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From denial to denial, his existence is diminished: vaguer and more unreal than a syllogism of sighs, how could he still be a creature of flesh and blood? Anemic, he rivals the Idea itself; he has abstracted himself from his ancestors, from his friends, from every soul and himself; in his veins, once turbulent, rests a light from another world. Liberated from what he has lived, unconcerned by what he will live; he demolishes the signposts on all his roads, and wrests himself from the dials of all time. "I shall never meet myself again," he decides, happy to turn his last hatred against himself, happier still to annihilate—in his forgiveness—all beings, all things. E. M. Cioran, A Short History of Decay Not everyone in the world of "Surface Tension," please recall, was a True Believer in cosmic conquest. The story has as well its conscientious objectors: the crew member on board the original seed ship who dares to suggest that the effort to colonize the universe is prideful enough to bring down the wrath of the gods; the youth of the microscopic human world who oppose space exploration's wastefulness; the mechanic on Lavon's expedition who believes his kind has no place in the new realm beyond the sky. And not all those in the Space Age who have thought deeply about the extraterrestrial imperative see it in as favorable a light as those who have spoken above. Some who have heard us talk are more than ready to insist that the emperor wears no clothes. Though the Hudson Institute would no doubt dismiss their criticisms as sure "to produce apathy and decay on a planet‐wide scale" because of their skeptical view of technological progress, no one can deny that their ideas, however "inhumanist" they may sound, are likewise in the air and must be heeded. It may well be that those who now question the motives of our growing infinite presumption speak for what once was thought to be the highest wisdom.
The Collected Works of David Lavery 2
Though he has been described as a Gnostic (by Jacques Lacarriere), the Romanian born essayist and aphorist E. M. Cioran should more properly be thought of as an analyst of the human tendency toward Gnosticism, the most skeptical, most inhumanist critic in any language of humankind's unquenchable longing. In books like The Trouble with Being Born, A Short History of Decay, The Fall Into Time, Ath eights of Despair, The Temptation to Exist, and Drawn and Quartered, Cioran offers, in the face of what he believes to be the dire need "to rein in the expansion of a flawed animal" (Drawn and Quartered 34), a psychohistory of our species' failure to adapt itself to life on Earth. Cioran does, it is true, speak in Gnostic fashion of a "maleficent genius," a "suspect providence" governing history (Drawn and Quartered 37). He does insist that "nothing could persuade me that this world is not the fruit of a dark god whose shadow I extend, and that it is incumbent upon me to exhaust the consequences of the curse hanging over him and his creation" (New Gods 89). And he speaks admiringly of Basilides the Gnostic because he knew "that humanity, if it wants to be saved, must return within its natural limits by a return to ignorance, true sign of redemption" (New Gods 97). But his thoroughly skeptical solution to humankind's extreme alienation is not abandonment of the world; he seeks no transcendence. He counsels humiliation: he seeks a return to, a sinking back into, the earthly. We are autochthons of this world, if we would only realize it. Cioran is an "epicure of post‐history," celebrating the possibility of "no more events," a Gibbon meditating "at the end of not one cycle but all," but a victim still of "the very human fear of being human" (Drawn and Quartered 34, 45, 72). ("The proof that man loathes man?" Cioran writes in a characteristic passage: "Enough to be in a crowd, in order to feel that you side with all the dead planets" [Drawn and Quartered 122].) Cioran's reflections on human nature and destiny begin with the Fall. History, he writes, is a "desertion forward" (Drawn and Quartered 41).
The Collected Works of David Lavery 3
Humankind fell into time because it could not abide the peace and tranquility of a life in nature, because it could not endure paradise. Infatuated by his gifts, ["man"] flouts nature, breaks out of its stagnation, creating a chaos alternately vile and tragic that becomes strictly (and naturally) untenable. That he should clear out as soon as possible is surely nature's wish, and one that man, if he wanted to, could gratify on the spot. Hence nature would be rid of these seditious creatures whose every smile is subversive, of this anti‐life force she shelters by force, of this usurper who has stolen her secrets, in order to subjugate and dishonor her. (Drawn and Quartered 50) Though he admits that "we shall never know exactly what was broken" in us, Cioran insists that "there is a break, it is there. It was there in the begininning" (Drawn and Quartered 41). Considered against the backdrop of the "harmony of nature," humanity thus "appears . . . as an episode, a digression, a heresy, as a killjoy, a wastrel, a miscreant . . . a weakling, seduced by the vast, exposed to fatality which would intimidate a god" (Fall Into Time 40). "Man," Cioran writes in an ambiguous but revealing phrase, "is unacceptable" (Drawn and Quartered 181). A certain "faculty of noncoincidence" thus drives our species forward: "What flings us into action is the nonbeing in ourselves, our debility and our inadaptability." Man, Cioran writes, "bears within and upon himself something unreal, something unearthly, which is revealed in the pauses of his febrility. By dint of the vague, the equivocal, he is of this world, and he is not of this world." Indeed, we are "indenture[d] himself to elsewhere" (Fall Into Time 46, 47). Modernity has not changed the essential nature of human being. Today's human is only a "euphoric infection of the original disease, of that false innocence which awakened in Adam desire for the new," but we have now "exhausted all the virtues of [our] failure" (Fall Into Time 52, 53). We are spreading the infection; now our "temptation to Titanism" threatens the Earth: "Our contortions, visible or secret, we communicate to the planet; already it trembles even as we do, it suffers the contagion of our crises and, as this grand mal spreads, it vomits us forth, cursing us the while" (Drawn and Quartered 57‐58).
The Collected Works of David Lavery 4
But our desertion continues. "Cut off from every root, unfit, moreover to mix with dust or mud, we have achieved the feat of breaking not only with the depth of things, but their very surface" ("Civilized Man" 92)—even the surface of the Earth. "The greatest of all follies," he writes in Drawn and Quartered, "is to believe that we walk on solid ground" (80). Nowhere does Cioran write directly about space exploration—except for his suggestion (in A Fall Into Time) that "useless science" seeks to appease our alienation by "bestowing other planets as a reward" ("Civilized Man" 94). But from hints scattered throughout his writings it is not difficult to reconstruct his understanding of its motives. In A Short History of Decay, for example, an examination of our tendency toward irrationality ends by suggesting where such irrationality might lead. "What life is left him robs him of what reason is left him. Trifles or scourges—the passing of a fly or the cramps of the planet—horrify him equally. With his nerves on fire, he would like the Earth to be made of glass, to shatter it to smithereens; and with what thirst would fling himself toward the stars to reduce them to powder, one by one (Short History 176). In the twentieth century, Cioran writes, mankind's "ills fill sidereal space; his griefs make the poles tremble," and they "[wring] from him a cry which compromises the music of the spheres and the movement of the stars" (Short History 176; my emphasis). For Cioran, our infinite presumption begins in the womb; our otherwordliness is genetic. In one of the "Stabs at Bewilderment" in Drawn and Quartered, Cioran offers the following reflection on a human infant: "This little blind creature, only a few days old, turning its head every which way in search of something or other, this naked skull, this initial blankness, this tiny monkey that has sojourned for months in a latrine and that soon, fogetting its origins, will spit on the galaxies" (92; my emphasis) To hear us talk, to listen to the rhetoric of the Space Age, as we have done in this chapter, suggests that Cioran's words are no mere metaphors but rather psychologically candid accounts of motives normally hidden behind scientific and technocratic language. Always "indenture[d] to elsewhere," elsewhere has now become, for a puerile creature both "of this world, and . . . not of this world," space: we are being bestowed other planets as a reward.
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