The Trouble with Being Born

E.M. Cioran on Aging

posted in: Aging, Reading | 0

Last year around my birthday, I re-read E.M. Cioran’s The Trouble with Being Born. In my February 2021 Update post, I mentioned that I had I noted that many of his aphorisms were over-the-top bleak. Some of them are so ridiculously pessimistic to be almost funny, to wit:

Sometimes I wish I were a cannibal—less for the pleasure of eating someone than for the pleasure of vomiting him. (168)

Of course, the title of the book itself hints at the joys to be found within.

I did not re-read it this year, but skimmed through it looking for any quotes I had underlined which pertain to aging, a topic I semi-occasionally write about here. I had taken note of some of his aphorisms about getting older. He was 62 when The Trouble with Being Born was published in 1973.

One aphorism is a warning which we should give young people:

The only thing the young should be taught is that there is virtually nothing to be hoped for from life. One dreams of a Catalogue of Disappointments which would include all the disillusionments reserved for each and every one of us, to be posted in the schools. (128)

Other quotes more directly address getting older. Some of which are more general in nature:

What I know at sixty, I knew at twenty. Forty years of a long, a superfluous, labor of verification. (7)

A remark of my brother’s apropos of the troubles and pains my mother endured: “Old age is nature’s self-criticism” (36)

And some of which are specifically about the decline of one’s physical health:

This body, once loyal, disavows me, no longer follows me, has ceased to be my accomplice. Rejected, betrayed, discarded, what would become of me if old infirmities, to prove their allegiance, didn’t come to keep me company at every hour of the day and night? (171)

The undeniable advantage of growing old is to be able to observe at close range the slow and methodical degradation of our organs; they are all beginning to go, some obviously, others discreetly. They become detached from the body, as the body becomes detached from us: it escapes us, flees us, no longer belongs to us. It is a traitor we cannot even denounce, since it stops nowhere and puts itself in no one’s service. (206)

I don’t necessarily endorse such a bleak view of things, but I do find his pithy and excessive pessimism to be thought-provoking.

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