Skip to content

Correspondence with Michael J. McNeal

August 17, 2012

[Here’s a fairly typical exchange with my good friend Michael J. McNeal, educator, political scientist, Nietzsche scholar and stimulator of brains. He’s a retiring fellow in some ways, but if you can come across him you’ll be well rewarded!]

(From Facebook 11.08.2012)

Michael J. McNeal posts:

From ‘On the Heights of Despair’
The world and I

I am: therefore the world is meaningless. What meaning is there in the tragic suffering of a man for whom everything is ultimately nothing and whose only law in this world is agony? If the world tolerates somebody like me, this can only mean that the blots on the so-called sun of life are so large that in time they will obscure its light. Life’s beastliness trampled me under foot and oppressed me, clipped my wings in full flight and stole all my rightful joys. 1 the enthusiastic zeal and mad passion I put into becoming a brilliant individual, the demonic charm I adopted to gain an aura in the future, and the energy I spent on an organic, glamorous, inner rebirth, all proved weaker than the beastly brutality and irrationality of this world, which poured into me all its reserves of negativity and poison. Life is impossible at high temperatures. That’s why I have reached the conclusion that anguished people, whose inner dynamism is so intense that it reaches paroxysm, and who cannot accept normal temperatures, are doomed to fall. The destruction of those who live unusual lives is an aspect of life’s demonism, but it is also an aspect of its insufficiency, which explains why life is the privilege of mediocre people. Only mediocrities live at life’s normal temperature; the others are consumed at temperatures at which life cannot endure, at which they can barely breathe, already one foot beyond life. I cannot contribute anything to this world because I only have one method: agony. You complain that people are mean, vengeful, ungrateful, and hypocritical? I propose the agony method to rid you of all these imperfections. Apply it to every generation and its effects will soon be evident. Maybe in this way I too could become useful to mankind! Bring every man to the agony of life’s last moments by whip, fire, or injections, and through terrible torture he will undergo the great purification afforded by a vision of death. Then free him and let him run in a fright until he falls exhausted. I warrant you that the effect is incomparably greater than any obtained through normal means. If I could, I would drive the entire world to agony to achieve a radical purification of life; I would set a fire burning insidiously at the roots of life, not to destroy them but to give them a new and different sap, a new heat. The fire I would set to the world would not bring ruin but cosmic transfiguration. In this way life would adjust to higher temperatures and would cease to be an environment propitious to mediocrity. And maybe in this dream, death too would cease to be immanent in life.
(These lines written today, April 8, 1933, when I turn twenty-two. It is strange to think that I am already a specialist in the question of death.)

Emil Cioran’s heights of despair |

(Reply)Thanks also for the TLS article, which puts this loon into context. Despite the attractions of “bleak nihilism” I believe it leads to fascism. Don’t believe the “crucible of suffering” does improve people, though being tested might. People pass the test of suffering a lot, but suffering is also a con, used to keep the punters in line, as Floozie Foster  might say.

The unbearable lightness etc is an issue, but we must choose what gives life meaning, and what better thing to choose than to love and work to support the people and ideals we cherish (maybe a few things too but go easy, huh?) ? That’s what I think people should put their intellectual energy into rather than by revelling in the ghastliness. Too sentimental?

Good as Cioran’s philosophical insights may be, this sort of writing lacks things I value in literature (not that I’ve read much lately!). I like stories and beautiful descriptive language!

Life is demonic, and it’s good not to get too sentimental about that! So thanks for the update Michael, a good brain is our best defence!

Intrigued by Cioran’s success (and Beckett’s) following writing in French, and want to emulate it! Will get poems translated and made into prints!

(and) Of course the danger of the sentimental view given above is that one falls into the trap of expecting, nay, demanding as much and more of the “fulfilling, supportive love” as one is in theory offering. Let me know if I ever do that, Michael, but make sure you have the price of a drink first, for mercy’s sake!

(and) Maybe it’s nostalgia, but can’t help thinking people were more comfortable with notions of loving back in the day. Now people are too busy, cool, philosophical and post modern to do anything but joke and get embarrassed. Ask our governments to love us! They claim to, don’t they? They should!

Michael J. McNeal Cioran’s passage above is provocative, but it is completely derivative of Nietzsche’s thinking some fifty years earlier, without providing any kind of “program” (as it were) for revaluing the anti-natural values that exacerbate our ineliminable suffering. We must affirm our suffering (life) to give it edifying meaning(s).


From → Critic, Writer

Leave a Comment

Please add your comments!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


Celebrating Southampton's libraries through writing and craft


Dreamy Creamy Reading

Caffeinated Ramblings

Be kind to yourself. You're worth it.

Agnes Torok

Spoken word poet & workshop leader

Burning Eye Books

Never Knowingly Mainstream

Shakespeare's World

A Zooniverse project blog

I am not a silent poet

A magazine for poetry and artwork protesting against abuse in any of its forms

the void

narking off the state since 2005

Aidin Vaziri

Blue Lines: Interviews, Features and Reviews

The Renegade Press

Tales from the mouth of a wolf

Northern Nevermore

So that I can live the life I want to, even if it's not real.


since 2003


The official page of the artist created to host the project 'CUT OFF'.

The Junkyard

dream create share

The poor side of life

Exposing the unfair treatment of jobseekers, the horrors of Universal Credit, unfair sanctions and heinous treatment of claimants at Ashton under Lyne Jobcentre.

Graeme Sandford

Serial Quiller

50 Shades of me


Mindfully Untitled

Becoming a better you

JPF Goodman

An interesting read almost every Friday!

The Shakespeare Code

The Bard, Love, Religion and Politics


Poetic Landscapes Of The Spirit

Bano's World

An Inner Monologue

Silverfinger Press

A Small Press for FINE writing and Illustration

{ The Undecided Art Collective }

An Art Collective.....people getting together and Doing Art stuff...,putting on exhibitions..without having to pay through the nozzle....defying the usual and bringing home the 'new'.....thankyou..♥


4 out of 5 dentists recommend this site

Natasha4mp's Blog

Just another site

jeff young's notebooks

outlaws and demons

Lisa Scullard

- Just another indie author letting things get out of hand :)


"Owls are not what they seem"

Geo Sans

“right answer, wrong question”

Poesy plus Polemics

Words of Wonder, Worry and Whimsy

Intensify It

© Anca Dunavete


A journalist's view from the scrapheap

Poems & People

what if poems could be symphonies, and people their orchestra?


Poetry, story and real life.


She turns coffee into books so she can afford to buy more coffee. And more books.

The Neighborhood

The Story within the Story

Thailand Footprint: Impressions left by the books, people, places and music of Thailand and South East Asia

Thailand Footprint: People, Things, Literature, Music and Henry Miller too. Forget Yourself Here

Adult & Teen Fiction

Read on and I will show you another world within this one....


an adventure in reading, writing & publishing

Wuji Seshat

Selected Poems

Playwrights' Competition Calendar

Competitions and other opportunities for script writers.

%d bloggers like this: