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On the Heights of Despair [Paperback]

E. M. Cioran , Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)

Price: $19.00 & FREE Shipping on orders over $35. Details
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Book Description

October 1, 1996 0226106713 978-0226106717 1
Born of a terrible insomnia—"a dizzying lucidity which would turn even paradise into hell"—this book presents the youthful Cioran, a self-described "Nietzsche still complete with his Zarathustra, his poses, his mystical clown's tricks, a whole circus of the heights."

On the Heights of Despair shows Cioran'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. It also presents Cioran as a connoisseur of apocalypse, a theoretician of despair, for whom writing and philosophy both share the "lyrical virtues" that alone lead to a metaphysical revelation.

"No modern writer twists the knife with Cioran's dexterity. . . . His writing . . . is informed with the bitterness of genuine compassion."—Bill Marx, Boston Phoenix

"The dark, existential despair of Romanian philosopher Cioran's short meditations is paradoxically bracing and life-affirming. . . . Puts him in the company of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

"This is self-pity as epigram, the sort of dyspeptic pronouncement that gets most people kicked out of bed but that has kept Mr. Cioran going for the rest of his life."—Judith Shulevitz, New York Times Book Review

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Imagine walking across a tightrope suspended high in the summer air above a bay flooded in the mauve glow of sunset, the music of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" surrounding you. Now imagine the tightrope is actually razor-wire, and gusts of wind challenge every tortuous step into sublime infinity. This is the paradox of emotions one feels when reading On the Heights of Despair, the paradigmatic cry of the tortured artist whose explosive intensity of passion is equaled only by the profundity of his despair. In this hauntingly lyrical meditation on darkness, stemming from a sustained insomniac hyper-lucidity, E. M. Cioran cries out a devastating nihilism that is in the end betrayed by his own intransigent lust for being. Compels reading and rereading.

From Publishers Weekly

The dark, existential despair of Romanian philosopher Cioran's short meditations is paradoxically bracing and life-affirming. Written in 1934, when he was 22 and desperately insomniac, this feverishly lyrical, at times slyly humorous confessional outpouring reveals Cioran as an angry young man in morally decaying Europe--a far cry from the elegant, curt stylist of his later books. Here Cioran rails at life's irrationality and absurdities; embraces solitude, melancholy and the awareness of death; and breathes organic vitality into the great philosophical themes of truth, eternity, beauty, suffering and good and evil. After one separates mature wheat from adolescent chaff, Cioran's early philosophical prose, like his later works, puts him in the company of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. In the enriching introduction, Zarifopol-Johnston, who met the thinker in his modest Paris flat, described this book as "a substitute for suicide and . . . its cure."
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 150 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (October 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226106713
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226106717
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #539,331 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You can let go now! December 11, 2009
Format:Paperback
You know the kinds of people who have the posters with the fluffy little kitten hanging from the rope with the caption "Hang in there!" on it tacked to their cubicle corkboard? Those kind of people probably wouldn't appreciate this book. Now if the poster showed the little skeleton of the same kitty all covered with red ants with the slogan "You can let go now!" on it...now that's the sort who'd understand the appeal of someone like EM Cioran.

You need to have spent some time up there on the "heights of despair" yourself to have achieved a certain panoramic view of life. Most people go no further up than the "foothills of perturbation" or the "plateau of really ticked off." Who can blame them? No one likes to suffer, not even a masochist, whose safe word delineates the border where he stops taking pleasure in his "pain."

Okay, let me put it like this. I'm pretty happy where I'm at in life right now. No major complaints. Health good. Full head of hair. I enjoy a good pumpkin muffin, a crisp clear morning, and a new box of colored pencils as much as any man, woman, or child. But when my birthday comes around, I'd no more think of celebrating it with balloons and hats and noisemakers, with cake and candles and making of wishes than I would think of celebrating the Holocaust. (Sorry, mom.)

Being born is a disaster, an atrocity that lasts, on average, about 75 years. We aren't born into the world, but onto the heights of despair--with nowhere to go but down.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best place to begin is the beginning January 28, 2005
Format:Paperback
This is Emile Cioran's first book, written in his native Romanian language and published when he was but 23 years old. Much of what he would later express so masterfully in his adopted French language is on display here, not in embryonic form, but in the most incendiary and extreme form of nihilistic regard for human existence in this world. This is the kind of book that one would have expected Nietzsche to have written if he had really been a nihilist, but Nietzsche was only ever content to talk about the abyss, whereas Cioran in his first book is already reporting to us from the abyss.

The literary technique that he employs is a darkly expressive one, dependent upon what I found to be an absolutely explosive vocabulary, and by means of them he describes one extreme state of mind after another and careens through wildly speculative ruminations on life, creativity, and human fate. His outlook is so searingly negative at times that a kind of reverse light appears to emanate from it, and one has the impression that he only writes with the wish to destroy what is of value in order that he might thereby find what is of some lesser and thus higher value...and only for the short span of our mortal admiration.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A more Scopenhauerian than Nietzschean book November 3, 2005
Format:Paperback
This exhilarating and euforic book is one of the masterpieces written by Emil Cioran. "On the heights of despair" is for us postmoderns what St. Augustine's Confessions must have signified for the medieval reader. This work is truly an account of the fragmented and disordered European consciouss of between wars: not an abstract one, but a particular and individual conscious that faces the glory of absurdity. Although many people have reviewed this book as Nietzschean, I would say it is rather Schopenhauerian, since its pessimism hadrly leaves any room for Zarathustra's dancing and joyful way of being. Anyways, I think anyone intrested in thinkers such as Camus, Sartre, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Feuerbach, Stiner, Nietzsche, should read this book.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Opinion of Cioran, On the Heights of Despair. March 23, 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Cioran is one of the most interesting nihlist philosophers of the twentieth century. As well, On the Heights of Despair is no disappointment. While his pessimism is sometimes disheartening, the grace of his words lends heavily to his credit. Whether one agrees or disagrees with his thoughts, no one can disparage the dynamics of his books. What is even more impressive is, in an almost Conrad-esque fashion, he so eloquently composes in a language that is not even his own. Though he is quoted as saying "I have no nationality", it is still impressive that a boy from a small village in the Carpathians, schooled in the cloying presence of a Orthodox priest, could so beautifully write in a foreign language. On the Heights of Despair is not a book you want to miss.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nietzche's heir August 1, 2001
Format:Paperback
I have to disagree with the previous reviewer who suggests new readers try another one of Cioran's works...This is an excellent introduction to his works, and as I believe it is his first written work, I think it's a good place to start...His writing is hauntingly beautiful and the concepts he addresses more pertinent than ever to the world we currently live in...Anyways, to oversimplify, if you like Nietzche, you should definitely enjoy Cioran, and this work is as good a place as any to start...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Prepare yourself before starting reading this book November 23, 2013
By Name_8
Format:Paperback
This is the most powerful book I ever read. Thoughts plainly put in writing with a gripping, utterly alert pace from the first page. It can have an influence on someone's life. If you are the brave, read it, you will be astonished by its unique philosophical content.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Ravings of an insomniac
Emil Cioran's On the Heights of Despair is the writings--and ravings--of a desperate insomniac. Published in his native Romania when the author was only 23, it consists of brief... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Steven Davis
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible
I had never read anything by Cioran before I saw an article in the NYTimes about him. I was intrigued, but nothing could have prepared me for the book - it blew my mind. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mark A. Biernbaum
5.0 out of 5 stars On the Heights of Despair
A well written book, tghat explores the society and its full ability to bring despair into an individual's life throughout abiding by society's norns
Published 13 months ago by Eric Orsolics
5.0 out of 5 stars real nihilism, what now?
On coming upon a heavily pregnant woman in a church, the philosopher of nihilism, Emil Cioran, couldn't tell the difference between the sarcophaci in the alter and the tomb in the... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Halifax Student Account
1.0 out of 5 stars A Bore
Poorly written and tedious, although if I was 22 again I might have found it riveting. At age 65, it was discarded.
Published 18 months ago by Luna
5.0 out of 5 stars Good
The product arrived on time safe and sound. The product was covered against any kind of damage. Thanks for the good work!
Published 19 months ago by Muge Kuleli
3.0 out of 5 stars Superlative Emo
While reading this book I coincidentally learned what the phrase "purple prose" means; this book may be an exemplar. Read more
Published on June 9, 2012 by Chris Edwards
5.0 out of 5 stars Strong start to a brilliant career
This was Emil Cioran's first book, published in Romania in 1934, when he was in his early 20s. Its short essays, none more than few pages long, sound many of the themes to come. Read more
Published on July 11, 2011 by P. J. Cafaro
1.0 out of 5 stars Philosophy?
This reads like the work of a narcissistic young man, (and who isn't at that age?), who had just finished Zarathustra and wanted in on the action. Read more
Published on November 11, 2009 by B. Hastie
5.0 out of 5 stars suffocative and divine !
This book is intense. Its intensity will put you under a spell for a while, but it will expire eventually. Your mind will change. Read more
Published on July 18, 2006 by E. Gonzalez
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