On the Couch with E. M. Cioran

Clancy Martin and Andrew Winer


This unlikely conversation took place in Santiago del Cuba. We (Andrew and Clancy) were on vacation with our families in Havana when we were invited by two tarot card readers, bluff cigar-smoking local women who spoke French, to meet a “very old crazy Frenchman who tells prophesies,” and who, according to them, scavenged fish and octopi on the bay in that hot, clamorous city on the southeastern side of the island.  One of the tarot readers had a nephew there she wanted to visit, and we had a car and an outsize interest in prophets. We looked at each other with excitement: “A Cuban Jodorowsky!” Our wives and children declined to join us. 

When at last we found the man on a garbage-strewn beach, he was sitting in filthy clothes on a couch with three legs and no cushions, cooking pencil-sized fish over a fire. His hair white and wild, he looked to be at least a hundred years old, and, casting each other questioning if hopeful glances, we sat down to watch him suck the meat from the bones of the tiny fish, snapping his fingers when he was through with each one. After a time, he began to regale us with stories of Paris, insomnia, the coming apocalypse, and despair—and Andrew, his interest overtaking his impatience, at last asked him: “Have you ever read E.M. Cioran?” “I am Emil Cioran,” the man replied. “Are you from the police? Or are you priests? My father was a priest…” He fell into inchoate babble then, but we opened a beer for him and his lucidity seemed to pick up with the wind. Soon we became convinced that this was, in fact, the great Romanian philosopher—or his ghost come back to life on that desolate bay with the black water at our feet. The conversation lasted long into the night. We have offered just a part of it here . . .


Clancy: Emil, you say that we moderns have discovered hell inside ourselves and that is our good fortune.  How could that be lucky?

EMC: What would have become of us if we had only hell’s external and historical representations?  Two thousand years of fear would have driven us to suicide.  Saint Hildegard’s description of the Last Judgment makes one hate all heavens and hells, and rejoice that they are only subjective visions.  Psychology is both our salvation and our superficiality.  According to a Christian legend, the world was born when the Devil yawned.  For us moderns, the accident of this world is nothing more than a psychological error.

Andrew: Right, and that depresses me on two levels, even as it gets me off the hook for Hell-Hell.  If there is indeed an error to our world, if existence is some sort of mistake—or even if it’s only the case that we sometimes experience it that way (as I do)—I want us to take the error very seriously, perhaps even—dare I say it?—sacredly rather than secularly.  At the very least, I sometimes hunger for there to be a massive “mistake” that is outside of us, bigger than us; I long for life’s scary cruelty and inexplicable indifference and just general madness to be ontological, cosmic, rather than personal and selfie-ish.  What about you, Clancy?  I’m desperate to know if you ever have this longing, or even see the situation this way at all.

Clancy: The good fortune, the happy accident, is that having hell inside ourselves gives us, if not control over our hellish situation, the possibility of reconciliation with our hell, and perhaps even the opportunity for liberation from it.  In one of The Buddha’s early sutras, he talks about “the two darts”: the first dart is the pain of physical or mental suffering, the pain of birth, old age, sickness and death, the pain of so much of our emotional experience, the pain of our “selfie-narratives.”  I remember once, when I was still in the jewelry business, a Swiss watch wholesaler was in my office and he looked at me quietly and said: “What is it, Clancy? Internal dialogue driving you crazy again?”  That’s the first dart, which is the internal hell that we’ve represented externally.  Our salvation, which is also our psychological error and the world that we all live in, is the second dart: how we respond to the first dart.  The second dart is one we throw at ourselves.  It is the crying out of protest at the first dart.


EMC: A cry means something only in a created universe.  If there is no creator, what is the good of calling attention to yourself?

Andrew:  Great—our session has hardly begun and I already feel superficial, trapped in psychology and a meaningless, uncreated world.  I feel ashamed!

EMC: The philosopher’s sole merit is that they sometimes felt ashamed of being men.  Plato and Nietzsche are exceptions: they were always ashamed.  The former wanted to take us out of this world, the latter out of ourselves.  Even the saints could learn something from them.  Thus the honor of philosophy was saved!

Clancy: Now that is classic Emil.  Brilliant.  You pick those great antipodes, Plato and Nietzsche, and then take them all the way to their own deepest fears—that they are ashamed of humans and to be human—and then make it their redeeming virtue.

Andrew:  Maybe what gives our friend Emil such insight here is that, like Plato and Nietzsche, he seems to know this type of shame so well.  In fact, Emil, you hardly seem able to deal with others who haven’t copped to such fears, such shame.  And doesn’t shame form one of the foundations of your lifelong, aphoristic slandering of the world—your poetic chastening and chastising of yourself and others, and of God and what he created?  What’s so enticing to me—and it’s one of the reasons I keep returning to your writing—is that, in true Nietzschean fashion, you flip it—shame—to a positive!  To a strength!

Clancy: In other words: honest enough to be ashamed, admitting that we need to bathe, to clean our consciences, to demand some respite from our self-dissatisfaction.  The only hope for the philosopher is that he can force us to admit this about ourselves.

Andrew:  That might also serve as an excellent description of your own work, Clancy, it occurs to me—both in your philosophizing about deception and in your fiction.  And couldn’t we also say that the only hope for the novelist is that, by exploring the shame in her characters and allowing it to play out dramatically, she can lead us to confront the shame that lies inside of us?  One of the things that appeals to me in writers as different as Kafka, James, and Franzen is this sense—one I’m quite familiar with in my own life and writing—that shame is an inescapable trait of being human.  Certainly in your own work there’s this longing, beneath the various deception scenarios you write about, to be somehow washed clean.  And this brings me back to the second way that what Emil is saying here depresses me: namely, if ours isn’t a created universe, if this accident of the world (as he calls it) or The Problem For And Of Us (as I might call it) is merely viewed as psychological (as it is by the great wash of the West’s secularized), then it naturally follows that this “Hell” of ours can and should be fixed.  And so, what was once an irreducible and given problem of existence can now be subjected to all manner of therapeutic nostrums.  And here again, the isness of life—in all its former grandeur—gets chopped down to some “relatable” set of problems to solve, or avoid through escapism, and we aren’t called to the larger and more difficult task of confronting that which, in my humble opinion, will forever be beautifully unsolvable.  And I’m fully aware, for instance, that for a long time now the novel has trafficked almost exclusively in the psychological, mirroring the culture’s turn away from religious understandings of the self and the self’s place in the world.  But there’s a reason that novels that still assumed an essentially religious framework—novels by writers such as Tolstoy, Hugo, and Dostoevsky—still pull on us; and might it have something to do with both the desire to be washed clean that subtly informs your work, Clancy, and this need of ours for some reference point that is outside of our psychologies?  But then perhaps I’m being too clingy, too beholden to some idea of magnitude that is, in the end, a result of my own narcissistic desire to situate myself in a matrix of import and significance.

Clancy: We still want to have faith in something bigger than Andrew and Clancy.  But maybe the world doesn’t need Clancy or Andrew at all.  Maybe even we don’t need ourselves, as we normally think of ourselves (hopes, fears, etc.).  Then maybe we wouldn’t need to believe in all of the concepts and labels, in good and evil.

Andrew: If I’m understanding you correctly, Clancy, you’re sort of meeting Cioran’s diagnosis of our modern problem at the psychological level, and—here’s that second dart—suggesting we can, if not solve, then sort of side-step or learn to live with the problem of the “hell inside ourselves” by employing the techniques and understandings of what is often called Buddhist psychology, among them letting go of our attachment to the self and desires.  And on the one hand I think I should just hop on your train, which is probably more practical, and probably stands a better chance at providing me with a more peaceful life; but on the other hand I have this strong attachment to attachment—yes, even, pace Buddha, to things and desires and goals.  Yet my attachment to these things is not, I would like to believe, for the typical reasons: for example, I don’t hold out that attaining wealth, objects, or goals will necessarily bring me happiness.  Rather, for me, it’s a matter of reverence.  Why not say that life is Life and dignify that capitalization and italicization with fierce attachment to it?  Might it not, in fact, be our obligation to the world of which we alone are fully conscious to have and even cultivate an immense and attached love and longing for the totality of its objects and experiences?  You know, I think of a contemporary writer like W.G. Sebald, whose cataloging of things feels as metaphysical as it does material: there’s some larger meaning to the thousand things noticed in one of his novels, a meaning that has something to do with a historical consciousness, yes, but also perhaps with something more mystical.  Even if we agree that the significance of Sebald’s work is pretty solidly historical, that would still leave us in the realm of the inexplicable, if we understand history the way Tolstoy does in War and Peace (which is really a way of not understanding it: Tolstoy felt that rationality was ultimately useless in the face of the forces driving history).  Returning to the question of how to think of and deal with the hell we find ourselves in, I suppose I’m saying I want the opposite of a selfie-view of it, and therefore the opposite of a therapeutic solution—even the opposite of the solution you seem to be suggesting, Clancy, along the lines of Schopenhauer’s killing the will, his ascetic buy-in that Nietzsche equated with Christianity’s slave morality—and instead I’m advocating for feeling all the pain of having to lose in this life, and, yes, being disappointed with it, too.

EMC: Only one thing matters: learning to be the loser.

Clancy: Right, Emil, but I hear Andrew advocating for, if not a less pessimistic sort of losing, then a less practical sort of losing!  I think he only wants the pain that comes with attachment—and with losing what we’re attached to—if the world is, so to speak, worth it.

Andrew: Exactly, and that’s a big “if”—an is-anything-sacred? kind of “if” around which many humans are currently fighting with each other.  I guess I’m for attachment to the world as long as I can conceive of it as worthy of reverence and awe, and not simply as a space in which an extremely adept and adaptable species has risen up and found a way—a mainly technological way—to numb its sadnesses.

EMC: The world is nothing but a place in which we exercise our sadness.  We need something to think about, and so we have made it into an object for meditation.  Consequently, thought never misses an opportunity to destroy it.

Andrew: You really cheer me right up, Emil!  Maybe so, and historically this has certainly been the case.  Schopenhauer perhaps wrote most convincingly (and, in my book, humorously!) about our ennui and our need to fill up our time with dramas, internally if not externally (sexually), though I could make a pretty good case for Benjamin Constant’s magnificent representation, in his brief novel Adolphe, of this need for something to think about and the destructiveness that can result.  But I would argue that, lately, we’ve come up with means by which we don’t have to meditate on the world so much, the same means that permit us to stay our sadnesses and our metaphysical longings by supplying ourselves with a maximum of consumable options.  We like these means (and what they provide us with) so much that we don’t mind being turned into objects and resources by them.

Clancy: Andrew, I won’t go so far as to say that your attachment to things is a very Western one, since, after all, your kind of attachment actually seems quite metaphysical as opposed to materialistic—

Andrew: Well it’s both: when, on a regular weekday morning, as I’m driving my daughters to school, I think to look at the light shining off the leaves in the trees that line the streets, I love those leaves and that light, in and of themselves; but as soon as I start to think about this love I feel for them, which can sometimes verge on the ecstatic, I begin to connect them to something less material, something that has to do with what I can only call praise and gratitude, these very metaphysical feelings, really.

Clancy: —okay I’m glad you bring that up because what I was trying to say is that the condition you’re proposing here on which your attachment to things rests—that of life being Life and the world being the World—sounds very close to a condition of faith.

Andrew: I won’t argue with you, if by faith we can agree to mean an outlook—and, much more rarely for me, a practice—that assume a relation of reverence to things and that encourage receptivity to the demands that these same things we’re attached to—whether leaves or people—make on us.

EMC: If from time to time we are tempted by faith, it is because faith proposes an alternative humiliation: it is, after all, preferable to find oneself in a position of inferiority before god than before a hominid.

Andrew: In other words, yep, Emil: you’re calling me on my narcissism.  And it’s true that I’ve often wondered if that part of me that sometimes wants to withdraw—

EMC: —I observe, in terror, the diminution of my hatred of mankind, the loosening of the last link uniting me with it.

Andrew: —Right, okay, so what has united you with mankind has been your hatred for the same, and while I don’t share the passion of your hatred, I have wondered if that part of myself that, far from being receptive to my fellow members of my species, sometimes wants to distance myself from mankind is actually a part of my ego, a part that wants to fortify and maintain some submerged sense of the scale of my life, and, even worse, of my above-it-all-ness.  I mean I fucking hope not.  I really hope that whatever distance I put between myself and others, whatever solitude I seek, is born of an authentic drive toward an authentic spiritual (for lack of a better word) way of being in the world.

Clancy: And observing the terror might be a step in the right direction.  Maybe we’ll find that something else makes us human.  Maybe there is a ladder we have to throw away, or a ferry-boat we have to step out of, and we’re afraid to let the ladder go, afraid to step out of the safety of the boat.  Misanthropy is safe and familiar.  Even fear is safe and familiar.

Andrew: Yes, and, for what it’s worth, and as much as I sometimes want to transcend the plane of the prosaic, I don’t think there’s any other place to be spiritual, except for in the world.  It’s just that, for me, being in groups doesn’t usually tend to entrain any spiritual feelings, and that includes, for example, attending religious services; whereas I have “felt something” while standing alone in a great religious edifice such as the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul…

EMC: No use counting on the windfall of being alone—always escorted by oneself!

Andrew: That’s for sure, and it’s that self which escorts me that, too often, is the last wall between me and whatever is out there, on the other side of the wall.  So, in this sense, I suppose, the pursuit of unnamable grandeur is inescapably subjective and personal: if we have to surmount the self, we have to face it first, and thus are confronted with the psychological.  Which, to return to the beginning of our session, would suggest that both of you are right: that our pursuit of salvation, our clambering up out of hell, is now undeniably a psychological operation.  And we suddenly seem back to selfie spirituality.  I guess I was holding out hope, and maybe I still do hold this hope, that the pursuit—the Pursuit of Our Lives, if you will—could still be something closer to a spiritual operation.

EMC: We pursue whatever we pursue out of torment—a need for torment.  Our very quest for salvation is a torment, the subtlest, the best camouflaged of all.

Andrew: Fuck, Emil.

Clancy: But that’s a problem only if we suppose that there was no point going on the quest in the first place.  It could be that we have to peel away the layers of an onion.  It could also be, like Don Quixote, that being tormented is simply a part of the quest, and all that matters is the quest.  We’re not questing for, we’re just questing.

Andrew: So, what, then there’s no point to our larger quests?

EMC: The dead center of existence: when it is all the same to you whether you read a newspaper article or think of God.

Andrew: To Google or to God…

EMC: Keeping up is the mark of a fluctuating mind that pursues nothing personal, that is unsuited to obsession, that continual impasse.

Andrew: Okay, but wait.  I’ve always felt that, too—especially with certain friends of mine who are incredibly smart, at least in a certain way, in that they seem to know everything, way more than I do about what’s going on, and, while speaking with them can often be exhilarating, I sometimes come away feeling sort of melancholic afterward, feeling that something was missing, something deep or important in the conversation and even—I feel terrible saying this—in them.

Clancy: The secret that we want to wink out at us.  The thrill up the spine.  The fleeting glimpse out of the corner of the eye.  That is always there, unless we try to cover it up, or distract ourselves from it, or run away from it?

Andrew: Yeah, maybe.  And if we’re understanding you correctly, Emil, you’re actually arguing that the act of keeping up with “what’s going on,” even in the highest cultural arenas, runs counter to possibilities for creating something great, the accomplishment of which I generally take to be the result of obsession, of someone who, finding her- or himself in “that continual impasse” (as you call obsession), creates something significant after sustained concentration and labor.

EMC: To create: only someone mistaken about himself, someone ignorant of the secret motives behind his actions, creates.  Once the creator is transparent to himself, he no longer creates.

Clancy: That sounds plausible.  Her or his activity is spontaneous, natural, liberated: an expression of nature or experience rather than a contriving of it.  Like the ancient skeptic Pyrrho: once he is freed from all of the (mistaken and misleading) beliefs about his perceptions, he is free to simply be in the world.  I don’t think that would preclude artistic expression.  (I’m thinking of William Blake, for example.)

Andrew: Yes, Blake’s is a sort of ecstatic response to simply being in the world.  But what’s the alternative for someone with a radically different disposition?  I’m thinking of you and your activity, Emil, which to me seems the opposite of spontaneous, natural, and liberated-in-the-traditional-sense.

EMC: For all the superstitions and shackles I have rid of myself of, I cannot regard myself as a free man, remote from everything.  A mania for desistance, having survived the other passions, refuses to leave me: it torments me, it perseveres, it demands that I continue renouncing, withdrawing.  But from what?  What is left to reject?  I ponder the question.  My role is over, my career finished, and yet nothing has changed in my life, I am at the same point in it, I must still desist, still and forever.

Clancy: So why do we write?  Is it the same reason we live?  Is it all just the stubbornness of Sisyphus?  Because unlike Camus, I’m not so sure that I do imagine Sisyphus as happy.  Do you just have an addiction to resistance and desistence?  It seems like Andrew and I might suffer from the same sickness.  But thinking of it that way makes me want to just give up.

EMC: Every life is the story of a collapse.  If biographies are so fascinating, it is because the heroes, and the cowards quite as much, strive to innovate in the art of debacle.

Andrew: See, that’s what I love about your thinking, Emil: your pessimism has, improbably, a cheering effect.  You at once cast us into a very real darkness and shine a light on how we might proceed!   For those of us who are inclined to agree with you—at least sometimes—that the world is a categorical error, a catastrophe, and that our lives are indeed stories of collapse, you somehow manage to provide some hope—or at least humor about our lack thereof, which in itself is a sort of liberation—

EMC: When every man has realized that his birth is a defeat, existence, endurable at last, will seem like the day after a surrender, like the relief and the repose of the conquered.

Clancy: And this is your innovation in the art of debacle, Emil.  We don’t have to be conquerors. “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  To admit defeat is something artistically new.  And maybe even a new kind of valuing or philosophizing.

Andrew: But that perfectly illustrates my feeling that there’s innovation and then there’s innovation.  And, to return to my point, you seem on the one hand, Emil, to be rendering the reading of newspapers and online browsing equivalent to metaphysical contemplation—which is an argument I increasingly hear from my friends, an argument that often hews closely to something like, “As far as meaning and significance goes, there’s no qualitative difference between playing The Black Watchmen for three days straight without sleeping and composing a socially-relevant contemporary opera”—and on the other hand, you seem to be advocating for a kind of creative and/or intellectual obsession, any sustained pursuit of which has been severely challenged by the distractions that are now continually on offer.  After all, keeping up has now been made, by smartphones and other screens, the primary occupation of our hours.  Clancy, am I understanding this contradiction of Emil’s correctly, or is there something I’m missing?

Clancy: I think you have the right line of attack, Andrew: like Camus, who argued that all experience is qualitatively the same and that therefore we can only differentiate between lives quantitatively (so it’s not the richness or variety of life that matters, but its duration), Emil threatens to level out all of the qualitative difference in our experience.  Sitting in prison for ten years is simply not as good as living in Paris or Kansas City for ten years.

EMC: I lost my sleep and this is the greatest tragedy that can befall someone.  It is much worse than sitting in prison.  I went out of the house at about midnight or later and roamed through the alleys.  And there were only a few lunatics and me, all alone in the entire city, in which absolute silence reigned.

Clancy: But wasn’t that when you yourself became a creator?  And isn’t that somehow importantly different than merely living life?  Isn’t that when you became a philosopher?

EMC: Everything that I thought in consequence and later composed was ‘born’ during those nights. Because I could not sleep at night and roamed about, I was naturally useless during the day and could therefore practice no profession. Seven years of sleeplessness…and my vision of things is the result of this years-long wakefulness. I saw that philosophy had no power to make my life more bearable. Thus I lost my belief in philosophy.

Clancy: But having lost your belief in philosophy was a change you experienced.  You were reconciled to life the way it actually is, rather than searching for some other way of being.  You no longer needed the consolation of the eternal.

EMC: How could I resign myself even for a moment to what is not eternal?  Yet this happens to me—at this very moment, for example.

Andrew: Well, I hope that’s more a lament about what continually pulls on us in our daily lives, and less a complaint about our session.  Besides, I have felt something bordering on the eternal emerging for me during conversations: something profound in the fact that another human being was devoting some precious moments of her or his life in order to try to verbally commune with me, something about the passing of seconds that each of us was aware of.  And then, too, something about the creativity of conversation, the making of something out of nothing.   But I think it’s mostly a case of the former: that here I am, talking about something with someone—in one sense, it doesn’t really matter what the subject is—while the subtext of the conversation, indeed perhaps of all conversations, is a shared sense of loneliness, existential apartness, absolute exile.  The conversation beneath the conversation starts with the an understanding along the lines of: “No matter what I’m saying to you right now, and no matter what you’re saying to me, we both must see that we’re in the same boat, very far from whatever shore we launched from, and it’s likely we’re in terrible trouble, the both of us, so here I am, beside you for a bit.”

EMC: An anxiety born out of nothing suddenly grows in us and confirms our homelessness.  It is not “psychological” anxiety, it has something to do with what we call our soul.  In it is reflected the torment of individuation, the ancient struggle between chaos and form.  I can never forget those moments when matter defied God.

Clancy: But our awareness of our individuation doesn’t mean that we are condemned to individuation.  Maybe that anxiety is, as Kierkegaard argued, a stimulus toward the goal of a more fundamental reconciliation.  Maybe all this suffering is itself a form of progress.

EMC: We cannot do without the notion of progress, yet it does not deserve our attention.  It is like the “meaning” of life.  Life must have one.  But is there any which does not turn out, upon examination, to be ludicrous?

Andrew: Okay wait: I’m electrified by several things you two just said.  The way Emil framed anxiety—not as psychological but rather as an aspect of our soul, and indeed as something that has resulted from matter’s defiance of God—returns me to the kind of non-psychological view of life’s darkness, or of Hell if you will, that I was advocating for earlier, and, as a kind of side-note, it suggests to me that Emil is as heartbroken about God’s absence (from our culture) as I am.  (Why else, Emil, would you use religious language—including references to God—to discuss the secular hell we’re in these-a-days?  It reminds me of the way Camus used a sort of biblical language to conduct his ultimately more Greek, certainly more secularly humanist philosophizing.)  But what really excites me, Emil, is your connecting of our anxiety to a sense of homelessness, and, taking that even further, to individuation—not just the kind of present-day, local individuation with which each of us struggles throughout our lives, but the ancient individuation of our species, beginning with the very beginning—the initial moment(s) when matter rebelled against itself (and perhaps, as you wryly posit, against God) and became life—and continuing along the evolutionary tree up to the present day.  And here’s the crazy thing: one evening about a week ago, needing a momentary respite from another ancient struggle between chaos and form—that which occurs nightly in any household with children—I drove down to the beach and found myself utterly alone on an empty shore, under a starless and moonless sky, and something about my inability to see much, combined with the crashing of the waves, confronted me all at once with a mortal fear—despite my having been in precisely this situation countless times in my life.  I had the sensation that I was alone, not as Andrew Winer alone on a dark beach in 2016 but rather as a creature alone, situated in no time other than the present, facing the prospect of having to survive in and against the elements.  And then things turned even more intense.  I somehow began to channel the experience of a creature wholly other than me, save that it had a mouth.  And that creature was in a dark hole somewhere, eating and chewing and gnashing on other creatures all around it—on anything that came up against it—in order to perdure.

Clancy: And you weren’t on drugs?

Andrew: Ha!  I wasn’t on drugs, unless you count the endorphins coursing through my insomniac blood due to too many nights of sleeplessness caused by anxiety!  And I can’t help but think that these visions—I don’t know what else to call what came to me that night on the beach—were an instance of my cellular memory of that ancient struggle between chaos and form that Emil is talking about.  That cellular memory, to say nothing of the clash of chaos and form, are inextricably a part of our survival, it seems to me.  I mean, that we are all here, now, is a result of a long and very terrible history of immeasurable fighting, massive slaughter, and the untold eating of others.  We are the inheritors of profound, prosaic murder.  All of this I saw, in myself, in a few instants there on the beach that night—no drugs needed.

Clancy: Because, anyway, recent genetic research has revealed that trauma can be “remembered” at the cellular level and passed on from mother to child.

EMC: If it is true that by death we once more become what we were before being, would it not have been better to abide by that pure possibility, not to stir from it?  What use was this detour, when we might have remained forever in an unrealized plenitude?

Andrew: Ah, this is where I can’t follow you, Emil, as you can probably already guess, given my statements about attachment to this life.  It’s also where I gravitate toward what Clancy just postulated: that, maybe, just maybe, suffering is itself a form of progress.  While I’ve always privately been attracted to the general sentiment you revealed in your reaction to Clancy’s postulation—the sentiment that progress is ludicrous upon careful examination—my vision of being a sort of eyeless, chewing and killing creature in a dark hole provided me with a very different, and more positive, view of progress: namely and literally, that there has been enormous progress and, to go along with Clancy, that it has had everything to do with our suffering.  We’re no longer in that hole, and, while seen from a certain angle we may appear to be still eating whatever creatures are around us, we have other options besides just killing what’s proximate to survive.  We have other options because we have consciousness and consciences, which in turn seem to place certain obligations on us.  Clancy, I don’t know if that’s what you mean by suggesting, with Kierkegaard, that existential anxiety could possibly serve as a stimulus toward the goal of a more fundamental reconciliation than mere individuation.  But I’d like to believe that it—the kind of anxiety I felt on that dark shore, the kind of anxiety that can make each of us feel “homeless” as Emil said—pushes back against our atavistic drives and asks something importantly higher of us.  I’d like to think that a certain responsibility—perhaps born of our culpability as creatures of so much killing—obtains when what we’ve also inherited is consciousness and therefore awareness of this culpability.   Emil, isn’t meaning, and importance, to be found precisely here, in the shape of obligation, culpability, and consciousness?  I can’t help but think of Henry James’ absolute dedication to form in his lifelong attempt to render dramatic consciousness.  Does not this very human endeavor of his—one that so many of us are engaged in, in different ways—parallel the struggle you mention between chaos and form?  Do we really have any choice, finally, but to assign importance to that original instance of matter defying God and all the subsequent instances of the same?

EMC: Existence would be a quite impracticable enterprise if we stopped granting importance to what has none.


Clancy Martin is an essayist, novelist and philosophy professor, who likes to eat at Night Market in LA with the writers Amie Barrodale (his wife) and Andrew Winer (his friend). 

Andrew Winer is a novelist, essayist, and philo-philosophic creative writing professor who, along with the novelist Charmaine Craig (his wife), wants to take his friends, the writers Clancy Martin and Amie Barrodale to Pok Pok Phat Thai LA the next time they’re in town.