Blasphemy And Carnival

NEW YORK: From his Paris exile in 1970, Emil Cioran, the iconoclastic Romanian philosopher, wrote of his nostalgia for the somewhat naive energy of those who stayed behind. "I can guess the secret of so much vitality. Without hell, no illusions." Cioran felt old and worn out. "We pay dearly for not having suffered. We believe in nothing." In Bucharest, Cioran once savaged Romania’s corrupt interwar democracy. In Paris, however, his blasphemies against French idols, he wrote wistfully, were "well received...people like to demolish all reputations, even legitimate, even justified. Especially those."

But craving for idols and illusions creates its own special hell -- the more so if society is passing through a crisis of identity and structure. This is what is happening in an Eastern Europe belatedly facing modernity and its tensions. Even literary debates may become the pretext for which violent appeals to a bigoted unity and, of course, for excluding those carrying the virus of critical thinking.

Take for example the abuse heaped on Andre Sinyavsky for his rescue (in his book "Strolls of Pushkin") of the Pushkin idol cast in the Soviet canon. One critic urged that Sinyavsky be outlawed, much as Islamic fundamentalists ostracized Salman Rushdie. As communism collapsed, the conformist momentum -- born of fevered cultural insecurity -- gathered pace. "When all holy things are trampled," Eernst Safonov (editor of "Literaturnaya Rossiya") said, "when there are no more icons or very few, Pushkin is one of those icons. He is an icon equal to the icons of the Church."

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in;
  1. Patrick Kovarik/Getty Images

    The Summit of Climate Hopes

    Presidents, prime ministers, and policymakers gather in Paris today for the One Planet Summit. But with no senior US representative attending, is the 2015 Paris climate agreement still viable?

  2. Trump greets his supporters The Washington Post/Getty Images

    Populist Plutocracy and the Future of America

    • In the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump has consistently sold out the blue-collar, socially conservative whites who brought him to power, while pursuing policies to enrich his fellow plutocrats. 

    • Sooner or later, Trump's core supporters will wake up to this fact, so it is worth asking how far he might go to keep them on his side.
  3. Agents are bidding on at the auction of Leonardo da Vinci's 'Salvator Mundi' Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

    The Man Who Didn’t Save the World

    A Saudi prince has been revealed to be the buyer of Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi," for which he spent $450.3 million. Had he given the money to the poor, as the subject of the painting instructed another rich man, he could have restored eyesight to nine million people, or enabled 13 million families to grow 50% more food.

  4.  An inside view of the 'AknRobotics' Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

    Two Myths About Automation

    While many people believe that technological progress and job destruction are accelerating dramatically, there is no evidence of either trend. In reality, total factor productivity, the best summary measure of the pace of technical change, has been stagnating since 2005 in the US and across the advanced-country world.

  5. A student shows a combo pictures of three dictators, Austrian born Hitler, Castro and Stalin with Viktor Orban Attila Kisbenedek/Getty Images

    The Hungarian Government’s Failed Campaign of Lies

    The Hungarian government has released the results of its "national consultation" on what it calls the "Soros Plan" to flood the country with Muslim migrants and refugees. But no such plan exists, only a taxpayer-funded propaganda campaign to help a corrupt administration deflect attention from its failure to fulfill Hungarians’ aspirations.

  6. Project Syndicate

    DEBATE: Should the Eurozone Impose Fiscal Union?

    French President Emmanuel Macron wants European leaders to appoint a eurozone finance minister as a way to ensure the single currency's long-term viability. But would it work, and, more fundamentally, is it necessary?

  7. The Year Ahead 2018

    The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine what’s come apart in the past year, and anticipate what will define the year ahead.

    Order now