- Cioran’s Nietzsche
Susan Sontag wrote that Cioran
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? . . . 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.1
Sontag's essay has become a touchstone for taking Cioran seriously as a philosopher and the correlations between Cioran and Nietzsche she described are now staples of Cioran criticism.
Sontag's junction of Cioran and Nietzsche has been steadily reinforced. As a postscript to his book on Nietzsche, Clément Rosset puts Cioran in the tradition of Nietzsche's Gay Science and credits him for posing the most serious and most grave question to philosophy: whether an alliance is possible between lucidity and joy. Two of Cioran's most esteemed translators, Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnson and Sanda Stolojan, separately asserted that Nietzsche was a major influence on Cioran in the 1930s. Cioran's friend, the Spanish philosopher Fernando Savater, emphasized how much the two have in common. In a close comparison of Cioran's Romanian works with Nietzsche's books and Nachlass, Lucia Gorgoi found multiple similarities in style and substance, particularly regarding aphorisms and nihilism. Patrice Bollon's summary of Cioran's philosophy links it to Nietzsche more frequently than to any other philosopher.2
Despite all this, Nietzsche and Cioran are a pair that ought not be taken for granted, for three reasons: affinity and resemblance are too easily mistaken for agreement and influence; Cioran strenuously resisted [End Page 75] falling into the orbit of other authors; and he specifically asserted his independence from Nietzsche. In his later books and interviews, Cioran often described Nietzsche as "naïve," and from the 1930s on he felt superior to the philosopher of the superman.3 Treating Cioran and Nietzsche in tandem is more faithful to both when their clashing skepticisms and stark differences are mutually respected.
Cioran knew Nietzsche's work well. Although little of Nietzsche had been translated into Romanian, Cioran could read German from earliest youth and found the language no obstacle. A school notebook from Cioran's teens survives with his neatly copied passages from Nietzsche, interspersed with passages from Balzac, Diderot, Flaubert, Lichtenberg, Schopenhauer, and his greatest passion, Dostoyevsky. Dostoyevsky stood between Cioran and Nietzsche as a buffer and bond. Despite the clash of Dostoyevsky's Christianity with his own atheism, Nietzsche himself praised Dostoyevsky as "the only psychologist from whom I had something to learn."4 Léon Chestov cites this passage as his starting point in La Philosophie de la tragédie: Dostoïewsky et Nietzsche and gave precedence to Dostoyevsky throughout, as Cioran would do. Chestov was also author of L'Idée de bien chez Tolstoi et Nietzsche. Cioran claimed Chestov—not Nietzsche—as "my philosopher" during the interwar years.5 According to Chestov, Nietzsche's break with Wagner and his reaction against Schopenhauer were the "worst misfortune that could befall a man, to break with his teachers," events that isolated Nietzsche, reflecting on his pain and solitude like a Dostoyevsky character.6 Rupture, suffering, and solitude became Cioran's literary preoccupations.
The chief promoter of Nietzsche in Romania during Cioran's youth was Lucien Blaga, whom Cioran put "on a pedestal."7 Like Cioran, Blaga was born in Transylvania as the son of a priest (Nietzsche was the son of a Lutheran pastor), imitated Zarathustra's ecstasies, and adopted Nietzsche's themes and motifs. Much of what now seems to be Nietzschean in early Cioran was pre-selected by Blaga.8 Blaga made Nietzsche essential reading and German philosophy essential education. Cioran obliged. He studied philosophy at the University of Bucharest, reading Fichte, Hegel, Husserl, Kant, Simmel, and more Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. He then went closer to the source. Between 1933 and 1935 Cioran studied under Nicolai Hartmann and Ludwig Klages at the [End Page 76] Friedrich-Wilhelm Universität in Berlin as a Humboldt fellow; Klages was the author of Die psychologischen Errungenschaften Nietzsches (1926). Like Klages...