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Prefer to live

The other day I ran into a friend who was all cheered up and waving a sheet of paper. What was the content of this page, to make him so happy? The question intrigued me all the more since this individual had tended, for several months, to display an air of sadness tinged with despondency. We asked him about his spleen, he advanced his fatigue, the lack of inspiration, the heaviness of the brush on the canvas. You understood, this friend is a painter. He has a studio. Admittedly, his picture rails have never been invited to the Fiac, but he is proud of it. He sees a distinction there. He has another job of course, which he has the leisure to practice in a purring half-time. He doesn’t particularly like it but, in his youth, he had sacrificed to the paternal desire to obtain “serious” diplomas before entering the Beaux-Arts, his vocation, and he had created this professional space for himself. He was happy about it. His office gave him the opportunity to encounter a world quite different from that of galleries and art critics.

Also, when he told us that he wanted to “stop”, we thought that he was referring to the end of his “food” function in the small open cabinet to practice it and although he was not old enough to retirement. Far from it. But no ! He was thinking about a break with his paintings. Did he imagine having nothing more to paint? He had complained about the inclination of contemporary art, which he resisted, and that painting was increasingly harsh on its public. “We no longer paint for him, so that he can see what we see and how we see it”, he sighed. The motif had disappeared from the canvases like the hero of the novel, he still regretted. And if he was delighted that many artists knew how to resist fashions, he felt too old for the energy his art required. He knew too well what creating calls for renewal, the talent for invention, and the genius of the new – an unprecedented formula capable of obsolete all that had preceded. In fact, he had produced nothing since the Covid, as if the disease, which he had not contracted, had emptied him of his hopes, which he never however combined with the hope of worldly recognition.

But then, this page? What was she telling him that was so comforting? Was it a letter?

“Yes, but it is not addressed to me, at least not directly. »

I had stopped to greet him, and of course, curious, I asked him about his smile. The handwritten text striding across the sheet was the cause. It was a photocopy of an unpublished letter from Emil Cioran, dated December 26, to a friend, “as if he had sent it to me personally”, said the painter to me, before reading it.

“Dear Gérard, Thank you for your beautiful letter. You are not contaminated by age, for the reason that you knew how to keep a distance from current illusions. My old age weighs on me. What to do ? There is no solution. If there was one, I would have found it. I made a very big mistake, I should not have stopped writing. This is a very big mistake. One cannot live without illusions, without the stimulation of those literary lies which are indispensable in extreme old age. Excuse, I beg you, the sinister tone of this letter, and don’t forget the affection I have always had for you. »

What a godsend to have before your eyes the writing of this stylist, of this unique moralist who combined poetry and irony, paradoxes and rockets, chiseled in “a strangled lyricism”! The frank admission of his disarray, the acute truth of these few lines marked all his work. I already knew ; I had additional proof: Emil Cioran had never conceded anything to lies. The movement of confidence that carried this text towards the friend retrospectively illuminated all his writings with a curiously soft, unexpected and indisputable light, that of regret at having yielded to the temptation to give up. It was, in intaglio, a confession of faith, as he had confessed to practicing it to his father, a pope, in another letter dated December 2, 1937: “The ironies I hurl at the saints and at God are not taunts or mere mockery, but the fruit of desperate faith. That there is despair in this letter, certainly. But so much amorous illusion also for his art, which had hitherto carried him, supported him, shaped him like God the clay of Adam! This glow of life preferred to nothingness. I understood why the letter invigorated my friend and how it had pulled him out of the dereliction in which he was bogged down. And what she urged us to do: to continue, to continue. Without forgetting the affection that Emil Cioran had always had for us, his readers, his friends; Cioran who had given us the ultimate gift of encouraging us to prefer to live, to die alive.


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