Alan's Reviews > Journey to the End of the Night

Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline
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's review
Oct 06, 2007

it was amazing
Recommended for: hausfraus and balldads
Read in January, 2007

This book, Céline's Journey to the End of the Night, is the most unremittingly misanthropic novel I have ever read, and yet it sinks so gloriously, writhingly down to the bottom of all human striving—simultaneously removed from and embroiled in it by the great acid of its indiscriminate loathing—that one cannot look away. One cannot look away, because when the force of this much spleen is unleashed upon things, it eats away the falsehood of their skins, and beneath is always the rotting skeleton of death, and somehow to look this in the eye and, as Céline does, giggle as one shits one's pants, brings if not hope, at least a giddy exhalation, the comfort that we have finally done our worst:

"When you stop to examine the way in which our words are formed and uttered, our sentences are hard-put to it to survive the disaster of their slobbery origins. The mechanical effort of conversation is nastier and more complicated than defecation. That corolla of bloated flesh, the mouth, which screws itself up to whistle, which sucks in breath, contorts itself, discharges all manner of viscous sounds across a fetid barrier of decaying teeth—how revolting! Yet that is what we are adjured to sublimate into an ideal. It’s not easy. Since we are nothing but packages of tepid, half-rotted viscera, we shall always have trouble with sentiment. Being in love is nothing, its sticking together that’s difficult. Feces on the other hand make no attempt to endure or grow. On this score we are far more unfortunate than shit; our frenzy to persist in out present state—that’s the unconscionable torture.
Unquestionably we worship nothing more divine than our smell. All our misery comes from wanting at all costs to go on being Tom, Dick, or Harry, year in year out. This body of ours, this disguise put on by common jumping molecules, is in constant revolt against the abominable farce of having to endure. Our molecules, the dears, want o get lost in the universe as fast as they can! It makes them miserable to be nothing but “us,” the jerks of infinity. We’d burst if we had the courage, day after day we come very close to it. The atomic torture we love so is locked up inside us by our pride.”

-Louis-Ferdinand D. Céline, Journey to the End of the Night, 1934, Trans. By Ralph Manheim
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Quotes Alan Liked

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
“But when you are week the best way to fortify yourself is to strip the people you fear of the last bit of prestige you’re still inclined to give them. Learn to consider them they are, worse than they are in fact and from every point of view. That will release you, set you free, protect you more than you can possibly imagine. It will give you another self. There will be two of you.
That will strip their words and deeds of the obscene mystical fascination that weakens you and makes you waste your time. From then on you’ll find their act no more amusing, no more relevant to your inner progress than that of the lowliest pig.”
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
“Pleased at having proclaimed these useful truths, we sat looking at the ladies in the café.”
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
“They came from the four corners of the earth, driven by hunger, plague, tumors, and the cold, and stopped here. They couldn’t go any futrther because of the ocean. That’s France, that’s the French people.”
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
“Love is the infinite placed within the reach of poodles. I have my dignity!”
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
“In the kitchens of love, after all, vice is like the pepper in a good sauce; it brings out the flavor, it’s indispensable.”
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
“A God who counts minutes and pennies, a desperate sensual God, who grunts like a pig. A pig with golden wings, who falls and falls, always belly side up, ready for caresses, that’s him, our master. Come, kiss me.”
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
“How imperious the homicidal madness must have become if they’re willing to pardon—no, forget!—the theft of a can of meat! True, we have got into the habit of admiring colossal bandits, whose opulence is revered by the entire world, yet whose existence, once we stop to examine it, proves to be one long crime repeated ad infinitum, but those same bandits are heaped with glory, honors, and power, their crimes are hallowed by the law of the land, whereas, as far back in history as the eye can see—and history, as you know is my business—everything conspires to show that a venial theft, especially of inglorious foodstuffs, such as bread crusts, ham, or cheese, unfailingly subjects its perpetrator to irreparable opprobrium, the categoric condemnation of the community, major punishment, automatic dishonor, and inexpiable shame, and this for two reasons, first because the perpetrator of such an offense is usually poor, which in itself connotes basic unworthiness, and secondly because his act implies, as it were, a tacit reproach to the community. A poor man’s theft is seen as a malicious attempt at individual redress . . . Where would we be? Note accordingly that in all countries the penalties for petty theft are extrememly severe, not only as a means of defending society, but also as a stern admonition to the unfortunate to know their place, stick to their caste, and behave themselves, joyfully resigned to go on dying of hunger and misery down through the centuries forever and ever . . . Until today, however, petty thieves enjoyed one advantage in the Republic, they were denied the honor of bearing patriotic arms. But that’s all over now, tomorrow I, a theif, will resume my place in the army . . . Such are the orders . . . It has been decided in high places to forgive and forget what they call my momentary madness, and this, listen carefully, in consideration of what they call the honor of my family. What solicitude! I ask you, comrade, is it my family that is going to serve as a strainer and sorting house for mixed French and German bullets? . . . It’ll just be me wont it? And when I’m dead is the honor of my family going to bring me back to life?”
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
“The nights in Billancourt were soft and sweet, enlivened now and again by those childish airplane or zeppelin alarms which provided the civilian population with thrills and self-justification.”
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
“The religion of the flag promptly replaced the cult of heaven, an old cloud which had already been deflated by the Reformation and reduced to a network of episcopal money boxes. In olden times the fanatical fashion was: 'Long live Jesus! Burn the heretics!' . . . But heretics, after all, were few and voluntary . . . Whereas today vast hordes of men are fired with aim and purpose by cries of ‘Hang the limp turnips! The juiceless lemons! The innocent readers! By the millions, eyes right!’ If anybody doesn’t want to fight or murder, grab ‘em, tear ‘em to pieces! Kill them in thirteen juicy ways. For a starter, to teach them how to live, rip their guts out of their bodies, their eyes out of their sockets, and the years out of their filthy slobbering lives!”
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
“While he was cautiously preambling, I tried to form a picture of all he did each day to earn his calories, all his grimaces and promises, pretty much like my own . . . And then to amuse myself, I imagined him all naked at his altar . . . It's a good habit to get into: when somebody comes to see you, quick reduce him to nakedness, and you'll see through him in a flash, regardless of who it is, you will instantly discern the underlying reality, namely an enormous, hungry maggot. It's good sleight-of-the-imagination. His lousy prestige vanishes, evaporates. Once you've got him naked you'll be dealing with nothing more than a bragging pretentious beggar, talking drivel of one kind or another. It's a test that nothing can withstand. In a moment you'll know where you are at. There wont be anything left but ideas, and there's nothing frightening about ideas. With ideas nothing is lost, everything can be straightened out. Whereas it's sometimes hard to stand up to the prestige of a man with his clothes on. Nasty smells and mysteries cling to his clothes.”
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
“The coldest most rational scientific madness is also the most intolerable. But when a man has acquired a certain ability to subsist, even rather scantily, in a certain niche with the help of a few grimaces, he must either keep at it or resign himself to dying the death of a guinea pig. Habits are acquired more quickly than courage, especially the habit of filling one's stomach.”
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
“I warn you that when the princes of this world start loving you it means they are going to grind you up into battle sausage.”
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
“The old men from the charity hospital next door would come jerking past our rooms, making useless, disjointed leaps. They'd go from room to room, spitting out gossip between their decayed teeth, purveying scraps of malignant worn-out slander. Cloistered in their official misery as in an oozing dungeon, those aged workers ruminated the layer of shit that long years of servitude deposit on men's souls. Impotent hatreds grown rancid in the pissy idleness of dormitories. They employed their last quavering energies in hurting each other a little more. In destroying what little pleasure they had left.
Their last remaining pleasure! Their shriveled carcasses contained not one solitary atom that was not absolutely vicious!”
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
“She knew her duty inside and out. The prosperity of the cash drawer brought happiness to husband and wife. Not that Madame Puta was bad looking, not at all, she could even, like so many others, have been rather pretty, but she was so careful, so distrustful that she stopped short of beauty just as she stopped short of life—her hair was a little too well dressed, her smile a little too facile and sudden, and her gestures a bit too abrupt or too furtive. You racked your brains trying to figure out what was too calculated about her and why you always felt uneasy when she came near you. This instinctive revulsion that shopkeepers inspire in anyone who goes near them who knows what's what, is one of the few consolations for being as down at heel as people who don't sell anything to anybody tend to be.”
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
“It didn't take long. In that despondent changeless heat the entire human content of the ship congealed into a massive drunkenness. People moved flabbily about like squid in a tank of tepid smelly water. From that moment on we saw, rising to the surface, the terrifying nature of white men, exasperated, freed from constraint, absolutely unbuttoned, their true nature, same as in the war. That tropical steam bath called forth the instincts as August breeds toads and snakes on the fissured walls of prisons. In the European cold, under gray, puritanical northern skies, we seldom get to see our brothers' festering cruelty except in times of carnage, but when roused by the foul fevers of the tropics, their rottenness rises to the surface. That's when the frantic unbuttoning sets in, when filth triumphs and covers us entirely. It's a biological confession. Once work and cold weather cease to constrain us, once they relax their grip, the white man shows you the same spectacle as a beautiful beach when the tide goes out: the truth, fetid pools, crabs, carrion, and turds.”
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
“When men can hate without risk, their stupidity is easily convinced, the motives supply themselves.”
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
“The best way to make a sort of peace, a fragile armistice to be sure, but precious all the same, with men, officers or not, is to let them bask and wallow in childish self-glorification. There’s no such thing as intelligent vanity. It’s an instinct. And you’ll never find a man who is not first and formenost vain. The role of admiring doormat is about the only one that one man is glad to tolerate in another. With these soldiers I had no need to tax my imagination.”
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
“The Place Faidherbe had the characteristic atmosphere, the overdone décor, the floral and verbal excess, of a subprefecture in southern France gone mad. The ten cars left the Place Faidherbe only to come back five minutes later, having once more completed the same circuit with their cargo of anemic Europeans, dressed in unbleached linen, fragile creatures as wobbly as melting sherbet.
For weeks and years these colonials passed the same forms and faces until they were so sick of hating them that they didn’t even look at one another. The officers now and then would take their families out for a walk, paying close attention to military salutes and civilian greetings, the wives swaddled in their special sanitary napkins, the children, unbearably plump European maggots, wilted by the heat and constant diarrhea.
To command, you need more than a kepi; you also need troops. In the climate of Fort-Gono the European cadres melted faster than butter. A battalion was like a lump of sugar in your coffee; the longer you looked the less you saw. Most of the white conscripts were permanently in the hospital, sleeping off their malaria, riddled with parasites made to order fo every nook and cranny of the body, whole squads stretched out flat between cigarettes and flies, masturbating under moldy sheets, spinning endless yarns between fits of painstakingly provoked and coddled fever.”
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
“When you stop to examine the way in which our words are formed and uttered, our sentences are hard-put to it to survive the disaster of their slobbery origins. The mechanical effort of conversation is nastier and more complicated than defecation. That corolla of bloated flesh, the mouth, which screws itself up to whistle, which sucks in breath, contorts itself, discharges all manner of viscous sounds across a fetid barrier of decaying teeth—how revolting! Yet that is what we are adjured to sublimate into an ideal. It's not easy. Since we are nothing but packages of tepid, half-rotted viscera, we shall always have trouble with sentiment. Being in love is nothing, its sticking together that's difficult. Feces on the other hand make no attempt to endure or grow. On this score we are far more unfortunate than shit; our frenzy to persist in ourpresent state—that's the unconscionable torture.
Unquestionably we worship nothing more divine than our smell. All our misery comes from wanting at all costs to go on being Tom, Dick, or Harry, year in year out. This body of ours, this disguise put on by common jumping molecules, is in constant revolt against the abominable farce of having to endure. Our molecules, the dears, want to get lost in the universe as fast as they can! It makes them miserable to be nothing but 'us,' the jerks of infinity. We'd burst if we had the courage, day after day we come very close to it. The atomic torture we love so is locked up inside us by our pride.”
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
“There is something sad about people going to bed. You can see they don’t give a damn whether they’re getting what they want out of life or not, you can see they don’t ever try to understand what we’re here for. They just don’t care. Americans or not, they sleep no matter what, they’re bloated mollusks, no sensibility, no trouble with their conscience.
I’d seen too many troubling things to be easy in my mind. I knew too much and not enough. I’d better go out, I said to myself, I’d better go out again. Maybe I’ll meet Robinson. Naturally that was an idiotic idea, but I dreamed it up as an excuse for going out again, because no matter how I tossed and turned on my narrow bed, I couldn’t snatch the tiniest scrap of sleep. Even masturbation, at times like that, provides neither comfort nor entertainment. Then you're really in despair.”
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night


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