Ceronetti Cioran Essay

Antinatalism is a philosophical position that assigns a negative value to birth; quotes are alphabetized by author or keyword.


A – B – C – D – E – F – G – H – I – J – K – L – M – N – O – P – Q – R – S – T – U – V – W – X – Y – Z.

A[edit]

  • What! Having the Infinite Force
    Only to pay oneself distressing spectacles,
    Impose massacre, inflict agony,
    Wanting before his eyes only the dead and the dying!
    In front of this spectator of our extreme pains
    Our indignation will overcome all terror;
    We will intersect our rasps of blasphemies,
    Not without a secret desire to excite his fury.
    Who knows? We may find some insult
    Who irritates him so much that, with a mad arm,
    He tears up our dark planet from the heavens,
    And shattered this unfortunate globe in a thousand shards.
    Our audacity at least would save you from being born,
    You who still sleep in the depth of the future.
    And we would come out triumphant for having, by ceasing to be,
    forced God to wash his hands off of Humanity.
    Ah! What immense joy after so much suffering!
    Through the debris, over the mass graves.
    To finally be able to let out this cry of deliverance:
    No more men under the sky, we are the last!
    • Louise-Victorine Ackermann, Pascal – Last Word
  • Although there are many answers to the question of how people should live, few thinkers have wondered about whether it is really moral to create people. Antinatalism undermines what seems obvious: that people should be begotten and born.
    • Karim Akerma, Was ist antinatalismus?
  • Among the people who are created, there are always some who will have to suffer unspeakably. This fact, having been considered not only by Schopenhauer and other so-called pessimists, should influence anyone prepared to have a closer look only – and especially – at the 20th century to philosophize. Thus far, nobody has succeeded in demonstrating that the inconceivable, though immeasurable suffering inflicted upon human beings, in Auschwitz and elsewhere throughout time and space, can be compensated by the former or future happiness of the sufferers or of others.
    • Karim Akerma, Verebben der Menschheit?: Neganthropie und Anthropodizee
  • Only by means of relative or absolute childlessness, resulting in mankind’s ebbing away, could happen what might be named – borrowing from the Greek myth – Sisyphus’s revolt. He would give up his work, not in order to commit suicide but rather by refraining from having children who otherwise would have taken his spot. In such a way that at some point in time there would be no one in the rock’s path which would eventually roll out. In terms of the Asian primordial decision: By means of abstention from procreation, the wheel of suffering would be deprived of its impetus until it comes to a standstill.
    • Karim Akerma, Verebben der Menschheit?: Neganthropie und Anthropodizee
  • Whoever procreate is a selfish ego-producer. On the other hand, whoever decides to adopt has the opportunity to show what true altruism is.
    • Karim Akerma, Antinatalismus – Ein Handbuch
  • My father has perpetrated this crime against me; I am guilty of none.
    • Abul ʿAla Al-Maʿarri, Arab Socialism
    • Description: Al-Maʿarri is said to have wanted this verse inscribed over his grave.
  • Birth is the driving wheel of all ills.
    • Philippe Annaba, Bienheureux les stériles
  • But I am aware of some that murmur: What, say they, if all men should abstain from all sexual intercourse, whence will the human race exist? Would that all would this, only in "charity out of a pure heart, and good conscience, and faith unfeigned"; much more speedily would the City of God be filled, and the end of the world hastened.
    • Augustine of Hippo, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: First Series, Volume III St. Augustine: On the Holy Trinity, Doctrinal Treatises, Moral Treatises

B[edit]

  • Astride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave-digger puts on the forceps. We have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries.
    • Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot
    • Description: the words spoken by the character, Vladimir.
  • "No," he replied, when I asked him if he had ever wanted children, "that's one thing I'm proud of."
    • Lawrence Shainberg, Exorcising Beckett
    • Description: about Samuel Beckett.
  • Time and again he targets parents as irresponsible criminals although, of course, in life courtesy prevented him from expressing his real feelings. Hamm denounces his parents in "Endgame" as "accursed progenitors" and Molloy is bitterly unable to forgive his mother for bringing him into the world. In private I knew Beckett to express a passive anger at those who insisted on having families.
    • John Calder, The philosophy of Samuel Beckett
    • Description: about Samuel Beckett.
  • A few of my critics have claimed that I am committed to the desirability of suicide and even speciecide. They clearly intend this as a reductio ad absurdum of my position. However, I considered the questions of suicide and speciecide in Better Never to Have Been and argued that these are not implications of my view. First, it is possible to think that both coming into existence is a serious harm and that death is (usually) a serious harm. Indeed, some people might think that coming into existence is a serious harm in part because the harm of death is then inevitable.
    • David Benatar, Still Better Never to Have Been: A Reply to (More of) My Critics
  • It is curious that while good people go to great lengths to spare their children from suffering, few of them seem to notice that the one (and only) guaranteed way to prevent all the suffering of their children is not to bring those children into existence in the first place.
    • David Benatar, Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence
  • To procreate is thus to engage in a kind of Russian roulette, but one in which the "gun" is aimed not at oneself but instead at one’s offspring. You trigger a new life and thereby subject that new life to the risk of unspeakable suffering.
    • David Benatar, Debating Procreation: Is It Wrong To Reproduce?
  • Even at the risk of being thought mad, we must not be afraid to say that our parents, like theirs before them, were guilty of the crime of procreation, which means the crime of creating unhappiness, of conspiring with others to increase the unhappiness of an increasingly unhappy world.
    • Thomas Bernhard, Gathering evidence: a memoir
  • The formula of childbirth is: let the current state of affairs continue. Unbelievable message. "Forget about suffering, stop rebelling." This means acceptance of everything that happens, suggests that existence has an indisputable value. It also turns out that existence is not as independent of our will as we might think, but we are the ones who make the final gesture of consent. And therefore, we are responsible.
    • Jolanta Brach-Czaina, Szczeliny istnienia
  • Procreation is something impossible for me. I would never forgive myself for putting someone on death row.
    • Elisa Brune, La mort dans l'âme: tango avec Cioran

C[edit]

  • If liberty, according to traditional morality itself, is a fundamental ethical value, the very basis of ethics, one must admit that the creation of a child can be the first huge disrespect of the liberty of the human person. The issue of liberty suffers from the same problem as the issue of pain: it is about an ethical value that the traditional affirmative ethic is unable to radicalize.
    • Julio Cabrera, Projeto de Ética Negativa
  • In the light of natural ontology, it is not correct the argument that we do not know anything about our possible offsprings, for example, about the capacity they will have to overcome structural pain; because even we do not know, for example, whether they will enjoy traveling, working or studying classical languages, we do know they will be indigent, decadent, vacating beings who will start dying since birth, who will face and be characterized by systematic dysfunctions, who will have to constitute their own beings as beings-against-the-others – in the sense of dealing with aggressiveness and having to discharge it over others – who will lose those they love and be lost by those who love them, and time will take everything they manage to build.
    • Julio Cabrera, A critique of affirmative morality (A reflection on death, birth and the value of life)
  • The best would have been not to be born. Not being born is, in a negative ethics, the absolute good; but it is, precisely, the good that cannot be sought. (Attention: the situation is more radical than in the case of goods that can be sought but never achieved; not being born cannot even be sought).
    • Julio Cabrera, A critique of affirmative morality (A reflection on death, birth and the value of life)
  • Thus, whoever has said to procreate for love, as others kill for hate, might have said a truth, but, no doubt, this person has not given any moral justification for procreation. Saying you have had a child "for love" is a manner of saying you have had him or her compulsively, according to the wild rhythms of life. In a similar way, we might intensely love our parents and, at the same time, consider fatherhood ethically-rationally problematic, and visualize we have been manipulated by them. I may continue to love after having detected immorality, there is nothing contradictory on that. Neither would morally justify a homicide saying we have done it for hate, nor a suicide saying we have done it "for hate against ourselves". Something can continue to be ethically problematic even when guided by love.
    • Julio Cabrera, A critique of affirmative morality (A reflection on death, birth and the value of life)
  • We undoubtedly would not morally justify the behavior of someone who sent a colleague to a dangerous situation by saying: "I sent him there because I know he is strong and he will manage well". The "strengths" of the newborn do not relieve in anything the moral responsibility of the procreator. Anyone would answer: "This is irrelevant. Your role in the matter consisted of sending people to a situation you know was difficult and painful and you could avoid it. Your predictions about their reacting manners do not decrease in anything your responsibility". In the case of procreation, the reasoning could be the same, and in a notorious emphatic way, since in any intra-worldly situation with already existing people in which we send someone to a position known as painful, the other one could always run away from pain to the extent his being is already in the world and he could predict danger and try to avoid being exposed to a disregarding and manipulative maneuver. In the case of the one who is being born, by contrast, this is not possible at all because it is precisely his very being that is being manufactured and used. Concerning birth, therefore, manipulation seems to be total.
    • Julio Cabrera, A critique of affirmative morality (A reflection on death, birth and the value of life)
  • Would a genuinely rational agent choose to be born? One can reread my argumentation against R.M. Hare, in A critique of affirmative morality [...]. There I suggest that, in the experiment where the non-being is magically consulted about its possible birth, Hare is wrong in supposing uncritically that "he" would choose, without a doubt, to be born. (This is the habitual affirmative tendency). Because we suppose that he is human, that is, a rational creature capable of pondering reasons. The information that is given that possible being, in Hare’s experiment, is incomplete and biased. We should also tell him that, if he is born, he does not have any guarantee of being born without problems; that, if he manages to be born problem-free, he will suffer, almost surely, of many intra-world evils; that, if he manages to get rid of them (and this is intraworldly possible, although hard), we cannot give him any reassurance about his life span, nor about the kind of death he will have, besides having to suffer the death of those he comes to love and having his death being suffered by those who love him (if he is lucky of loving someone and of being loved by someone, which is not guaranteed either). One would also have to say to him that, if he manages to avoid a violent accidental death, he will deteriorate in fairly scarce years (just as the people he loves and cares about), and that he has a high chance of becoming terminally ill who could suffer terribly until the time of his demise. If it were still the case for the non-being that, after having assimilated all this information, he would choose to be born, could not we harbor well-founded reasons to doubt its quality as "rational agent"?
    • Julio Cabrera, Porque te amo, não nascerás! Nascituri te salutant
  • When we give up on having children, we give up a small and dubious personal satisfaction to prevent the emergence of great suffering. If we can exercise a minimum of compassion for what, according to ourselves, will be the sole object of our love and dedication, we will see that, by not reproducing, we will be putting into practice the only possible kindness toward our children. Let us be comforted to know that, because they were not born, in our dreams they will always be sleeping in their rooms, under blankets as soft as the embrace of the one whose love would never allow them to suffer, and thereby protected them from existence. They remain comfortable, serene, in peace, with a half-smile on their lips for never having tasted the bitterness and disappointment of life. They will always remain pure, eternally free from the dangers of the world. This is the true meaning of giving up one's life in favor of one's children.
    • André Cancian, O Vazio da Máquina: Niilismo e outros abismos
  • Undoubtedly, the reproductive drive has deep biological roots, but that does not free us from guilt either. Of course, it was not us who invented life and its rules, but it was us who propagated it. We intentionally create a life in circumstances where we knew that suffering would be unavoidable. The impulse of aggression often leads us to commit crimes, but we do not fail to consider it reprehensible. It is something equally instinctive and natural, rooted in us as deeply as the sexual impulse. The difference is that our aggression will materialize nine months later, as if planting a time bomb in the heart of nothingness.
    • André Cancian, O Vazio da Máquina: Niilismo e outros abismos
  • Cathars believed the whole of humanity, and each man individually, is the children of Satan. Why, then, serve their reproduction, if not for the duplication of suffering, and the triumph of Satan?
    • Katarzyna Skrzypiec, Sekretna wieczerza, czyli o heretykach budzacych sympatie
  • Man dares to allow himself to be cruel, when he's already committed, tranquilly and repeatedly, the crudest act of all: engendering, condemning beings that do not exist or suffer to the horrors of life.
    • Guido Ceronetti, The Silence of the Body: Materials for the Study of Medicine
  • Our birth and death are just one thing. You can't have one without the other. It's a little funny to see how at a death people are so tearful and sad, and at a birth how happy and delighted. It's delusion. I think if you really want to cry. Then it would be better to do so when someone born. Cry at the root, for if there were no birth, there would be no death. Can you understand this?
    • Ajahn Chah, No Ajahn Chah: Reflections
  • Best by far not to be born, and not to come up against these rocks of life, but, if you are born, is it next best to escape as it were from fire of fortune as quickly as possible.
  • I have said more than once that one can have a post-sexual vision of the world, the most desperate vision that is possible: the feeling of having invested everything in something that was not worth it. The extraordinary thing is that we are dealing with a reversible infinity. Sexuality is an immense imposture, a gigantic falsehood that invariably renews itself.
  • I was alone in that cemetery overlooking the village when a pregnant woman came in. I left at once, in order not to look at this corpse-bearer at close range, nor to ruminate upon the contrast between an aggressive womb and the time-worn tombs-between a false promise and the end of all promises.
  • If attachment is an evil, we must look for its cause in the scandal of birth, for to be born is to be attached. Detachment then should apply itself to getting rid of the traces of this scandal, the most serious and intolerable of all.
  • If it is true that by death we once more become what we were before being, would it not have been better to abide by that pure possibility, not to stir from it? What use was this detour, when we might have remained forever in an unrealized plenitude?
  • In Buddhist writings, mention is often made of "the abyss of birth". An abyss indeed, a gulf into which we do not fall but from which, instead, we emerge, to our universal chagrin.'
  • In the Council of 1211 against the Bogomils, those among them were anathematized who held that "woman conceives in her womb by the cooperation of Satan, that Satan abides there upon conception without withdrawing hence until the birth of the child". I dare not suppose that the Devil can be concerned with us to the point of keeping us company for so many months, but I cannot doubt that we have been conceived under his eyes and that he actually attended our beloved begetters.
  • Nothing is a better proof of how far humanity has regressed than the impossibility of finding a single nation, a single tribe, among whom birth still provokes mourning and lamentations.
  • Pity makes you not want to be a "progenitor". This is the cruelest word I know.
  • To procreate is to love the scourge – to seek to maintain and to augment it. They were right, those ancient philosophers who identified fire with the principle of the universe, and with desire, for desire burns, devours: annihilates: At once agent and destroyer of beings, it is somber, it is infernal by essence.
  • We do not rush toward death, we flee the catastrophe of birth, survivors struggling to forget it. Fear of death is merely the projection into the future of a fear which dates back to our first moment of life. We are reluctant, of course, to treat birth as a scourge: has it not been inculcated as the sovereign good – have we not been told that the worst came at the end, not at the outset of our lives? Yet evil, the real evil, is behind, not ahead of us. What escaped Jesus did not escape Buddha: "If three things did not exist in the world, disciples, the Perfect One would not appear in the world..." And ahead of old age and death, he places the fact of birth, a source of every infirmity, every disaster.
  • What sin have you committed to be born, what crime to exist?
  • When every man has realized that his birth is a defeat, existence, endurable at last, will seem like the day after a surrender, like the relief and the repose of the conquered.
  • In her novel The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, Ursula K. le Guin describes a city where the good fortune of the citizens requires that an innocent child is tortured in a secret place (le Guin 1973). The child stands symbolically for the innocence of extreme sufferers. The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas are the people who deny the world. We will associate them with Buddhist monks in this paper, i.e., with childlessness and retreat. The metaphor suggests that individual happiness is ambivalent. The joy of the majority is at the cost of a suffering minority; one is not possible without the other. There is no doubt that the human suffering in this world is caused by procreation, but the relation is indirect. Parents participate in an immensely complex system of interactions and probabilities. Often a contingent event decides who becomes a victim. As a consequence, participants deny the responsibility for the results of the system – a phenomenon which is also known in the context of structural violence (Galtung 1969). If the human race were a sympathetic race, it could walk away from Omelas.
    • Bruno Contestabile, The Denial of the World from an Impartial View
  • Things change in an instant. Two things, however, are certain. Everyone will suffer. And everyone will die. Back to where we came from. Knowing this, and understanding full well that any particular life embodies the potential for experiencing extreme pain and unhappiness unceasing in some cases is procreation really worth the risk?
    • Jim Crawford, Confessions of an Antinatalist
  • If a child, for whose existence I was responsible, were to ask me why he or she were here, what happens after death, whether I could guarantee he or she would not suffer a fate like that Furuta Junko suffered in 1988/89 (please look it up, as there’s no room to describe it), what would I say? To me, the fact I have no answers that would not be guesswork, evasion or dogma indicates that having children is selfish and cruel.
    • Quentin S. Crisp, Antinatalism: A Thought Experiment
  • Whoever trusts us will remain single; those who do not trust us will rear children. And if the race of men should cease to exist there would be as much cause for regret as there would be if the flies and wasps should pass away.
    • Unknown, Cynic epistles, 47th Letter
    • Description: a sentence from a collection of letters expounding the principles and practices of cynic philosophy (wrongly attributed to Diogenes).

D[edit]

  • Nature knows nothing about right and wrong, good and evil, pleasure and pain; she simply acts. She creates a beautiful woman, and places a cancer on her cheek. She may create an idealist, and kill him with a germ. She creates a fine mind, and then burdens it with a deformed body. And she will create a fine body, apparently for no use whatever. She may destroy the most wonderful life when its work has just commenced. She may scatter tubercular germs broadcast throughout the world. She seemingly works with no method, plan or purpose. She knows no mercy nor goodness. Nothing is so cruel and abandoned as Nature. To call her tender or charitable is a travesty upon words and a stultification of intellect. No one can suggest these obvious facts without being told that he is not competent to judge Nature and the God behind Nature. If we must not judge God as evil, then we cannot judge God as good. In all the other affairs of life, man never hesitates to classify and judge, but when it comes to passing on life, and the responsibility of life, he is told that it must be good, although the opinion beggars reason and intelligence and is a denial of both. Emotionally, I shall no doubt act as others do to the last moment of my existence. With my last breath I shall probably try to draw another, but, intellectually, I am satisfied that life is a serious burden, which no thinking, humane person would wantonly inflict on some one else.
  • No, I would not like it if there was no end, it is literally something we can influence: a peaceful end to humanity. Let no one – this is the first thing I wish – become a parent anymore. It does not hurt the unborn, and saves them a lot of trouble.
    • Karlheinz Deschner, Frommer Wunsch. Für ein friedliches Ende der Menschheit, in: Peter Roos and Friederike Hassauer, Kinderwunsch. Reden und Gegenreden
  • A young monk had fallen deeply in love with a beautiful damsel. He abandoned the temple in which he lived and went to the village with the intention of declaring his love to her. Since it was already dark by the time he arrived, he checked in an inn and went to rest. That night he dreamt he had married her. He entered her chamber, made love to her... after some time they had twins. When they were thirteen years old, one of them fell into the river and drowned. The father, seized by grief, endlessly cried... and that's how he woke up, filled with tears. By morning, he retraced his steps, and headed back once more to his temple.

E[edit]

  • So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of "such as were" oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors "there was" power; but they had no comforter. Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive. Yea, better "is he" than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.
    • Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiastes 4:1-3, King James Version of the Bible, 1611
  • For through their abstinence they sin against creation and the holy Creator, against the sole, almighty God; and they teach that one should not enter into matrimony and beget children, should not bring further unhappy beings into the world, and produce fresh fodder for death.
  • So now I think and have long so thought:
    Man ought never children to beget
    Seeing into what agonies we are born.
    • Euripides, The Stromata, Book III, Chapter III

F[edit]

  • Where shall I be a hundred years from now? Where will all the present dwellers of the Earth be? To die, for ever and ever; to have existed but for a moment! What a mockery! Would it not be better a hundred times over never to have been born? But if it be our fate to live eternally and never to be able to change anything of the fatality that carries us along – having endless eternity always before us – how can we bear the burden of such a destiny? Is that the doom awaiting us? If we should tire of existence, we should be forbidden to fly from it; it would be impossible to end it. In this conception, there is far more implacable cruelty than in that of an ephemeral life vanishing away insect's flight in the fresh evening breeze. Why then were we born? To suffer uncertainty; to find after examination not a single one of our hope a left; to live like idiots if we do not think, like madmen if we do?
    • Camille Flammarion, Uranie
    • Description: the words spoken by the character, Georges Spero.
  • He seriously thought that there is less harm in killing a man than producing a child: in the first case you are relieving someone of life, not his whole life but a half or a quarter or a hundredth part of that existence that is going to finish, that would finish without you; but as for the second, he would say, are you not responsible to him for all the tears he will shed, from the cradle to the grave? Without you he would never have been born, and why is he born? For your amusement, not for his, that’s for sure; to carry your name, the name of a fool, I’ll be bound – you may as well write that name on some wall; why do you need a man to bear the burden of three or four letters?
    • Gustave Flaubert, November: Fragments in a Nondescript Style
    • Description: about the protagonist.
  • The idea of bringing someone into the world fills me with horror. I would curse myself if I were a father. A son of mine! Oh no, no, no! May my entire flesh perish and may I transmit to no one the aggravations and the disgrace of existence.

G[edit]

  • If destruction is violence, creation, too, is violence. Procreation, therefore, involves violence. The creation of what is bound to perish certainly involves violence.
  • Suppose for a moment that all procreation stops, it will only mean that all destruction will cease. Moksha is nothing but release from the cycle of births and deaths. This alone is believed to be the highest bliss, and rightly.
  • Another argument is often made by the irresponsible ones who breed us – that it is an act of "leaving a trace" – strange impulse! Let us immediately observe that from an ethological point of view this is akin to the attitude many mammals have to leave droppings on the ground to mark their path or territory. The dog urinating against a lamp post also leaves a trace, one however which, unlike the baby, benefits from the privilege of not having to endure the grueling stresses of life.
    • Theophile de Giraud, L'art de guillotiner les procréateurs: Manifeste anti-nataliste
  • Answer without flinching: if there existed a solution that could abolish the totality of all evils inflicted on disastrous humanity, if it was possible, by some simple remedy, incredibly cheap, immediately accessible, scrupulously inoffensive, of absolute and definitive efficiency, to stop all distress, all cries, all cries of pain, all pathologies, all protests of ill-being, all despair, all cataclysms, all anxiety, all unhappiness, in short all tortures afflicting the human species, would you have the macabre stupidity to reject such a remedy, to disdain such a miracle cure? No, that goes without saying. Well this solution does exist, and the mysterious is thereby delivered to us: it consists simply, in its saintly simplicity, to not procreate.
    • Theophile de Giraud, L'art de guillotiner les procréateurs: Manifeste anti-nataliste
  • If it was otherwise, if procreation was not the result of the most scandalous narcissism, if our odious parents were really moved by some generosity, prospective adoption candidates would be incredibly more numerous than the millions of children who wait, right now, to be adopted! But talk about adoption and you’ll see a big frown of "yes-but-not-for-me" form on their face, greedy to possess a prey coming entirely from their bodies. "Orphans? Someone else’s baby? Come on, get scientists to help vanquish my infertility instead!"
    • Theophile de Giraud, L'art de guillotiner les procréateurs: Manifeste anti-nataliste
  • For the bodily procreation of children (let no one be displayed by this argument) is more an embarking upon death that upon life for man. Corruption has its beginning in birth and those who refrain from procreation through virginity themselves bring about a cancellation of death by preventing it from advancing further because of them, and, by setting themselves up as a kind of boundary stone between life and death, they keep death from going forward.

H[edit]

  • Humans are the most destructive creatures on the planet. We cause vast numbers of animal deaths (both directly and indirectly). We destroy habitats. We damage the environment. We are currently heating up the world’s climate in a way that is likely to be detrimental to countless numbers of animals (ourselves included). And we have the means, nuclear weapons, to destroy everything at the push of a button. We came perilously close to pushing that button on one occasion (the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962). The best way to stop the destruction is to remove the destructive force; to remove humans by refraining from procreation. In short, the colossal amount of harm caused by humans gives us a moral reason to boycott the human species.
    • Gerald Harrison, Julia Tanner, Better Not To Have Children
  • It might be pointed out that we cannot gain someone's consent to exist; we cannot gain their consent before they exist and by the time they exist it's too late. But the fact that we cannot gain their consent does not mean that we are free to do without it. Suppose you wish to torture someone against their will, you cannot seek your victim's consent – the torture would not then be against their will. It would be absurd to argue that for this reason we are permitted to torture people against their will. Similarly, the fact that prospective parents cannot get the consent of those they plan to bring into existence doesn't magically mean it's OK. Quite the opposite – if you can't get the consent of the person you're going to significantly affect by your action, then the default position is that you don't do whatever it is that's going to affect them. There are exceptions. Pushing someone out of the way of a falling piano is morally right even if no prior consent can be given (if, for instance, there isn't time). But in this kind of case you are preventing someone from coming to great harm. To procreate – to subject someone to a life – does not prevent them coming to harm. Not being created cannot harm them because they don't exist.
    • Gerald Harrison, Julia Tanner, Better Not To Have Children
  • I believe it is morally wrong to cause avoidable suffering to other people. This belief gives rise to two different objections to human reproduction. On the one hand, since all human beings suffer at some point in their lives, every parent who could have declined to procreate is to blame. On the other hand, since potential parents cannot guarantee that the lives of their children will be better than non-existence, they can also be rightfully accused of gambling on other people’s lives, whatever the outcome. Because of the uncertainties of human life, anybody’s children can end up arguing that it would have been better for them not to have been born at all. The probability of this outcome does not necessarily matter. It is enough that the possibility is real, which it always is.
    • Matti Häyry, The rational cure for prereproductive stress syndrome

I[edit]

  • Two things are unacceptable: birth and death. I did not ask for them and I do not accept them.

J[edit]

  • How can anyone take seriously an insane idea that the world was created by a good God, and sign up under the most criminal of all imperatives: "be fruitful and multiply"?
    • Roland Jaccard, Sexe et sarcasmes
  • She asks, "How long shall men die?" Jesus answers, "As long as you women bear children." Writers like Julius Cassianus take this as an implicit injunction to defeat death by ceasing from procreation.
    • John T. Noonan Jr., Contraception; a history of its treatment by the Catholic theologians and canonists
    • Description: the dialogue of Jesus Christ with Salome from Greek Gospel of the Egyptians (the further part: Salome: "I have done well, then, in not bearing children?" Jesus Christ: "Every plant eat thou, but that which hath bitterness eat not. I have come to destroy the works of the female.")

K[edit]

  • I'd also gone through an entire year of celibacy based on my feeling that lust was the direct cause of birth which was the direct cause of suffering and death and I had really no lie come to a point where I regarded lust as offensive and even cruel. "Pretty girls make graves", was my saying, whenever I'd had to turn my head around involuntarily to stare at the incomparable pretties of Indian Mexico.
  • Let us cease bestiality and go into the bright room of the mind realizing emptiness, and sit with the truth. And let no man be guilty, after this, Dec. 9 1954, of causing birth. – Let there be an end to birth, an end to life, and therefore an end to death. Let there be no more fairy tales and ghost stories around and about this. I don't advocate that everybody die, I only say everybody finish your lives in purity and solitude and gentleness and realization of the truth and be not the cause of any further birth and turning of the black wheel of death.
  • Maybe rebirth is simply HAVING KIDS.
  • Since Heaven increases nothing but our pain,
    And gives naught that it takes not back again,
    The unborn ne'er would hither come if they
    But knew what we at Fortune's hands sustain.
  • A man is born in sin, he enters this world by means of a crime, his existence is a crime – and procreation is the fall.
  • Phasing out the human race by voluntarily ceasing to breed will allow Earth’s biosphere to return to good health. Crowded conditions and resource shortages will improve as we become less dense.
    • Les U. Knight, Environment and Natural Resources
  • Never to have procreated – this be your consolation when you die.
    • Kurnig, Der Neo-Nihilismus. Anti-Militarismus. Sexualleben (Ende der Menschheit)
  • Not by violent means (murder, war and the like), but peacefully, let mankind disappear from our globe.
    • Kurnig, Der Neo-Nihilismus. Anti-Militarismus. Sexualleben (Ende der Menschheit)

L[edit]

  • Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.
  • All of us are brought into existence, without our consent, and over the course of our lives, we are acquainted with a multitude of goods. Unfortunately, there is a limit to the amount of good each of us will have in our lives. Eventually, each of us will die and we will be permanently cut off from the prospect of any further good. Existence, viewed in this way, seems to be a cruel joke.
    • Marc Larock, Possible preferences and the harm of existence
  • Perhaps the day will never come when people realize that moral patients like us should cease to exist. It would be an unconscionable tragedy if we never do. I remain optimistic, however. Some very interesting arguments have recently been advanced in support of the conclusion that it is always worse for a person to live than not. I suspect that many more will follow. Until the day that individuals begin to take non-procreation seriously on a widespread scale, perhaps all we can do is follow Schopenhauer: "The conviction that the world, and therefore man too, is something which really ought not to exist is in fact calculated to instil in us indulgence towards one another: for what can be expected of beings placed in such a situation as we are? From this point of view one might indeed consider that the appropriate form of address between man and man ought to be, not monsieur, sir, but fellow sufferer, compagnon de misères. However strange this may sound it corresponds to the nature of the case, makes us see other men in a true light and reminds us of what are the most necessary of all things: tolerance, patience, forbearance and charity, which each of us needs and which each of us therefore owes." (On the Sufferings of the World)
    • Marc Larock, Possible preferences and the harm of existence
  • Realizing that nothing guarantees that the child will be "happy", that every effort (from parents) with this purpose can be in vain; that, if the child did not exist, this problem would not exist; and that such a problem came to exist because the child was obligated to be born for parents' luxury, even though it could be avoided; from all that it follows that a "responsible procreator" (or better saying, a responsible pre-procreator), a sensible one, would stop right there, precisely at "pre".
    • Thiago Lenharo di Santis, Porque te amo, não nascerás! Nascituri te salutant
  • The bet when procreating, endangers another innocent, who had no power, awareness and responsibility (for being in this situation); the bet was unnecessary and avoidable; had it been avoided, it would not harm that innocent, but it was not avoided because we were are talking about a compulsive gambler.
    • Thiago Lenharo di Santis, Porque te amo, não nascerás! Nascituri te salutant
  • When parents warn their children that the world is full of selfish people who want to take advantage of them, who will practice injustice against them, they warn them that there are other people in the world like generators themselves. They are informing them that, even with a world full of people like that, opportunist and unjust, and even life being very difficult, generators (who knew this) forced children to be.
    • Thiago Lenharo di Santis, Porque te amo, não nascerás! Nascituri te salutant
  • Being asked for what purpose he thought men were born, he laughingly replied: To realize how much better it were not to be born.
    • Giacomo Leopardi, Operette Morali, Remarkable sayings of Philip Ottonieri
    • Description: the words spoken by the character, Philip Ottonieri.
  • Perhaps in every state beneath the sun,
    Or high, or low, in cradle or in stall,
    The day of birth is fatal to us all.
  • As their numbers tapered off, these dead-enders of our species could be the most privileged individuals in history and share with one another material comforts once held in trust only for the well-born or moneygetting classes of the world. Since personal economic gain would be passé as a motive for the new humanity, there would be only one defensible incitement to work: to see one another through to the finish, a project that would keep everyone busy and not just staring into space while they waited for the end. There might even be bright smiles exchanged among these selfless benefactors of those who would never be forced to exist.
    • Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror
  • Despite the fact that neither anti- nor pronatalists can prove their positions, pro-natalists have to live with the possibility that they might be wrong. That is a heavy burden to carry, and a heavier burden to pass on to subsequent generations. Antinatalists don’t have a similar burden. When the action is taken on their side and a child is not born, no harm is done. No one has to suffer and die.
  • Perhaps the greatest strike against philosophical pessimism is that its only theme is human suffering. This is the last item on the list of our species’ obsessions and detracts from everything that matters to us, such as the Good, the Beautiful, and a Sparkling Clean Toilet Bowl. For the pessimist, everything considered in isolation from human suffering or any cognition that does not have as its motive the origins, nature, and elimination of human suffering is at base recreational, whether it takes the form of conceptual probing or physical action in the world—for example, delving into game theory or traveling in outer space, respectively. And by "human suffering," the pessimist is not thinking of particular sufferings and their relief, but of suffering itself. Remedies may be discovered for certain diseases and sociopolitical barbarities may be amended. But these are only stopgaps. Human suffering will remain insoluble as long as human beings exist. The one truly effective solution for suffering is that spoken of in Zapffe’s "Last Messiah." It may not be a welcome solution for a stopgaps world, but it would forever put an end to suffering, should we ever care to do so. The pessimist’s credo, or one of them, is that nonexistence never hurt anyone and existence hurts everyone. Although our selves may be illusory creations of consciousness, our pain is nonetheless real.
    • Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror
  • Personally, I’m afraid of suffering and afraid of dying. I’m also afraid of witnessing the suffering and death of those who are close to me. And no doubt I project these fears on those around me and those to come, which makes it impossible for me to understand why everyone isn’t an antinatalist, just as I have to assume pronatalists can’t understand why everyone isn’t like them.
  • It is good to be a cynic – it is better to be a contented cat – and it is best not to exist at all. Universal suicide is the most logical thing in the world – we reject it only because of our primitive cowardice and childish fear of the dark. If we were sensible we would seek death – the same blissful blank which we enjoyed before we existed.
  • And yet, it is not to be denied, that both the father and mother have Corrupt flesh, and that the seed itself is full, not only of filthy lust but of contempt and hatred of God: and thus, it is not be denied, that there is sin in procreation.
    • Martin Luther, Select Works of Martin Luther: An Offering to the Church of God in "the Last Days"

M[edit]

  • I had no children. I haven't transmitted the legacy of our misery to any creature.
  • Redemption of the individual idea one represents, can be reached by not passing the core of this idea to the future. In other words: by not procreating. Who doesn't live on in his progeny, will be absolutely redeemed from existence.
    • Philipp Mainländer, Philosophie der Erlösung. Ausgewählt und mit einem Vorwort versehen von Ulrich Horstmann
  • If anyone condemns human marriage and has a horror of the procreation of living bodies, as Manichaeus and Priscillian have said, let him be anathema.
    • Bishops, The companion to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: a compendium of texts referred to in the Catechism of the Catholic Church
    • Description: the resolution of Council of Braga I.
  • God created only coarse beings, full of the germs of disease, who, after a few years of bestial enjoyment, grow old and infirm, with all the ugliness and all the want of power of human decrepitude. He seems to have made them only in order that they may reproduce their species in an ignoble manner and then die like ephemeral insects. I said reproduce their species in an ignoble manner and I adhere to that expression. What is there as a matter of fact more ignoble and more repugnant than that act of reproduction of living beings, against which all delicate minds always have revolted and always will revolt?
    • Guy de Maupassant, Useless beauty
    • Description: the words spoken by the character, Roger de Salins.
  • I tell myself: Reluctance to think to the end
    Is lifesaving for the living. Could lucid consciousness
    Bear everything that in every minute,
    Simultaneously, occurs on the earth?
    Not to harm. Stop eating fish and meat.
    Let oneself be castrated, like Tiny, a cat innocent
    Of the drownings of kittens every day in our city.
    The Cathari were right: Avoid the sin of conception
    (For either you kill your seed and will be tormented by conscience
    Or you will be responsible for a life of pain).
  • Programmed by nature and socialized by the collective, which demands conformity, we are required to play the "game" of life. But as one of Beckett’s characters puts it, "why this farce day after day?" Where is all this leading to?
    • Ramesh Mishra (under the pseudonym Ken Coates), Anti-Natalism: Rejectionist Philosophy from Buddhism to Benatar

N[edit]

  • We may ask ourselves whether we have a moral right to create people and thus condemn them to life and death without their consent.
    • Martin Neuffer, Nein zum Leben – Ein Essay

O[edit]

  • By hedonistic logic, we ought to avoid imposing anything, existence included, onto anyone who hasn't asked for it.
    • Michel Onfray, Theorie du corps amoureux
  • Not having children derives not from dislike, but from love too great to bring them into this world, too limited, too vain, to cruel.
    • Michel Onfray, Journal hedoniste: Tome 2, Les Vertus de la foudre
  • Those childless by choice love children as much, if not more, than their fertile breeders. When asked why he does not have children, Tales replied, "Because of my concern for children."

P[edit]

  • The perpetuation of suffering by producing children is the greatest crime.
    • Valerii Pereleshin, Valerii Pereleshin: The Life of a Silkworm
  • Whatever the case, it would have been better not to be born.
  • The hubris it must take to yank a soul out of nonexistence, into this, meat. And to force a life into this, thresher.
    • Nic Pizzolatto, True Detective, Seeing Things
    • Description: the words spoken by the character, Rustin Cohle.

R[edit]

  • Propagate life is to propagate terror.
    • Mario Andrea Rigoni, Variazioni sull'impossibile
  • Adoption offers an important moral alternative to procreation, which has been widely ignored or quickly dismissed in the procreation literature. It should be considered by reasonable and moral people who desire to experience the goods of a parent–child relationship while being concerned about the potential harms of procreation.
    • Tina Rulli, The Ethics of Procreation and Adoption

S[edit]

  • If children were brought into the world by an act of pure reason alone, would the human race continue to exist? Would not a man rather have so much compassion with the coming generation as to spare it the burden of existence, or at any rate not take it upon himself to impose that burden upon it in cold blood?
  • Some of the church fathers have taught that even marital cohabitation should only be allowed when it occurs merely for the sake of the procreation of children, epi monet paidopoiiai, as Clemens Alex. (Strom. 1, iii. c. n.) says. (The passages referring to the subject will be found collected in P. E. Lind. de coelibatu Christianorum c. i). Clemens (Strom, iii. c. 3) attributes this view to the Pythagoreans. This is, however, strictly speaking, incorrect. For if the coitus be no longer desired for its own sake, the negation of the Will-to-Live has already appeared, and the propagation of the human race is then superfluous and senseless, inasmuch as its purpose is already attained. Besides, without any subjective passion, without lust and physical pressure, with sheer deliberation, and the cold blooded purpose to place a human being in the world merely in order that he should be there this would be such a very questionable moral action that few would take it upon themselves; one might even say of it indeed that it stood in the same relation to generation from the mere sexual impulse as a cold-blooded deliberate murder does to a death-stroke given in anger.
    • Arthur Schopenhauer, Contributions to the Doctrine of the Affirmation and Negation of the Will-to-live
  • Nothing is so deceptive, nothing is so treacherous as human life; by Hercules, were it not given to men before they could form an opinion, no one would take it. Not to be born, therefore, is the happiest lot of all.
  • If you hold eternal damnation, then having children is a very grave business indeed. You are gambling with infinite stakes.
    • Martin Smith, No Baby No Cry: Christian Antinatalism
    • Description: eternal damnation in the main currents of Christianity is the punishment for sinners consisting of going to hell and suffering torments forever.
  • "Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins." (Zechariah Chafee)
    • Martin Smith, No Baby No Cry
    • Description: a libertarian principle of non-aggression quoted by the author in the context of burdening someone with a life as an example of a significant influence on someone by our action without consent.
  • Not to be born at all
    Is best, far best that can befall,
    Next best, when born, with least delay
    To trace the backward way.
    For when youth passes with its giddy train,
    Troubles on troubles follow, toils on toils,
    Pain, pain for ever pain;
    And none escapes life's coils.
    Envy, sedition, strife,
    Carnage and war, make up the tale of life.
    Last comes the worst and most abhorred stage
    Of unregarded age,
    Joyless, companionless and slow,
    Of woes the crowning woe.
    • Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus
    • Description: the words spoken by chorus.
  • "Be fruitful and multiply" is a recommendation that fits more into the God of rabbits than to God of humans. No offense to rabbits, of course.
    • Giovanni Soriano, Finche c'e vita non c'e speranza
  • Procreation is an act far more authoritarian than killing; and just as one should not take the life of someone else, one should also not impose life on someone else.
    • Giovanni Soriano, Malomondo. In lode della stupidita

T[edit]

  • Best of all for mortal beings is never to have been born at all. Nor ever to have set eyes on the bright light of the sun.
  • If we can't genetically fix our nature I agree with Zapffe. To leave world to a deserted behind is better than to continue this grotesque carousel of procreation.
    • Herman Tønnessen, Ned med naturen!, an interview for Gataavisa
    • Description: also about transhumanism.

V[edit]

  • Those I've most loved are my grandma Raquel Pizano and my dog Bruja. I also loved my dad. But after all, he is guilty of imposing on me the burden of life. Life's a burden, it's a curse. Those who I loved, now dead, drag me to the grave. It's very hard to carry on without them. The only way I can live is by forgetting them.
    • Fernando Vallejo, La desazón suprema: Retrato de Fernando Vallejo
  • All this disgrace derive from being born, which therefore is the greatest of all catastrophes.
    • Anacleto Verrecchia, Diario del Gran Paradiso
  • Adoption could help if practised on a much larger scale than nowadays, such that any child not definitely wanted by its parents, or born in unafavourable social circumstances, could be adopted by people who want children but do not want to create them for that purpose.
    • Hermann Vetter, The production of children as a problem of utilitarian ethics
  • In any case, it is morally preferable not to produce a child. This requires that in any individual encounter, and by any institutional activity in education, mass media, economic and legal policy, people should be discouraged from having children. If such tendencies are successful enough, the number of men on earth may begin to decrease, and if such development continues long enough, the human race will disappear. This, however, would not at all be a deplorable consequence according to Narveson's and my own opinion: the existence of mankind is not a value in itself. On the contrary, if mankind ceases to exist, all suffering is extinguished perfectly, which no other human endeavour will be able to bring about. On the other hand, of course, all happy experiences of men will disappear. But this, according to Narveson's conclusion, would not be deplorable, because no human subject would exist which would be deprived of the happy experiences.
    • Hermann Vetter, Utilitarianism and New Generations
  • Life has so few charms!
    And yet we desire it.
    No more pleasure, no more power,
    in the horrors of death.
    A dead lion is not worth
    a midge that breathes.
    O unfortunate mortal!
    Whether your soul is enjoying
    the moment given to you,
    or whether death is ending it,
    both are torture.
    It is better not to have been born.

W[edit]

  • Every form of fecundity is loathsome, and no one who is honest with himself feels bound to provide for the continuity of the human race. And what we do not realise to be a duty, is not a duty. On the contrary, it is immoral to procreate a human being for any secondary reason, to bring a being into the limitations of humanity, the conditions made for him by his parentage; the fundamental question why the possible freedom and spontaneity of a human being is limited is that he was begotten in such a limited fashion. That the human race should persist is of no interest whatsoever to reason; he who would perpetuate humanity would perpetuate the problem and the guilt; the only problem and the only guilt.
  • One cannot bring children into a world like this. One cannot perpetuate suffering, or increase the breed of these lustful animals, who have no lasting emotions, but only whims and vanities, eddying them now this way, now that.
    • Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway
    • Description: the words spoken by the character, Septimus Warren Smith.

Z[edit]

  • Above all, we must make the reproductive question ethically relevant. A coin is turned around before it is handed to the beggar, yet a child is unflinchingly tossed into cosmic bruteness.
  • For me, a desert island is no tragedy, neither is a deserted planet.
  • No future triumph or metamorphosis can justify the pitiful blighting of a human being against his will.
  • The sign of doom is written on your brows – how long will ye kick against the pinpricks? But there is one conquest and one crown, one redemption and one solution. Know yourselves – be infertile and let the earth be silent after ye.
  • To bear children into this world is like carrying wood into a burning house.

Susan Sontag

“What is the good of passing from one untenable position to another, of seeking fustification always on the same plane?”

SAMUEL BECKETT

“Every now and then it is possible to have absolutely nothing; the possibility of nothing.”

JOHN CAGE

Ours is a time in which every intellectual or artistic or moral event is absorbed by a predatory embrace of consciousness: historicizing. Any statement or act can be assessed as a necessarily transient “development” or, on a lower level, belittled as mere “fashion.” The human mind possesses now, almost as second nature, a perspective on its own achievements that fatally undermines their value and their claim to truth. For over a century, this historicizing perspective has occupied the very heart of our ability to understand anything at all. Perhaps once a marginal tic of consciousness, it’s now a gigantic, uncontrollable gesture—the gesture whereby man indefatigably patronizes himself.

We understand something by locating it in a multi-determined temporal continuum. Existence is no more than the precarious attainment of relevance in an intensely mobile flux of past, present, and future. But even the most relevant events carry within them the form of their obsolescence. Thus, a single work is eventually a contribution to a body of work; the details of a life form part of a life history; an individual life history appears unintelligible apart from social, economic, and cultural history; and the life of a society is the sum of “preceding conditions.” Meaning drowns in a stream of becoming: the senseless and overdocumented rhythm of advent and super-session. The becoming of man is the history of the exhaustion of his possibilities.

Yet there is no outflanking the demon of historical consciousness by turning the corrosive historicizing eye on it. Unfortunately, that succession of exhausted possibilities (unmasked and discredited by thought and history itself) in which man now situates himself appears to be more than simply a mental “attitude”—which could be annulled by re-focusing the mind. The best of the intellectual and creative speculation carried on in the West over the past hundred and fifty years seems incontestably the most energetic, dense, subtle, sheerly interesting, and true in the entire lifetime of man. And yet the equally incontestable result of all this genius is our sense of standing in the ruins of thought and on the verge of the ruins of history and of man himself. (Cogito ergo boom.) More and more, the shrewdest thinkers and artists are precocious archaeologists of these ruins-in-the-making, indignant or stoical diagnosticians of defeat, enigmatic choreographers of the complex spiritual movements useful for individual survival in an era of permanent apocalypse. The time of new collective visions may well be over: by now both the brightest and the gloomiest, the most foolish and the wisest, have been set down. But the need for individual spiritual counsel has never seemed more acute. Sauve qui peut.

The rise of historical consciousness is, of course, linked with the collapse, sometime in the early nineteenth century, of the venerable enterprise of philosophical system-building. Since the Greeks, philosophy (whether fused with religion or conceived as an alternative, secular wisdom) had been for the most part a collective or supra-personal vision. Claiming to give an account of “what is” in its various epistemological and ontological layers, philosophy secondarily insinuated an implicitly futuristic standard of how things “ought to be”—under the aegis of notions like order, harmony, clarity, intelligibility, and consistency. But the survival of these collective impersonal visions depends on philosophical statements being couched in such a way as to admit of multiple interpretations and applications, so that their bluff can’t be called by unforeseen events. Renouncing the advantages of myth, which had developed a highly sophisticated narrative mode of accounting for change and for conceptual paradox, philosophy proliferated a new rhetorical mode: abstraction. Upon this abstract, atemporal discourse—with its claim to be able to describe the non-concrete “universals” or stable forms that underpin the mutable world—the authority of philosophy has always rested. More generally, the very possibility of the objective, formalized visions of Being and of human knowledge proposed by traditional philosophy depends on a particular relation between permanent structures and change in human experience, in which “nature” is the dominant theme and change is recessive. But this relation was upset—permanently?—around the time climaxed by the French Revolution, when “history” finally pulled up alongside “nature” and then took the lead. At the point that history usurped nature as the decisive framework for human experience, man began to think historically about his experience, and the traditional ahistorical categories of philosophy became hollowed out. The only thinker to meet this awesome challenge head-on was Hegel, who thought he could salvage the philosophical enterprise from this radical reorientation of human consciousness by presenting philosophy as, in fact, no more and no less than the history of philosophy. Still, Hegel could not help presenting his own system as true—that is, as beyond history—because of its in-corporation of the historical perspective. So far as Hegel’s system was true then, it ended philosophy. Only the last philosophical system was philosophy, truly conceived. So “the eternal” is reestablished once more, after all; and history comes (or will come) to an end. But history did not stop. Mere time proved Hegelianism bankrupt as a system, though not as a method. (As a method, proliferating into all the sciences of man, it confirmed and gave the largest single intellectual impetus to the consolidation of historical consciousness.)

After Hegel’s effort, this quest for the eternal—once so glamorous and inevitable a gesture of consciousness—now stood exposed, as the root of philosophical thinking, in all its pathos and childishness. Philosophy dwindled into an outmoded fantasy of the mind, part of the provincialism of the spirit, the childhood of man. However firmly philosophical statements might cohere into an argument, there seemed no way of dispelling the radical question that had arisen as to the “value” of the terms composing the statements, no way of restoring a vast loss of confidence in the verbal currency in which philosophical arguments had been transacted. Confounded by the new surge of an increasingly secularized, drastically more competent and efficient human will bent on controlling, manipulating, and modifying “nature,” its ventures into concrete ethical and political prescription badly lagging behind the accelerating historical change of the human land-scape (among which changes must be counted the sheer accumulation of concrete empirical knowledge stored in printed hooks and documents), the leading words of philosophy came to seem excessively overdetermined. Or, what amounts to the same thing, they seem undernourished, emptied of meaning. Subjected to the attritions of change on this unprecedented scale, philosophy’s traditionally “abstract leisurely procedures no longer appeared to address themselves to anything; they weren’t substantiated any more by the sense that intelligent people had of their experience. Neither as a description of Being (reality, the world, the cosmos) nor, in the alternative conception (in which Being, reality, the world, the cosmos are taken as what lies “outside” the mind) that marks the first great retrenchment of the philosophical enterprise, as a description of mind only, did philosophy inspire much trust in its capacity to fulfill its traditional aspiration: that of providing the formal models for understanding anything. At the least, some kind of further retrenchment or relocation of discourse was felt to be necessary.

One response to the collapse of philosophical system building in the nineteenth century was the rise of ideologies—aggressively anti-philosophical systems of thought, taking the form of various “positive” or descriptive sciences of man. Comte, Marx, Freud, and the pioneer figures of anthropology, sociology, and linguistics immediately come to mind.

Another response to the debacle was a new kind of philosophizing: personal (even autobiographical), aphoristic, lyrical, anti-systematic. Its foremost exemplars: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein. Cioran is the most distinguished figure in this tradition writing today.

The starting point for this modern post-philosophic tradition of philosophizing is the awareness that the traditional forms of philosophical discourse have been broken. The leading possibilities that remain are mutilated, incomplete discourse (the aphorism, the note or jotting) or discourse that has risked metamorphosis into other forms (the parable, the poem, the philosophical tale, the critical exegesis).

Cioran has apparently chosen the essay form. Between 1949 and 1964, five collections have appeared: Précis de Decomposition (1949), Syllogismes de l’Amertume (1952), La Tentation d’Éxister (1956), Histoire et Utopie (1960), and La Chute dans le Temps (1964). But these are curious essays by ordinary standards—meditative, disjunctive in argument, essentially aphoristic in style. One recognizes, in this Romanian-born writer who studied philosophy at the University of Bucharest and who has lived in Paris since 1937 and writes in French, the convulsive manner characteristic of German neo-philosophical thinking, whose motto is: aphorism or eternity. (Examples: the philosophical aphorisms of Lichtenberg and Novalis; Nietzsche of course; passages in Rilke’s Duino Elegies; and Kafka’s Reflections on Love, Sin, Hope, Death, the Way.)

Cioran’s method of broken argument is not the objective kind of aphoristic writing of La Rochefoucauld or Gracian, whose stopping and starting movement mirrors the disjunctive aspects of “the world,” but rather bears witness to the impasse of the speculative mind, which moves outward only to be checked and broken off by the complexity of its own stance. For Cioran the aphoristic style is less a principle of reality than a principle of knowing: that it’s the destiny of every profound idea to be quickly checkmated by another idea, which it itself has implicitly generated.

Still hoping to command something resembling its former prestige, philosophy now undertakes to give evidence incessantly of its own good faith. Though the existing range of conceptual tools for philosophy could no longer be felt to carry meaning in themselves, they might be recertified: through the passion of the thinker.

Philosophy is conceived as the personal task of the thinker. Thought becomes “thinking,” and thinking—by a further turn of the screw—is redefined as worthless unless an extreme act, a risk. Thinking becomes confessional, exorcistic: an inventory of the most personal exacerbations of thinking.

Notice that the Cartesian leap is retained as the first move. Existence is still defined as thinking. The difference is that it’s not any kind of cogitation, but only a certain kind of difficult thinking. Thought and existence are neither brute facts nor logical givens, but paradoxical, unstable situations. Hence, the possibility of conceiving the essay that gives the title to one of Cioran’s books and to the first collection of his work in English, The Temptation to Exist. “To exist,” Cioran says in that essay, is a habit I do not despair of acquiring.”

Cioran’s subject: on being a mind, a consciousness tuned to the highest pitch of refinement. The final justification of his writings, if one may guess at it: something close to the thesis given its classical statement in Kleist’s “On the Pup-pet Theatre.” In that essay Kleist says that, however much we may long to repair the disorders in the natural harmony of man created by consciousness, this is not to be accomplished by a surrender of consciousness. There is no return, no going back to innocence. We have no choice but to go to the end of thought, there ( perhaps), in total self-consciousness, to re-cover grace and innocence.

In Cioran’s writings, therefore, the mind is a voyeur.

But not upon “the world.” Upon itself. Cioran is, to a degree reminiscent of Beckett, concerned with the absolute integrity of thought. That is, with the reduction or circumscription of thought to thinking about thinking. “The only free mind,” Cioran remarks, is the one that, pure of all intimacy with bring or objects, plies its own vacuity.”

Yet, throughout, this act of mental disembowelment retains its ‘Faustian” or “Western” passionateness. Cioran will allow no possibility that anyone born into this culture can attain—as a way out of the trap—an “Eastern” abnegation of mind. (Compare Cioran’s self-consciously futile longing for the East with Levi-Strauss’ affirmative nostalgia for “neolithic consciousness.)

Philosophy becomes tortured thinking. Thinking that devours itself—and continues intact and even flourishes, in spite (or perhaps because) of these repeated acts of self-cannibalism. In the passion play of thought, the thinker plays the roles of both protagonist and antagonist. Ile is both suffering Prometheus and the remorseless eagle who consumes his perpetually regenerated entrails.

Impossible states of being, unthinkable thoughts are Cioran’s material for speculation. (Thinking against oneself, etc.) But he comes after Nietzsche, who set down almost the whole of Cioran’s position a century ago. An interesting question: why does a subtle, powerful mind consent to say what has, for the most part, already been said? In order to make those ideas genuinely his own? Because, while they were true when originally set down, they have since become more true?

Whatever the answer, the “fact” of Nietzsche has undeniable consequences for Cioran. He must tighten the screws, make the argument denser. More excruciating. More rhetorical.

Characteristically, Cioran begins an essay where another writer would end it. Beginning with the conclusion, he goes on from there.

His kind of writing is meant for readers who in a sense already know what he says; they have traversed these vertiginous thoughts for themselves. Cioran doesn’t make any of the usual efforts to “persuade,” with his oddly lyrical chains of ideas, his merciless irony, his gracefully delivered allusions to nothing less than the whole of European thought since the Creeks. An argument is to be “recognized,” and without too much help. Coed taste demands that the thinker furnish only pithy glimpses of intellectual and spiritual torment. Hence, Cioran’s tone—one of immense dignity, dogged, sometimes playful, often haughty. But despite all that may appear as arrogance, there is nothing complacent in Cioran, unless it be his very sense of futility and his uncompromisingly elitist attitude toward the life of the mind.

As Nietzsche wanted to will his moral solitude, Cioran wants to will the difficult. Not that the essays are hard to read, but their moral point, so to speak, is the unending disclosure of difficulty. The argument of a typical Cioran essay might be described as a network of proposals for thinking—along with dissipations of the grounds for continuing to hold these ideas, not to mention the grounds for “acting” on the basis of them. By his complex intellectual formulation of intellectual impasses, Cioran constructs a closed universe—of the difficult—that is the subject of his lyricism.

Cioran is one of the most delicate minds of real power writing today. Nuance, irony, and refinement are the essence of his thinking. Yet he declares in the essay “On a Winded Civilization”: “Men’s minds need a simple truth, an answer which delivers them from their questions, a gospel, a tomb. The moments of refinement conceal a death-principle: nothing is more fragile than subtlety.”

A contradiction? Not exactly. It is only the familiar double standard of philosophy since its debacle: upholding one standard ( health) for the culture at large, another (spiritual ambition) for the solitary philosopher. The first standard demands what Nietzsche called the sacrifice of the intellect. The second standard demands the sacrifice of health, of mundane happiness, often of participation in family life and other community institutions, perhaps even of sanity. The philosopher’s aptitude for martyrdom Is almost part of his good manners, in this tradition of philosophizing since Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. And one of the commonest indications of his good taste as a philosopher is an avowed contempt for philosophy. Thus, Wittgenstein’s idea that philosophy is some-thing like a disease and the job of the philosopher is to study philosophy as the physician studies malaria, not to pass it on but to cure people of it.

But whether such behavior is diagnosed as the self-hatred of the philosopher or as merely a certain coquetry of the void, more than inconsistency must be allowed here. In Cioran’s case, his disavowals of mind are not less authentic because they’re delivered by someone who makes such strenuous professional use of the mind. Consider the impassioned counsels in an essay of 1952, “Some Blind Alleys: A Letter”—in which Cioran, a steadily published writer in France, puts himself in the curious position of reproaching a friend about to become that “monster,” an author, and violate his admirable “detachment, scorn, and silence” by describing them in a book. Cioran is not just displaying a facile ambivalence toward his own vocation, but voicing the painful, genuinely paradoxical experience that the free intellect can have of itself when it commits itself to writing and acquires an audience. Anyway, it is one thing to choose martyrdom and compromise for oneself; quite another, to advise a friend to do likewise. And since for Cioran the use of the mind is a martyrdom, using one’s mind in public—more specifically, being a writer—becomes a problematic, partly shameful act; always suspect; in the last analysis, something obscene, socially as well as individually.

Cioran is another recruit to the melancholy parade of European intellectuals in revolt against the intellect—the rebellion of idealism against “idealism”—whose greatest figures are Nietzsche and Marx. A good part of his argument on this theme differs little from what has already been stated by countless poets and philosophers in the last century and this—not to mention the sinister, traumatic amplification of these charges against the intellect in the rhetoric and practice of fascism. But the fact that an important argument is not new doesn’t mean that one is exempted from taking it seriously. And what could be more relevant than the thesis, reworked by Cioran, that the free use of the mind is ultimately anti-social, detrimental to the health of the community?

In a number of essays, but most clearly in “On a Winded Civilization” and “A Little Theory of Destiny,” Cioran ranges himself firmly on the side of the critics of the Enlightenment. “Since the Age of the Enlightenment,” he writes, “Europe has ceaselessly sapped her idols in the name of tolerance.” But these idols or “prejudices—organic fictions of a civilization—, assure its duration, preserve its physiognomy. It must re-sped them.” Elsewhere in the first of the essays mentioned above: “A minimum of unconsciousness is necessary if one wants to stay inside history.” Foremost among “the diseases that undermine a civilization” is the hypertrophy of thought itself, which leads to the disappearance of the capacity for “inspired stupidity . . . fruitful exaltation, never compromised by a consciousness drawn and quartered.” For any civilization “vacillates as soon as it exposes the errors which permitted its growth and its luster, as soon as it calls into question its own truths.” And Cioran goes on, all too familiarly, to lament the suppression of the barbarian, of the non-thinker, in Europe. “All his instincts are throttled by his decency,” is his comment on the Englishman. Protected from ordeal, “sapped by nostalgia, that generalized ennui,” the average European is now monopolized and obsessed by “the concept of living well (that mania of declining periods).” Al-ready Europe has passed to “a provincial destiny.” The new masters of the globe are the less civilized peoples of America and Russia and, waiting in the wings of history, the hordes of violent millions from still less civilized “suburbs of the globe” in whose hands the future resides.

Much of the old argument comes without transformation at Cioran’s hands. The old heroism, the denunciation of the mind by the mind, served up once again in the name of the antitheses: heart versus head, instinct versus reason. —Too much lucidity” results in a loss of equilibrium. (One of the arguments behind Cioran’s expressed mistrust, in “Blind Alleys” and “Style as Risk,” of the book, the linguistic communication, literature itself—at least in the present age.) But at least one of the familiar antitheses—thought versus action—is refined. In “On a Winded Civilization,” Cioran shares the standard view of the nineteenth-century romantics, and is mainly concerned with the toll that the exercise of the mind takes on the ability to act. “To act is one thing: to know one is acting is another. When lucidity invests the action, in-sinuates itself into it, action is undone and, with it, prejudice, whose function consists, precisely, in subordinating, in enslaving consciousness to action.” In ‘Thinking Against Oneself,” however, the antithesis of thought and action is rendered in a more subtle and original manner. Thought is not simply that which impedes the direct, energetic performance of an act. Here, Cioran is more concerned with the inroads that action makes upon thought. Pointing out that “the sphere of consciousness shrinks in action,” he supports the idea of a liberation” from action as the only genuine mode of human freedom.

And even in the relatively simplistic argument of “On a Winded Civilization,” when Cioran does invoke that exemplary European figure, “the tired intellectual,” it’s not simply to inveigh against the vocation of the intellectual, but to try to locate the exact difference between two states well worth distinguishing: being civilized and that mutilation of the organic person sometimes, tendentiously, called being “over-civilized.” One may quarrel about the term, but the condition exists and is rampant—common among professional intellectuals, though scarcely confined to them. And, as Cioran correctly points out, a principal danger of being overcivilized is that one all too easily relapses, out of sheer exhaustion and the unsatisfied need to be ‘stimulated,” into a vulgar and passive barbarism. Thus, “the man who unmasks his fictions” through an indiscriminate pursuit of the lucidity that is promoted by modern liberal culture “renounces his own re-sources and, in a sense, himself. Consequently, he will accept other fictions which will deny him, since they will not have cropped up from his own depths.” Therefore, he concludes, .’no man concerned with his own equilibrium may exceed a certain degree of lucidity and analysis.”

Yet this counsel of moderation does not, in the end, limit Cioran’s own enterprise. Saturated with a sense of the well-advertised and (in his belief) irreversible decline of European civilization, this model European thinker becomes, it would seem, emancipated from responsibility to his own health as well as his society’s. For all his scorn for the enervated condition and the provincial destiny of the civilization of which he is a member, Oman is also a gifted elegist of that civilization. Among the last, perhaps, of the elegists of the passing of “Europe—of the European suffering, of European intellectual courage, of European vigor, of European overcomplexity. And determined, himself, to pursue that venture to its end.

His sole ambition: “to be abreast of the Incurable.”

A doctrine of spiritual strenuousness. “Since every form of life betrays and corrupts Life, the man who is genuinely alive assumes a maximum of incompatibilities, works relentlessly at pleasure and pain alike…” (I am quoting from The Temptation to Exist.”) And there can be no doubt in Cioran’s thought that this most ambitious of all states of consciousness, while remaining truer to Life in the generic sense, to the full range of human prospects, is paid for dearly on the level of mundane existence. In terms of action, it means the acceptance of futility. Futility must be seen not as a frustration of one’s hopes and aspirations, but as a prized and defended vantage point for the athletic leap of consciousness into its own complexity. It is of this desirable state that Cioran is speaking when he says: “Futility is the most difficult thing in the world.” It requires that we “must sever our roots, must become metaphysically foreigners.”

That Cioran conceives of this as being so formidable and difficult a task testifies perhaps to his own residual, un-quenchable good health. It also may explain why his essay “A People of Solitaries” is, to my mind, one of the few things Cioran has ever written that falls well below his usual standard of brilliance and perspicacity. Writing on the Jews, who “represent the alienated condition par excellence” for Cioran no less than for Hegel and a host of intervening writers, Cioran displays a startling moral insensitivity to the contemporary aspects of his theme. Even without the example of Sartre’s near-definitive treatment of the same subject in Anti-Semite and Jew, one could scarcely help finding Cioran’s essay surprisingly cursory and highhanded.

A strange dialectic in Cioran: familiar elements fused in a complex mix. On the one hand, the traditional Romantic and vitalist contempt for “intellectuality” and for the hyper-trophy of the mind at the expense of the body and the feelings and of the capacity for action. On the other hand, an exaltation of the life of the mind at the expense of body, feelings, and the capacity for action that could not be more radical and imperious.

The nearest model for this paradoxical attitude toward consciousness is the Gnostic-mystical tradition that, in Western Christianity, descends from Dionysius the Areopagite and the author of The Cloud of Unknowing.

And what Cioran says of the mystic applies perfectly to his own thought. “The mystic, in most cases, invents his adversaries . . . his thought asserts the existence of others by calculation, by artifice: it is a strategy of no consequence. His thought boils down, in the last instance, to a polemic with himself: he seeks to be, he becomes a crowd, even if it is only by making himself one new mask after the other, multiplying his faces: in which he resembles his Creator, whose histrionics he perpetuates.”

Despite the irony in this passage, Cioran’s envy of the mystics, whose enterprise so resembles his—”to find what escapes or survives the disintegration of his experiences: the residue of intemporality under the ego’s vibrations”—is frank and unmistakable. Yet, like his master Nietzsche, Cioran re-mains nailed to the cross of an atheist spirituality. And his essays are best read as a manual of such an atheist spirituality. “Once we have ceased linking our secret life to God, we can ascend to ecstasies as effective as those of the mystics and conquer this world without recourse to the Beyond,” is the opening sentence of the last paragraph of the essay “Dealing with the Mystics.”

Politically, Cioran must be described as a conservative. Liberal humanism is for him simply not a viable or interesting option at all, and he regards the hope of radical revolution as something to be outgrown by the mature mind. (Thus, speaking of Russia in “A Little Theory of Destiny,” he remarks: “The aspiration to ‘save’ the world is a morbid phenomenon of a people’s youth?)

It may be relevant to recall that Cioran was born (in 1911) in Romania, virtually all of whose distinguished expatriate intellectuals have been either apolitical or overtly reactionary; and that his only other book, besides the five collections of essays, is an edition of the writings of Joseph de Maistre (published in 1957), for which he %%tote the introduction and selected the texts.[1] While he never develops anything like an explicit theology of counterrevolution in the manner of Maistre, those arguments seem close to Cioran’s tacit position. Like Maistre, Donoso Cortés, and, more recently, Eric Voegelin, Cioran possesses what might be described—viewed from one angle—as a right-wing “Catholic” sensibility. The modem habit of fomenting revolutions against the established social order in the name of justice and equality is dismissed as a kind of childish fanaticism, much as an old cardinal might regard the activities of some uncouth millennarian sect. Within the same framework, one can locate Cioran’s description of Marxism as that sin of optimism: and his stand against the Enlightenment ideals of “tolerance” and freedom of thought. (It’s perhaps worth noting, too, that Cioran is the son of a Creek Orthodox priest.)

Yet, while Cioran projects a recognizable political stance, though one present only implicitly in most of the essays, his approach is not, in the end, grounded in a religious commitment. However much his political, moral sympathies have in common with the right-wing Catholic sensibility, Cioran himself, as I have already said, is committed to the paradoxes of an atheist theology. Faith alone, he argues, solves nothing. Perhaps what prevents Cioran from making the commitment, even in a secular form, to something like the Catholic theology of order is that he understands too well and shares too many of the spiritual presuppositions of the Ro-mantic movement. Critic of left-wing revolution that he may be, and a slightly snobbish analyst of the fact “that rebellion enjoys an undue privilege among us,” (loran cannot disavow the lesson that “almost all our discoveries are due to our violences, to the exacerbations of our instability.” Thus, along-side the conservative implications of some of the essays. with their scornful treatment of the phenomenology of uprooted-ness, one must set the ironic-positive attitude toward rebellion expressed in “Thinking Against Oneself,” an essay which concludes with the admonition that, “since the Absolute corresponds to a meaning we have not been able to cultivate, let us surrender to all rebellions: they will end by turning against themselves, against us…”

Cioran is clearly unable to withhold admiration from what is extravagant, willful, extreme—one example of which is the extravagant, willful ascesis of the great Western mystics. An-other is the fund of extremity stored up in the experience of the great madmen. “We derive our vitality from our store of madness,” he writes in “The Temptation to Exist.” Yet, in the essay on the mystics, he speaks of “our capacity to Ring our-selves into a madness that is not sacred. In the unknown, we can go as far as the saints, without making use of their means. It will be enough for us to constrain reason to a long silence.”

What makes Cioran’s position not truly conservative in the modern sense is that his is, above all, an aristocratic stance.

See, for only one illustration of the resources of this stance, his essay “Beyond the Novel: in which the novel is eloquently and persuasively condemned for its spiritual vulgarity—for Its devotion to what Cioran calls “destiny in lower case.”

Throughout Cioran’s writings, what is being posed is the problem of spiritual good taste. Avoiding vulgarity and the dilution of the self is the prerequisite for the arduous double task of maintaining an intact self which one is able fully to affirm and yet, at the same time, transcend. Cioran can even defend the emotion of self-pity: for the person who can no longer complain or lament has ceased, by rejecting his miseries and relegating them “outside his nature and outside his voice… to communicate with his life, which he turns into an object.” It may seem outrageous for Cioran to advocate, as he often does, resisting the vulgar temptation to be happy and of the “impasse of happiness.” But such judgments seem far from an unfeeling affectation, once one grants him his impossible project: “to be nowhere, when no external condition obliges you to do so . . . to extricate oneself from the world—what a labor of abolition!”

More realistically, perhaps the best to be hoped for is a series of situations, a life, a milieu, which leave part of the venturesome consciousness free for its labors. One may recall Cioran’s description of Spain in “A Little Theory of Destiny”: —They live in a kind of melodious asperity, a tragic non-seriousness, which saves them from vulgarity, from happiness, and from success.”

Certainly. Cioran’s writings suggest, the role of the writer isn’t likely to provide this kind of spiritual leverage. In “Advantages of Exile” and the brief “Verbal Demiurgy,” he de-scribes how the vocation of literature, particularly that of the poet, creates insurmountable conditions of inauthenticity. One may suffer, but when one deposits this suffering in literature, the result is “an accumulation of confusions, an inflation of horrors, of frissons that date. One cannot keep renewing Hell, whose very character is monotony…

Whether the vocation of the philosopher is any less compromised can hardly be proved. (Reason is dying. Cioran says in “Style as Risk,” in both philosophy and art.) But at least philosophy, I imagine Cioran feels, maintains somewhat higher standards of decorum. Untempted by the same kind of fame or emotional rewards that can descend on the poet, the philosopher can perhaps better comprehend and respect the modesty of the inexpressible.

 When Cioran describes Nietzsche’s philosophy as “a sum of attitudes”—mistakenly scrutinized by. scholars for the constants that the philosopher has rejected—it’s clear that he accepts the Nietzschean standard, with its critique of “truth” as system and consistency, as his own.

In “Blind Alleys,” Cioran speaks of “the stupidities inherent in the cult of truth.” The implication, here and elsewhere, is that what the true philosopher says isn’t something “true” but rather something necessary or liberating. For “the truth” is identified with depersonalization.

Once again, the line from Nietzsche to Cioran cannot be overemphasized. And for both writers, the critique of “truth” is intimately connected with the attitude toward “history.”

Thus, one cannot understand Nietzsche’s questioning of the value of truth in general and of the usefulness of historical truth in particular without grasping the link between the two notions. Nietzsche doesn’t reject historical thinking because it is false. On the contrary, it must be rejected because it is true—a debilitating truth that has to be overthrown to allow a more inclusive orientation for human consciousness.

As Cioran says in “The Temptation to Exist”: “History is merely an inessential mode of being, the most effective form of our infidelity to ourselves, a metaphysical refusal.” And, in -Thinking Against Oneself,” he refers to “history, man’s aggression against himself.”

Granted that the stamp of Nietzsche appears both on the form of Cioran’s thinking and on his principal attitudes, where he most resembles Nietzsche is in his temperament. It’s the temperament or personal style shared with Nietzsche that explains the connections, in Cioran’s work, between such disparate materials as: the emphasis on the strenuousness of an ambitious spiritual life; the project of self-mastery through “thinking against oneself”; the recurrent Nietzschean thematics of strength versus weakness, health versus sickness; the savage and sometimes shrill deployment of irony (quite different from the near systematic, dialectical interplay of irony and seriousness to be found in Kierkegaard’s writings); the preoccupation with the struggle against banality and boredom; the ambivalent attitude toward the poet’s vocation; the seductive but always finally resisted lure of religious consciousness; and, of course, the hostility toward history and to most aspects of “modem” life.

What’s missing in Cioran’s work is anything comparable to Nietzsche’s heroic effort to surmount nihilism (the doctrine of eternal recurrence).

And where Cioran most differs from Nietzsche is in not following Nietzsche’s critique of Platonism. Contemptuous of history, yet haunted by time and mortality, Nietzsche still re-fused anything harking back to the rhetoric established by Plato for going beyond time and death, and indeed worked hard at exposing what he thought the essential fraud and bad faith involved in the Platonic intellectual transcendence. Cioran, apparently, hasn’t been convinced by Nietzsche’s arguments. All the venerable Platonic dualisms reappear in Cioran’s writings, essential links of the argument, used with no more than an occasional hint of ironic reserve. One finds time versus eternity, mind versus body, spirit versus matter; and the more modern ones, too: life versus Life, and being versus existence. How seriously these dualisms are intended is hard to decide.

Could one regard the Platonist machinery in Cioran’s thought as an aesthetic code? Or, alternatively, as a kind of moral therapy? But Nietzsche’s critique of Platonism would still apply and still remain unanswered.

The only figure in the world of Anglo-American letters embarked on a theoretical enterprise comparable in intellectual power and scope to Cioran’s is John Cage.

Also a thinker in the post- and anti-philosophical tradition of broken, aphoristic discourse, Cage shares with Cioran a revulsion against “psychology” and against “history” and a commitment to a radical transvaluation of values. But while comparable in range, interest, and energy to Cioran’s, Cage’s thought mainly offers the most radical contrast to it. From what must be assumed to be the grossest difference of temperament, Cage envisages a world in which most of Cioran’s problems and tasks simply don’t exist. Cioran’s universe of discourse is occupied with the themes of sickness (individual and social), impasse, suffering, mortality. What his essays offer is diagnosis and, if not outright therapy, at least a manual of spiritual good taste through which one might be helped to keep one’s life from being turned into an object, a thing. Cage’s universe of discourse—no less radical and spiritually ambitious than Cioran’s—refuses to admit these themes.

In contrast to Cioran’s unrelenting elitism, Cage envisages a totally democratic world of the spirit, a world of “natural activity” in which “it is understood that everything is clean: there is no dirt.” In contrast to Cioran’s baroque standards of good and bad taste in intellectual and moral matters, Cage maintains there is no such thing as good or bad taste. In contrast to Cioran’s vision of error and decline and (possible) redemption of one’s acts, Cage proposes the perennial possibility of errorless behavior, if only we will allow it to be so. ‘Error is a fiction, has no reality in fact. Errorless music is written by not giving a thought to cause and effect. Any other kind of music always has mistakes in it. In other words there is no split between spirit and matter.” And elsewhere in the same book from which these quotes are taken, Silence: “flow can we speak of error when it is understood ‘psychology never again?’ In contrast to Cioran’s goal of infinite adaptability and intellectual agility (how to find the correct vantage point, the right place to stand in a treacherous world), Cage proposes for our experience a world in which it’s never preferable to do other than we are doing or be elsewhere than we are. “It is only irritating,” he says, “to think one would like to be some-where else. Here we are now.”

What becomes clear, in the context of this comparison, is how devoted Cioran is to the will and its capacity to transform the world. Compare Cage’s: “Do you only take the position of doing nothing, and things will of themselves become trans-formed.” What different views can follow the radical rejection of history is seen by thinking first of Cioran and then of Cage, who writes: “To be & be the present Would it be a repetition? Only if we thought we owned It, but since we don’t, it is free & so are we.”

Reading Cage, one becomes aware how much Cioran is still confined within the premises of the historicizing conscious-ness; how inescapably he continues to repeat these gesture; much as he longs to transcend them. Of necessity then, Cioran’s thought is halfway between anguished reprise of these gestures and a genuine transvaluation of them. Perhaps, for a unified transvaluation, one must look to those thinkers like Cage who—whether from spiritual strength or from spiritual insensitivity is a secondary issue—are able to jettison far more of the inherited anguish and complexity of this civilization. Cioran’s fierce, tensely argued speculations sum up brilliantly the decaying urgencies of Western thought, but offer us no relief from them beyond the consider-able satisfactions of the understanding. Relief, of course, is scarcely Cioran’s intention. His aim is diagnosis. For relief, it may be that one must abandon the pride of knowing and feeling so much—a local pride that has cost everyone hideously by now.

Novalis wrote that “philosophy is properly home-sickness; the wish to be everywhere at home.- lithe human mind can be everywhere at home, it must in the end give up its local “European” pride and something else—that will seem strangely unfeeling and intellectually simplistic—must be al-lowed in. “All that is necessary,- says Cage with his own devastating irony, “is an empty space of time and letting it act in its magnetic way.”

(1967)

From: Susan SONTAG. Styles of radical will. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969


[1] He has also published an essay on Machiavelli and one on St-John Perse—both as yet uncollected.

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