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This item is taken from PN Review 216, Volume 40 Number 4, March - April 2014.

Letter from Graham Grayston
Emil Cioran: Desperado Diarist?


I was most surprised that Emil Cioran was described in Iain Bamforth’s article entitled ‘Insomnia’ (PNR 215) as a ‘diarist’. Whatever diaries he kept were not published, for he was an aphorist and an essayist – what the French call a moraliste, in the grand tradition of La Rochefoucauld, Chamfort, La Bruyère, Joubert and others. If one wishes to read a French-language diarist properly so called, one has only to turn to the Journal intime of Henri-Frédéric Amiel, a Swiss-French writer, whom, Roland Barthes once unkindly said, we read when we want weather reports from nineteenth-century Geneva.

As to Cioran’s being a ‘French diarist’, it should be pointed out that throughout his life in Paris he was apatride. In his biographical note accompanying Susan Sontag’s introduction to an English translation of one of his books, he wrote, ‘I have no nationality – the best possible status for an intellectual’.

Lastly, Emil Cioran was called many things during his life, but never a ‘desperado’! Is Mr Bamforth giving us what he considers to be a ‘poetical’ translation of désespéré?

Perhaps I could suggest that when Mr Bamforth is next in Paris he might like to visit Emil and his lifelong companion, Simone Boué, in Montparnasse cemetery. They are near neighbours of Eugène Ionesco and Samuel Beckett.

Graham Grayston
By email

Iain Bamforth replies:

I am grateful to Mr Grayston for his close reading of my piece ‘Insomnia’, even though he is a stickler for detail. If E.M. Cioran was never called a ‘desperado’ in his lifetime, he has been now. A term with Latinate swagger (cf. Spanish ‘desesperado’ or ‘hopeless’, adj.) designating a reckless outlaw would seem rather appropriate for a histrionic writer I refer to elsewhere as the Bela Lugosi of belles-lettres.

As for Cioran being a diarist, that is how he is often described in France, where ‘diariste’ has a more expansive remit than in English. Mr Grayston must be unfamiliar with the thousand pages of Cioran’s Cahiers 1957–1972, a compendium of no less than thirty-four notebooks that was published in Paris at the end of the last millennium and reviewed by George Steiner in the TLS (16 January 1998). Cioran’s work is even cited under the Wikipedia entry ‘journal intime’ (which includes cahiers and carnets) as an example of the genre. If my word isn’t good enough, here is Professor Steiner’s: ‘much of this compendium does amount to a diary, replete with anecdotes, notations of personal encounters, literary events and intimate exasperations’.

I do get out and about too, although I try not to do it when I’m asleep. I visited Montparnasse cemetery with my wife only a year ago where, like Mr Grayston, I was amused to see that Cioran’s grave is within spitting distance of that of his old drinking chum, Beckett.

This item is taken from PN Review 216, Volume 40 Number 4, March - April 2014.

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