I'm interested in history as a narrative by philosophers of history, such as Hegel and Spengler. In this post I'll go over the observations of two twentieth century thinkers: Oswald Spengler and E.M. Cioran.
In the mature work, Cioran warned against the temptation of falling prey to the carousel of appearances. Given that, history is a territory of evil, a necessarily painful period that induces a fatal self-destruction, a remorseless force that subjects everything to the inexorable corrosion of time, speeding up the pace towards the end. The theme of destiny is prominent in Cioran's French work, which continues the thread of Spengler's World as History thesis.
In Cioran's first French work, A Short History of Decay, the section "faces of decadence" is heavily influenced by Spengler's descriptions of a culture that is on the verge of decline. Cioran starts with Spengler's observations: in contrast with the unconscious individual of his cultural periods, the declined individual institutes a "reign of lucidity." (pp. 115) The myths of the creative periods of Spengler are replaced by the concepts.
This degradation enforces the abdication of exhausted instincts and a tyranny of reason, which inhibits the natural spontaneity of emotions: "Decadence is merely instinct gone impure under the action of consciousness." (pp. 116) Religious fermentation is replaced by the inability of belief, leading to the decline of divinity. Man kills his gods in order to be free, but at the cost of his creativity. "...for man is free - and sterile - only in the interval when the gods die; slave - and creative - only in the interval when, as tyrants, they flourish."
Spengler on the other hand, interprets decline differently. He saw a formula in civilization the culture adopts once it reached its end, without the end questioning the survival of the entire species, and without intending a general twilight, denying the possibility for new cultures to emerge, a universal decline. Cioran chose an alternative vision that contradicted the cyclic perspective of Spengler's morphology of culture, one that saw in the symptomatology of decadence either preparing for an apocalyptic extinction of the entire human race, or proof of a permanent decline.
Instead of the circularity of the model of Spengler, Cioran has a reckless, dangerous path towards catastrophe that results in either the final annihilation of the species or a post-historical condition that is inevitably resigned to a regression towards a race of the sub-human.
Cioran appropriates Spengler's diagnosis of decline, but in a unitary vision of history that rejects discontinuity and abandons the structural homologies that were intended for studying major culture:
"we are the great invalids, overwhelmed by old dreams, forever incapable of utopia, technicians of lassitude, gravediggers of the future, horrified by the avatars of the Old Adam. The Tree of Life will no longer have spring as one of its seasons: so much dry wood; out of it will be made coffins for our bones, our dreams, and our griefs." (ASHoD, pp. 124)