Today’s Downer: ‘You Aways Kill Yourself Too Late’

Emil Cioran in plaid cap and white hair.

Emil Cioran

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Try this thought on for size: “It is not worth the bother of killing yourself, since you always kill yourself too late.”

And this: “I live only because it is in my power to die whenever I want; without the idea of suicide I would have killed myself a long time ago.”

Those are the words of Emil Mihai Cioran, a Romanian-born French writer whose somewhat obscure twentieth-century work got a reexamination by Joseph Bottum in a First Things article.

Russian roulette in the 1978 movie "The Deer Hunter."

Russian roulette featured in the 1978 movie, “The Deer Hunter,” a downer — and a fraud.

The article, “Words of Nectar and Cyanide,”  notes that Cioran was an aphorist par excellence. To wit:

“If I had children, I would strangle them immediately.”

And, “I long to be free – desperately free. Free as the stillborn are free.”

Bottum, former editor of the conservative magazine First Things, is a braver soul than I. He seems to have emerged unscathed from his time spent with the downward-facing  Cioran.

I’m not so tough-minded. I discourage easily. So I’m careful about the writers I allow to spend time in my psyche, rearranging the furniture. It was all I could to do read Bottum’s essay through to the end.

Reading Cioran – reading about Cioran – reminded me of a conversation I once had in the city room of the Oakland Tribune. It was with a colleague, Brenda Payton, who was writing a political column for the Trib at the time.

When I asked Brenda what she thought of a particular book that had come across my desk, she replied that she hadn’t read much by that writer.

“I don’t know whether I can entrust myself to her,” she said.


Is that what we do when we engage with a book – or a movie or a TV series, for that matter? Are we entrusting ourselves and our ever shape-shifting psyches to that writer? Or, in the case of a TV show, to that roomful of writers?

four girls in cast of "Girls" TV show.

The Girls.

I think we do.

Right now Jon and I are watching the brutal Vietnam-era movie, “The Deer Hunter.” It paints a sorry picture of the human condition. But I’m letting it into my brain for a couple of days anyway. The same goes for the weeks I spent last season with a bunch of sad-sack twenty-somethings in the TV series, “Girls.” Ditto my recent read, Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson’s novel about a man abandoned as a boy by his father.

Sometimes the psychic furniture can do with a little rearranging. But in my case, not by Cioran.

PS: Changed my mind about “The Deer Hunter.” According to one AP reporter, the Russian roulette scenes in “The Deer Hunter” were “a bloody lie.”  There were no known cases of North Vietnamese soldiers forcing captive enemy troops to play Russian roulette — so I’m suspending belief in that movie. 

As for the girls of “Girls,” they can be kinda awful, but I’m suspending judgment till next season.

Petterson, on the other hand, is invited to pull up a chair and have a seat.

If this post didn’t bum you out too much, consider reading “The Trouble With Daffodils.” If you need cheering up, try “Gramps.”



  1. actually, i’m a tough old cynical newspaper type guy who also writes various things some might consider dour but i don’t like movies where the bad news is unrelenting. guess i’m a shizo.

  2. Dee Myers says:

    Barbara, You and I should live next door to one another. We seem to be on the same wave length.

    “Out Stealing Horses” is one of the favorite books of my life. I recruited others to read it, including my book club, The Happy Bookers, and all those recruits reached out to others. I have read another of his books, but it didn’t compare. I have also read the Buddhist writers you have mentioned. Pema Chodron is my mentor; I try to live by her wisdom. “Try” is the operational word here.

    Don’t worry about mother of the bride-ness. I survived it with my daughter in 1996 and we went through the whole process from January to the wedding in August with not one disagreement. I was astounded. Now she has 5 children (10months to 13 years) which also astounds me! Best wishes, Dee

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Hi Dee,

      A lot of my friends swear by Pema Chodron. I will have to check her out and try to live by her wisdom. Of course, if we were really wise, we wouldn’t have to “try.” would we?

  3. Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

    Thirty-seven more days till “Girls” airs again. I’ll be there.

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