Jared Daniel Fagan at The Quarterly Review:
Cioran’s idea of despair is largely informed by the decay of previous philosophical principles in which nature serves as a permanent, reliable structure for an objective vision of being. Susan Sontag echoes Cioran’s thoughts when she writes that “subjected to the attritions of change on this unprecedented scale, philosophy’s traditionally ‘abstract’ leisurely procedures no longer appeared to address themselves to anything.” Colonization, modernism’s response to the industrial revolution, and global warfare of unprecedented proportions all moved thinkers and artists to reexamine their perspective on our relationship to history, time, identity, and humanity. Additionally, Cioran argues, reason’s replacement of religion as the backbone of thought—a consequence of the Enlightenment—removed the veil of omnipotence that had traditionally propped up civilization. In his essay “On a Winded Civilization,” he writes that society “vacillates as soon as it exposes the errors which permitted its growth and its luster, as soon as it calls into question its own truths.” For Cioran, ironically, Enlightenment ideals of progress and discovery place civilized man in a permanent state of decadence: the meaning in his life now comes at the cost of being aware of his own faults, and working endlessly to repair those shortcomings.
Cioran finds a response to this shift from a once-reliable philosophical framework to an unsteady historical consciousness from anti-philosophers like Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, and Wittgenstein. The most significant influence on both his thought and style, however, is Nietzsche. Like Nietzsche, Cioran believes that there is no truth, that truth itself is a systematized construct administered by history. Speaking of Twilight of the Idols, his text on cultural decadence, Nietzsche notes that the idol he recounts “is simply what has been called truth so far.” Here, the old systems of truth espoused from Socrates to Nietzsche’s contemporaries in nineteenth-century Germany are approaching their end. But while Nietzsche offers us the concepts of eternal recurrence and the Übermensch, there is no relief—or hope—in Cioran.