Monday, September 26, 2011

Pessimism and Aphorism

Maverick Philosopher analyzes some aphorisms of Emil Cioran. I would offer Cioran more grace with regards to their consistency: to be consistent is to be systematic and to demand that aphorisms be systematic is to demand a standard they are not usually trying to meet. It's hard enough to be systematic when you're writing a systematic work. Plus, if you're trying to point to the absurdity of life, as Cioran is, consistency may not be a high priority. Nevertheless, I agree that you can point to the inconsistencies and recognize them as such, I just don't think it makes him "an unserious literary scribbler".

I'm very glad I encountered God before I encountered Cioran (or Schopenhauer). I'm naturally pessimistic, so philosophical pessimism would have ensnared me. My soul yearns, my heart cries out ... for non-existence. As Cioran puts it, "Is it possible that existence is our exile and nothingness our home?" An image I've carried with me since I was a teenager is that I want to vomit myself up. I want to vomit until there's nothing and no one left. Of course, this is contradictory (thank God): I have to exist to vomit, so there would always be a core being that remains.

I doubt I would have realized this if I had encountered philosophical pessimism before Christ. But Christianity explains it perfectly. "So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord!" A part of me wants to say I don't want to do good, that's the problem -- but then why is it a problem? There's a part of me, however small you want to make it, that recognizes it's a problem, that wants to do good; and it is this part of me that rebels against who I am and what I do and wants to vomit it up, exterminate it. That part of me wants to do good, wants to be holy. Pessimism says that since a part of me -- perhaps a large part of me -- is enmired in sin, evil, absurdity, that all of me must be. But if all of me is so enmired, what's the part of me that recognizes it for what it is and rebels against it? As Maverick Philosopher writes, "Cioran's thought undermines the very possibility of its own expression. That can't be good."

Pessimism is too simple; it views the situation as univocal when it is really a duality. But that shouldn't be too surprising: reality is often more complicated than how we would like it to be.

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