Emil Mihai Cioran (April 8, 1911, Răşinari - June 20, 1995, Paris), one of the best minds of his generation, was the author of elegantly written philosophical essays in which he displayed a sense of alienation and pessimism that was, according to one critic, "so profound and ironic as to almost meet a serious optimism at the other end of its arc".
Emil Cioran was born in a small, idyllic Transilvanian village called Răşinari, near Sibiu. He had a happy childhood, as his family was one of the wealthiest and most respected due to the fact that his father - Emilian - was, after all, an Orthodox priest. Cioran's childhood ended abruptly, when, at the age of 10, he was sent to live with a German family in Sibiu, a thing that left the young boy traumatized for life. Within three years, the whole family had moved to Sibiu.
The turning point of the writer's life was when he entered the University in Bucharest, as a Philosophy student. Here, he met his lifelong friends, Mircea Eliade - who later became one of the most influential personalities of the 20th century - and Eugen Ionesco, the founder of the Theater of the Absurd. They all benefited from the teachings of the prestigious thinkers Tudor Vianu and Nae Ionescu. The young Cioran graduated with a thesis on Bergsonian intuitionism, which he later rejected, because, Bergson didn't truly understand the tragedy of life. Or, at least, that's what Cioran thought. In 1933, the philosopher obtained a scholarship to the University of Berlin. The sojourn there influenced Cioran and he became passionate about Totalitarianism. Some of his declarations dated from that period are very positive to Fascism and Nazism, and have attracted him a lot of criticism. Also, one fact that was particularly disturbing was that he wrote a lot of articles in support of the extremist Romanian party Iron Guard. This attracted a lot of criticism later on, despite the fact that Cioran repeatedly repented for this lapse into extremism.
His first book, published in 1934, On the Heights of Despair, was very well received by the Romanian critics, and it was awarded the Commission's Prize and the Young Writers Prize. Other books - highly acclaimed by the critics - were published in the following years: The Book of Delusions (1935), The Transfiguration of Romania (1936), and Tears and Saints (1937), before leaving for Paris on a scholarship.
As a side note, one thing that reportedly had a huge influence on Cioran's thinking is a conversation with his mother, dated from 1935. She told him that she wouldn't have had him had she known he was going to be so unhappy. This produced a great impact on his life and led him to the idea that life is futile and everything is without substance: I'm simply an accident. Why take it all so seriously?
After he moved to France, all of his books were written in French, due to the fact that Cioran wanted to emphasize his detachment from the past. And, truth be told, his life in France was not bad at all, as he lived in the company of the finest minds in the world. In order to support himself, he worked there as a translator for a few publishing houses. However, the need to write was present again and the philosopher challenged himself by writing his next book completely in French, even though he worked hard to learn the language. The result was A Short History of Decay, which brought him the Rivarol Prize, in 1950, the only award he accepted in his entire life. He led a solitary existence in the Latin Quarter of Paris, surrounded by famous friends, such as Samuel Beckett, Mircea Eliade, Eugen Ionesco or Paul Celan. In the last years of his life he gave up writing completely, mostly because Alzheimer had deteriorated his mind. One of the most appreciated Romanian-born thinkers died on the 20th of June, 1995.
His body of work is quite impressive and its roots are deeply buried within the Transylvanian village. As a priest's son, Cioran was very preoccupied with religion. Later, this passion drove him to read the writings of saints and Christian mystics. But he realized he wasn't cut out to be an orthodox, so he turned to agnosticism and even nihilism. Unable to find answers in religion, Emil tried to find those answers in Philosophy. The one philosopher who had a huge influence on him was Nietzsche, the faithless German thinker. As for the religion, the only one that appealed to him was, by far, Buddhism. All these external influences turned Cioran in a pessimist, who found life painful. Throughout his works, he wrote a lot on the theme of suicide, as the only possible escape from an absurd universe. He once declared: 'I have always lived with the awareness of the impossibility of living. A recurrent theme in the works of writers of the first half of the 20th century is, undoubtedly, that of human alienation. The existence is, hence, absurd because 'by all evidence we are in the world to do nothing'. In the works of Emil Cioran, we run across a very solitary author, impregnated with the pain of living. Even so, one cannot help but be mesmerized by his lyricism and heart-felt convictions. He's a philosopher who belongs neither to the Romanians, nor to the French because his writings have a universal appeal.