what would happen inmy own life. EMC: There isno progress in life. a superfluous. as I said. I con [114] . when I read this. in Bucharest. labor of verification. but Pascal and Baudelaire were in any case the two who spoke most profoundly about the crucial experience of ennui. and it made such an impression on me that Iwanted to cry out. That's undeniable. but not somuch. Itwas a presentiment of a sort of disaster. JW: In The Trouble with Being Born. Nor wiser. JW:Don't you find that some things accumulate intensity with old age? EMC: No. all these things took on another dimension. I haven't done anything inmy life. Everything that's good and everything that's bad then gains in depth but not on the surface. Whether everything I've thought was due to insomnia or not. But since.There are small changes. JW:Did you write at all during all those sleepless nights? EMC: Yes. I'm not awriter. I never assumed it as a profession. One doesn't become better on themoral plane with old age. JW:Why? EMC: Because of old age. you wrote: "What I know at sixty. it's not an oeuvre.

I always found one scheme or another. It was my good luck to have been able to spend almost thirty years in a sort of oblivion. as they say. if they be come known fairly young. I had grants. JW: That's life hasn't been a failure because I succeeded in doing nothing.One can change languages at fifteen or tventy . is one thing. Because that has no reality. JASON WEISS sider thismy greatest success. but I consider it an im mense success. haven't they? EMC: They've only been speaking of my books for the last three years. I'mproud of it. It was a sort of getting free. JW:When did you start studying French? [115] . Inmy opinion. It wasn't from inspiration. only for your self. JW:But your books have gained a lot of attention. they spoke about me for a few months in 1950. for thirty years. hardly at all. EMC: For more than twenty years it had sold only two thousand copies. I began writing in French at the age of thirty-six. To tell you quite simply. really. after the pub lication of A Short History of Decay. it certainly met with a big success. because most writers.. of following through certain ideas. JW:What then has been your relationship to the practice of writing? The fact of thinking. For me the drama of a writer is being famous when he's young. I wasn't known. Every thing I'vewritten. For me. EMC: It's extremely difficult. EMC: Even so. of suffocation.. a book should be written without thinking of others. which is extremely bad. there is another aspect to that in my life because I changed languages. to be able to breathe. Iwrote to escape a sense of oppression. begin towrite for their public. this was a very important event. but writing remains something else. it's only a book. But everything changed a few years ago with the paperback editions. things like that. And one should never write a book just to write a book. Really. only a fexv people in literary circles knewme. JW:When Syllogismes de l'Amertume [Syllogisms of Bit terness] came out in paperback. and then. You shouldn'twrite for anyone.

I translate poorly. I read French. I thought I'd just startwriting like that. naturally. Everyone knew French. and thatwas a sort of illumination. I'm in France. of course. the style. "That'snot right.And now it's the book of mine they readmost in France. French was the second language of the intellectual circles. I was twenty-six and. and set about to do it. And I threw myself into the French langua. it was much more difficult than I thought. I wrote the first book four times. Because I was born in Austria-Hungary. All of a sudden it struck me that itmade no sense. but that made me become serious about it. Because the words disgusted me. I said to myself.who said. I couldn't write anymore. There were people who knew French extremely well. fragments. everyone read it. JW: Did the first book change much. but I didn't speak it. But inBucharest. Then I was in a village inNormandy in 1947 and I was translat ingMallarme into Rumanian. why write? The Syllogismes de l'Amertume are little odds and ends. [11 6] . I wrote lots of things. Really. We had absolutely no French culture." I came back to Paris with the idea of writing in French.But. instead of settling down to write in French. not that they studied it. And I also had the complex of being a foreigner. My par ents didn't know aword of French. I did an enormous amount of work. but that wasn't my case. I wrote about one hundred or one hundred fifty pages and showed them to a friend. though without yet publishing anything. I spoke French very poorly. GRAND STREET EMC: I hadn't studied it. when I wrote the next after that. In Rumania everyone knew a little French." I was furious.When I came to France in 1937. "You have to re nounce your native tongue. you'll have to do it all over.e like a madman. a lot. especially among the bourgeoisie. why am I doing this? I didn't want to go back tomy own country. which was very humiliating for me. writing it four times? EMC: Yes. I wanted to revenge myself in away on all those fellows inRumania who knew French. but this wasn't conscious. they spoke Rumanian and Hungarian. Then. I'm not a poet to begin with. surrounded by diction aries and everything. It was even very difficult. My peers knew French quite well. Iwrote inRumanian until 1947.

he was wearing slippers. Yes. I spoke about him in my last book. JW: In some passages of your books you defend the cause of bums. he's charming." and he put somemoney down on every table. I knew a lot of refugees who came to Paris. You know what he did one day? He went up to the Champs-Elysees to that big cafe. and I left my slippers over on the other sidewalk. I was shy. Well.Would it disturb you to go get them for me?" And she went and got them. he did something really extraordinary. I was totally unknown. comparing you with Beckett. He'd play his instruments in a great many cafes and pass the hat. "Since you're poor. I told him he shouldn't frequent writers. I saw him four or five times a year. JASON WEISS JW: Did you know many people during your early years in Paris? EMC: No. I knew people who weren't in literature. he wasn't a poor fellow. Iwrote an essay about him. He didn't understand what Imeant. He was angry and started in sulting me. It's he who opened my eyes to the life of bums. EMC: I like Beckett a lot. EMC: But that's because I had a friend who was a bum and was very interesting. and he left his slippers there and went across to the other sidewalk. "The police have been bothering me. or he'd come to visit me. he did earn some money playing. I'll help you. It'smore important for a foreigner to speak with a cabdriver or a whore thanwith a writer. and played on his clarinet and people didn't give him a thing. Especially not in intellectual circles. as if they have the right attitude about things.which is more interesting. and everything he toldme was amazing. And there. seems inevitable. very refined. but not the French.He said. He was always doing things like that. But he was a fellow who thought about things. I know him well. Fouquet's. So. Some years ago there was a Rumanian who came to Paris and said that he wanted tomeet some writers. I think there are some affinities between us. though we haven't seen each other in a long time. they called the police. A very original life. There was a very elegant young woman passing by and he said to her. because that's the life he led. [117] . as Susan Sontag did. JW: For this. Drawn and Quartered. I didn't know any writers.

I stopped frequenting the literarymilieu. I'd go three times aweek to different people's homes. And Iwas absolutely desperate each time I tried. "Years now without coffee. Iwas drinking coffee all the time. I was invited to dinners. and Iwas very poor. But the only writer whom I really still saw until his recent death was Michaux. I made the decision. And one day they cut off his tobacco. without alcohol. I felt as if I'd lost my soul. GRAND STREET JW: So itwas only after you'd published some books that you began to know other writers? EMC: Yes." It was a struggle to the death. I had to choose. When I stopped smoking. I was invited by rich ladies who gave parties.When I read this inmy youth. Itwas a time when I liked to drink. without tobacco. I hadn't under [118] ." It was an extraordinary struggle. I tell myself. I couldn't answer a letter. It was a comedy that lasted five years. Iwas a big smoker.whiskey and so on. because I was dependent on that. JW: I read that you wrote. I could drink and eat. I couldn't make a phone call without a cigarette. first thing in themorning I'd go to buy some more. and that always made me think of a story Dos toyevsky speaks about. "You did succeed in conquering tobacco." Tobacco was absolutely tied up with my life. I hope. "I'm the vilest of men. I'm going to stop. it was a question of honor. I'd cry. but that's a long time ago. In the middle of the night I'd throw the ciga rettes out thewindow."Was it because of your health? EMC: Yes. JW: You felt better after. EMC: Yes. In Siberia. Besides. I can't go anymore to parties. I'd say. I'd drink seven cups of coffee in themorning. health. And so I frequented a salon where Imet lots of people. I don't drink anymore. It tookme five years to quit smoking. and for very specific reasons. Immediately he declared that he was ready to renounce all his ideas at the feet of the czar. "Even if I don't write another line. When I'm depressed. But tobaccowas themost difficult. itwas one or the other. I couldn't look at a landscape without it. I accepted practically any dinner. therewas an anarchist who was sentenced to eighteen years in prison. in the mid-1950s. it's absolutely impossible. There was a period when I did have a real social life.

The Germans. though the firstwasn't. about fourteen years ago. for the next twenty years you hardly use them in your books. the Syllogismes. and they are what remains. "If this German can do it at his age. "Oh. He should not be objective. If he speaks of something. JW: Could you speak about the evolution of your use of the aphorism?Where does it come from? EMC: rm not sure exactly. he shouldn't know everything about it. You know.When they read a book of apho risms. I also remember where I smoked my last ciga rette. I'm going to show that I can too." So Iwent in like that and Ihad the flu thatnight."But [119] . they say. but in a certain direction. For a writer the university is death. was all aphorisms. for example.He's not serious. and the pro fessors look down upon it. now I only write this kind of stuff. itwas cold. you were saying that awriter's education must remain incomplete. because explaining bores me terribly. But the aphorism is scorned by "serious"people. JW: Because the professors can't do anything with an aphorist? EMC: Absolutely not. and there was a foolish German who dived into the sea and started swimming. suspect. One can discuss a subject in depth. only have Lichtenberg and Nietzsche. very often aphorisms have been the last sentence of a page. JASON WEISS stood it.] JW: The first timewe met. EMC: Well. as ismuch of Drawn and Quartered. EMC: Yes. the end of Sep tember. I think itwas a phenomenon of laziness perhaps. lookwhat this fellow said ten pages back. It was near Barcelona. and ratherFrench. Itwas seven in themorning. not trying to cover the whole thing. I said. Aphorisms are conclu sions. and then The Trouble with Being Born is all apho risms too.That's why I saywhen I've written aphorisms it's that I've lapsed into fatigue. now he's saying the contrary. [Laughs. a writer needn't know things in depth. JW: But what made you decide to use the aphorism for certain books and not others? Your second book. It's a dubious genre. only the things that go with his temperament. the development is suppressed.For me itwas mostly due tomy dislike of developing things. who derived it fromChamfort and themoral ists.

and when. because it all dis plays the same vision of things. I've noticed. did you select which aphorisms to include? EMC: I organized them into chapters more or less. GRAND STREET I can put two aphorisms that are contradictory right next to each other. "Now I want to write." I always had to be either depressed or angry. It is true. It wasn't written like that. I've never been able to say. a fit of temper. but they all have a cause. JW: Do you have particular writing habits or conditions when you can work? EMC: I've never been able to write in a normal state. And Iwrite preferably in a state of semidepression. They're not at all gratuitous. so that this theme was only my point of departure. what I call "single encounters"-with people I've seen only once. In the case of The Trouble with Being Born. When I [120] . inevitably. And I could tell you in nearly every case why Iwrote this or that phrase. JW: In a book like Syllogismes. They're not decrees. why write? Why declare things? Perhaps. not systematically. but itwasn't possible. The only ones where I had the idea beforehand were The Fall into Time and Histoire et Utopie. because they're all of a piece. JW: With each one of your books the title feels very appropriate. but never in a normal state. Aphorisms are also momentary truths. an incident. There has to be something that'snot right. though. But in the end it all has some unity. there is a bit of amorbid aspect towhat I write.When one is in a neu tralmood. Even banal things. as has been said. EMC: Yes. Iwanted towrite a whole book on that theme. They're always set inmotion by an encounter. thosewho act out of passion. furious or disgusted. off the cuff. it's justified. the half-crazy. JW:What kind of responses have you had from readers? EMC: I can give you a few examples. that the people who react best towhat I'vewritten are the neurotics. JW: Do you have the idea for your books before writing them? EMC: Most of my books were written just like that.

So I said. JASON WEISS published my first book. All right. Iwas completely unknown and suddenly I get this." She says. it drove me mad. I said. see. but horriblel Something unimaginable. At eight o'clock. I received a lot of letters. I say. I opened this letter. For two years Iwas receiving letters from a woman who was absolutely crazy. it produced a very passionate reaction. Tell me who you are. it'snotworth seeing her again. I said I didn't want to. I open the door. I live in the suburbs. I'll take a cab and be at your house in an hour. little and all twisted up. [121] . I was living in a hotel on rue Monsieur le Prince. I'llbe com ing to Paris for Easter. she toldme an amazing story. I called her up. She kept insisting that she wanted to meet me. I'd like to see you. But I was really struck by this story. my life isn't of much interest. I was all fixed up with a tie. "I'd like to see someone who has a good opinion of me. She said. This was about three years ago. "Listen. "Well." Because at any rate I would never try to be like that. "Iwas very impressed by your letter. But the most extraordinary one was from a girl who was about twenty. She was amonsterl An old woman. except that I livedwith my brother likeman and wife for sixmonths. I was depressed." I'd been receiving letters from thiswoman formore than a year but hadn't replied much. Rather. and she answers the phone. seventy-five years old."'A very pretty voice.Well. nearly eighty. in the middle of the summer. It was an afternoon. the second story. it was six or seven in the evening. "Ifyou everwant to seeme.where it says. "This book was written by me. one day. itwouldn't make any sense." He knew I was going to meet her and didn't want me to.which I can tell because I refrain from mentioning her name and she'smuch older by now.Why continue? I didn't know what to do. at any rate I think that this relationshipwas over by then. and when I open the door I explode with laughter."' etcetera. I was very de pressed. because shewrote. itwas a sort of mixture of madness and intelligence. I won't write anymore. "If it's like this.But I realized that such a girl.well." Finally I wrote her we could meet. not by you. feeling that I was worthless. A Short History of Decay. It's our book."So. I said to myself. "Right away. about two years ago.

I can't speak of dinner now. [122] . GRAND STREET Iwent "Hal". Finally. I told him. "But. So I said to her."We talked for three hours about suicide. to have a seat.. So for three hours we discussed every aspect of this prob lem. it was impossible. I haven't been able to get rid of it. "Do you know why Iwanted tomeet you? I read your books. when shewas a young girl. I consider suicide as the only solution. I'm not going with this woman to a restaurant. and the priest said to her. I thought. It's to St. I explained to him how Iwas. I'm in the full of life. I'd like to tell you about my case. really. Have there been others? EMC: A few years ago. and I said practically nothing while she was telling me about her life. circling the Luxembourg Gardens. who wanted tomeet me. with details to make you vomit sometimes. She told me everything. and I saw that you're interested in suicide. She was confessing all this to me. instead of destroying it. obsessed with it. She toldme how. I said all right. and thatmakes life bearable. and am still. and this idea has taken hold ofme." He explained to me that he had a good job and earned a lot.We spoke about one thing and another.Miss. a man of twenty-five. and finally he said to me. "In the last two or three years. I found that as a four-hour entertainment it was enough. I've begun to be obsessed with suicide. "Butwho are you?" If only I had had a tape recorder! I sat there. but. there was a friend of mine who told me that he'd met an engineer.we'll go stroll around the Luxembourg Gardens nearby. she'd gone into a church to confess. I thought. JW: So what did you do? EMC: I invited her in. I couldn't stop myself. my theory is that suicide is the only idea that allows man to live. At midnight. it's not here you should go. Anne's. literature and all that.. what could I do? Because. and then I suggested that we refrain frommeeting again as thiswould be pointless. JW: But you do consider these single encounters impor tant. and I saw her to the door. I'd put on a tie . I had invited her to dinner. it was a summer evening." That is the Paris lunatic asylum. therewas noth ing in the house. Suicide gives me the idea that I can leave thisworld when Iwant to.

JW: But you do feel a certain responsibility towards such people. I exploited this idea. tell yourself. I was its parasite. a flaw par excellence. they should put it off. "the ecstasy and the horror of life. In "Tares" [Flaws]. So. you were say ing that the idea of suicide was natural and healthy for you. a serious flaw. one should make use of this idea in order to put up with life. JASON WEISS JW: In an encounter like that. because I've always kept inmind what Baudelaire said. it's a positive idea. everything that I've experienced in this life is contained there. But one should not abandon this idea.My theory of suicide is that one shouldn't kill oneself."For me. [123] . it's a sort of avowal. I can give it up when I want to. I've always tried to tell them that. Iwould have killed myself from the start. since one can kill oneself anytime. I say that we have only this recourse in life. with girls particularly. this appetite for existing was also very strong inme. Yet I haven't offered such an apology. I had thought Iwasn't going to live past the age of thirty. but that what was not natural and healthy was "the furious appetite for existing. It's in the Syllogismes that I wrote. One should say to people: If you find life unbearable. But itwasn't from cowardice that I was always postpon ing my suicide. my flaw. Christianity is guilty of having fought against this idea. JW: But you were considering suicide when you were still quite young. EMC: I can't avoid it. "Without the idea of suicide. I've always prevented them from committing suicide. have you had the feeling of saving him a little? EMC: Yes. At the same time.What made you decide to go on? EMC: I considered life as a mere postponing of suicide." EMC: Yes.But I've been attacked for offer ing an apology for suicide and not doing it myself. I've had that feeling several times. a little. "Well."One should live thanks to this idea of suicide." JW: Even in your most recent writings you've written about suicide. the selection of apho rismspublished in the review La Delirante. because you've livedwith it nearly all your life. and that our only consolation is that we can quit this life when we want to.

which hastened his end. He took everything to heart. the least unfavorable criticism made him ill.Would you be interested in par ticipating?" I refused. and so on. You know. have always been a skeptic. He didn't see anyone. There are physicists. we were talking. And it broke my heart because I understood. a few years ago: "Monsieur. at the beginning. a painkiller. At the time that I met him Iwould never have imagined that he would kill him self. I believe that he really killed himself. he didn't even see me. Iwas startled. he's not well. InGermany. one evening about eleven. frightened. One thing that moved me tremendously. With him. Itwasn't at all an accident. I'm not a skeptic by temperament. Iwas with a young man. He was aman who was profoundly wounded. people didn't know if he was a great poet or not. EMC: No. talking to himself. It's been therapeutic. for example. it was raining a little. on the other hand. It was inevitable. he lived nearby on the rue des Ecoles. GRAND STREET JW: I wonder if there were people in whom you could see the idea of suicide progressing.we have invited a number of schol ars for a conference on the future of humanity. They phone me fromMunich one day. and I noticed someone coming in our direction. I saw him often. but we need a skeptic and we can't find one. we saw each other a lot less after he had moved. And when I saw him. Perhaps I'm a false skeptic. JW: You. rm thinkig of Paul Celan. When he arrived in Paris. it reallywas a very serious illness.whom you knew quite well. I'm not a skeptic in the service of [124] . and that iswhat aggravated his case. I'll illustrate this with a bit of German nonsense. Itwas Paul Celan. philosophers. at the start. EMC: Skepticism has played an enormous role in my life. Except that sometimes he was very violent and put up with all life's troubles very poorly. I stopped and watched him. there was nobody on the street. on the other side of the Luxembourg Gardens. He was too tormented to take refuge in skepticism. He suffered from an extraordi nary vulnerability. because I'm a bit frenetic. But later. while he was talking to himself. who was looking at the ground andmaking gestures. he trans lated my first book into German. Itwas November. I couldn't see it in him.

I could put skeptic down as my profession. But I'm not a skeptic all the time. I only worked in a profession for a year in my life. Being very poor. Iwas so involvedwith Shakespeare." I said. JWXV: You've often expressed in your books your interest in biographies. to not be me. At any rate I can say that I've read a lot in my life. JASON WEISS theWestem world. Itwas a period when Iwas going through a sort of religious crisis which resulted in noth ing. but also reading a lot of Shakespeare. Iwas reading a lot of mystics. and it's very interesting to see how they fail him. the flaws. Someone who was a teacher in the same school came up and asked: 'Can I sit at your table?" I said: "Yes. JW: You were also very takenwith Shakespeare in your youth. I became profoundly in terested in Swift and read everything about him I could find. without work. It's very odd. But I read also in order not to think. But in return I read.But who are you?" I knew him. you see what illusions he started out with. And too. what the French call an idler. because they have nothing in common. He said: "But how's that?You know me! rm the gym teacher at the school. "Ah? You're not Shakespeare?" "What do you mean? Of course I'm not Shakespeare. JW: At what point did you start reading Jonathan Swift? EMC: After I came to France." "Seriously?You're not Shakespeare? Then get outl" He [125] . precisely because I was a man without an occupation.When you read about someone's life. So I consider that all the same I've done my duty. EMC: Above all I like to see how people end. But I found it unbelievable to be sum moned by telephone. I was a philosophy teacher in a high school when Iwas twenty-five. someone who doesn't work. I've always tried to find the defects in others." Iwas then living in a provincial city and was one day in a cafe where I often went.At times he was extremely important forme. to escape. EMC: As I said. I thought all my contemporaries were imbeciles and suddenly de cided: "I'mnot speaking with anyone but Shakespeare. like one calls a doctor. I lived like a rich man.

EMC: Naturally. Then I discovered some thing amazing. the English have no phi losophy. "I don'twant to be a soldier. JW:But you were completely conscious of what you were doing. the work I would have liked to have written isMacbeth. no. I had a sort of passion for Shelley. inAmerica. I read Keats. I'm incapable of holding a rifle!This war is lost. "You'llbe sent under Ger man escortl" I said. because Iwas called up to theRumanian army. Emily Dickinson too. I became very interested in the minor poets of the nine ties. Ernest Dowson and others. Someone told me: "One of your friends demanded that you be sent to the Russian front. You go there. No. But also Blake. I said. he was a military attache who looked like a character out of Dostoyevsky. Itwas an absurd decision and I carried it through. for the man. not me. above all? EMC: For me the English were the greatest poets. I would have been locked up. Inmy opinion. Iwas absolutely conscious.During the war. Then. But the lesser poets in England would have been great poets in another culture. you'll be sent there under German escort. I read the lesser poets." The Rumanians were fighting with the Ger mans against Russia. I had such an admiration for him. and I refused. He'd summonme and repeat. JW:Who were the poets you read?Weren't they English. "You're a colonel. that was enough. I read him a lot. you don't need me. no metaphysics.Naturally. I think if I had had the genius. she's terrific. It lasted for two or three days. They summoned me to the embassy and said: "If you don't go back toRumania." There was a guy who drove me crazy." But he kept threatening me with sum monses until the end of thewar. "If you do that. who is a greater poet. Otherwise it would have been very serious. Absolutely." I said. I'll kill myself. But I wanted to show how much Shake spearemeant forme."He was [126] . JW:What was your situation under theGerman Occupa tion of France? EMC: Very bad. They said everything in their poetry. And then. because their poetry replaced metaphysics. GRAND STREET went immediately to the school and declared that I'd gone mad.

the whole history of the world. Everything is said there.Man is a being apart." the catastrophe. it expresses itself like admiration. thatman is amonster. The profoundest book thatwas ever written is the first book of the Old Testament. The whole vision of human des tiny.All thesemoral concepts have no reality in history. One sees envy right away. The phenomenon of history is only comprehensible if one admits the idea of original sin. the whole history of humanity is really in theBible. especially in people who are close to you. His tory can only be interpreted if one admits that man has been marked by evil since the beginning. That's what life is. It's all there. JASON WEISS jealous of me. and history isn't constructed. and history has proved it. And the fish dived down to the bottom of the waters and the vulture flew away into the sky. Genesis. He realized that this fellow's dangerous. in the fall from Paradise and then in the two brothers.Man is accursed. He was an intellectual who was doing a thesis at the Sorbonne. he's cursed. inevitably. JW: Did your experiences during thewar enter into your first book? EMC: Oh yes. the eyes light up. That's why I'm against ideologies: they're either too silly or too generous. I'm not a believer and have no religious conviction. "The danger has come. There is an amazing story in the Koran: when man made his appearance on earth a fish came up out of the water and a vulture came down from the sky. The book begins with a denunciation of fanaticism. The very fact that God is afraid of man. a lot. [127] . extremely gifted. Because ideologies con struct history. but harmful. of man. and they said. Cain and Abel. The basic sentiment of man is envy. I'd thought he was a friend. and every success automatically earns you the jealousy of people who know you. Naturally. we know the events thatwe've lived through. History is at once demoniac and tragic. but one has only to look at all that has been going on until now. He is con demned. You see. it's there. and itwas he who had instigated the whole business. that'swhat is so fantastic. but I rely on certain religious categories to explain things. and it was his own best friend who now came to tell me. Iwasn't con cerned with history. Before thewar.

before coming to Paris. saying. Christian ethics are rela tively good. It's in the Bible as well. And I consider that Spain offers the example of themost terrificand illustrious failure. who is carrying a sack and throws it on the ground. A fellow is telling about his travels through Spain. Why? Morality is a sort of criticism. JW: How did your interest in Spain develop? There are many references to Spain in your books. especially in one's youth. How did this interest first develop in me? For personal reasons. Christianity teaches that. I don't. Well. everything. a God. So that'swhy I began my first book with a denunciation of fanaticism and what I call the temptation of fanaticism. but Christianity has launched wars without precedent. and all of a sudden he sees a campesino. he wouldn't accept a chief. that is skep ticism or. themost intolerant. I'd originally applied for a grant to go there. unheard-of massacres. but that has nothing to do with history. a peasant.As a student I had read a book about the Spanish character. because it is very tempting. one could say that he illus trates thewhole history of theworld. themost atrocious. until the Last Judgment. It's the country in Europe that has most attracted me. And it's even characteristic that history speaks only of monsters. It's an emanation of man. In fact. and I found there something that really struck me. GRAND STREET JW: But you don't seem to deny morality. and all in the name of God. but then the Civil War broke out. Satan is the chief who rules over the earth. and that Christ shall be unable to achieve anything here. Iwanted to studywith Oltega y Gasset. antifanaticism. and perhaps the only valid one. his pride.which can lead only to one conclusion. is the spectacle of world his tory. rather. of his instincts. The Christian wars are themost terrible. But fanaticism is no ac cident. Why did the angels revolt? Lucifer was ambitious. that he has no influencemeanwhile. One of the main reasons why I consider skepticism a truly interesting attitude. take the case of Christianity. "jQue lejos est'a todol" How far every thing is! Iwas so struck by this phrase that it became the [128] . in third class. I've always been attracted to countries that had grandiose dreams and then failed. his will. EMC: No. EMC: The interest goes deep.

And the priests with their cross coming in there tomake them convert to Christianity immediately. EMC: Yes. JW: Did Spain suggest any romantic or exotic image to you. To be punished by what one loves. For example. Unamuno would call him "my brother. they paid very dearly. that sort of madness. It was suicide.with their cross." and I too was captivated by Kierkegaard. for instance in theMoorish presence there? EMC: Enormously. it's the expulsion of the Jews thatmade Spain fall apart. That's exactly what Germany did. JW: The Jews have always mixed to some degree with the dominant culture. Iwas very impressed by the fact that around 1900 he learned Danish in order to read Kierkegaard in the original. Then. who came originally from Rumania. but with a lot of spirit and humor. and conscious of its difference. which is so far from Spain? EMC: A little. that's themystery of Jewish destiny. They didn't have the German heaviness. it's rather thewhole psychology of a people that is really quite different. But it's not that. because they loved Spain and had lived there one of themost beautiful periods in Jewish history. I've read a lot about that folly. inevitably. "Convertl"The people were weeping. For exam ple. Obviously I have read the works of Unamuno. It was a fruitful en [129] . they've both given and taken a lot. JW:Were you interestedmuch in earlier periods of Spain. They had the same depth. but the Jews went deeper. The whole origns of the Arabic in vasion and also the drama of the Jews in Spain. it's heartbreaking. JASON WEISS title of a chapter in my first book in Rumanian. his commentary on Don Quixote and the rest. And then. Moreover. saying. The Dominicans came into the Jewish ceme tery. I don't think. It is the drama of the Jews that they have been chased from countries theywere par ticularly attached to. the conquista. one of the things thatmoved me the most was what happened in Segovia when the Jews were beginning to leave and went to bow over their parents' graves to say goodbye. in Germany they gave a livelier turn to things. For having considered Spain and later Germany a home. which was never translated.

there is an extraordinary Jewish optimism. The Rumanians." and so on. JW: InDrawn and Quartered you say. especially a writer.with a sort of philosophy of surrender. One of the com posers I love isBrahms. JW:How did the folklore and the native character of the Rumanians affect you? EMC: What I inherited from the Rumanian people. As far as folkmusic goes. but rm not a writer. "I have no nationality-the best possible status for an intellectual. of Ionesco and of Isidore Isou. In coming to Paris I became dena tionalized. I can't deny it. I think. because people would always say things like "There's nothing a man can do" and "There's only des tiny. and I felt very much at home in this environment. Yet in spite of it all. "A self-respecting man is aman without a country. I always hated what was intellectually provincial."Elsewhere you've writ ten. Theirs is the same vision. in every domain. He lives near here and goes every day to the Luxembourg Gar [130] . were theremany Rumanians? rm thinking par ticularly of writers.But rm not anti Hungarian. I see him often. it'sHungarian gypsy music that I prefer from that part of the world. But forme the fact of having lost my roots went with my conception of the intellectual without a country. the peasants. I have a lot of admiration for the Magyars. EMC: I know Isou very well. JW:What was your cultural orientation in Rumania? EMC: The Rumanians within theAustro-Hungarian em pire were a population kept in darkness. I learned this as a child. But that in itself was an omi nous sign. are the most fatalistic people in the world. Even for a poet. that man is a sort of plaything of destiny. JW:Among themany people that you came to know here in Paris. is their fatalism. yes. EMC: Maybe. because he's rooted in his language.And these peasants are closer to Greek tragedy than those of the West. For a novelist. The Jews are the only tragic people that remain optimists. That vision of life marked me.What is so beautiful about Paris is that ifs a city of uprooted people." But most people say that one has to have roots. for the gypsy element in hisworks. GCRAND STREET counter. it's true in a certain sense.

It goes back to when I was about fifteen. I became very taken with it. My parents had settled in Sibiu and my father was the orthodox parish priest for the city and also a counselor to a very important fellow in the church hierarchy. JW: Is it true that Ionesco is obsessed with Russia? EMC: Like all people from Eastern Europe. . he has never despaired asmuch as since he's been famous. Oddly enough. One can die of laughter with him. JW: Historically. this obsession has grown weaker. Instead of coming to termswith life.He was very poor in Paris be fore becoming known as a writer. since I was very passionate about Dostoyevsky. He's a man who is haunted by the idea of death. He's a pro foundly unhappy man. For years we spoke on the phone almost daily. It's not that he's afraid to die. He's been all over the world. he travels a great deal. I've always been very taken up with Rus sian culture. it's the contrary.With age. of things not lasting. and his work is an expression of it. he's a very good friend. With him. had a huge library. He is as interesting a man as he is a writer. JW: You knew him well there? EMC: We were students together in Bucharest. He has a sense of the ephemeral. forme. JASON WEISS dens. and. As a teenager I was thus able to read an enormous amount on Russia. and he had everything on Russia. though he was in French and I was in philosophy. much more than I. To such a degree that I con sider there is a Russian fatality." EMC: Listen. we're greater friends here thanwe were in Rumania. JW: But you write that the future is Russia's. Which iswhat I like about him. EMC: The immediate future. and success has only aggravated his misery. JW: InHistoire et Utopie. His ob sessionwith death drives him quite far. that's all. even when he's in despair. This man was very cultivated. you wrote that Russia's future will depend on "the bearing with which it spends its reserves of utopia. I used to see Ionesco a lot. It's an escape. One might even say that his humor is somewhat the disconsolation of dying. with a great sense of humor in life and never banal.At the same time I conceived a great admiration for Russia and a great fear.

though that was when theWest was still power ful. a Left exempt from fanaticism. that the Socialists won in Spain? EMC: In Spain a Leftist government is absolutely indis pensable. EMC: Naturally. JW: Are you glad. The English. the ideal is an intelligent Leftist government. because man can't stop himself. For an intellectual it'sobvious that. Europe is no longer a danger for the Russians. but at the same time its mission has arisen because it's been provoked from abroad. though as the result of a catastrophe that defies words. Freedom is an ideal. they all know it's not worth the trouble to get caught up in history now. GRAND STREET EMC: Yes. I believe in a Russian destiny which we can not escape. the Germans. They're afraid of Germany. [132] . to take its place. JW: But its between Russia and the United States now. JW: Is there a political regime that you prefer? EMC: I believe the ideal regime is of a Left without rigid dogmas. And itwill explode some day because of this dream. but on condition that it doesn't run aground. it doesn't interest them to play a role anymore. but man is a devilish animal and tends to make poor use of freedom. unforttunately. Russia has always been carried away by a dream of universal domination. for instance. By a sort of pres sure. that's undeniable. Socialist govern ments don't know this. the French. I believe. which had given up. But the Russians are doing something stupid. JW: Do you feel thatRussia will take over all of Europe? EMC: Yes. and America was forced by Europe's weakness. The Germans have become a nation of tourists. It's obvious that all the peoples of theWest have exhausted their sense of a mission. because their dream was obviously to compete with the West. Freedom has to be controlled. but their dream continues-instead of leaving theWest in peace. One feels Russia is weighing on Europe. at this stage in history. while looking towards theWest. America became involved in this throughWestern Eu rope. Someone had to take over. The Russians have only towait. Each nation has a mission to carry out and that's over for them. which is ridiculous. The United States has not exhausted its historical role. but not necessarily by war.

at what point did you begin to sense "the lugubrious stupidity of the Cross. I was about eighteen.My philisophical awakenlingwas anti-Christian. if not the conception that men have had of the policeman through the ages?"Which seems even more so now. because of their kind of extraordinary pride. EMC: That's unhappily true. their passion. of saying grace before eating. Not because of their religious faith but for their excess. He took his calling seriously and had the habit. having a father who was a Greek Orthodox priest. Then. From about the age of thir teen or fourteen. God and me. and I soon under stood that I could not have faith. They were stupid prejudices but that doesn't matter. you defined freedom as "'anethical principle of demonic essence. They gave a sort of consistency to English society and provided limits that one was not to transgress.The problem of freedom is at once philosophical and political: to what point can the human animal be free without perishing? JW: In Syllogismes too you wrote: "History. But it interested me because themystics lived amore intense life than others. My father wasn't intolerant at all. JW:About Christianity." EMC: The best governments in the world have been ruined by uncontrolled freedom. their inner violence. all the same. I was terribly anti-Christian when I was young.when I started to read. Why was England one of the rare countries to have known freedom for so long? Because English prejudices were very strong and contained the people. I felt a sort of repulsion for it. JASON WEISS JW: In A Short History of Decay. then. So I began to read the great mystics. something happened a little later. I thought it too stupid. amounts to a classification of police. because what is the historian dealing with. Because man abuses it. First of all. [133] . and then I would always disappear. And too. Iwas against it. for instance." as you put it in A ShortHistory of Decay? EMC: Rather early. me and God. he was very humane and concemed himself with people-be cause he wanted originally to be a lawyer but couldn't in Austria-Hungary. going to the bathroom until he finished his prayer. in effect. I developed an interest not somuch in religion itself as in mystics.

according to one's conceptions. JW: You also wrote inA Short History of Decay that you loved very much all thewomen saints. It was a form of perverse eroticism. EMC: That's right. Ecstasy thus offers diverse forms. inevitably. EMC: Yet I've always been attacked as an atheist. inside and outside. JW: Religion lends it a language. with Kirilov-when you're suddenly seized with the feeling of truly being God. which are frequent too for epileptics. all of them. with the whole universe centered on you. They were all persecuted because the Church considered them dangerous. I had my insomnia. it came frommy own experience. there aremoments-which Dostoyevsky speaks about in The Possessed. because I've always con sidered themystics as practically outside of Christianity. JW: But why did you stop loving them? EMC: It was like a passing madness. JW: You're speaking of the Christian mystics in par ticular. I was never epileptic. there was a sick side to it. The Church doesn't know what to do with them. And it's at that point that I really under stood themystics. GRAND STREET JW: You yourself weren't tempted to follow the mystics' path. Mysticism is the extreme state of religion. I knew these states.When you're under a great deal of nervous tension. I was then about twenty-five. it accepts them finally. I read them all. EMC: Yes. rm a [134] . but while they are alive they're persecuted. Itmanifests itself by a sort of sensation of extraordinary light. and theywere often thrown in prison as heretics. which gives one amaz ingly ecstatic states. but because of this amazing nervous tension I experienced what is called ecstasy. Theresa of Avila. Somy interest in themystics wasn't abstract or intellectual. Certainly. St. though? EMC: No. JW: You seem hardly to speak at all about atheism. St. EMC: Yes. that passion had a morbid aspect too. John of the Cross. JW: But what did you do about the Christian side of their experience? EMC: That didn't interestme.

since my youth. ifs stronger thanme. one speakswith him. It has nothing to do with faith inmy case. And then there's detachment. because one can't define the concept of God. less now. It's a sort of survival. I'm very irri table. JW:When did that interest first develop? EMC: I was about twenty-four or twenty-five. They can't really believe in God. The function he plays for those of us who don't believe is thatwhen one doesn't know whom to speak to anymore. the Buddhists consider anger as that which most hinders salvation. EMC: It's always very suspect. One thinks of God when one can think of noth ing else anymore. I was very interested in Buddhism. But Buddhism has played a big role inmy life. If I had ever adopted a religion. But I should explain why I have spoken so often ofGod in these last twenty years. I'm incapable of attaining it. until I realized thatwas absurd. What attracted me toBuddhism is the [1351 . I'm old. Well. JW: For many people that question of certitude is a big problem. they're institutions. it would have been Buddhism. so I realized that I was a dubious Buddhist. Irvedefined God as the partner inmoments of extreme solitude. And for a long time I even boasted of being a Buddhist. these extreme cases. it's solely a pretext for dialogue. You know. It's absurd to say that God doesn't exist. EMC: Buddhism. I can't abide by religions. JW: You hadn't actually taken on all the precepts. above all. the last companion in soli tude. JW: Atheism offers toomuch certitude perhaps. one clashes with God. but religion has interested me solely because of the mystics. but you've also studied other religions. I think. but they're not sure either thatGod doesn't exist. but because everything else has van ished. of no other person. Each one of us obviously knows extreme states of solitude. where nothing exists anymore. It's a monologue. EMC: The existence of God doesn't even interest me. JASON WEISS false believer and a false atheist. So. especially at night when one is absolutely alone and there is always the difficulty of speakingwith oneself. JW: You've studied the history of Christianity rather thoroughly. EMC: No.

There's the whole problenm. Everything I've done has been the result of a spiritual failure. but at bottom I'mmuch closer to certain Ro mantics. I still react like other men. [Laughs. one would have to either become amonk or commit suicide. I hate them and so on. and also to understand Buddhism. But not the solutions. that nothing is real. the statements on life that itmakes. so I wrote books. and that I was destined to torturemyself. It's perhaps the negative aspect of Buddhism that I liked.why write? EMC: I try to be what I should be. why do they write. for example. That's where my fatalistic side comes in:we do not escape our selves. it's also done me a lot of good. as you've written. I love people. in your writings you even seem to deny the possibility forWesterners to be realBuddhists. Finally I reached the conclusion that I was not to be saved. At bottom one has to admit that life is made of these contradictions. that's what's interesting. [136] . tomake a rule of nonproduction. Iwouldn't have written.] The restwas desire. see.What people don't realize is that it's one thing to like that form of wisdom and it's another to live it. JW: Yet you often advise detachment in your books. It's helped me to put up with a lot of things. but I couldn't. that theywrote books. GRAND STREET statement that everything is illusion. itwas also a paradox for themystics. God doesn't read. since they're writing for God. "our sole re course: to renounce not only the fruit of action. What should I have done? I should have been a sage. EMC: Absolutely. EMC: All the time. JW: But in The Fall into Time. One can't dwell on the ultimate consequences of an attitude. It's not possible. EMC: Yes. JW:Well. because if I know that nothing is real."Which brings up the old problem then. formost people. JW: Though. My temperament hasn't changed. I wasn't made to be set free. If I identified completely with what I'vewrittein. but I couldn't manage it. But forme that is not necessarily a negative concept. Iwanted to be one. Iwrap myself up in those things because all my life I've had the feeling of nothingness. you write. but action itself.

in becoming much more lucid one sees how one was undeserving precisely of the image one had of oneself. But my idea is this. obviously. you speak of "the man Iwould have liked to be. But who is that? EMC: You know. EMC: Listen. and then in the end it's all over and what does it matter. religionwon't disappear overnight. but Christianity can't renew itself from inside anymore. I don't believe that the religious foundation that exists inman can ever disappear. JW: You return quite often in your books to the idea that we cannot weep enough. But "theman I would have liked to be" is not at all who Imight have been. I've suffered from that. It's a sort of survivor now. Iwrote formyself. JASON WEISS JW: In The Trouble with Being Born. that in nothing that I've written have I ever thought of others. It comes too from that feeling of not belonging to the [137] . It's given all it can. but for others. and so I tried to be less so than others. arrogant rather. to not be fooled. Where does that come from? EMC: From personal experience. it no longer has any spiritual force. All my life I've had the feeling of this unworthiness. I've suffered.My fear has always been of being a dupe. to under stand. What's important. It may be neo-Romantic or something. is to have said certain things that can count. It's the fear of believing. be cause the only thing that could liberate one in such states is to weep. It can try. inmy youth Iwas extremely ambitious. of having stopped short of what I might have been. inwhatever itmight be. from a sort of need toweep without being able to. thatChristianity is like a corpse that drags on. that could last a long time yet." which is a phrase found elsewhere in your work as well. in the United States for example. whether one produces a body of work or not. However. though that too is an illusion. It is a part of his essence. and I can't then. It's the need toweep as liberation. For me every belief is trickery. But I should say this. like all melancholics. Yet a lot of new evangelical sects keep springing up. but it's real. What Iwanted is to comprehend things. I've experienced that very often in my life. Inevitably. finally. not only for oneself. JW: You've said that Christianity's career is over.

he became world-famous rela tively young. anAlsatian irony. You're thrown into the world. Or else he would have mistrusted them. I wrote a portrait of him inA Short History of Decay. Ifts a way of thinking that's not alien tome. JW: But he probably knew your books later. even ecstasy. Obviously. It seems that music would be capable of replacing philosophy for you. I'm almost sure. is illusory. called "On an Entrepreneur of Ideas. very heavy. Everything! JW: In "Tares. That's how Iwould define music. I askmyself why. thenmusic itself is a lie. for whole days at a time. But. almost immediately. frankly. everything is a lie. when it was freezing outside."you write: "Outside of music. As [138] . If everything is a lie. He had a Germanic. EMC: Not only philosophy. itwas very strange. but the superb lie. I never spoke to him. in fact too gifted. The biggest re proach Iwould make was his total lack of humor." EMC: I'll tell you my view of music in taking up that formula again. with Sartre. But I don'twant to speak ill of him. Itwasn't from shy ness either. But the Flore was the only heated caf6 at the time of the Liberation. it's very difficult to speak about it. it would have been a lot better. It is precisely one and the other but better. even though he was very famous and I was completely unknown. JW: Let's get around to talking aboutmusic now. Sartre was an extremely gifted fellow. He was fascinated by world fame. without mentioning his name. JW:Did you ever have much occasion to speakwith him? EMC: No. even solitude. To his misfortune. GRAND STREET world. absolutely not. it all became a sort of fashionable philosophy and very unpleasant. very insistent. EMC: I don't think so. I sat next to him quite often at the Cafe de Flore. but what is it you're looking for here? JW:Where do you situate yourself in relationship to the whole movement of existentialism and the theory of the absurd in France? EMC: Normally I would say I'm quite close to that." It expressed a kind of sympathy in spite of everything. I think that if he had had less ambition.

what is it?What state was I in?"One had felt itwas everything. But I like the music of Schoenberg and his contempo [139] . his chamber works. One day she told me. JASON WEISS long as you listen to it. But when one stops listening. but I'm starting to now a little. JW: Yes. you wrote that but without any name! EMC: Iwould have conceded one of the two. But later I abandoned it for rather specific reasons. why bother tomeet him? JW: Have you ever written while listening tomusic? EMC: No. I thought she was superficial. the only thing in the world that deeply moves me isBach. that's unpardonable. I never wanted tomeet Andre Breton. Till the age of twenty. So. that everything ceases to exist. I understood thatmy image of her was false. EMC: I'll tell you. but both of them. of the receptions. Some people. "You know. and then it all disappeared. JW: Are there certain periods of music that you listen to?Do you like contemporarymusic at all? EMC: Yes. What other composers did you listen to? EMC: My big passion in the beginning was Bach. from about 1955. for example Levi-Strauss. Because Breton was totally impervious to music and to Dostoyevsky. one falls back into time and wonders. It doesn't matter what he might have achieved. So that is why I say music is the superb illusion. 'Well. I completely changed my opinion of her. which was directed by Pierre Boulez before he was very famous. I was very interested in contemporary music. and with that I stopped going to the concerts. Because of Bach. nearly all theirwork. JW: You've also written that you scorn a person who has no taste formusic. I had a profound contempt for my mother. And two beings communicate extraordinarilywhen they listen tomusic together. it was a fatigue of society. Which brought about something very curious. you have the feeling that it is the whole universe. JW: You said that you've listened to Brahms a lot. I didn't want to meet people anymore. for ten years I followed the concerts of the Domaine Musical here. write while listening to music. there is only music."And from thatmoment on.

I could have killed someone. Because they're should not have existed. and I've never been systematic about it. JW: Are there certain of your books that remain closest to you now? EMC: Yes. you speak quite often of the loss of silence. The Trouble with Being Born and Syllogismes de rAmertume. I think. he should have remained a species like any other and not have broken away from the rest of Creation. I consider the loss of silence extremely serious. we end up being punished for it.And I know Stockhausen'swork. I consider the disappearance of silence as one of the symptoms of the end of humanity. I have lived itwith a power of conviction. W [140] ." But your books are achievements. and this failure is not only inevitable but desirable. For twenty-five years I lived in hotels inParis. If we want to know happiness in life. have they turned against you? EMC: I'm thinking there of man in general. "I ask those I love to be kind enough to grow old. I feel thatman should not have thrown himself into this amazing adventure that is history.. such as Schumann. JW: On the other side of that. "I have followed only one idea all theway-the idea that every thing man achieves necessarily turns against him ." EMC: That came about because of an old friend of mine who suffers from a youngish optimism and who had just reproachedme saying that I hadn't realized my potential in life. where you wrote. But I'mno special ist. of t-hedestiny of man. JW: In The Trouble with Being Born you wrote. Everything we do. he was made solely to look and to live as the ani mals and the trees do.we must not do anything. Everything that he does turns against him because he wasn't made to do some thing. JW: In the same book there was a line concluding a cer tain passage that touched me a lot. EMC: It's an obsession. and the noise. And then I fell back into Romantic music. And I'll go even further. GRAND STREET raries. . not accomplish anything. But everyone fails to realize his whole potential. live and nothing more.