cover image All Gall Is Divided: Aphorisms

All Gall Is Divided: Aphorisms

E. M. Cioran. Arcade Publishing, $25 (128pp) ISBN 978-1-55970-471-7

Ambrose Bierce produced a small book of mordant paradoxes he called The Devil's Dictionary (1911). This is Cioran's existentialist equivalent. Often aridly clever, it can quickly elicit indigestion, but on occasion its bleak terseness strikes a chord or hints at an autobiography. Cioran (The Trouble with Being Born) was born in Romania, emigrated to France in the 1930s and died in Paris in 1995. ""Inside every citizen nowadays,"" he writes, ""lies a future alien."" An outspoken non-believer, he opines, ""For two thousand years, Jesus has revenged himself on us for not having died on a sofa."" A passionate pessimist after decades of exile, occupation and war, he insists, ""To hope is to contradict the future,"" and ""Had Noah possessed the gift of foreseeing the future, there is not a doubt in the world he would have scuttled the ark."" As laconic and intense as his aphorisms appear to be, it seems obvious that his heralded translator, in playing his own word games, has often stretched the irony, sometimes vitiating it. At their sardonic best--""Shakespeare: the rose and the ax have a rendezvous""--Cioran's lines have a staying power. This is especially so when he expresses his thirst for doubt and his despairing delight in the world's contradictions. Ideas, he believes, are undermined by exhaustive analysis. Pithy cynicism is the antidote he offers. (July)