I’ve been reading a lot of E.M. Cioran this past week. With some writers I discover and devour their work in a week or two, then they sit with me for years. Occasionally, sometimes frequently, I return to them. In Cioran’s case, he’s pessimistic, cynical and cutting to the quick, like this passage from The Heights of Despair:
Those who ask to be surrounded by friends when they die do so out of fear and inability to live their final moments alone. They want to forget death at the moment of death.
Of people who take this tack, avoiding the ultimate challenge of living one’s death, Cioran says they “lack infinite heroism.” In his book, The New Gods, our fallen nature, which he seizes on like a Manichean heresiarch, is our defining characteristic: “Who could help concluding that existence has been vitiated at its source, existence and the elements themselves? The man who fails to envisage this hypothesis at least once a day has gone through life as a sleepwalker.”
What would it be like to botch your death, I thought? And here is what I came up with:
I asked everyone to leave and, finally, my dear wife. we sat together a moment without words, gazing into one another’s eyes for the final time. alone, the door closed and room silent though I was fiercely aware of my breathe and pulse, I came face to face with oblivion and determined to speak the truth that it was living aligned with the moment, adrift in the sense that an Olympic kayaker is adroitly adrift on the rapids, at the collision of then, now and then again that makes existence bubble and foam on the edge of oblivion, but I only blurted out “Jesus,” an exclamation, and not the faithful cry it sounded like with my last breathe. crap, blew the line and came across as repentant at the end. I regret nothing but that last word, so I’ll have to come round again on a hook of cosmic recurrence until I can get off again. off? Godel always gives us an exit to the next frame of reference.
The problem with this story is that it is improbable: The last word will not necessarily be followed by a reflection, though it certainly could be commented upon silently as your brain flickers to off. It’s our desire for closure that makes the reflection necessary to the story, for the character to know the results of its error, when, in fact, things will simply shut down and silence will reign. Our story only ends with a conclusive thought if it is lived through heroically. For Cioran, that’s dying alone, undistracted. There are, however, many forms of heroics.