An uneasy alliance: Nietzsche, Cioran, Heidegger

What Cioran offers us is the immanence of death against every image of life and givenness. Death is not, Cioran insists, an end, a goal, a limit, a gate, a horizon. Death as such cannot be the object of the will; and although he will often speak of the “thought of death”, more perspicuously we might instead say that it is the thinking of death that raises the intensity of an individual existence to the level of the impersonal “there is”. Suffering, of course, individuates (for in suffering I imagine that no one else has suffered before me: “I am absolutely persuaded that I am nothing in this universe; yet I feel that mine is the only existence”), but only to expose the myth of the given: that although thinking is the activity of the (reflective, existential) ‘I’, this ‘I’ is the product of a tremendous and terrible work, i.e., the work of death under the illusion of life. Or, to put it in more Nietzschean terms, the ‘I’ is nothing other than the appearance of appearance, i.e., a pure phenomenon. ‘I’ can never be given to exist nor do I give myself to exist—for in neither case can we explain the simultaneous individuality of suffering and the anonymity of death. There can never be such a thing as “my” death (strictly speaking, this is also true of the treatment of death in Being and Time); the referent of this term is always not-I, an other. My death is always the death of an other and another’s death is always mine—but without any relation (coincidence, reduction, substitution) between the two. It is this non-relation that constructs the illusion, the excess of life: “the irrationality of life manifests itself in this overwhelming expansion of form and content, in this frenetic impulse to substitute new aspects for old ones, a substitution, however, without qualitative improvement. Happy is the man who could abandon himself to this becoming and could absorb all the possibilities offered each moment, ignoring the agonizingly problematic evaluation which discovers in every moment an insurmountable relativity”. The condition—the impossible condition—for such life, however, is sickness, which manifests not as effervescence but seriousness, thought. Thought, however, is only able to offer us the image of becoming.


One thought on “An uneasy alliance: Nietzsche, Cioran, Heidegger

  1. From an e-mail:

    “Does your final sentence … necessarily follow? After all the condition of life can be BOTH effervescence & seriousness. Also, how can thought be the image of becoming. An image is a representation, and yet, becoming cannot be represented. Thought partakes in becoming in order to do whatever it is that thought does.”


    You seem to raise two points. Regarding the first, I would insist on the modifier and the context for the first sentence you quote: seriousness is the impossible condition for a particular mode of life (and not the condition for life “as such”, which I'm not convinced is a coherent term): i.e., seriousness is the “impossible condition” for the “happy” life that, according to Cioran, “could abandon himself to this becoming [the frenetic substitution of the old for the new] and could absorb all the possibilities offered each moment”. Such a life seems to be one of effervescence but my point here was that even this irrationality is infected with thought (cf. the final clause of my quotation from Cioran: “ignoring the agonizing problematic evaluation which discovers in every moment an insurmountable relativity”, i.e., the 'I' as a “point of view”). The 'I' always returns and can never lose itself in becoming insofar as 'I' must always insist on the fact that I exist (the “indubitable fact” of thought). The trouble is that if I take myself too seriously I lose the possibilities that offer themselves only insofar as I abandon my commitment to what I am presently; but if I fail to take myself seriously enough I vanish (e.g., the Freudian death-drive's dissolution of the ego).

    In this respect, regarding your second point, my final sentence was really alluding to a logical or a reflexive problem: thought is becoming but it can never intend itself as such. Or, in other words, right–becoming cannot be represented. But this is not the fault of images. The peculiar reflexivity definitive of thought is the fact that it cannot intend itself: thought that aims at itself always “misses” (this is essentially the lesson I see from Sartre's phenomenology or Hofstadter's notion of “strange loops”). Instead of trying to see the 'I' as the (possible, regulative) intentional object of thought, the point here is that thought simply is this gap between intention and object. The error here would be to assert that there is some “thing” that thinks or that thinking is an action performed by some substance.

    So, then, why is it that at the same time thought “is” becoming while I claimed that thought “offers us the image of becoming”? On the one hand, I'm not necessarily certain that all images are representations. Something like Philip Glass' Metamorphosis series is an image but I don't see that it's a representation (in short, I don't want to be committed to say all images are like visual images). Rather, all I minimally mean by “images” are the material components of affects. In this case, thought offers us the image of becoming in ourselves: we are the image of becoming insofar as we are capable of self-consciousness (what is the “self” of which we are conscious?–is this not simply an image?).

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