Cover image for All gall is divided : gnomes and apothegms
All gall is divided : gnomes and apothegms
Cioran, E. M. (Emile M.), 1911-1995.
Uniform Title:
Syllogismes de l'amertume. English
Publication Information:
New York : Arcade Pub., [1999]

Physical Description:
151 pages ; 21 cm
Subject Term:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library B2430.C5253 S9513 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Romanian-born E.M. Cioran moved to Paris at the age of 26, remaining there nearly six decades until his death in 1995. He was called "a sort of final philosopher of the Western world" and "the last worthy disciple of Nietzsche"; the bleak aphorisms of All Gall Is Divided make a strong case for either appellation. "With every idea born in us," he declares early on, "something in us rots." Throughout the book, he addresses the futile attempts of man to impose meaning on a meaningless existence--"That there should be a reality hidden by appearances is, after all, quite possible; that language might render such a thing would be an absurd hope"--and nurses an ongoing fascination with the possibilities death holds for release from life's madness. (When the Dead Kennedys sang, "I look forward to death / This world brings me down," they might as well have been taking notes from Cioran.) Grim stuff, but presented in brilliant, crystalline form--particularly in the translation by Richard Howard, which retains Cioran's cold, detached viewpoint.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Ambrose Bierce produced a small book of mordant paradoxes he called The Devil's Dictionary (1911). This is Cioran's existentialist equivalent. Often aridly clever, it can quickly elicit indigestion, but on occasion its bleak terseness strikes a chord or hints at an autobiography. Cioran (The Trouble with Being Born) was born in Romania, emigrated to France in the 1930s and died in Paris in 1995. "Inside every citizen nowadays," he writes, "lies a future alien." An outspoken non-believer, he opines, "For two thousand years, Jesus has revenged himself on us for not having died on a sofa." A passionate pessimist after decades of exile, occupation and war, he insists, "To hope is to contradict the future," and "Had Noah possessed the gift of foreseeing the future, there is not a doubt in the world he would have scuttled the ark." As laconic and intense as his aphorisms appear to be, it seems obvious that his heralded translator, in playing his own word games, has often stretched the irony, sometimes vitiating it. At their sardonic bestÄ"Shakespeare: the rose and the ax have a rendezvous"ÄCioran's lines have a staying power. This is especially so when he expresses his thirst for doubt and his despairing delight in the world's contradictions. Ideas, he believes, are undermined by exhaustive analysis. Pithy cynicism is the antidote he offers. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Atrophy of Utterance        Educated by weaklings, idolators of stigmata, especially fragmentary ones, we belong to a clinical age when only cases count. We loiter over what a writer has left unspoken, what he might have said: unarticulated depths. If he leaves an oeuvre, if he is explicit, he has earned our oblivion.        Wizardry of the unrealized artist ..., of a loser who lets his disappointments go, unable to make them bear fruit. * * *        So many pages, so many books which afforded us feeling and which we reread to study the quality of their adverbs, their adjectival aplomb. * * *        Something serious about stupidity which, oriented differently, might multiply the stock of our masterpieces. * * *        If it weren't for our doubts about ourselves, all skepticism would be dead letter, conventional anxiety, philosophical doctrine. * * *        As for "verities", who can lug them around any longer? We refuse to bear their weight, to be their accomplices or their dupes. I dream of a world in which one might die for a comma. * * *        How I love those second-order minds (Joubert, in particular) who out of delicacy lived in the shadow of other men's genius, fearing to have such a thing, rejecting their own! * * *        If Molière had given himself up to his abyss, Pascal -- with his -- would look like a journalist. * * *        Certainties have no style: a concern for well-chosen words is the attribute of those who cannot rest easy in a faith. Lacking solid support, they cling to words -- semblances of reality; while the others, strong in their convictions, despise appearances and wallow in the comfort of improvisation. * * *        Beware of those who turn their backs on love, ambition, society. They will take their revenge for having renounced ... * * *        The history of ideas is the history of the spite of certain solitaries. * * *        Plutarch, nowadays, would write the Parallel Lives of Losers . * * *        English Romanticism was a happy mixture of laudanum, exile, and tuberculosis; German Romanticism, of alcohol, suicide, and the provinces. * * *        Certain minds ought to have lived in a German town in the Romantic period. How easy it is to imagine a Gérard de Nerval in Tübingen or Heidelberg! * * *        German endurance knows no limits -- even in madness: Nietzsche endured his eleven years, Hölderlin forty. * * *        Luther, that prefiguration of modern man, assumed every kind of disequilibrium: both a Pascal and a Hitler cohabited within him. * * *        "... only what is true is lovable ..."-- from this celebrated dictum derive the lacunae of France, her rejection of the Vague and the Indeterminate, her anti-poetry, her anti-metaphysics.        Even more than Descartes, Boileau was to weigh upon a whole nation and to censure its genius. * * *        Hell -- as precise as a ticket for a traffic violation;        Purgatory--false as all allusions to Heaven;        Paradise--window dressing of fictions and vapidity ...        Dante's trilogy constitutes the highest rehabilitation of the Devil ever undertaken by a Christian. * * *        Shakespeare: the rose and the ax have a rendezvous. * * *        Default on your life and you accede to poetry -- without the prop of talent. * * *        Only superficial minds approach an idea with delicacy. * * *        Mention of administrative rebuffs ("the law's delay, the insolence of office") among the justifications for suicide seems to me Hamlet's profoundest utterance. * * *        When modes of expression are worn out, art tends toward non-sense, toward a private and incommunicable universe. An intelligible shudder, whether in painting, in music, or in poetry, strikes us, and rightly, as vulgar or out-of-date. The public will soon disappear; art will follow shortly.        A civilization which began with the cathedrals has to end with the hermeticism of schizophrenia. * * *        When we are a thousand miles away from poetry, we still participate in it by that sudden need to scream -- the last stage of lyricism. * * *        To be a Raskolnikov -- without the excuse of murder. * * *        The aphorism is cultivated only by those who have known fear in the midst of words , that fear of collapsing with all the words . * * *        If only we could return to those ages when no utterance shackled existence, to the laconism of interjections, to the joyous stupor of the preverbal! * * *        How easy it is to be "deep": all you have to do is let yourself sink into your own flaws. * * *        Every word affords me pain. Yet how sweet it would be if I could hear what the flowers have to say about death! * * *        Models of style: the swearword, the telegram, the epitaph. * * *        The Romantics were the last specialists in suicide, which has been a shambles ever since. To improve its quality, we desperately need a new mal de siècle . * * *        To cleanse literature of its greasepaint, to see its real countenance, is as dangerous as to dispossess philosophy of its jargon. Do the mind's creations come down to the transfiguration of trifles? Is there some sort of substance only beyond words -- in catalepsy or the skull's grin? * * *        The book which, after demolishing everything, fails to demolish itself will have exasperated us to no purpose. * * *        Dislocated monads, here we are at the end of our prudent mopes, our well-planned anomalies: more than one sign heralds the hegemony of delirium. * * *        A writer's "sources"? His shames; failing to discover these in yourself, or dodging them when you do, you are doomed to plagiarism or reviewing. * * *        Every tormented "Occidental" suggests a Dostoyevskian hero with a bank account. * * *        The good dramaturge must have a talent for homicide; since the Elizabethans, who knows how to kill off his characters? * * *        The nerve cell is so used to everything, to anything, that we must despair of ever conceiving an insanity which -- penetrating the brain -- would make it explode. * * *        No one since Benjamin Constant has rediscovered the tone of disappointment. * * *        Supposing you have appropriated the rudiments of misanthropy; if you want to go further, you must go to school to Swift: he will teach you how to give your scorn of men the intensity of neuralgia. * * *        With Baudelaire, physiology entered into poetry; with Nietzsche, into philosophy. By them, the troubles of the organs were raised to song, to concept. With health the one thing proscribed, it was incumbent upon them to afford disease a career. * * *        Mystery -- a word we use to deceive others, to convince them we are "deeper" than they are. * * *        If Nietzsche, Proust, Baudelaire, or Rimbaud survive the fluctuations of fashions, they owe it to the disinterestedness of their cruelty, to their demonic surgery, to the generosity of their spleen. What makes a work last, what keeps it from dating, is its ferocity. A gratuitous assertion? Consider the prestige of the Gospels, that aggressive book, a venomous text if ever there was one. * * *        The public hurls itself upon the authors called "human"; the public knows it has nothing to fear from them: halted, like their readers, halfway down the road, these authors propose compromises with the Impossible, a coherent vision of Chaos. * * *        The pornographer's verbal slovenliness frequently results from an excess of modesty, from the shame of displaying his "soul" and especially of naming it: there is no more indecent word in any language. * * *        That there should be a reality hidden behind appearances is, after all, quite possible; that language might render such a thing would be an absurd hope. So why burden yourself with one opinion rather than another -- why recoil from the banal or the inconceivable, from the duty of saying and of writing anything at all? A modicum of wisdom would compel us to sustain all theses at once, in an eclecticism of smiling destruction. * * *        Fear of sterility leads the writer to produce beyond his resources and to add to the lies of experience so many others borrowed or forged. Under each "Complete Works" lies an impostor. * * *        The pessimist has to invent new reasons to exist every day: he is a victim of the "meaning" of life. * * *        Macbeth: a Stoic of crime, Marcus Aurelius with a dagger. * * *        Mind is the great profiteer of the body's defeats. It grows rich at the expense of the flesh it pillages, exulting in its victim's miseries; by such brigandage it lives. -- Civilization owes its fortune to the exploits of a bandit. * * *        "Talent" is the surest way of perverting everything, of falsifying things and fooling oneself into the bargain. Real existence belongs only to those whom nature has not overwhelmed with any gift. Hence, it would be difficult to imagine a more fallacious universe than the literary kind or a man more devoid of reality than the man of letters. * * *        No salvation, save in the imitation of silence. But our loquacity is prenatal. A race of rhetoricians, of verbose spermatozoons, we are chemically linked to the Word. * * *        Pursuit of the sign to the detriment of the signified; language considered as an end in itself, as a rival of "reality"; verbal mania, among the philosophers themselves; the need to renew oneself on the level of appearances ; -- characteristics of a civilization in which syntax surpasses the absolute and the grammarian excels the sage. * * *        Goethe, the complete artist, is our antipodes: an example for others. Alien to incompletion, that modern concept of perfection, he refused comprehension of others' dangers; as for his own, he assimilated them so well that he never suffered from them. His brilliant destiny discourages us; after having sifted him in vain in an attempt to discover sublime or sordid secrets, we give ourselves up to Rilke's phrase: "I have no organ for Goethe." * * *        We cannot sufficiently blame the nineteenth century for having favored that breed of glossators, those reading machines, that deformation of the mind incarnated by the Professor -- symbol of a civilization's decline, of the corruption of taste, of the supremacy of labor over whim.        To see everything from the outside, to systematize the ineffable, to consider nothing straight on, to inventory the views of others! ... All commentary on a work is bad or futile, for whatever is not direct is null.        There was a time when the professors chose to pursue theology. At least they had the excuse then of professing the absolute, of limiting themselves to God, whereas in our century nothing escapes their lethal competence. * * *        What distinguishes us from our predecessors is our offhandedness with regard to Mystery. We have even renamed it: thus was born the Absurd ... * * *        Fraudulence of style: to give the usual melancholies an unaccustomed turn, to decorate our minor miseries, to costume the void, to exist by the word , by the phraseology of the sarcasm or the sigh! * * *        Incredible that the prospect of having a biographer has made no one renounce having a life. * * *        Naive enough to set off in pursuit of Truth, I had explored -- to no avail -- any number of disciplines. I was beginning to be confirmed in my skepticism when the notion occurred to me of consulting, as a last resort, Poetry: who knows? perhaps it would be profitable, perhaps it conceals beneath its arbitrary appearances some definitive revelation ... Illusory recourse! Poetry had outstripped me in negation and cost me even my uncertainties ... * * *        Once you have inhaled Death, what desolation in the odors of the Word! * * *        Defeat being the order of the day, it is natural that God should thereby benefit. Thanks to the snobs who pity or abuse Him, He enjoys a certain vogue. But how long will He still be interesting ? * * *        "He had talent; why does no one bother about him anymore? He's been forgotten."        "It's only fair: he failed to take precautions to be mis understood." * * *        Nothing desiccates a mind so much as its repugnance to conceive obscure ideas. * * *        What are the occupations of the sage? He resigns himself to seeing, to eating, etc...., he accepts in spite of himself this "wound with nine openings," which is what the Bhagavad-Gita calls the body. -- Wisdom? To undergo with dignity the humiliation inflicted upon us by our holes. * * *        The poet: a sly devil who can torment himself at will, unearthing perplexities, obtaining them by every possible means. And afterward, naive posterity commiserates with him ... * * *        Almost all works are made with flashes of imitation, with studied shudders and stolen ecstasies. * * *        Prolix in essence, literature lives on the plethora of utterance, on cancer of the word. * * *        Europe does not yet afford ruins enough for the epic to flourish. Yet everything suggests that, jealous of Troy and ready to imitate its fate, she will soon furnish themes so important that fiction and poetry will no longer suffice ... * * *        Had he not held onto one last illusion, I would gladly ally myself with Omar Khayyam, with his unanswerable melancholy; but he still believed in wine. * * *        The best of myself, that point of light which distances me from everything, I owe to my infrequent encounters with a few bitter fools, a few disconsolate bastards, who, victims of the rigor of their cynicism, could no longer attach themselves to any vice. * * *        Before being a fundamental mistake, life is a failure of taste which neither death nor even poetry succeeds in correcting. * * *        In this "great dormitory," as one Taoist text calls the universe, nightmare is the sole mode of lucidity. * * *        Do not apply yourself to Letters if, with an obscure soul, you are haunted by clarity. You will leave behind you nothing but intelligible sighs, wretched fragments of your refusal to be yourself. * * *        In the torments of the intellect, there is a certain bearing which is to be sought in vain among those of the heart.        Skepticism is the elegance of anxiety. * * *        To be modern is to tinker with the Incurable. * * *        Tragicomedy of the Disciple: I have reduced my mind to dust, in order to improve on the moralist who had taught me only to fitter it away ... Copyright © 1980 Editions Gallimard.

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