Emil Michel Cioran was a philosopher lived between 1911 and 1995. He is generally known for his pessimist attitude towards things, all things from life to death. He always reached to the point of desperation from his pessimist attitude. Some critics think that Cioran was under the influence of nihilism; however, it is impossible to link his all ideas with nihilism. There are also comments on the fact that he is influenced by Schopenhauer. From a general perspective, Cioran may be seen as an existentialist philosopher. Additionally, the theme of human alienation in the works of well-known existentialist writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus can be already seen in the works of Cioran as early as 1932.

Jacques Lacan (1901-1981) is one of the most influential and controversial psychoanalysts after Freud. In addition to being seen as the founder of structuralist psychoanalysis, he is a versatile personality who reveals the importance of the concept of language in psychoanalysis. Seeing psychoanalysis as the science of the unconscious, Lacan defines himself as Freudian; and chose to re-read Freud and interpret him through the eyes of science. Afterwards, this path opened by him ceased to be dependent on Freud and began to be described as Lacanian psychoanalysis. Concepts such as “mirror phase” and “big other” produced and introduced by Lacan were also influential in this process.

In this article, Cioran’s writing and ideas from his different books will be examined with the concepts of Lacanian psychoanalysis. “A Short History of Decay”, “History of Utopia”, “The Trouble with Being Born”, “On the Heights of Despair”, and “All Gall is Divided” are the books that quotations are received.

Mirror Phase

“The fact that I am searching human beings is because they ceased to be; the fact that I examine myself is also because I am no longer ‘me’: I become an object just like the others. “

(Cioran, 1949/2000, p: 150)

Cioran explains that the reason he study himself here is that he is no longer himself. This philosophy is actually very similar to the situation Lacan spoke of for the mirror phase. In mirror phase, baby realizes his/her “self” when looking at the mirror. Additionally, baby looks at him/herself as an outsider eye. With the reflection in the mirror, the ego is formed and here baby becomes alienated from him/herself by transforming him/herself into a reflection of an image. Cioran goes through a similar process. In order to examine himself, he takes a step back and searches himself as if he were another object just like mirror phase. In other words, he begins to see himself in the same way he sees others as objects. Reason for this may be that people can only examine themselves with taking a step back for being objective. When we think of ourselves, we are the subject and it is inevitable to be subjective in this way because even the cruelest person becomes compassionate for him/herself. We always find a way to forgive ourselves for what the law and tradition cannot forgive. All of our regrets push us to find justification and we always convince ourselves. Only way to escape from this situation is being an object for ourselves. Only way is to look at ourselves just like someone looks at us; just like a reflection in the mirror.


“It is our disturbances that enliven/create consciousness; once the consequences are present, they weaken and disappear one after another.

(Cioran, 1973/2017, p: 25)

As far as I am concerned, Cioran talks about the unconsciousness here. In order to create consciousness, we need another thing which is independent from conscious. Indeed, that thing is unconsciousness since most of our “accidentally made” acts, slips, and dreams are proves of unconscious in daily life. Thus, these disturbances staying in unconscious exhibit themselves as creating conscious. Correspondingly, Freud and Lacan also claimed that unconscious includes things that are undesirable rather than desirable. It is made up of things that are rejected. After that similarity, our focus moves on the second part of Cioran’s saying. He says that when conscious starts to demonstrate itself and its reasons, these reasons begin to disappear. This process may refer to psychological therapy and analysis.

“My biggest wish is never to have the opportunity to take a stand, make decisions, and define myself.”

(Cioran, 1960/2015, p: 22)

Cioran mentions some activities here, activities that people make generally in daily life. However, we should put an emphasis to the point that these activities are highly involved with unconscious. For instance, defining ourselves, as I explained in the mirror phase example, requires taking a step back and looking ourselves as an object. Likewise, taking a stand and making decisions are mostly affected by unconscious motives even we do not realize. Unconscious is the invisible hand on our life. Here, by saying “I don’t want this opportunity”, Cioran actually wants to escape from unconscious. He tries to deny unconscious; nevertheless, he inwardly knows that it can never be true.

“Our disgust? – Winding ways of disgusting from ourselves.”

(Cioran, 1952/2013, p: 34)

Here, there is an emphasis on the rejected side of unconscious. According to what Lacan said, things that we reject get position on our unconscious. Sometimes, we see an object and we dislike it without any logical reason. Cioran says that these are indeed a reflection of what we dislike in ourselves. For instance, we may take an aversion for a characteristic, an idea, or a habit of ourselves; when we see something related to these in real world, we take an aversion for that, too. Actually this is a way of showing our disgust for ourselves, for what we have in our unconscious.


“When we know absolutely that everything is unreal, we really do not see why we take breath to prove it.

(Ciaron, 1973/2017, p: 35)

Here, Cioran states that everything is unreal; in other words, nothing is real, and it is a fact to be perceived. This sentence reminds me Lacan’s imaginary-symbolic-real concepts. Lacan also claimed that self is consisted of these three orders. Real, due to its nature, is out of language. Everything that doesn’t belong to imaginary or symbolic is thought as real. However, because real is out of language, it is hard to know what is real. Likewise, Cioran denies real. According to these similar perspectives created by Lacan and Cioran, there are two options for everything which is perceivable, comprehensible, and knowable. One is imaginary consisting of fantasies and one is symbolic consisting of society rules, briefly.

“The source of our action lies in our unconscious tendency to imagine ourselves as the center of time, cause, and effect.”

(Cioran, 1949/2000, p: 10)

Here, Cioran claims that world is too worthless to act. Anybody able to think and understand his/her position as an existing creature in the universe cannot be volunteer to go into action. On the other hand; if we read the passage thinking Lacanian terms, we understand that the reason behind our actions is the thought that we are important creatures one by one. In other words, we become able to act only when we emphasizes the importance of our existence. Actually, this process of thought seems very similar to imaginary order of Lacanian psychoanalysis. Imaginary includes our fantasies and we are the center of the world in imaginary order. However, when we go through the mirror phase and reach symbolic order, we are taught the rules of society by father and we realize that the society has an order and we are just a part of it rather than being the center of the world. If we take into account all of these, it is clear that Cioran’s this saying reflects the imaginary order.

Big Other

“We recognize a person inclined to inner seeking by the fact that he puts failure above any success, undoubtedly unconsciously searches for it. Because, while success drives us away from what is also completely subjective, failure always reveals to ourselves, giving us the opportunity to see us as God sees us.

(Cioran, 1973/2017, p:21)

Cioran states in this quotation that original self is consisted of failures. We search for failure unconsciously. Independently from what other sees when they look at me, the gaze that I have for myself is obliged to see failure. He also adds another concept to this idea. He mentions that when I am able to see my failures, it is like seeing myself from the God’s eyes. Indeed, there must be a similarity between Cioran and Lacan at this point. Lacan creates the term “Big Other”. The “Big Other” mentioned here is the one who can see the subject, the baby, with all her/his faults and naturalness. In the meantime, Big Other is in the position of the safe hand that we consign ourselves sometimes. So there is no possibility of hiding anything from it. Big Other generally refers to desires, passions, ideals, and God. Thus, it may be concluded that Lacan and Cioran understand the God’s position for individual in the same way.

Desire and Objet Petit a

“People who want are all around… the charade of steps rushing towards mysterious goals, conflicting wills, everyone wants something, crowd want something, thousands of people headed for what. I could not watch them, much less challenge them. I was stunned: What miracle has given them so much vitality? Extraordinary mobility: so much life and hysteria in so little human flesh! The people of that rush that no delusion can soothe, no wisdom can soothe, no resentment can put out.

(Cioran, 1949/2000, p: 146)

Cioran tacitly describes here what Lacan refers to as desire. According to Lacan, human beings dream when they desire something and this dream is “objet petit a”, it is the missing thing in the mirror. When the object of this desire is attained, we enjoy it, but there is always pain behind this pleasure; because what we attain is always different from what we imagine/dream. This causes the eternity of desire. Desire can never be satisfied, and that is where the sustainability of life comes from. Desire is a lack of being. Besides, “Objet petit a” is never actually available since it is what makes the object of passion the object of passion rather than the object of passion itself. The period we are closest to “objet petit a” is infancy since all wishes are fulfilled. We can also think this period as the imaginary order because a deficiency is necessary for the desire to exist, but a deficiency cannot be mentioned in the imaginary. Cioran also explains the endlessness of desire. People and societies always want and strive for something. The reason behind this process is that desire is an indispensable key stone for life. Our eagerness to live the next moment is due to the possibility that our desire will come true in that moment. For Cioran, this desire is unbearable to see because of Cioran’s pessimism and the meaningless he imposes on the world. Cioran also describes this desire of people as hysteria in the sentence “Extraordinary mobility: so much life and hysteria in so little human flesh!”. I think, although Cioran says he cannot bear to see this desire, desire is inevitable for everyone. He was doing something for his desires, just as people act according to their desires; because no one can ignore his/her desires. Cioran wanted to deny desire; nevertheless, he lived with his desires. People wanted something to happen in the future and lived for that possibility. That was their desire. Cioran wanted nothing to happen in the future, he wanted a perfect inaction and stability; and that was Cioran’s desire.

“Literally ‘desire’ is to be unaware of what one wants, to refuse to put any more emphasis on the phenomenon of will.”

(Cioran, 1960/2015, p: 104)

In this quotation, Cioran again speaks of desire. Also, according to Lacan, desire is the eternity of wanting rather than wanting something. Therefore, when something is achieved, the desire cannot be satisfied; the will to stop wanting more cannot be shown.

“Has anyone not felt the unique desire to commit murder that would exclude him/herself from all humans?”

(Cioran, 1949/2000, p: 58)

In this quotation, we will focus on the “desire to be excluded from all humans”. He explains a desire to be out of world, be a stranger for all human kind; something other than human. This explaining reminds us Lacan’s story about Noah’s flood. Lacan was saying that in Noah’s flood, there was a woman. She was said that never look back or you will be petrified because there was a terrible scene like doomsday at the back. Nevertheless, she turned and looked at back; and then petrified there. Being petrified meant being excluded from others, survivors. She knew the results of looking back; but she still turned. Indeed, this was like a secret desire to exclude world from herself rather than being excluded from world. Petrify means cutting off from world. Same story is valid for Cioran, too. He desires to cut off his relations from world hiddenly; but since it is impossible to do something like that in modern world, he hopes to commit murder as a reason for that.


“Psychoanalysis, a technique that we put into practice against ourselves, minimizes risks, dangers, and gaps; it deprives us of our disorders, of everything that makes us curious about ourselves.”

(Cioran, 1952/2013, p: 23)

Cioran thinks psychoanalysis is something that limits us. In fact, psychoanalysis is a road to the infinite world of human, which is a harmony of consciousness and unconsciousness. On the other hand, psychoanalysis’s conclusions about humans cannot be considered as a limitation for our curiosity; because human unconsciousness is too deep to reach the end no matter how much inference is made. We understand this from the existence of many different approaches to psychoanalysis. In addition, the fact that each approach leaves an open door in its results is another proof of this.


This article shows that psychoanalysis and philosophy are very close fields since both searches a meaning in human-beings. Of course, while stating this, it should not be forgotten that Jacques Lacan’s tendency towards philosophy is important both in writing this review and in reaching this conclusion. The analysis shows that, with a few exceptions, Lacan and Cioran come to a consensus on many issues regarding the unconscious and its study. Still, many steps and studies are needed to fully understand Lacan and psychoanalysis.


Cioran, E., M. (2000). Çürümenin Kitabı. (H. Bayrı, Çev.). İstanbul, Metis Yayınları.
          (Orijinal eserin yayın tarihi 1949).

Cioran, E., M. (2013). Burukluk. (H. Bayrı, Çev.). İstanbul, Metis Yayınları. (Orijinal eserin
          yayın tarihi 1952).

Cioran, E., M. (2015). Tarih ve Ütopya. (H. Bayrı, Çev.). İstanbul, Metis Yayınları. (Orijinal
          eserin yayın tarihi 1960).

Cioran, E., M. (2017). Doğmuş Olmanın Sakıncası Üstüne. (K. Sarıalioğlu, Çev.). İstanbul,
          Metis Yayınları. (Orijinal eserin yayın tarihi 1973).

Cioran, E., M. (2019). Umutsuzluğun Doruklarında. (O. Türkay, Çev.). İstanbul, Jaguar
          Kitap. (Orijinal eserin yayın tarihi 1934).

Lacan, J. (2019). Psikanalizin Dört Temel Kavramı. (N. Erdem, Çev.). İstanbul. Metis
          Yayınları. (Orijinal eserin yayın tarihi 1964).

References for Photos

[Photo] Emil Michel Cioran, PeopleWill (2020). Retrieved from https://peoplepill.com/people/emil-cioran

[Photo] Emil Michel Cioran, Shezofren (2016). Retrieved from http://www.shezofren.com/icerik/kitap/emil-michel-cioran/47

[Photo] Emil Michel Cioran, Metis (2021). Retrieved from https://www.metiskitap.com/catalog/author/967

[Photo] Jacques Lacan, Wikipedia (2021). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Lacan

[Photo] Jacques Lacan, PsikoLogo (2021). Retrieved from https://psikologo.com/jacques-lacan-imgesel-sembolik-gercek/

[Photo] Jacques Lacan, Aydın Kalemler (2021). Retrieved from https://aydinkalemler.com/tag/jacques-lacan/


Middle East Technical University, Psychology

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