Emil Cioran On Aphorisms

From an interview with Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran from the 80s.

Could you speak about the evolution of your use of the aphorism? Where does it come from?

I’m not sure exactly. I think it was a phenomenon of laziness perhaps. You know, very often aphorisms have been the last sentence of a page. Aphorisms are conclusions, the development is suppressed, and they are what remains. It’s a dubious genre, suspect, and it is rather French. The Germans, for example, only have Lichtenberg and Nietzsche, who got it from Chamfort and the moralists. For me it was mostly due to my dislike of developing things.

But what made you decide to use the aphorism for certain books and not others? Your second book, the Syllogismes, was all aphorisms, though the first wasn’t; for the next twenty years you hardly use them in your books, and then The Trouble With Being Born is all aphorisms too, as is much of Drawn And Quartered.

Well, now I only write this kind of stuff, because explaining bores me terribly. That’s why I say when I’ve written aphorisms it’s that I’ve sunk back into fatigue, why bother. And so, the aphorism is scorned by “serious” people, the professors look down upon it.

Because the professors can’t do anything with an aphorist.

Absolutely not. When they read a book of aphorisms, they say, “Oh, look what this fellow said ten pages back, now he’s saying the contrary. He’s not serious.” Me, I can put two aphorisms that are contradictory right next to each other. Aphorisms are also momentary truths. They’re not decrees. And I could tell you in nearly every case why I wrote this or that phrase, and when. It’s always set in motion by an encounter, an incident, a fit of temper, but they all have a cause. It’s not at all gratuitous.


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