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Louis-Ferdinand Céline

Born 27 May 1894(1894-05-27)
Courbevoie, France
Died 1 July 1961 (aged 67)
Paris, France
Occupation Novelist
Nationality French

Louis-Ferdinand Céline was the pen name of French writer and doctor Louis-Ferdinand Destouches (27 May 1894 – 1 July 1961). The name "Céline" was chosen after his grandmother's first name. Céline is considered one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, developing a new style of writing that modernized both French and World literature. He remains, however, a controversial figure because of extreme anti-Semitic statements published during 1937 and the Second World War.

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The only child of Ferdinand-Auguste Destouches and Marguerite-Louise-Céline Guilloux, he was born Louis-Ferdinand Destouches in 1894 at Courbevoie, just outside Paris in the Seine département (now Hauts-de-Seine). His father was a minor functionary in an insurance firm and his mother was a lacemaker.[1] During 1905 he was awarded his Certificat d'études, after which he began working as an apprentice and messenger boy in various trades.[1] Between 1908 and 1910 his parents sent him to Germany and England for a year in each country in order to acquire foreign languages for future employment.[1] From the time he left school, until the age of eighteen, Céline worked various jobs, leaving or losing them after only short periods of time. He often found himself working for Jewelers, first, at eleven, as an errand boy, and later as a salesperson for a local goldsmith. Although he was no longer being formally educated, he bought schoolbooks with the money he earned, and studied by himself. In 1912, at the age of eighteen, the young, self-taught, Céline took and passed the first part of his baccalauréat. It was around this time that Céline started to want to become a doctor.[2]

World War I and Africa

In 1912, on what Céline himself described as an act of rebellion against his parents, he joined the French army, two years before the start of the first World War and the mandatory French Conscription. France in 1912 was a time when nationalism reached a "fever pitch" following the Morocco crisis of 1911 and induced a period one historian has called "The Hegemony of Patriotism," 1911-1914, particularly affecting opinion in the lycées and grandes écoles of Paris,[3] he began a three-year enlistment in the 12th Cavalry Regiment stationed in Rambouillet.[1] At first, Céline was unhappy with the military, and even considered deserting. However, he adapted, and eventually rose to the rank of Sergent.[2] The beginning of the first World War brought action to Céline and his unit. On October 25, 1914, Céline volunteered to deliver a message, when others were reluctant to do so because of heavy German fire. Near Ypres, during his attempt to deliver the message, he was wounded in his right arm. (He was not wounded in the head, contrary to a popular rumor that Céline, himself, perpetuated.)[2] For his bravery, Céline was awarded the médaille militaire in November, and appeared on the cover of the weekly l'Illustré National in December.[1] In March of 1915 he was sent to London to work in the passport office run by the French Government. While in London, he was married to Suzanne Nebout and divorced one year later.[1] In September, his arm wounds were such that he was officially declared physically unfit for military duty and was discharged. He moved back to France and began working a variety of jobs. In 1916 he set out for Africa as a representative for the Sangha-Oubanghui company. He was sent to the Cameroons and returned in 1917.[1] Nothing is known of this trip, except that is was unsuccessful.[2] Afterward, Céline went back to France and worked for the Rockefeller Foundation. As a part of a team, it was his job to travel Brittany teaching people how to fight tuberculosis and how to improve hygiene.[2]

Becoming a Doctor

In June 1919 he went to Bordeaux and completed the second part of his baccalauréat. Céline, through his work with the Institute, had come into contact, and good standing, with Monsieur Follet, the director of the medical school in Rennes. On August 11, 1919 Céline married Follet's daughter Édith Follet, whom he had been aquainted with for some time.[2] With the help of Monsieu Follet (who, besides being Céline's father-in-law, was the head of the medical faculty at Rennes) Céline was accepted into the university. On June 15, 1920 his wife gave birth to a daughter, Colette Destouches. During this time, he studied heavily, obtaining degree certificates in physics, chemistry, and natural sciences. By 1923, three years after he had started the medical program at Rennes, Céline had completed almost everything he needed to complete his medical degree. His doctoral thesis, The Life and Work of Ignaz Semmelweis, is considered his first literary work, completed in 1924. Semmelweis' contribution "was immense and it stood, according to Céline, in direct proportion to the misery of his life."[2] The same year, he began work as an intern at a maternity hospital in Paris.

Becoming a Writer

In 1925 Céline suddenly left his family, for good. Under the newly founded League of Nations he traveled to Switzerland, England, the Cameroons, Canada, the United States, and Cuba. During this period, he began to write the play L'Èglise. It was during this period, in 1926, that he visited America. He was sent to Detroit, to the Ford factory, to study the conditions of the workers. What he found disgusted him.[2] After the short visit, he returned to France, now having all the subject matter he needed for Journey to the End of the Night.

Voyage to the End of the Night

Once back in France, Céline published articles praising Henry Ford's methods. During 1928 he established a private practice in Montmartre, in the north end of Paris, specializing in obstetrics.[1] During 1931 he ended his private practice to work in a public dispensary. In 1932 he completed Voyage au bout de la nuit (Journey to the End of the Night) and was almost awarded the Goncourt Prize.[1]

Literary life and awards

His best-known work is Voyage au bout de la nuit (Journey to the End of the Night), translated into English most recently by Ralph Manheim. It violated many of the literary conventions of the time, using the rhythms and, to a certain extent, the vocabulary of slang and vulgar speech in a more consistent (and occasionally difficult) way than earlier writers who had made similar attempts (notably Émile Zola), in the tradition of François Villon. The book became a public success, but Céline was not awarded the Prix Goncourt, despite strong support; the voting was controversial enough to become the subject of a book (Goncourt 32 by Eugène Saccomano, 1999).

During 1936 he published Mort à crédit (Death on the Installment Plan), giving innovative, chaotic, and antiheroic visions of human suffering. Here, he extensively uses ellipses scattered all throughout the text to enhance the rhythm and to emphasise the style of speech.

By both these books he not only showed himself to be a great innovator of style but also a masterful story teller. He was widely admired at that time by Jean-Paul Sartre.

Exile

During the development of Nazi Germany, he wrote three typically cynical and antisemitic pamphlets: Bagatelles pour un massacre (Trifles for a Massacre) (1937), L'École des cadavres (School of Corpses) (1938) and Les Beaux draps (The Fine Mess) (1941), the last one published during the occupation of France. Céline fled France during liberation, and joined the last remnants of the Vichy government in Sigmaringen. He subsequently lived in exile for a number of years.

The massacre that Céline had in mind when he titled his first overtly antisemitic pamphlet Bagatelles pour un massacre was that of the "goïms," or Gentiles, who he thought would be led in slaughter once again in another great war.[1] Céline had been mobilized during the First World War where he received a serious arm injury in the course of a mission for which he had volunteered.[1] During later years he was to claim that he had undergone trepanation at the hands of army surgeons in 1915 (the fictional character Robinson claims to have undergone this procedure in Journey to the End of the Night). This claim was a false one, invented for reasons involving Céline's desire to picture himself as an unjustly persecuted loner.[1] Records from the Paul Brousse Hospital in Villejuif on the outskirts of Paris state that only his arm was operated on.[1]

Although Céline's political ideals appeared to have had much in common with the Nazis, he was publicly critical of Adolf Hitler whom he called a "Jew" and of "Aryan baloney".[4][1] His fascist views are evident in L'Ecole des cadavres where he calls for a Franco-German alliance in order to counter the alliance between British intelligence and "the international Jewish conspiracy"[1]

Céline was a friend of the German-French sculptor Arno Breker. He visited Breker last time in Germany during 1943 at Breker's Castle Jaeckelsbruch near Berlin. After the Vichy regime fell in 1944, Céline escaped judgment by fleeing to Sigmaringen, Germany, accompanying the Vichy Chief of State Marshal Philippe Pétain, and President Pierre Laval. For a brief time Céline acted as Laval's personal physician. A fictional account of this period can be found in Céline’s novel "D'un château l'autre" (Castle to Castle), published in 1960.

After the end of the Nazi government Céline subsequently fled to Denmark (1945). Named a collaborator, he was convicted in absentia (1950) in France, sentenced to one year of imprisonment and declared a national disgrace. He was subsequently granted amnesty and returned to France during 1951.

Later life and death

Céline regained fame in later life with a trilogy telling of his exile: D'un château l'autre, (describing the fall of Schloss Sigmaringen), Nord and Rigodon. He settled in Meudon, where he was visited by several friends and artists, among them the famous actress Arletty. He became famous among the Beat Movement. Both William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg visited him in his Parisian apartment during the 1950s. Céline died on 1 July 1961 of a ruptured aneurysm and was interred in a small cemetery at Bas Meudon (part of Meudon in the Hauts-de-Seine département). His house burned down on the night of May 23, 1968, destroying manuscripts, furniture and mementoes, but leaving his parrot Toto alive in the adjacent aviary.

Work and legacy

Journey to the End of the Night is among the most acclaimed novels of the 20th century. Céline's legacy survives in the writings of Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre, Queneau and Jean Genet among others, and in the admiration expressed for him by people like Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, Robbe-Grillet, and Barthes. In the United States, writers like Charles Bukowski, Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., William S. Burroughs, and Ken Kesey owe an obvious debt to the author of Voyage au bout de la nuit[1], though the relatively late date of the first English language translation means that any direct influence can be difficult to demonstrate, except in Henry Miller's case, who read the book in French shortly after it was published while he was living in Paris. Few first novels have had the impact of Journey to the End of the Night. Written in an explosive and highly colloquial style, the book shocked most critics but found immediate success with the French reading public, which responded enthusiastically to the violent misadventures of its petit-bourgeois antihero, Bardamu, and his characteristic nihilism. The author's military experiences in WWI, his travels to colonial French West Africa, New York, and his return to postwar France all provide episodes within the sprawling narrative.[5]

Pessimism pervades Céline's fiction as his characters sense failure, anxiety, nihilism, and inertia. The narrative of betrayal and exploitation, both real and imagined, corresponds with his personal life. His two true loves, his wife and his cat, are mentioned with nothing other than kindness and warmth. A progressive disintegration of personality appears in the stylistic incoherence of his books based on his life during the war: Guignol's Band, D'un château l'autre and Nord. However, some critics claim that the books are less incoherent than intentionally fragmented, and that they represent the final development of the style introduced with Journey to the End of the Night, suggesting that Céline maintained his faculties in clear working order to the end of his days. Guignol's Band and its companion novel London Bridge center on the London underworld during WWI. (In London Bridge a sailboat appears, bearing the name King Hamsun, obviously a tribute to another collaborationist writer.) Celine's autobiographical narrator recounts his disastrous partnership with a mystical Frenchman (intent on financing a trip to Tibet by winning a gas-mask competition); his uneasy relationship with London's pimps and prostitutes and their common nemesis, Inspector Matthew of Scotland Yard.[6] These novels are classic examples of his black comedy which few writers have equaled.[7]. He continued writing right up to his death in 1961, finishing his last novel, Rigodon, in fact on the day before he died. In Conversations with Professor Y (1955) Céline defends his style, indicating that his heavy use of the ellipsis and his disjointed sentences are an attempt to embody human emotion in written language.

His writings are examples of black comedy, where unfortunate and often terrible things are described humorously. Céline's writing is often hyper-real and its polemic qualities can often be startling; however, his main strength lies in his ability to discredit almost everything and yet not lose a sense of enraged humanity. Céline was also an influence on Irvine Welsh, Günter Grass and Charles Bukowski. Bukowski has famously said that "Journey to the End of the Night was the best book written in the last two thousand years."

Bibliography

References

Notes

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r O'Connell p88
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h McCarthy, Patrick (1975). Céline: A Biography. Viking Press. ISBN 0-670-20964-4.  
  3. ^ David Cottington, Cubism in the Shadow of War: The Avant-garde and Politics in Paris, 1905-1914 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998), pp. 33-37).
  4. ^ Introduction to Conversations with Professor Y by Stanford Luce p.xii
  5. ^ The Nation, quoted in the New Directions Paperbook (Eighteenth Printing) of Journey to the End of the Night
  6. ^ Dalkey Archive Press, London Bridge translation by Dominic Di Bernardi
  7. ^ Philadelphia Inquirer

See also

External links



Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Louis-Ferdinand Céline

Louis-Ferdinand Céline (May 27, 1894July 1, 1961) was a French author

Sourced

  • If you aren't rich you should always look useful.
    • Journey to the End of the Night, 1932
  • The natives, by and large, had to be driven to work with clubs, they preserved that much dignity, whereas the whites, perfected by public education, worked of their own free will.
    • Journey to the End of the Night, 1932
  • I cannot refrain from doubting that there exist any genuine realizations of our deepest character except war and illness, those two infinities of nightmare.
    • Journey to the End of the Night, 1932
  • The rich are inebriate in another way and cannot contrive to grasp these frenzied longings for security. To be rich is another form of intoxication: it spells forgetfulness. In fact, that is what one wants riches for: to forget.
    • Journey to the End of the Night, 1932
  • We are, by nature, so futile that distraction alone can prevent us from dying altogether.
    • Journey to the End of the Night, 1932
  • It's harder to lose the wish to love than the wish to live.
    • Journey to the End of the Night, 1932

Unsourced

  • "Almost every desire a poor man has is a punishable offence."
  • "The poetry of heroism appeals irresistibly to those who don't go to a war, and even more to those whom the war is making enormously wealthy. It's always so."
  • "There's a point of poverty at which the spirit isn't with the body all the time. It finds the body really too unbearable. So it's almost as if you were talking to the soul itself. And a soul's not properly responsible."
  • "Experience is a dim lamp, which only lights the one who bears it."
  • "The novel can't compete with cars, the movies, television, and liquor. A guy who's had a good feed and tanked up on good wine gives his old lady a kiss after supper and his day is over. Finished."
  • "With two thousand years of Christianity behind him... a man can't see a regiment of soldiers march past without going off the deep end. It starts off far too many ideas in his head."
  • "To hell with reality! I want to die in music, not in reason or in prose. People don't deserve the restraint we show by not going into delirium in front of them. To hell with them!"
  • "Living, just by itself - what a dirge that is! Life is a classroom and Boredom's the usher, there all the time to spy on you; whatever happens, you've got to look as if you were awfully busy all the time doing something that's terribly exciting - or he'll come along and nibble your brain."
  • "I don't want to go to war for Hitler, I'll admit it, but I don't want to go against him, for the Jews ... You can bawl me out all you want, but it's the Jews and they alone who are dragging us to the firing line ... Hitler doesn't like the Jews, nor do I! There's no point getting all upset over so little ... It's no crime that they make you sick."
  • "Behind all music we ought to try and catch that noiseless tone thats made for us, the melody of death."
  • "The truth of this world is to die."
  • "Like a dog, he had no idea of death."
  • "Amidst so many unstable theories, so much contradictory data, the reasonable thing, when it comes down to it, is to make no definite choice."
Experience is a dim lamp, which only lights the one who bears it.
  • "Life is nothing more than this disgusting experience where one's personality breaks up."
  • "We get nowehere, it's been proved."
  • "You must choose : either Dying or Lying."
  • "One human being can only tolerate another human being, and rather like him, if he plays the part of an admiring doormat."
  • "One might as well realize that in everyday life at least a hundred people thirst for you miserable life in the course of a single day."
  • "You delve deeper into the night at first and start to panic, but you want to know all the same, and after that you don't come out of the depths."
  • "Desertion for the artist means abandoning the concrete."
  • "Our society is rotten, dying, ... we are flying towards facism."
  • "There are only crys of Revolt and Hope. Hope for what ? That the shit will start to smell good."
  • "To Croak quite free, that at least is man's work."
  • "Scrape out your entrails, my heros !...come and have your breast stuffed, My brave ones !... All to the scrap heap, guts everywhere. the DeBraining is going to start."
  • "Since the flood all Wars have been fought to the cries of optimism."
  • "None face the "impossible confession", the pill that cannot be swallowed... that man is the worst of all species."
  • "People always seem to be struggling in a general suicide."
  • "Most authors use a "french" that is disgustingly elegant, moulded, oily, slippery like shit."
  • "I have never voted in my life... I have always known and understood that the idiots are in a majority so it's certain they will win."
  • "The Bourgeois shits and he is hungry, thats all... the worker's ideal is to have twice as many bourgeois pleasures just for himself."
  • "Men seem to feel a huge, absolutely unbearable terror that they will find themselves one fine day alone, quite alone, faced with nothingness."
  • "Wherever you blind man and make him subservient to matter and make him exhaust himself for the sake of profit, straightaway hell breaks out."
  • "Without incessant artistic creation by everyone, there can be no lasting society."
  • "Fate towers so high above us, the squall carries us off like fleas in the water."
  • "It is with great strokes of bravery that slaughterhouses are replenished."
  • "One finishes up by shrivelling up like an animal and putting up with almost anything."
  • "An Immense hatred keeps me alive... i would live for a thousand years if i were certain of seeing the whole world croak."
  • "Better the eternal's brigadoon than the human calamitous empire, the mammoth schemeing molehill."
  • "At a certain point of their misery people don't care a rap about understanding... they just feel."
  • "All you are is a bundle of remorse swelling up, swelling up. Remorse for what...whom ?"
  • "In circumstances of real tragedy you see things straight away...past, present, and future together."
  • "Time's embroidery is music."
  • "The earth just doesn't want men."
  • "Death is only a cleaning machine."
  • "The public is like a woman, it wants to be fucked."
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