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Almost all of Cioran's works are now available in English translation (with the sore exceptions of his 1930s political tract "Romania's Transfiguration" and the "Cahiers" (Notebooks), but until the appearance of this book penned by Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston, the capable translator of his Romanian-language works who sadly died in 2005, and which in turn was completed by her husband, Kenneth Johnston, there was for English-language readers nothing like a biography or a critical study of his work that was intended for general audiences. Prior to that, if you wanted to know anything about Cioran's life or intellectual development, then you had to cobble together the scraps provided in some of the introductions accompanying the translated works or wade through a handful of ponderous academic monographs not always written in English.
This book is still not a full and comprehensive study of Cioran's life or his output as a writer since it focuses on the early Cioran, from his birth in 1911 to the time of his departure from Romania and arrival in the West, taking him through Germany and finally to Paris, where he would spend the rest of his life from 1937 until his death in 1995, but it is a marvelous study in its own right full of critical insights and sympathetic enough examinations of the man's own inner workings and authorial obsessions. Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston was ideally suited for writing an intellectual biography of the man, but her own untimely death cut the project short and the materials she had assembled for the second half of the book intended to deal with the later "French" Cioran had to be collected and edited by her husband.
But in its own ironic way the latter half of the book, which is largely anecdotal in nature and deals with her own personal encounters and interviews with Cioran in Paris (they include a searing account of Cioran's decline into the mental oblivion of Alzheimer's disease), and though it lacks the more comprehensive biographical treatment of the earlier narratives, it forms a fascinating supplement to the fuller "Romanian" sections precisely because the episodes it contains are fragmentary and thus serve to reflect certain aspects of the existence that Cioran cultivated in his self-imposed state of anonymous exile from his homeland.
Finally, we should be forever grateful to Zarifopol-Johnston for the way in which she deals head-on with the cloudy issue of Cioran's political beliefs and activities, and she comes to some compelling conclusions that allow her to transcend the stale and hypocritical pieties that govern what Milan Kundera has described as the ""absolute tribunal mentality" of the twentieth century" (p. 114). The two chapters in this book that deal with Cioran's so-called fascist sympathies and his seeming enthusiasm for totalitarianism as expressed in his still untranslated work "Romania's Transfiguration" are, in my opinion, the best and most illuminating in the book, especially when they are read in connection with the first half's final chapter, "Conclusion: The Lyrical Virtues of Totalitarianism".
(Note: I continue to be flabbergasted by the self-seeking liberties taken by publishers who do not hesitate to print the most false and misleading things about the books they are offering. The dustjacket of this otherwise excellent work bears the description: "A critical portrait of French philosopher and mystic E.M. Cioran". It is simply wrong on three counts--Cioran was not French, he steadfastly refused to be called a philosopher, and if he knew that someone was labelling him a mystic he would have laughed himself silly.)Searching for Cioran OverviewIlinca Zarifopol-Johnston's critical biography of the Romanian-bornFrench philosopher E. M. Cioran focuses on his crucial formative years as a mysticalrevolutionary attracted to right-wing nationalist politics in interwar Romania, hiswritings of this period, and his self-imposed exile to France in 1937. This move ledto his transformation into one of the most famous French moralists of the 20thcentury. As an enthusiast of the anti-rationalist philosophies widely popular inEurope during the first decades of the 20th century, Cioran became an advocate ofthe fascistic Iron Guard. In her quest to understand how Cioran and other brilliantyoung intellectuals could have been attracted to such passionate national revivalmovements, Zarifopol-Johnston, herself a Romanian emigrÃ©, sought out the agingphilosopher in Paris in the early 1990s and retraced his steps from his home villageof Rasinari and youthful years in Sibiu, through his student years in Bucharest andBerlin, to his early residence in France. Her portrait of Cioran is complemented byan engaging autobiographical account of her rediscovery of her own Romanianpast.
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