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The World’s Funniest Philosopher

Posted 05/24/2024 by Kira McBarron

Philosophy can have an unexpected duality, and Emil Cioran is a part of the duality that can apply to the lives of students today. photo by Dusan Prodana

A funny philosopher? What is this, a comic strip?

Emil Cioran (pronounced like Chi-ron) was a Romanian philosopher who once said he’d rather be anything than Romanian. Despite his self-hatred and dislike for the general human experience, his work is far from depressing. He’s almost too optimistic, to a fault even. He encouraged a positive attitude about the inevitable dark aspect of human existence. In a world where one needs to consume life, or according to Cioran, where one needs to deal with the “inconvenience of existence,” he preferred to find meaning within a world he deemed flawed and useless.

Agnostic at heart, Cioran believed the world was messed up (unfair, painful, etc.) because it was created like that. What impure God would have Earth as an art project if it was just so defective? After leaving his home of Romania and illegally crossing over to France, Cioran formed a posse in the suburbs of Paris. He was a punk, writing graffitied aphorisms on church walls and other governmental buildings. His posse described him as a “suicidal screw-head” who believed people inhabit a language rather than a nation. While graffitiing buildings and defacing government property is not something to condone, his individualist attitude could truly benefit the minds of students now. Life is often about people-pleasing, doing what those around anyone asks in order to keep the peace and to support them. However, Cioran didn’t believe this was the right way of doing things. He urged his readers to be who they want and do what they want, since the world was gonna suck either way. 

Thomas Jefferson Senior Marissa Fernandez condones the help of philosophy for students, pointing out how great philosophers like Socrates asked questions in response to questions. Fernandez likes this approach due to the fact that “[it allows one] to comprehend things in a way that makes sense to [students] and their experiences.” If a person has to answer their own questions in response to other questions, they get answers that are specific and coherent just for them. Cioran preached personal understanding, letting life make sense the way it should for the individual.

In true edgy fashion, Cioran rejected the idea of putting philosophy into a box and he denied the idea of devoting one’s life to a theory. He preferred a cynical but ever honest approach to his philosophical musings, so much so that they promoted self-love and acceptance in a way that suggested it was his hidden intention all along. The philosopher wrote in fragments, rejecting the literary platform as a whole and making himself incredibly quotable yet frustratingly hard to figure out. While this isn’t the writing structure students are taught in school, it has a very personal touch to it and could really boost a student’s desire to write. Writing is an art form, as Cioran believed, and students should be encouraged to create art from the heart. Poetry, for example, doesn’t have a “correct” way of being, it’s whatever the author wants it to be. For Cioran, he claims that writing his first book was “suicide postponed,” and that writing gave him the purpose he needed. The Romanian philosopher struggled heavily with insomnia and found writing to help him with that issue, either to simply take up the time or to lull him to sleep.

 In a 1986 interview, Cioran claimed that “the disappointment of philosophy made [him] turn to literature.” He stated that he “realized [Fyodor] Dostoyevsky (the author of Crime and Punishment) was much more important than any great philosopher.” Cioran also once said he believed “the English have no philosophy, no metaphysics, because their poetry replaced metaphysics,” which explains why he often wrote about his preference of English poetry over most philosophy. Cioran named philosophy as pretentious and often naive, referring to highly acclaimed writers such as Friedrich Nietzsche that Cioran himself was often compared to. 

Students can infinitely benefit from his approach and life philosophy. Reading and writing can do so much for the mind, as Cioran always highlighted. A study from Seoul National University College of Medicine stated that writing helps students develop high-order thinking skills involving three cognitive processes: analysis (built up by analyzing a given text), evaluation (built by evaluating what a text means), and creation (built up by creating an argument based on that text). These skills are critical within the modern world and prevalent in a myriad of different fields – every field, in fact. While modern schooling covers these topics, writing only within an academic setting can leave a student with tunnel vision when applying these skills to anything, keeping them to view it as a chore instead of a tool. But these skills can be used in day to day life within text messages, emails, and even casual conversation. If philosophy such as Cioran’s can help make students more successful in their daily and professional lives, then there’s no reason not to adopt an anti-nihilist way of living. 

Cioran might’ve been a fatalist that took life the depressing way he saw it, but he was right about one thing; life can mean whatever an individual wants it to because they give it meaning by simply being themselves.