Tears and Saints

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University of Chicago Press, Dec 15, 1995 - Philosophy - 128 pages
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By the mid-1930s, Emil Cioran was already known as a leader of a new generation of politically committed Romanian intellectuals. Researching another, more radical book, Cioran was spending hours in a library poring over the lives of saints. As a modern hagiographer, Cioran "dreamt" himself "the chronicler of these saints' falls between heaven and earth, the intimate knower of the ardors in their hearts, the historian of God's insomniacs." Inspired by Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, Cioran "searched for the origin of tears." He asked himself if saints could be "the sources of tears' better light."

"Who can tell?" he wrote in the first paragraph of this book, first published in Romania in 1937. "To be sure, tears are their trace. Tears did not enter the world through the saints; but without them we would never have known that we cry because we long for a lost paradise." By following in their traces, "wetting the soles of one's feet in their tears," Cioran hoped to understand how a human being can renounce being human. Written in Cioran's characteristic aphoristic style, this flamboyant, bold, and provocative book is one of his most important—and revelatory—works.

Cioran focuses not on martyrs or heroes but on the mystics—primarily female—famous for their keening spirituality and intimate knowledge of God. Their Christianity was anti-theological, anti-institutional, and based solely on intuition and sentiment. Many, such as Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, and Saint John of the Cross, have produced classic works of mystical literature; but Cioran celebrates many more minor and unusual figures as well.

Following Nietzsche, he focuses explicitly on the political element hidden in saints' lives. In his hands, however, their charitable deeds are much less interesting than their thirst for pain and their equally powerful capacity to endure it. Behind their suffering and their uncanny ability to renounce everything through ascetic practices, Cioran detects a fanatical will to power.

"Like Nietzsche, Cioran is an important religious thinker. His book intertwines God and music with passion and tears. . . . [Tears and Saints] has a chillingly contemporary ring that makes this translation important here and now."—Booklist
 

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Tears and saints

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In her lengthy introduction, the translator deems this book a "discourse on spirituality, asceticism and suffering for the love of Christ." More specifically, the author asserts that saints maintain a ... Read full review

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Page vii - The mightiest men have hitherto always bowed reverently before the saint, as the enigma of self-subjugation and utter voluntary privation — why did they thus bow? They divined in him — and as it were behind the questionableness of his frail and wretched appearance — the superior force which wished to test itself by such a subjugation; the strength of will, in which they recognized their own strength and love of power, and knew how to honor it: they honored something in themselves when they...
Page 128 - All I have written appears to me as so much rubbish, compared with what I have seen and what has been revealed to me...
Page viii - ... and anti-naturalness will not have been coveted for nothing — they have said, inquiringly. There is perhaps a reason for it, some very great danger, about which the ascetic might wish to be more accurately informed through his secret interlocutors and visitors? In a word, the mighty ones of the world learned to have a new fear before him, they divined a new power, a strange, still unconquered enemy: — it was the "Will to Power" which obliged them to halt before the saint.
Page viii - Old Testament," the book of divine justice, there are men, things, and sayings on such an immense scale, that Greek and Indian literature has nothing to compare with it . One stands with fear and reverence before those stupendous remains of what man was formerly, and one has sad...

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About the author (1995)

E. M. Cioran (1911-1995) was born and educated in Romania and lived in Paris from 1937 until his death. He is the author of numerous works, including On the Heights of Despair, also available from the University of Chicago Press.