"This book saved my life." So recalls the Romanian philosopher E. M. Cioran about a book that meditates on madness and death, the absurdity of existence, and the agony of consciousness. Cioran finds in our darkest fears not only reasons to continue living but also the comic, absurd humor in doing so. This early work by Cioran, whom Susan Sontag calls "the most distinguished figure in the tradition of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein, " and Marc Fumaroli recently described as "a legend...a master of French prose, " portrays the philosophical mind in the crisis of its self-consuming fever. Born out of a terrible insomnia which Cioran characterizes as "a dizzying lucidity which would turn even paradise into hell, " On the Heights of Despair was written in Romania in 1934 at the age of twenty-two. It presents us with the youthful Cioran, who described himself as "a Nietzsche still complete with his Zarathustra, his poses, his mystical clown's tricks, a whole circus of the heights." It also presents Cioran as a connoisseur of apocalypse, a theoretician of despair. For Cioran, writing and philosophy are closely related to physical suffering: both share the "lyrical virtues" that alone lead to metaphysical revelation. The result is a book that becomes a substitute for as well as an antidote to suicide. By enacting the struggle of the Romantic soul against God, the universe, and itself, Cioran releases a saving burst of lyrical energy that carries him safely out of his desperation. On the Heights of Despair shows the philosopher's first grappling with themes he would return to in his mature works: despair and decay, absurdity and alienation, futility and the irrationality of existence. Y the bracing verve of Cioran's writing and his earthy good humor point toward the elegant stylist of later works. An exorcism of despair, On the Heights of Despair offers insight into the ironic anguish of this philosophical mind. It also gives readers a fascinating look at Ciora
E. M. Cioran (1911-1995) was born and educated in Romania and lived in Paris from 1937 until his death. He is the author of numerous works, including On the Heights of Despair, also available from the University of Chicago Press.