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On the Heights of Despair

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  6,411 ratings  ·  488 reviews
Born of a terrible insomnia—"a dizzying lucidity which would turn even paradise into hell"—this book presents the youthful Emil 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 w
Paperback, 150 pages
Published October 1st 1996 by University of Chicago Press (first published 1933)
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Feb 18, 2017 rated it liked it
How does one become a pessimist?

By reading your book, pal. You made Schopenhauer look like one of the Teletubbies. It was a fortunate thing that I didn’t read this during my impressionable adolescence. I still can’t rate it I think a 3-star rating is a good compromise. Many quotes that pulled on my heartstrings, and many chapters I already forgot, out of immunity to certain thoughts and dislike of overly melodramatic prose. Things that belong to the plane of ideas, naturally, since the kind of l
Sep 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Not Walt Whitman... But Close

This fictional memoir sums up a young man’s view of being old. Being old means finally having to confront the end of oneself. Cioran does this as a self-professed therapeutic exercise. His translator calls the book a prose “song of myself,” thus connecting Cioran with Whitman. Perhaps; but could this be more than merely the sense that each is the opposite of the other?

Whitman finds his joy and inspiration in his good health; Cioran revels in his physical suffering as
Mar 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
There is a reason why certain authors, regardless of their genius, are destined to remain relatively anonymous to the wider world. Cioran is of this type. Without any reluctance he talks about ideas and emotions that most people spend the major part of their lives trying their best to repress and ignore. Some might consider this brazen, but to my mind I don't imagine he had a choice in the matter. Some thoughts need out. Some can't be resisted, like gravity. And if you had such thoughts, ones yo ...more
Apr 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
Ah, Cioran, twenty-two years old and already so caustically weary with that great travail called life - I remember that age well!

This is a compulsively readable shotgun blast of bleak lyricism that ofttimes offers profound insight and occasionally jejune invective. Cioran is a cruel diagnostician of despair - there is little from the realms of spiritual shadow that he is not acutely aware of - and scourges the quotidian world with its infinite banality, pointlessness, and immanent subjugation to
Sep 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I knew when I set eyes on this book’s title that I was going to love it. It is so imperfectly perfect, so beautifully flawed, so darkly comforting for someone like me.

There are many statements in On the Heights of Despair I don’t agree with. I found Cioran’s take on women and on the difference between man and other living creatures to be too immature. He is melodramatic and over-exhilarated at times. But he touches on subjects that interest me; he thinks thoughts that I do. He is endearingly bol
Steven Godin
Oct 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Before writing in French, this was philosopher Emil Cioran's first book published in Romania in 1934, when he was in his early 20s. The short pieces/essays that make up the book are full of great melancholy and bleakness, and it feels appropriate to read this when it's pitch black outside and pouring with rain, not on a nice summer's day. In Romania in the 1960s and 1970s, Cioran was seen as a mysterious, almost mythological figure. One would hear that such a person existed, but he became as inv ...more
Jul 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
We live in an age in which it is almost a sin to be unhappy, this book is a fine antidote to that stupidity.
Dec 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
I keep returning to Cioran because I think, on the other side of his melodramatic griping, there are keys to living a fulfilling life.

"Where does happiness begin? When we have persuaded ourselves that there is no truth. All salvation comes thenceforth, even salvation through nothing. He who does not believe in the impossibility of truth, or does not rejoice in it, has only one road to salvation, which he will, however, never find."

For Cioran, the evolution of consciousness, which is unique to h
Alejandro Saint-Barthélemy
It's a shame that this is Cioran's most rated book in Goodreads, since it's not his best one at all (and he knew it). Too much downmarket lyricism, too juvenile, and both the cheap lyricism and juvenality aren't as poetic as he would have liked them to be (we have Rimbaud for that, though). Cioran regreted this style in his adult books. That being said...:
1) This book has a few terrific moments, like the aphorism on the sterility of traditional wisemen.
2) It was Beckett's favourite, no matter ho
Jul 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Like many other books, this one is anything but an escape. It impugns reality and swirls it around with words like chaos, insomnia, love, death, suicide and the like. This is one of the most provocative books I have ever read. It is very hard to give a review on this dark, extensional author who is commonly known as the “king of pessimists”.
This was the first book I read by Ciroan, the then 22 year old Cioran managed to keep me up till 5 in the morning with shivers. “There is always a serious da
Andreea Obreja
I can say I don't agree on most of the ideas in this book and I wonder how can someone live like this? Thinking no one ever does an altruistic gesture and vices being the best thing to have, otherwise you're boring?!
I do understand him at some points, as pessimism and depression are opaque and subjective feelings you can hardly see through...
Unbelievable but among all that pessimism I could find some optimism, paradoxically (as he keeps repeating! The beginning and the ending have kind of brig
Sep 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Don't be afraid to ask for a hug when you want one; you do matter (just saying). *shrugs :D ...more
Nov 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I do think I may have finally found a philosopher whose work I can not only relate to but utterly enjoy. I blew through this one in under 24 hours, and thoroughly loved it. Like J.K. Huysmans, H.P. Lovecraft, and Thomas Ligotti (in fact, it was through Ligotti that I first ever even heard of Cioran), this E.M. Cioran transforms ennui, despair and cosmic pessimism into pure poisonous poetry. My only "problem" with the book was I had to keep pausing from my reading to jot down a line that I found ...more
Jan 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-stars
if you've ever laid in bed at 3am staring at the ceiling, you'll know what this book is about.
also, to my philosophy teacher who said I'd go insane afer reading this - that all you got?
Tariq Fadel
Sep 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wow this book is very...very dark, but what do you expect from a book called "on the heights of despair"! Emil Cioran is cleaely inspired by Nietzsche. His pessimistic view on existence is due to the nonexistence of objective truth. But he differs from Nietzsche in that he doesn't preach of the glory of the ubermench, nor does he like Camus end his book on a lighter note by claiming that one can be happy with the absurdity of existence. His view is much....much depressing; the universe is absurd ...more
Monty Milne
Aug 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Cioran is a depressive madman who would rather be a happy madman. Who wouldn’t?

“I would like a shower of warm light to fall from me…the entire world should float in this dream of light….matter, forms and limits would cease to exist…then let me die of light in such a landscape.”

I liked this a great deal more than I expected. It is very strange that someone like Cioran found within his own madness and depression the ability to write something which has the effect of illuminating truth and dispelli
Jun 19, 2009 rated it it was ok
I must be pretty miserable right now to be reading both this book and several introductions to Schopenhauer. I like Cioran a lot, but his earliest work is definitely not his best. It's kind of like a bunch of prose poems written by a very earnest youth with a penchant for melodrama. It isn't surprising that I find myself rolling my eyes at him pretty frequently. Still, I've been copying down passages every couple of pages, so there is some good stuff in here. ...more
Jan 14, 2008 added it
Shelves: essays
First off, I should say that Cioran is a total fucker, with no capability of dealing with the world apparently. However, this is one of the most poignant books I've ever read. Not only does he write like an angel, this will immediately resonate with anyone who has ever experienced crippling, perpetual depression. Read this one in a fit of anomie and contempt. Probably as good a time as any. ...more
Jun 18, 2019 rated it did not like it
Have you ever read your diaries from your teens and then cringed at how pathetic and self centred you were? How everything in the world is bad and out to get you? Somehow, Cioran managed to publish his.
Sep 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy, favorites
"A little knowledge is delightful; a lot, disgusting. The more you know the less you want to know. He who has not sufferd from knowledge has never known anything." ...more
Jan 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an intense read that's a little hard to rate frankly. I suppose this book is depressing in a way but it's consoling too. But then I thought the same thing about Ligotti's "The Conspiracy Against the Human Race," so make of that what you will.

At several points Cioran argues in favor of despair, in order to feel deep passion. To reach the heights of despair is almost akin to becoming Nietzsche's ubermensch. "An existence which does not hide a great madness has no value. How is it different
George Florin
Dec 23, 2020 rated it liked it

This image makes me think of Emil Cioran.

I mean, rationally, I get all of his ideas. We are insignificant, we might as well be dead and all that. I think that if I were to have read this book about four or five years ago, when going through one of the lowest points in my life, I would have given a higher rating. But right now I am way better so yeah, sorry Emil Cioran, you only get 3/5.

Still, I am amazed at how many semi-depressed teens have ended up twisting the philosopher's words and started
Paul Toth
Sep 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The most relentlessly-pessimistic author not to have killed himself and, therefore, the writer of our only true solace: We need not waste time seeking solace. Warning to optimists: Reading E.M. Cioran's work may kill you. ...more
তানজীম রহমান
"An existence which does not hide
a great madness has no value. how is it different from the existence of a stone, a
piece of wood, or something rotten?"

Just a fantastic, fantastic read.
This is one of those occasions when I don’t agree with the writer on many points, but still understand his particular way of thinking. And in the case of Emil Cioran, that way of thinking is refreshingly bitter; beautiful in its sadness.
Cioran is a worthy entry in the long line of pessimistic philosophers. To him
Cioran's particular brand of melancholy fatalism sours any sort of existential insight that can be had from this book.

Laid out as a series of short, topical essays ranging in length from small paragraphs to a few pages, each is a snapshot or distillation of Cioran's views on despair, death, and lyricism.

While he makes some lambent points, especially with concern to the often hubristic certitude of philosophers, he makes an even greater number of absurd points. All the while, his self-absorbed, a
May 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
Reading this the other day, made me remember why I've come to dislike the ideas of a philosopher I once admired, as well as why I still persist, curiously, an admiration of some kind towards him. It's a love/hate relationship I possess, and at times I'm not sure whether it leans positively to one or the other.

Of course, why I've come to dislike his philosophy, shouldn't be hard to guess if any is aware of his work. He was the ultimate pessimist. The gold-standard of the entire school, thitherto
Chris Godber
Mar 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Recently I finished E . M Cioran's - On the heights of Despair. It's a book written whilst deep under the grip of insomnia by the existential / nihilist philosopher exploring the nature of life, and purpose, and also the inevitability of suffering. Sounds like a really dreary premise? It's actually written in this interesting lyrical format that is vivid and almost strangely life affirming, Cioran transforms accepting suffering and darkness and horror into a positive, a kind of fingers up to fee ...more
Dec 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: emil-cioran
When the ticking of a watch breaks the silence of eternity, arousing you out of serene contemplation, how can you help resenting the absurdity of time, its march into the future, and all the nonsense about evolution and progress? Why go forward, why live in time? The sudden revelation of time at such moments, conferring upon it a crushing preeminence otherwise nonexistent, is the fruit of a strong contempt for life, an unwillingness to go on. If this revelation happens at night, the sensation of ...more
Nov 11, 2012 rated it liked it
This book is a collection of poetic meditations on despair. An explosion of lyricism. A passionate description of the inner torment that some of us go trough and have to deal with. It's both depressing and exhilarating at the same time. It can lead you to some interesting insights but you'll have to brave trough a lot of nonsense as well. Overall, a good read for those who enjoy pessimism and philosophical ramblings. ...more
Feb 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
After Schopenhauer, Nietzsche. Cioran is next in line ( was going to say in the gang rape, he he ho but let's make it a consensual one...) for my beloveds my agents provacateurs the main males in my mind. however you'd like to hear it. Brilliant brilliant. ...more
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Reading 1001: On the Heights of Despair by Emil Cioran 2 21 Jul 07, 2018 07:09AM  

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Born in 1911 in Rășinari, a small village in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, raised under the rule of a father who was a Romanian Orthodox priest and a mother who was prone to depression, Emil Cioran wrote his first five books in Romanian. Some of these are collections of brief essays (one or two pages, on average); others are collections of aphorisms. Suffering from insomnia since his adoles ...more

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