8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
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"An Infamous Past" concentrates on Cioran's early days and his infatuation with the legionary movement and its rise and effect on Romania's intelligentsia in the 1930's.
While the book is excellent, and Marta Petreu has performed both impressive research and drawn reasonable conclusions, the translation by Bogdan Aldea (who incorrectly translates "Totul Pentru Tara" as "Everything for the Fatherland" (the word "patria" means fatherland while the word "tara" means country), and the failure to acknowledge Codreanu's eventual abandonment of antisemitism and violence as a means (both actions which perpetuate a distortion of Romanian history), earn this book a one star demerit.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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I first came across Cioran by reading "On the Heights of Despair" in college. I loved it. I felt like for the first time I was encountering someone who also had a bad penchant for cosmic pessimism. It was cathartic to read angst-ridden rants while being depressed over Heidegger's Being and Time. So, I read several of Cioran's other books. Not as biting, but I was still interested and wanted to learn more. At the time, I started researching the "conservative revolutionaries" of the 1930s -- thinkers like Heidegger, Carl Schmitt, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, Stefan George, Ernst Jünger, et al., and I started to notice some affinities between the themes in Cioran and these thinkers. Eventually the darkness got a bit annoying and started to seem really hackneyed. It eventually clicked: yeah, Cioran basically makes all the same points as the fascists. He goes on and on about how mythos and emotion and irrational drives trump reason or logos, how the nation must come first and have an imperialist drive to crush other nations, how sacrifice for a higher cause is awesome, and all the other clichés. I started to get really annoyed by the way he refuses to actually dig into a subject and reflect on it, but usually only offers fleeting metaphors and parables. Some say this is great style, but it hardly helps get to the core of any subject.
So, eventually I came across Marta Petreu's book and decided to check it out.
On the one hand, this book certainly points out Cioran's right-wing affinities. However, the author constantly fails to really get what the essence of nationalism, fascism, or anti-Semitism is about. Instead, one gets these tepid attempts to claim that Cioran was "subtle" and "not really an anti-Semite." The killer evidence is that, to paraphrase, "Cioran, even though he says negative things about jews, also says positive things." Positive racism is still racism. On his death bed, Cioran says, "I...am...not...anti-Semitic!" The same kind of thing goes on with Nationalism: the author acts as if disappointed nationalists who only say negative things about their nation are somehow still not nationalists. On the other hand, the author points to where Cioran had affinities with "left-wingers." So, Cioran liked Lenin and the fact that the soviets pursued "social equality." He goes on about how he supports the permanent-revolution, but it has to be national. The book just goes around in circles comparing Cioran's positions to others in an endless commentary, attempting to show how Cioran didn't exactly fit in with the fascists, but was oh-so original.
I suspect behind all the confusion lies these obnoxious thesis about left and right extremism going in a circle, both meeting, and how both are totalitarian. Of course, being totalitarian, they "aren't democracy." With this brilliant observation, one learns nothing about fascism, communism, or democracy. I absolutely hate when she talks about Marxism. It's just totally ignorant, but then so is Cioran's conceptions of Marxism which are all filtered through far-right sources. That's all irritating. The book really should have been edited down to about 150 pages. As someone else noted, Cioran really is a broken record.
12 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Willis G. Regier
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The Chicago publisher Ivan R. Dee has already published one major Romanian book in English translation, Mihail Sebastian's JOURNAL 1933-1945. Petreu's book is something different--a clear, serious, and straightforward scholarly study, a type of book seldom undertaken by an American commercial publisher. It is well chosen, though its future depends entirely on the reputation of Cioran, and it will do little to enhance that reputation.
Petreu is intimately familar with Cioran's writings, and quotes from them liberally. That alone would make this book an important source for readers of Cioran who cannot read Romanian. She has also troubled to read his 1930s journalism and his correspondence (some of which she has collected and published in Cluj), texts unavailable in English. There is some repetitiveness, but with good reason.
Petreu also is a student of history and is able to place Cioran's "lyrical philosophy" and praise of fascism (and of Hitler) in the context of Romanian politics. This by no means excuses Cioran. Rather, Petreu shows how and why fascism appealed to him in his twenties, when his literary ambitions, his dismay at European contempt for Romania, and his faith in destiny converged in opportunistic rant. Later in life, Cioran bitterly regretted these years. Petreu provides the ugly details, showing how much he had to regret.
Finally, her discussion of the Iron Guard, the blackshirts of Romania, who murdered and marauded in the name of pure Christianity, is a frightening reminder of what militant Christian politics can do.
Petreu writes that Cioran's "fundamental nature--decadent, amoral, aesthetic" (p. 182) was a fertile ground for his commitment to Romanian fascism. Cioran's current fame as a writer and a philosopher rests on the books he published in Paris after World War II. Petreu's book provides vital background for his Parisian career, showing how his fascist years continued to affect his later work, sometimes with hints, often with suppression, and always with fear and revulsion.
2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
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The book is excellently researched (kudos to the author, Marta Petreu). However, even the best biographer must find it difficult to summarize someone like Emil Cioran, who had trouble organizing his own words into a coherent text. Reading about the articles and books he wrote is like listening to a broken record: I'm ashamed to be a Romanian. Romania will never become a culture (nation). They can't blame anyone but themselves for being a total historic failure. On and on.
The author did a great job of trying to present his one-track exposition (though he changed trains of thought in his later life). Actually, the best summary of Cioran's youthful, radical philosophy was given near the end of the book, when Marta organized his words into his "confession."
In spite of its drawbacks (Cioran was, after all, only a "bit player" in the generation of 1927 compared to Mircea Eliade or even professor Nae Ionescu), it's a book that's worth reading. I especially enjoyed Chapter 10 ("Cioran and the Ideologies of His Time"), which compared the thoughts of others in his generation to those of Cioran.
Before I read the book, I had no positive or negative thoughts about Cioran. After I read the book, I grew to dislike the guy who sponged off of others, refusing to work, pretending to be an intellectual. But I guess these were the kind of people who made a difference in inter-war Romania. And worth reading for that reason.
0 of 7 people found the following review helpful
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This book is an excellent contribution to one of the darkest chapters of Roumanian history,namely:the dark days of the Iron Guardists.Not only were they anti-Semitic,but they were
also a bunch of fanatic hooligans who lived under some kind of illusion that Roumania would one day be pure, free of any other foreign elements. They were assisted by a great number of Roumanian intellectuals,and among those Emil Cioran was one of them. An early admirer of Hitler and a rabid anti-Semite,he develpoed a philosophy of his own which preached for the advancement of Roumanian history through industrialization,while constantly preaching in his writings about the indolence and stupidity of his Roumanian comrades and his own people. On this point he was right,since the Roumanians are to this day lazy,corrupt and hope for their salvation by some deus ex-machina. The period discussed in this book is mainly about Roumanian fascism,religious fanaticism and anti-modernism. These motifs were spread by other fanatical philosophers such as the known anti-Semitic and notious historian of religions Mircea Eliade,Nae Ionescu and other gutter-writers who sold their soul to the devil. Some of them, including Cioran regretted their shameful past after World War Two,though one cannot be sure whether they had really done so honestly or just for the sake of their wish to be remembered as the good fellows who finally realized their mistakes of being friends with the dark forces, such as Codreanu,the Iron Guards and Hitler.
According to Codreanu and Marin,the Jews were responsible for the misfortunes which fell upon Roumania. In fact,Cioran had some kind of different opinion and he believed thaat Roumanians and not the foreigners were to blame for past failures,although he himself remained ambivalent on this point and thus he cannot be excused in any way for is support of the Fascists .Even his infamous sentence that had he been a Jew,he would have committed suicide cannot be forgotten.
Cioran was not only an antisemite, but also took an anti-Hungarian stance which reflected his resentment toward his former masters of his country. He preached for a dictatorship-a dream which had materialized in the horror system devised by Ceausescu and his cronies. This because the Legionary doctrine was anti-democratic and anti-liberal.
Most of Cioran's writings are and will remain destructive and and so will their messages.
This book is excellent and should be read by those who think that dictatorships are the answer to the evils of any society. The memory of Cioran will always be one of infamy,despite his efforts to recant and expunge his past.