When autumn approaches -- or rather, when I start to long for its approach, knowing full well it's still far off -- I take my old frenemy E. M. Cioran down from the shelf and prepare to savor Persephone's desertion. The morsels below are from Anathemas and Admirations. The translation, by Richard Howard, was smartly reviewed by Edmund White back in the day. Happy Saturday!

"A stroll through Montparnasse Cemetery. All, young or old, made plans. They make no more. Strengthened by their example, I swear as a good pupil, returning, never to make any myself -- ever. Undeniably beneficial outing."


"There is something of the charlatan in anyone who triumphs in any realm whatever."


"Unrivaled in the worship of Impassivity, I have aspired to it frantically, so that the more I strained to achieve it, the further from it I found myself. A just defeat for a man who pursues a goal contrary to his nature."


"Do not confuse talent and verve. Most often verve will characterize the charlatan. From another point of view, without it, how give any spice to our truths, to our errors?"


"Everything that can be classified is perishable. Only what is susceptible to several interpretations endures."


"X reproached me for being a spectator, for not getting involved, for loathing the new. 'But I don't want to change anything,' I answered. He did not grasp the meaning of my reply. He took it for modesty."


"A sensation must have fallen very low to deign to turn into an idea."


"As an adolescent, Turgenev tacked to his bedroom wall a portrait of Fouquier-Tinville. Youth, always and everywhere, has idealized executioners, provided they perform their task in the name of the vague and the bombastic."


(This last makes me nervous, since I sometimes think I may have long idealized Cioran for not dissimilar reasons, and I'm not even young any more . . . )

Originally Published: August 29th, 2009

Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, poet Joel Brouwer is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and Syracuse University. Brouwer is the author of several collections of poetry, including And So (2009); Centuries (2003), a National Book Critics Circle Notable Book; and Exactly What Happened (1999), winner of the Larry Levis...

  1. August 29, 2009

    "Frenemy?" Good word play, Joel Brouwer, captioning well what becomes the personal challenge presented by all Pessimist philosophies. They do require the either/or response. No wiggle room there, right?\r

    I found this comment in a Wiki article on Cioran: "According to Cioran, as long as man has kept in touch with his origins and hasn't cut himself off from himself, he has resisted decadence. Today, he is on his way to his own destruction through self-objectification, impeccable production and reproduction, excess of self-analysis and transparency, and artificial triumph." The sweet irony, of course, is that all nihilists since Turgenev coined the word have been subject to self-objectification and an excess of self-analysis. My personal antidote to the Ciorans of the philosophical world has been something Stendhal said in his memoirs:\r

    "The genius of poetry is dead, but the demon of suspicion has come into the world. I am firmly convinced that the only antidote for this, the only thing that might make the reader forget the eternal I of the author, is complete sincerity."\r

    Anyway, funny what autumn without fail does to the body's soma.\r


  2. August 29, 2009
     Joel Brouwer

    Tereson, I wish I could take credit for "frenemy," but the OED chalks it up to none other that Walter Winchell: "Howz about calling the Russians our Frienemies?" (Nevada State Journal, 19 May 1953). \r

    I am 100% with you and Stendahl as a matter of principle, just as I am all for clean living and a healthy diet. Yet I find myself at times repairing with gleeful perversity to Cioran (and Schopenhauer) now and then, in much the same way that I sometimes go out and buy a pack of cigarettes. So bad. So good.\r

    Thanks for that Stendahl quote. Terrific.

  3. August 29, 2009
     John Oliver Simon

    Here's a poem by Mayahuel Raquel Montoya, a 5th-grader:\r

    Granada (Pomegranate)\r

    Little seeds,\r
    like stars of continuous luxurious taste,\r
    you brighten my day with your sweet luxury.\r
    Now I know why Persephone could not resist you.\r
    I know I would not be able to.\r
    I could not starve with your seeds in my face.\r
    Because of you we lost summer.\r
    But you cast a spell on me so\r
    I crunch, crunch away.\r

    The assignment, starting from their work translating Neruda's Oda al tomate, was to write about a food they loved or hated. I guess the class had been studying Greek mythology.

  4. August 29, 2009

    Joel Brouwer says: "So bad. So good."\r

    I get your drift. In my rich interior life, and since you are philosophically inclined, I sometimes fantasize about a meeting between Cioran and others of his inclination, such as Ortega, and the granite poet from California, Robinson Jeffers. I suspect that within the space of an hour they would have whimpered, whined, and called out for their mothers. My favorite Jeffers story involves how he was once called for jury duty for a murder trial and immediately dismissed by the defense because of the "assumed cruelty of his countenance". Edward Weston said he wasn't human. He was an element. Which is my other antidote when it comes to nihilists and such who, in my view, expend way too much energy on what it means and doesn't mean to be human. Thanks.\r