I Beg to Disagree that “Existence = Torment” is an Obvious Equation…

[interview with Rodrigo Inácio R. Sá Menezes]

by Ștefan Bolea

Born in Salvador, the capital of Bahia, Rodrigo Inácio R. Sá Menezes has lived most of his life in São Paulo. He graduated in Philosophy from Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo (PUC-SP), and holds a Master’s degree in Sciences of Religion and a PhD in Philosophy from the same university. His research on Cioran revolves around the intersection between existential philosophy, philosophy of religion and phenomenology of mystical experience, metaphysics and literature (poetic writing, not necessarily poetry), autobiography as a philosophical genre and mythopoetic writing. He published several articles in academic magazines and journals worldwide, and participated in some of the most important congresses dedicated to Cioran, such as the Encuentro Internacional Emil Cioran which took place in Pereira from 2008 to 2017, Colombia, organized by Liliana Herrera (1960-2019). As a collaborator of Revista (n.t.) Nota do Tradutor, he translated essays and aphorisms by Cioran (from Romanian and French) that were until then unpublished in Brazil. More recently, he translated a book of aphorisms by Ciprian Vălcan (published in a bilingual edition): Babele şi diavolul (“As velhinhas e o diabo”, Tesseractum, 2022). He is the editor of Portal E. M. Cioran Brasil, created in 2010 as a free-access platform gathering all sorts of material (texts and others) concerning the life and works of Cioran, and a variety of other subjects directly or indirectly linked to the Romanian author of French expression. Since 2019, the Cioral Brasilian portal is accompanied by a YouTube channel. In 2021, Rodrigo Menezes organized, alongside Alfredo Abad (Colombia), an online, international colloquium dedicated to Cioran, with lecturers from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Italy, Spain, and Romania.


ȘTEFAN BOLEA: Dear Rodrigo, how did you become interested in Romanian culture and specifically in Cioran?

RODRIGO INÁCIO R. SÁ MENEZES:  Dear Ştefan, thank you for inviting me for an interview, it’s a great honor. I am a reader of yours and an admirer of your work. I sympathize with your hermeneutic approach to Cioran and we share many philosophical topics of interests. To answer your question, it was by chance. The interest in Cioran led to an interest in Romania as a whole (philosophy, literature, culture, language, history). Back in 2003, I was reading a book about Pascal, written by a Brazilian philosopher (who would later become my MA supervisor), whose epigraph was a passage by Cioran, a commentary about the author of the Pensées which is present both in Écartèlement (“L’Amateur de mémoires”) and in the preface to Anthologie du portrait: de Saint-Simon, edited by Cioran. I wouldn’t say that the comment itself caught my attention. What seized my attention was rather his name, its form, how it was spelled (unlike any last names that I was familiar with, let alone in Portuguese). Time passed, I was browsing the philosophy book titles at a local bookstore, in the city of São Paulo, when I suddenly came across that same intriguing name, those 6 letters: C-I-O-R-A-N. I immediately grabbed it. It was Précis de decomposition, the Brazilian Portuguese edition (with a fine translation by José Thomaz Brum), Breviário de decomposição (Rio de Janeiro, Rocco, 1995). Needless to say that I bought it right away, so the Précis was the very first book by Cioran that I read. It has been almost 20 years (I was only 23 years old), and I am still not done with him (far from it). A seemingly unextinguishable passion that has turned into some concrete achievements so far (publications, translations, countless interviews, academic congresses, books yet to come, etc.).

Ș.B.: What other Romanian writers are significant for you? How is Romanian culture viewed in Brazil?

  1. I. R. S. M.: I rely pretty much on Eliade’s studies on religion (which I have in fine Brazilian editions), because of my enquiries around philosophy of religion and mysticism (both Western and Eastern). I also resort to Culianu’s studies, namely his Gnozele dualiste ale Occidentului. In theater, Eugen Ionescu (probably the best well-known Romanian figure in Brazil, historically speaking, followed by Eliade). Some years ago I saw a thrilling mise-en-scène of Rhinoceros. In poetry, Eminescu and Fondane. In literature, I have read Mihail Sebastian and, more recently, Mircea Cărtărescu (he’s been widely translated to Portuguese). In historiography, Lucian Boia. In philosophy, Constantin Noica, Lucian Blaga… my research on Cioran also led me to Stéphane Lupasco, particularly his logics of the tertium datur (I found out about him in Simona Modreanu’s excellent book, Le Dieu paradoxal de Cioran). There’s a contemporary Romanian philosopher who lives and teaches in the USA, at Texas Tech, and writes in English: Costică Brădățan. Some of his books have been published in Brazil. I have read his Dying for ideas: the dangerous lives of philosophers, available in Portuguese.

As for Cioran-related Romanian authors (exegetes and commentators), apart from the aforementioned Simona Modreanu, another Simona (Constantinovici), Ion Vartic, Gabriel Liiceanu, Marta Petreu, Ciprian Vălcan, Mihaela-Genţiana Stănişor, Irina Mavrodin, Amelia Natalia Bulboacă, Constantin Zaharia, Iosif Cheie-Panteia, Horia Pătraşcu, Ion Dur, Mircea Lăzărescu, Vasile Chira, Nicolae Turcan, you

Maybe he is not even known in Romania, but Ştefan Baciu, who was Cioran’s student in Braşov (there’s a memory of Cioran as a teacher written by Baciu in Cahier de L’Herne Cioran), moved to Brazil and lived many years here before moving on to live in Hawaii (he died there, as far as I know). Baciu made an important career as a journalist in Brazil. Thanks to him and some few other Brazilian writers (such as José Lins do Rego,[1] who met Cioran in Paris, and used to praise him in Brazilian newspapers in the 1950s), there have been mentions to Romanian authors, such as Cioran and Ionesco, in Brazilian newspapers since 1949 (before the Précis was published and it was still a manuscript already in the hands of the jury). Days after Cioran won the Rivarol prize, the news arrived here, appearing in newspapers of Rio de Janeiro. Baciu wrote several books in Portuguese. Some of them concern the history of Brazilian journalism (particularly about the newspaper he worked for, Tribuna da Imprensa), while others are studies about Brazilian poetry and poets (namely Manuel Bandeira).

As for how Romanian culture is viewed in Brazil, it depends whether we are talking about Brazilian people in general or well-educated, intellectualized people. Unfortunately, there is massive illiteracy and social misery in my country, which makes most people (even the wealthy) susceptible to panis et circensis, sheer philistinim, I would say, a materialistic attitude (influenced by American mass media and culture) marked by indifference or resistance to the significant other (foreign languages, cultures, traditions). In general, I couldn’t even say that Romanian culture is viewed by Brazilians one way or another because it is most likely to be completely unknown to most of us. If you asked some Brazilians to say anything Romanian that they know, they would most likely have no reference to give. Maybe some would say “Dracula”, associating him with Transylvania, and Romania. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a steady and solid cultural exchange between our countries, historically speaking. There are Romanian consulates in Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia, but not in São Paulo (which would be unimaginable for other countries). There is no Institut Cultural Român in Brazil. I hope that will change.

Fun fact: the artist who designed the head of the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer, in Rio de Janeiro, was a Romanian sculptor by the name of Gheorghe Leonida.

Ș.B.: Please tell me more about the site you manage, Portal E.M. Cioran Brasil…

  1. I. R. S. M.: It started 12 years ago, in 2010, three years after I had finished my Master’s degree (2004-2007). At first, it was very small and it was unclear to me how it was supposed to be, in form and content. It started with the purpose of making up for the lack of Cioran’s complete works in Portuguese (Brazil and Portugal) and, secondly, for the insufficiency, which was even greater back then, of exegetic and critical bibliography published in Portuguese about Cioran. There was a short biography, and some book reviews. First and foremost, it was a personal initiative to address a very particular (intellectual) need that I felt, but also in the sense of reaching out to other people interested in Cioran who would eventually visit the website and become not only readers, but hopefully interlocutors and collaborators as well. Over time, I was able to connect with faraway people who shared the same (peculiar) interests as me, some of which I ended up meeting personally, and have since then become friends. Thanks to the Portal (that has become, out of the necessity to break linguistic barriers, a multilingual platform), I have done interviews about Cioran with people from all over the world, intellectuals from various areas, some of which have published their books about the philosopher. On the one hand, there is the original content, and, on the other, content from other sources (articles, theses, monographies, reviews), from which I take the abstract, titles and complete bibliographical references, and redirect them to be fully read on their original sites. Furthermore, the Portal has naturally transcended the scope of Cioran-related studies, becoming a curated platform with a wide variety of authors, texts, and themes, organized in different sections, ranging from philosophy to literature, from poetry to music, from theater to cinema, from psychology to science and technology, ethics and politics, history (including Romanian history), documentaries, and, more recently, a cultural-political observatory of the (abominable) phenomenon known as “Bolsonarismo” and its murderous, militia-like fanaticism.

Since 2019, the Portal also has a YouTube channel, featuring documentaries, live talks and interviews, films, and much more. In 2021, Alfredo Abad (from Colombia) and I organized an on-line international event about Cioran: Colóquio Internacional Liliana Herrera em torno de Cioran, named after the Colombian philosopher and professor Liliana Herrera (1960-2019), who conceived the Encuentro Internacional Emil Cioran, an annual congress dedicated to Cioran that took place in the city of Pereira, Colombia, from 2008 to 2017 (I participated in 4 occasions, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2017). There were lecturers from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Italy, Spain, and Romania.[2]

Ș.B.: I know from your works that you are also interested in the work of the French philosopher Clément Rosset. Do you think he found a way out from “mortal deadlock” of nihilism?

  1. I. R. S. M.: For those who don’t know, Clément Rosset (1939-2018) was a French philosopher and a close friend of Cioran’s (who was 28 years older), but one who didn’t brag about it. Instead, he preferred to invite Cioran to “talk” in his books as (more than a friend) a privileged interlocutor (and philosophical counterpoint), by which Rosset acknowledged the philosophical relevance of his Romanian friend’s books, something that most French contemporaries (such as Camus or Sartre) would promptly reject. Rosset takes Cioran seriously as a philosopher, either agreeing or disagreeing with him. My interest in Clément Rosset is twofold: his philosophy for itself, and in dialectical relation to Cioran’s philosophy. To me, they make the best pessimistic-tragic-nihilistic-amoralistic-apolitical interlocution of 20th century French philosophy. They are fascinating outcasts amid the French existentialisme engagé of the second half of the last century. It’s a very fruitful dialogue as far as I am concerned. I came to love them both, in different ways, and for different reasons, so I don’t feel pressed at all to have to choose one in spite of the other. I understand a lot about Cioran in contrast with Rosset, indirectly, and vice-versa. I appreciate them for their singularities. They have many things in common, and many crucial differences as well. For instance, both employ the negative category of “the worst” (le pire), but with different conceptions (one of Rosset’s most important books is Logique du pire, which I recommend). They also have different general moods: while Cioran stresses melancholy, sadness and even despair as true signs of lucidity, Rosset stresses a tragic kind of joy (joie in French), even in sickness, in the Nietzschean spirit of Amor fati and the Gay Science, as a wisdom of convalescing and rejoicing, Seligkeit (which Rosset translates as “bliss”, as in “ignorance is bliss”). Being tragic and life-affirming, Rosset means to oppose to both optimistic philosophies (such as Leibniz’s) and pessimistic ones (Schopenhauer, Mainländer, and Cioran could arguably be included here). It must be said that Rosset himself had problems that are “all too human”. He suffered from depression, and he wrote a book about it: Route de nuit (1999). Existence is to a great extent suffering, yes, but he thought it’s also pleasure, joy, voluptuousness, maybe even ecstasy. Rosset simply refused to calumniate life, man, or the world (it’s pointless, besides being a symptom). It didn’t come across his mind to elaborate a metaphysics of infirmity, by generalizing his miserable condition to the entire universe and even God the Almighty. As Mihail Sebastian correctly states, Cioran is sick and wants to be sick, as “a convalescent aspiring to disease”,[3] he is not only despaired (or is he really? – questions Sebastian), but he is also proud to be so. “Mr. Cioran shouts: ‘I’m in despair! I’m in despair!’, and thus convinces himself of his own despair”.[4] Therefore, argues Sebastian, “fever is to him a program, a philosophy and a metaphysics.”[5]

In one of his later books, Rosset evokes an unnamed “depressive type” among his friends, who is used to complaining not only that existence seems to him unbearable, but what is even more terrible, that he is absolutely right to think like that. “Not only does he declare, in his crisis of despondency, that truth is horrible, but also that it’s true that this is true – truth is effectively horrible.”[6] Therefore, concludes Rosset about his unnamed friend, “what upsets him and, in his opinion, is beyond bearable, is a supplementary torment derived from the notion that a bitter truth is, at the same time, by an accumulation of misfortune, a true truth”.[7] Well, Cioran also evokes an unnamed friend as a philosophical counterpoint in one of his aphorisms: “Existence = Torment. The equation seems obvious to me, but not to one of my friends. How to convince him? I cannot lend him my sensations; yet only they would have the power to persuade him, to give him that additional dose of ill-being he has so insistently asked for all this time.” (The Trouble with Being Born)

Now, is “Existence = Torment” really an obvious equation? All the time? I personally beg to disagree. I suspect Cioran exaggerates rhetorically, on purpose, when he in fact acknowledges just as well that “absolute lucidity is incompatible with breathing”, and “one exists only thanks to the moments when one forgets certain truths”[8] (and the very fact that they are true). Anyway, I have good reasons to suppose that Rosset’s unnamed friend is Cioran, and Cioran’s unnamed friend is Rosset. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? They are just different beings, who see, feel, think, and write differently. Cioran is a mystic (Romanian) soul, and a skeptic, and a nihilist, a Romantic type to a great extent who indulges in metaphysical speculation and/or mythopoetic fabulation, confirming Schopenhauer’s axiom concerning man’s “metaphysical necessity”, while Rosset is a philosophical materialist and empirical realist, also a skeptic, but devoid of all metaphysical need of explanations or consolations, who refuses to calumniate life and deems joy the higher driving force of human existence, and who thinks that the tragic in our condition is actually a matter of excess, superabundance, not anything lacking and a matter of ontological insufficiency. To Rosset, man’s ultimate existential challenge is to be capable of approving life just like Nietzsche proposed (to say yes to everything that was, is, and may become), thus transmuting melancholy and resentment into joy, satisfaction and a tragic life-affirmativity.

As for your precise question, a twofold answer: (1) academic and (2) non-academic. (1) As far as I know, Rosset is not a theoretician of nihilism (or of nothingness), these are not key-concepts in his tragic philosophy. He does not claim the title of “nihilist” either (just as he does not claim any philosophical pessimism). Maybe there is a (negative) metaphysical dimension to the problematics of nihilism in its German strain that is alien to Rosset, French thinker (albeit his major Nietzschean influence). Nihilism is anything but a metaphysical problem because to him nothing is “metaphysical”, everything “real” is immanent to existence, as we experience it. Rosset claims inheritance from philosophers such as Democritus and Lucretius, the Sophists, Montaigne and Pascal, Gracián, Spinoza, Schopenhauer, and, of course, Nietzsche. It seems to me that Cioran is quite indifferent to the materialistic/atomistic tradition insistently claimed by Rosset; Cioran draws on Neoplatonic metaphysics and contemplative mysticism instead. Rosset was not only an author of books, but also a university professor (unlike Cioran, he was not an “enemy of university”). He first taught in Canada, at the University of Montreal, and then, back to France, at the University of Nice-Antipolis. It’s also worth mentioning that Rosset was a pupil of Vladimir Jankélévitch, who on his turn was a pupil of Henri Bergson. Despite being a tragic thinker, Rosset didn’t turn his back on Bergson, unlike Cioran, who despised Bergson for belittling the “tragic dimension of life” (Bergson in fact dismisses the issue of nihilism as a false problem, and nothingness as a pseudo-idea). (2) No, Rosset did not find a way out from “mortal deadlock” of nihilism. No one does.

Ș.B.: Tell me about your upcoming book on Cioran. I know that you are interested in his Gnosticism and Antinatalism…

  1. I. R. S. M.: Actually, Antinatalism is not a major tenet, but a derived (secondary) topic. Gnosticism is my main interest and concern. It dates back to my MA dissertation in Sciences of Religion. The book is about the gnostic significance of Cioran’s works and thought. I approach and introduce Cioran, in the Brazilian context, as a negative thinker (a “No-Sayer” more than a Skeptic, which I describe anthropologically as an eccentric attitude of contemptus mundi), a Negation-driven thinker (“Via Negationis”, he writes in one of the Notebooks), insurging against God and his “failed Creation”. Thus, I present Cioran as a philosopher (existential and a metaphysician) and much more than a philosopher: a heterodox religious-minded, dualistic-minded, nihilistic kind of mystic. Cioran as a modern-day Gnostic beyond Gnosis, without transcendence and salvation (interestingly, the modern concept of “agnostic” is a deviation from the original signification of agnosia, as in Dionysus the Areopagite, in whose Theologia mystica agnosia refers to a negative or apophatic type of gnosis, not the absence or lack of it). To back up my interpretation and argument, I am accompanied by commentators such as Sylvie Jaudeau, Franco Volpi, Mirko Integlia, Ioan P. Culianu, and Peter Sloterdijk (maybe I’m forgetting some names).

Ș.B.: Who do you think is right? Cioran or Nietzsche?

  1. I. R. S. M.: I give myself the benefit of the doubt. I can live with at least this uncertainty. I would rather cite one of them: “Against mediators. – Those who want to mediate between two resolute thinkers show that they are mediocre; they lack eyes for seeing what is unique. Seeing things as similar and making things the same is the sign of weak eyes.” (The Gay Science, § 228)

Dear Ştefan, I want to thank you once again for inviting me to talk about Cioran and philosophy with you in a Romanian context. Thank you for posing such meaningful questions. I hope this is just the beginning of a durable and fruitful international exchange, strengthening the cultural ties between our countries. And I share the hope we will meet in person sometime in the future, preferably in Cioran’s native country.



[1] José Lins do Rego (1901-1957) was a Brazilian novelist and chronicler, born in the state of Paraíba. Along with Graciliano Ramos and Jorge Amado, Lins do Rego stands as one of the greatest regionalist writers of Brazilian literature. According to Otto Maria Carpeaux, he was “the last of the great story-tellers”. His first novel, Menino de Engenho (“Boy from the plantation”, 1932), was published after much difficulty and distress, and was praised by the critics. Lins do Rego travelled to France between 1951 and 1952, where he personally met and became acquainted with Cioran. They exchanged letters, and Lins do Rego was proud to write positive reviews, parallel to Baciu, about Cioran’s first French books in Brazilian newspapers (while other critics were proud to “cancel” him). In one of his newspaper articles, “The acid Cioran”, Lins do Rego writes: “As I read Cioran, I identify with his subversive thought when he tells us that the modern illusion drowned man in the syncopes of time.” LINS DO REGO, José, “O ácido Cioran”, Diário de Pernambuco, 23 de setembro de 1952. Available at: https://portalcioranbr.wordpress.com/cioran-imprensa-brasileira/rivarol-primeira-geracao-critica-1950-1959/

[2] “Colloquio Internazionale Liliana Herrera intorno a Cioran: un evento accademico online”, Orizzonti Culturali Italo-Romeni, n. 11, novembre 2021, anno XI. Available at: http://www.orizzonticulturali.it/it_eventi_Colloquio-Cioran-2021.html

[3] Mihail Sebastian’s psychological profile of the young Cioran prefigures in a surprising way an anthropological image that Cioran himself would later paint in Précis de decomposition: le convalescent qui aspire à la maladie, “the convalescent aspiring to disease”. CIORAN, “L’Animal indirect”, Précis de decomposition, Œuvres. Paris: Gallimard, 1995, p. 601. Richard Howard’s English translation: “The Indirect Animal”, A Short History of Decay, New York, Arcade Publishing, 1998, p. 24-25.

[4] SEBASTIAN, Mihail, “Emil Cioran, Le Livre des leurres”, in Cahier de L’Herne Cioran, p. 208.

[5] Ibid., p. 207.

[6] ROSSET, Clément, O princípio de crueldade. Trad. de José Thomaz Brum. Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 1989, p. 18.

[7] Ibid., p. 18.

[8] CIORAN, “Rereading”, Anathemas and Admirations. Transl. by Richard Howard. New York: Arcade Publishing (“The Arcade Cioran”), 1991, p. 253.

I Beg to Disagree that “Existence = Torment” is an Obvious Equation…

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