E.M. Cioran’s 1934 debut book On the Heights of Despair (written at the age of 21) was written to talk himself out of suicide. Amongst all the melancholy, the text still offers passages like this, titled “Absolute Lyricism”:
“I would like to explode, flow, crumble into dust, and my disintegration would be my masterpiece. I would like to melt in the world and for the world to melt orgasmically in me and thus in our delirium to engender an apocalyptic dream, strange and grandiose like all crepuscular visions. Let our dream bring forth mysterious splendors and triumphant shadows, let a general conflagration swallow the world, and let its flames generate crepuscular pleasures as intricate as death and as fascinating as nothingness. Lyricism reaches its ultimate form of expression only through delirium. Absolute lyricism is the lyricism of last moments. In it, expression becomes reality, ceasing to be a partial, minor, and unrevealing objectification. Not only your intelligence and your sensitivity, but your entire being, your life, and your body participate in it. Absolute lyricism is destiny which has reached self-knowledge. Such lyricism will never take an objective and separate form, for it is in your own flesh and blood. It only emerges at those crucial moments when experience is expression. Death’s only form is it’s experience. Thus lyricism is a juxtaposition of act and reality, because the act is no longer a manifestation of reality but reality itself. Absolute lyricism is beyond poetry and sentimentalism, and close to a metaphysics of destiny. In general, it tends to put everything on the plane of death. All important things bear the sign of death.”
There are so many points of register as this passage sings through me. The beginning reminds me of a line by Jean Genet, as cited by Mark Amerika in his book The Kafka Chronicles (my Bible as a college freshman in ’95): “…I want to swallow myself by opening my mouth very wide and turning it over my head so that it would take in my whole body, and then the Universe, until all that would remain of me would be a ball of eaten thing which little by little would be annihilated: that is how I see the end of the world.”
The Cioran passage brings to mind Roberto Calasso’s notion of “absolute literature;” the ’80s romanticism of Modern English where a stilled world allows lovers to melt into each other; the “Get Drunk” prose poem of Baudelaire’s Spleen; the “crepuscular visions” of Bruegel and Lautreamont and Vollmann; and my favorite song by Nine Inch Nails, “The Only Time” (fun lyrics, I am listening now. Especially loved when I was a teenager).
I also find a profound relation between art and action, act and potency, and art and reality, which is the crux of my dissertation, “On Cultural Guerrilla Warfare: Art As Action.” The dissertation includes a chapter on suicide and art, so Cioran will find his way back to my dissecting table in various turns for further treatments.
It is clear at least through the reading here, as with some other passages in On the Heights of Despair, that Cioran loved language, the world, and life too much to take his own. He was a 21yr old Nietzschean wrestling with the abyss, but who wasn’t? Hell, I am still listening to Nine Inch Nails.