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Searching for Cioran

Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston. Edited by Kenneth R. Johnston; Foreword by Matei Calinescu

Publication Year: 2009

Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston's critical biography of the Romanian-born French philosopher E. M. Cioran focuses on his crucial formative years as a mystical revolutionary attracted to right-wing nationalist politics in interwar Romania, his writings of this period, and his self-imposed exile to France in 1937. This move led to his transformation into one of the most famous French moralists of the 20th century. As an enthusiast of the anti-rationalist philosophies widely popular in Europe during the first decades of the 20th century, Cioran became an advocate of the fascistic Iron Guard. In her quest to understand how Cioran and other brilliant young intellectuals could have been attracted to such passionate national revival movements, Zarifopol-Johnston, herself a Romanian emigré, sought out the aging philosopher in Paris in the early 1990s and retraced his steps from his home village of Rasinari and youthful years in Sibiu, through his student years in Bucharest and Berlin, to his early residence in France. Her portrait of Cioran is complemented by an engaging autobiographical account of her rediscovery of her own Romanian past.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. vi-vii

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Editor’s Preface

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pp. ix-xii

Before she died at age fifty-two in January of 2005, my wife, the author of this book, had nearly completed a critical biography of her Romanian compatriot, the philosophical essayist and existentialist provocateur E. M. Cioran. Ilinca’s goal was to write a biography of Cioran’s Romanian life, ...

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Note on Romanian Spelling and Pronunciation

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pp. xiii

The Romanian language, like the country itself, is often referred to as “a Latin island in a Slavic sea,” because Romanian is a Latin-based Romance language, like Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Most Anglo-American readers will be able to recognize and sound out most of the Romanian words that occur herein ...

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pp. xv-xix

In the 1970s and 1980s, during my visits from the United States to Paris, I always made a point to call Cioran and offer to accompany him on one of his long daily walks, usually solitary, through the streets of his beloved Latin Quarter and the Luxembourg gardens. We would meet in front of the old building at 21, rue de l’Odéon, ...

Chronology: E. M. Cioran

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pp. xxi-xxii

Part 1

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pp. 1

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Introduction: Cioran’s Revenge

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pp. 3-19

It was cold in Paris in the winter of 1943–44. The war, as it seemed, was going badly for all sides, and shortages were implacable, beyond relief. To keep warm, the Latin Quarter intellectuals flock to the Café de Flore on the Boulevard St. Germain-des-Prés, where an impressive stove dominates the main room. ...

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1. Răşinari, Transylvania, 1911–1921

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pp. 20-40

He lay fully clothed on his narrow cot in the unfamiliar attic room, staring at the gray light filtered through a small skylight in the ceiling. He preferred overcast skies; blue skies were troubling, stirring up one’s wanderlust. And now he had stopped wandering: for ten years, while living in furnished hotel rooms, Cioran had been dreaming of an apartment of his own. ...

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2. Sibiu, 1921–1928

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pp. 41-57

The town of Sibiu lies in a wide plain at the foot of the Făgăraş mountains, the natural border that separates Transylvania from Romania’s southern region, Muntenia or Wallachia. For most of its history, Sibiu has been a border town, its fortified walls raised to defend the margins of empires. ...

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3. Bucharest, 1928–1933

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pp. 58-81

A six-hour train ride separates Sibiu from Bucharest, but in 1928 it was more than a trip from western to eastern Romania, it was like a trip from Western civilization to the gates of Oriental exoticism. Acceleratul, the fast train, runs—not so very fast—across the southern edge of the Transylvanian plateau, skirting the hazy blue slopes of its mountainous border. ...

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4. Berlin, 1933–1935

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pp. 82-90

In the 1930s, as today, a Humboldt fellowship was one of the most prestigious awards given by the German government to promising students from abroad, on a par with Rhodes scholarships to Oxford.1 That Cioran was chosen for the honor is a measure of the intellectual promise he was felt to have, ...

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5. Romania’s Transfiguration, 1935–1937

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pp. 91-110

Schimbarea la faţă a României (Romania’s Transfiguration) was published in the spring of 1936, almost at the same time as Mircea Eliade’s Yoga. In a letter to Cioran, who was then unhappily teaching high school in Braşov—having served, even more unhappily, his time in the army from fall 1935 to spring 1936 ...

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6. Romania’s Transfiguration, Continuing Controversy

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pp. 111-122

Romania’s Transfiguration occupies a peculiar space in Cioran’s oeuvre. It is his only Romanian book that has never been translated; it is significantly absent, for example, from Gallimard’s recent Quarto edition of the OEuvres (1995). Yet it is at the same time the most notorious of his works, since it is reputed to be the book in which he “reveals” his fascistic tendencies, ...

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7. Tears and Saints, 1937

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pp. 123-134

The year after he published Romania’s Transfiguration, his least attractive work, Cioran—by then already out of Romania and in France—published Tears and Saints (Lacrimi şi sfinţi), written largely while he was teaching in Braşov—which his friend Jenny Acterian called “the saddest” book he ever wrote.1 ...

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8. Stranger in Paris

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pp. 135-140

Cioran wrote two more books in Romanian after leaving the country in 1937. The first of these is Amurgul Gîndurilor (The Twilight of Thought), published in Romania in 1940. The second, Îndreptar pātimaş (Primer of Passions), translated in French as Bréviaire des vaincus, written between 1940/41 and 1944/45, was not published until 1991, ...

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9. Conclusion: The Lyrical Virtues of Totalitarianism

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pp. 141-148

This quotation from “On a Winded Civilization,” in La tentation d’exister (1956), illustrates the essential French Cioran: beautiful style placed in the service of the most melancholy of themes, the decadence of Western civilizations. The death of the West from a combination of impotence and old age, whose symptoms are liberalism, democracy, and the parliamentary system, ...

Part 2

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pp. 149

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pp. 151-156

The following pages are adapted from an informal diary I kept of my acquaintance with Cioran, and his companion, Simone Bou

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Paris, 1992–1994

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pp. 157-177

May 13. Two evenings in a row with Cioran and Simone Boué. Yesterday I went just to say “hello” and stayed for supper, though I was dead tired after my trip from the States. Shared their potage. Simone is a great cook, the potage delicious. They are an irresistible couple, warm, easy-going, full of charm and tenderness for each other. ...

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Romania, 1994

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pp. 178-204

On my way to Romania, I changed planes at the Frankfurt airport, outpost of the Western empire. All flights to Eastern Europe go out from the airport’s shabbiest, oldest wing. Through it pass the barbarians: Romanians, Hungarians, Chinese, Africans. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Han Solo come toward me ...

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Paris, 1995

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pp. 205-218

January 11. A month later. After Bloomington and California, now Paris. Listening to music on Radio Classique on a dark, rainy afternoon, cozy in this quaint but slightly ghostly apartment—Mircea Eliade’s Paris apartment, lent to me by his (second) wife, Cristinel. His spirit seems to be floating around. ...

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Romania, 1995–1997

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pp. 219-230

July 2. Off to Romania again. As I embark from Barcelona, in a battered old plane piloted by a Captain Turkey (!), I start to wonder if I am going to make it all the way there, and why I’m going back. What masochistic impulse drives me back to the dusty, dirty place that was my place of origin? ...

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pp. 231-234

Bloomington, May 27, 1997. Relu Cioran sent me a copy of my interview in Tribuna. I am horrified. They adapted or rather mis-adapted my words to suit their purposes. It makes it sound as if I plan to publish the entire, uncut version of Cioran’s journal in competition with the Gallimard version prepared by Simone. ...

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Appendix 1: Another Family

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pp. 235-238

Cioran was not a simple peasant born into an ordinary peasant family. But, besides the very considerable talents of his father, there was another family that all the Ciorans looked up to as their model. A sister of Emil’s grandfather, Şerban Cioran, Stanca (Aunt Stanca), married into another Răşinari family that produced priests, men of letters, and politicians, the Barcianu family.1 ...

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Appendix 2: Articles by Cioran Reflecting His Experiences in Germany

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pp. 239-244

A certain amount of confusion surrounds Cioran’s writings about Germany and his experiences there. This is understandable, given his controversial polemical stature. His detractors want to emphasize the worst pieces, those most uncritically enthusiastic about Hitler and the new Nazi regime. ...


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pp. 245-262


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pp. 263-270

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Biographical Note

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pp. 271-272

Ilinca Marina Zarifopol (1952–2005) was born July 25 in Bucharest, Romania, the second child and second daughter of Constantin (Dinu) Zarifopol and Maria (Mioara) Economu. She was the grand-niece of Paul Zarifopol (1874–1930), one of Romania’s leading men of letters in the early twentieth century. ...


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pp. 273-284

E-ISBN-13: 9780253003454
E-ISBN-10: 0253003458
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253352675

Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 10 b&w photos, 1 maps
Publication Year: 2009