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message 1: by Patty, free birdeaucrat (new)

Patty | 896 comments Mod
Louis-Ferdinand Céline

The last Celine book I read was Rigadoon, and that was in 2008. And yet, I am not exagerating when I say that not a week goes by when I don't think about him and/or his novels. Anyone want to talk Celine with me? I know this will sound hyperbolic, but I don't think there has ever been another novelist who could even hold a candle to him. And at the same time, he was a truly horrible person. And at the same time, being a truly horrible person was part of what made him such a genius.

message 2: by Neil (new)

Neil McCrea | 204 comments Journey to the End of Night and Death on the Installment Plan both haunt me regularly. It's been over ten years since I've read any Celine though.

message 3: by Ben (new)

Ben | 11 comments Patty wrote: "Louis-Ferdinand Céline

The last Celine book I read was Rigadoon, and that was in 2008. And yet, I am not exagerating when I say that not a week goes by when I don't think about him and/or his nove..."

A truly horrible person? Based on what? Journey is full of humanism and I don't think it's particularly considerate to call everyone who has entertained antisemitic thoughts in the past a truly horrible person. Is Shakespeare horrible, too then? And isn't our very own capitalist culture pretty fascist in its own ways? What exactly makes you a better person? The fact that you are sedated by entertainment / infinite jest and don't have to get your hands bloody yourself?
I really don't mean to offend you, but you should consider what posterity might say about your country's politics in your lifetime and your willingness to accept it all.

message 4: by Jim (new)

Jim Ben wrote: "Patty wrote: "Louis-Ferdinand Céline

The last Celine book I read was Rigadoon, and that was in 2008. And yet, I am not exagerating when I say that not a week goes by when I don't think about him a..."

You're right Ben. What's a little Nazi-ism amongst friends. A few million dead at the hands of your grandfather -- really, that's nothing to be upset about, right?

message 5: by Patty, free birdeaucrat (new)

Patty | 896 comments Mod
Ah. No, I'm not saying I'm a blameless person, but I'm not horrible, either. I haven't killed anyone (yet) and I don't hate anyone. Celine hated pretty much everyone, not just Jewish people (although to say that he was antisemitic would be just a gross understatement). He really only had love for cats.

I'm not saying he was entirely horrible, because he did make some pretty solid contributions to medicine, and he was apparently quite a good doctor, in fact I think he probably even had a decent bedside manner. But there is no disputing that he was filled with hatred. It's the primary theme of most of his writing. Not just his fiction, but also his pamphlets. I'm not sure what your criteria would be for "horrible person" but being filled with hatred qualifies him in mine.

message 6: by Patty, free birdeaucrat (new)

Patty | 896 comments Mod
As to your point about my country's politics, I agree with you, and I don't even think we need to wait for posterity. But to assume that I am an inactive slug who just loafes around reading infinite jest and accepting the world the way it is, well, it's an unfair assumption, and a false one.

No offense taken, though.

message 7: by Ben (new)

Ben | 11 comments I get your point, patty. Quite a few people who read Celine only see his hatred (I'm talking mainly Journey here), but there is so much love for mankind in it that I was really moved. It is just very subtle and well-hidden. Kind of like Bukowski. A literary friend of mine recently said something along the lines of 'when you don't write about love at all in a novel, it's basically all over the place'. So what I'm trying to say is that this hatred might well be some sort of guarding of a very sensitive soul. Maybe.

I don't know which country you live in, I was just talking about western civilisation. Good you didn't take any offense!

message 8: by Ben (last edited Apr 18, 2013 01:37AM) (new)

Ben | 11 comments That's funny, Jim, but how did you know my grandfather killed lots of Jews? Still he was a splendid person and very loving!

message 9: by Patty, free birdeaucrat (new)

Patty | 896 comments Mod
That's interesting, Ben. I actually don't think I see the love for humanity in Journey. I think it's brilliant, and incredibly compelling. I feel a lot of compassion and empathy for the protagonist. However, I don't think the protagonist feels empathy or compassion for anyone else, and I don't see any evidence in the novel that the author does. Perhaps you wouldn't mind giving a couple of examples?

I'm so glad that you posted on the thread, and have gotten this conversation going again. I really am intersted in discussing his work, and not just my own feelings of conflictedness. I do want to say, there is another thread in the FF about "What's the point" of fiction. Here, I think we have an example of one point. Fiction can stimulate candid discussion of real human issues/problems, and I think there is huge value in that. Perhaps if there were more open and candid conversations about ideas, including political ideas, there would be less horribleness in the world, in general. In that spirit, and simply because of your seemingly flippant response to Jim's hyperbolic comment, I hope you won't mind my clearing the air and just asking: You aren't antisemitic or facist, are you Ben? (I so hope the answer is no.)

message 10: by Robert (new)

Robert Corbett (robcrowe00) | 169 comments Having not read very much Celine I can't comment on the work, but writing despicable eliminationist anti-Semitic pamphlets in the late 30s is pretty horrific for a writer. This is what Celine did in a country that had a Jewish socialist prime minister (Leon Blum) and a rhetorically abhorrent right wing (Charles Mauras). This is on the level of Pound's propaganda for Mussolini. Woodhouse's naive stories about being a POW and Eliot's fascist sympathies are much less so. But then I am pretty sure Burroughs and Kerouac had despicable ideas, and proscribing texts is work best left to the Pope and dictators of all ideologies. All by way of saying, I need to read The Journey.

message 11: by Ben (new)

Ben | 11 comments Hey Patty,

I'm glad to be of service to this thread :)
I absolutely agree with what you said and I can assure you I'm neither antisemitic nor fascist. In fact I'm pretty open-minded and laissez-faire about most things. My grandfather was, however, an infamous high-ranking SS general. He died when I was 2 or 3 years old.

I will try to find some examples when I get home, although I think my copy of Journey might be at my girlfriends at the moment. Obviously the first point about his humanity would be him being a doctor for the poor, not even taking money for his services.

message 12: by Jim (new)

Jim Ben wrote: "My grandfather was, however, an infamous high-ranking SS general. He died when I was 2 or 3 years old..."

So Ben, taking you at your word about your grandfather, it would be best to not do anymore compare-and-contrast statements about members' home-country governments. My father and mother-in-law are both WWII survivors and so I hear first hand accounts of that time on a weekly basis. That being said, it would be best to keep the focus here on Celine and his literature, gut!?

message 13: by Patty, free birdeaucrat (new)

Patty | 896 comments Mod
Jim wrote: "Ben wrote: "My grandfather was, however, an infamous high-ranking SS general. He died when I was 2 or 3 years old..."

So Ben, taking you at your word about your grandfather, it would be best to no..."

I know that Ben came into this conversation with a sort of hostile and defensive approach. I understand the defensiveness. Celine's work is so powerful and compelling, one does not want to believe that someone who could have written these works could also have held the views he held. Even a small amount of research outside his fiction readily reveals that it's true, though. I think there is real value in a conversation about this, and if that means that we talk about actual politics, actual history and actual murder/war, then that's what we need to talk about. I don't think that burying our heads in the sand has any benefit, and it often does much harm.

On the other hand, if we are to seriously talk about these things, I think we need to treat one another and the subject matter with care and respect, and I hope, Ben, that you will agree to approach the conversation with a little more compassion.

message 14: by Patty, free birdeaucrat (new)

Patty | 896 comments Mod
Robert wrote: "Having not read very much Celine I can't comment on the work, but writing despicable eliminationist anti-Semitic pamphlets in the late 30s is pretty horrific for a writer. This is what Celine did i..."

Yes, Robert. It's brilliant. Start immediately!

message 15: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell (the_red_shoes) | 24 comments Neil wrote: "Journey to the End of Night and Death on the Installment Plan both haunt me regularly. It's been over ten years since I've read any Celine though."

Ditto, basically.

message 16: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell (the_red_shoes) | 24 comments Did anyone see the quote going around Tumblr supposedly by Celine about fading roses? That was really something for the angels to weep over. "Celine! He's like Rod McKuen, in a way."

message 17: by Patty, free birdeaucrat (new)

Patty | 896 comments Mod
Very interesting, Moira. I think the passage is typical of his clinical perspective, seeing a woman and a rose both as biological entities, noting the difference between them, the desire not to die. Celine was no romantic, that's for sure.

I'm wondering what this metaphor meant to you, and what about it appealed to you, before you read the rest of the passage, and maybe even why the passage made you feel so different.

message 18: by Ben (last edited Apr 19, 2013 10:39AM) (new)

Ben | 11 comments Jim wrote: "Ben wrote: "My grandfather was, however, an infamous high-ranking SS general. He died when I was 2 or 3 years old..."

So Ben, taking you at your word about your grandfather, it would be best to no..."

What you basically did there is repeating my point about being judgmental and turning it around on me again.

Anyway, I think Patty had already made the need for sensitive discussion pretty clear before her last post, namely when she asked me whether I was fascist or not. I don't think I have acted insensitive or flippant afterwards, at all. So if my statement about my grandfather offended you, I am truly sorry, but if you're insinuating that the history of my family somehow diminishes my right to criticise or compare, I wholeheartedly and strongly disagree. I do not and will never feel guilt because of something that happened two generations before me.
Oh and you know what else? And this makes it even better/weirder/ more complex: My grandmother from the other branch of the family was a part jewish writer who fled home from nazi invasion and persecution, so there you go.

I also stated I wasn't talking about any country in particular, especially since I have no clue where you guys live and no interest in knowing, but about the capitalist world in general. Please read carefully.

In case you're merely saying it distracts from the real discussion: sure, let's get back to the literature. My point is still the same: there rarely are people who are pure evil (although I'm aware this thinking is to some extent part of the American culture) and almost no one is just a victim, or just a culprit. It's not that simple, at least that's my firm belief. And I will come forward with examples of real humanity in Celine, despite his tragic political errors. Okay? :)

message 19: by Ben (last edited Apr 19, 2013 10:29AM) (new)

Ben | 11 comments I would like to add that I went into 'Journey' knowing he was / turned antisemitic and was very attentive towards possible antisemitic passages, but there were absolutely none to be found. Which made it very easy for me to distinguish the work from its author, and thus more enjoyable.

message 20: by Jim (new)

Jim Ben wrote: "I also stated I wasn't talking about any country in particular, especially since I have no clue where you guys live and no interest in knowing, but about the capitalist world in general. Please read carefully..."

It seems you want continue to antagonize the members of this group, so maybe I can help bring this to a head. Please read carefully:

You joined this group out of the blue, you insulted a group member, and by extension members from 'the capitalist world'. And so - Fuck you and the Nazi-apologist horse you rode in on.

message 21: by Ben (last edited Apr 19, 2013 11:55AM) (new)

Ben | 11 comments Jim wrote: "Fuck you and the Nazi-apologist horse you rode in on"

Are you high? This is ridiculous.

I'm actually surprised you understand, let alone appreciate, Celine. don't. And it's also a shame for Patty who clearly tried nicely to conciliate. Every single post of yours was hostile towards me and not a single one was contributing to the actual TOPIC and yet you accuse ME of antagonizing. It's beyond me why you would waste time on a discussion board if you're that small-minded.

I also flagged your comment.

message 22: by Ben (last edited Apr 19, 2013 01:26PM) (new)

Ben | 11 comments @Patty:

Unfortunately my girlfriend has my book, but some scenes I can think of, backed up by bits I found online

- despite being at war with the Germans, stating he sees no point in fighting them, because no German has ever done any harm to him.
"Our Colonel knew why they were shooting, maybe the German's knew, but I, so help me, hadn't the vaguest idea. As far back as I could search my memory, I hadn't done a thing to the Germans...I'd even gone to their schools. We'd go out to the woods together after school to feel the girls up, or we'd fire popguns and pistols you could buy for four marks. And we drank sugary beer together. But from that to shooting at us right from the middle of the road without even a word of introduction was a long way a very long way."
"viscious lunatics who had suddenly become incapable of anything else than killing and spilling their guts without knowing why."

- The scene where he gets dragged across the city after his work day is over and treating the seriously ill girl, despite getting no payment and being hassled and insulted by her lying family

- the scene where he leaves town and doesn't tell anyone, but visits only that old lonely woman and stays at her bed (and holds her hand?) until she falls asleep. almost brought me to tears.

- his loyalty towards Robinson, despite him being greedy and despicable. and actually treating him and lying for him after Robinsons attempt at killing the old mother

And here, from a blog I found, which sums it up nicely:
"Celine was a doctor for the poor who served mainly as an obstetrician, dedicating much of his life to the health of impoverished women. He was a lover of animals, and a patron of the ballet, he also composed music. And he is roundly described in nearly all criticism as the greatest misanthropist in literature. Something isn’t quite right about this description. The world that worships the beauty and tradition of war epics, tales of “unpreventable” and heroic slaughter but calls Celine a hater of humanity is upside down. It wasn’t humanity he hated."

Why do people think he is a misanthropist then? I can tell you, Patty: Because people are fucking stupid. Take for example this paragraph:

“The biggest defeat in every department of life is to forget, especially the things that have done you in, and to die without realizing how far people can go in the way of crumminess. When the grave lies open before us, let’s not try to be witty, but on the other hand, let’s not forget, but make it our business to record the worst of the human viciousness we’ve seen without changing one word. When that’s done, we can curl up our toes and sink into the pit. That’s work enough for a lifetime. ”

I can assure you quite a lot of readers who don't pay enough attention will see this as hatin' on mankind. It's not. He is urging us to face our cruel reality, and quite beautifully if drastic so. One can only sound that disenchanted by humanity if one truly believes in humanity. The book is chock-full of little snippets like that.

message 23: by Sketchbook (last edited Apr 20, 2013 10:49AM) (new)

Sketchbook Ben, you are being deliberately provocative by saying ole Grand-Pops killed lotsa Jews, but was still a peachy-creamy feller. There's a lotta braggo therein--. Along with gloat-smirk-preen. ~ "Do admit," as Nancy Mitford would tease.

message 24: by Ben (last edited Apr 20, 2013 12:09PM) (new)

Ben | 11 comments What the? Jim started talking about my grandfather, didn't he? Did he not, Sketchbook? Is ANYONE actually interested in discussing the topic? Because i think I actually made a pretty solid contribution to this thread yesterday which nobody seems to notice or acknowledge.

In fact I'm the only one who contributed something of substance to Patty's thread. So feel free to join in. Thank you.

message 25: by Jim (new)

Jim Ben wrote: "What the? Jim started talking about my grandfather, didn't he? DID HE NOT, Sketchbook? Is ANYONE actually interested in discussing the topic? Because i think I actually made a pretty solid contribu..."

No one is interested in discussing the subject with you.

Again, you joined the group without so much as a hello and immediately began criticizing Patty for referring to Celine as a horrible person. Repeatedly, people including myself have suggested that your flippant attitude about the very serious topic of antisemitism and the hatred it entails, especially as related to the Final Solution which ended millions of civilian lives in a well-planned and executed genocide sponsored by your home country, was neither valued nor desired here.

You seem like an intelligent person and the intelligent thing to do at this point is to back out of this discussion now.

message 26: by Ben (last edited Apr 20, 2013 12:32PM) (new)

Ben | 11 comments 1.) So you are deciding this for everyone now? Who are you? Patty made it clear that she was interested in discussing this with me and that she was not offended. Also she does see your behaviour towards me sceptically, be assured.

2.) I explained myself to you and even apologized for offending you. When I reached out to you, you answered with "fuck you". After my first post you had already made up your mind about me like some old grumpy man.

3.) Don't use the crimes of the Third Reich rhetorically as a justification for shutting me up. That's just plain shabby.

4.) The stupidity in this thread is killing me. And since I said everything I had to say, it's up to you: maybe you can actually get your head out of your ass and realize I told some truths about Celine despite how infinitely you despise me or you don't. I'm out of here.

message 27: by Sketchbook (last edited Apr 20, 2013 12:52PM) (new)

Sketchbook You joined Apr 2012, Ben, have 3 GR friends. You dont understand this website. Each of us establishes a "persona" and acquires 'friends' accordingly who (sorta) "get us," capiche?

Some personas : impudent, pretentious-pompous, saucy, blithery-dithery, challenging, mischievous, sincere, soupy-corny, uber-cool, smart, lazy-boring (or any combo thereof). And the worst : pay-attention to my bloggy-gusher...(not among my GRs, but you'll see, if you tootle around). You popped up fr nowhere and, began refs to personal stuff...mixed w some very insightful Celine comments.

I say, move it along to...hey, Daphne du Maurier??

message 28: by Patty, free birdeaucrat (last edited Apr 20, 2013 03:54PM) (new)

Patty | 896 comments Mod
This is such a tough conversation. I'll just point out a couple of things, and then maybe we can get back to talking about the writing?

Celine was antisemitic. Even a small amount of internet research will confirm that. You can watch video interviews with the man where he says truly despicable things. Somehow, some way, he also made valuable contributions to society through his writing (not solely, but primarily). His voice is worth listening to. And I honestly believe that if people would listen to each other and talk to each other respectfully and frankly, even when (especially when) their differences in opinion make it almost impossible, the world would be a better place. And so I really and truly do hope that people will continue to read Celine, despite the views he expressed, and I really and truly do hope that this conversation can continue here, in the Fiction Files.

The fiction files group has been part of my life for almost as long as it's been a group. In the early days, pretty much everyone just joined the group and started talking without so much as a hello. Part of the incredible value of the group was that it was diverse enough for almost everyone to feel at home there, and with the exception of a few flamers, pretty much everyone treated each other with respect. We frequently disagreed, and that was a big part of the value. It's an internet forum, you will (if you are lucky) be exposed to a variety of voices and opinions you would never otherwise be exposed to.

I appreciate that some of my fellow fiction filers were defensive on my behalf, it shows how protective we are of each other, and how important this sanctuary is to us. But at the same time, as I said, I could relate to Ben's reaction to my post, and I actually thought it provided an intersting opening for further discussion. It's never going to be easy to have conversations about Celine. I know that, and I think it's one of the things that makes him and his work so important to talk about.

All that, and the only thing I have to say about the writing right now, is that I think I'll start rereading Journey in the morning. The passages/scenes that Ben cited above remind me how much I love this novel, how funny and disarming it is, and how painful.


message 29: by Pavel (new)

Pavel Kravchenko (pavelk) | 96 comments Wow, who called the "joined-without-a-hello" police? No one told me we required formal introduction before a person could express their opinion around here.

Anyway, here's mine. I don't think the term "a truly horrible person" should be used lightly, even when referring to a person who's antisemitic... and dead. Otherwise, as Ben pointed out, pretty everybody who was anybody in literature in 19th century would have to be called a truly horrible person.

In Celine's case, "Asshole" is something I think fits better. To me, he was just basically really depressed by the stupidity of the human race, as evidenced by the War and history and everything else. Depressed by it, pissed at it, violently so. None of which is unwarranted - or wrong - in itself, but what made him an asshole was his inability to allow hope. He basically assumed the worst about everyone and didn't give anybody a chance, which I think started with himself. Even in passages that Ben cited above, I feel there's basically hopelessness about the whole thing. Yeah, he treats the girl for free, but not because he's a good person, but because he's weak, a loser, etc.

message 30: by Patty, free birdeaucrat (new)

Patty | 896 comments Mod
Awesome post, Pavel. I agree to calling everyone from 19th & 20th century literature horrible. :)

But seriously, you have described his disposition toward humanity very well. I think my own feelings of conflictedness about him stem from the fact that I frequently concur with his uncharitable view of humanity, and I worry that that makes me a horrible person.

This morning I took out my copy of Rigadoon, which is falling to peices, to try to find my favorite passage. I did find the passage, but it's way too long to post. Have you read Rigadoon? There is a passage that takes place during an air raid. The protagonist and his wife have (albeit resentfully) taken a group of deaf and mute children under their wings. They are on a train when the bombing starts, and trying to get out of the area, but the children have wandered onto the bridge, and are playing games and having a ball in the beautiful, multi-colored lights of the bomb blasts. The kids are not afraid, they have lost all fear of everything, and the scene is just beautiful and desperate and frantic.

message 31: by Robert (new)

Robert Corbett (robcrowe00) | 169 comments Patty,

I hope I didn't come off as snarky intervener. I found your posts and Ben's both searching and thoughtful. They make me more interested in reading Celine who has many more virtues Maurras and LeMaistre to name just French reactionaries. On the issue of beastliness in person but inescapably mesmerizing work, Pound is the American conundrum and, unlike Celine, he affected almost all anglophone modernists (Joyce and Beckett the massive exceptions). But I pull back from saying Celine's opinions aren't that different from most 19th c. figures. Maybe knee jerk reactions of many politicians and not a few literary types, but the 1st French counterexample is Zola. Yes stereotyping there was: when Wordsworth or Shelley or George Eliot portrayed a Jew, they are infected with them, but at least two of the three were committed to radical empathy (and I would say WW was until he started worrying about his reputation. ). To use a unfair example, Blake's poem about a black boy could be construed as racist--why does the poet say he wants to be white--but that seems prosecutorial. Or Conrad and the representation of Africans in the Heart of Darkness. I tend to think 21st centurions imagine we are more distant from our forebears than we are. So the scandal of Celine, Pound, and Larkin and Eliot in their letters. I think it is good to do some nuance on this issue, but also to consider the scandal of art that is good--as opposed to crap--built as a repression or sometimes expression of shocking beliefs. Art is a mirror not just of the world but us.

message 32: by Ben (last edited Jul 29, 2013 02:12PM) (new)

Ben | 11 comments Hi Pavel,

thanks for reviving the thread and backing me up a little, or rather actually responding friendly to what I was trying to get across ...and thank you and Robert for the interesting posts.
I'm still fascinated in Celine and I'm soon going to read Death on the Installment Plan.
I do agree with the hopelessness part, although I think this literature is as needed as any other and doesn't quite make him an asshole. (Obviously also the style is perfect for angry rants and boy is Celine focussed on style) Same with Lowry's Under the Volcano, it doesn't get more hopeless than that book actually … These books speak to you, when you feel about the world like that and there is a certain amount of strength to gain from it, some sort of anti-buddhism. everything is one big piece of turd, so get over it and enjoy this demented ride. why not be an artist! inspiration in the form of the stupidity and crookedness of others is not gonna run out anytime soon. If Celine is an asshole what does that make the people he writes about (beware, I have only read Journey) ? Obviously such novels are not BORN out of hopelessness, because why write then? as you rightly said they are born out of anger and frustration and this makes them highly suspicious of romanticism, doesn't it? And even if you can't get past the hopelessness, than at least – and how big of a treasure is that, I ask? – you learned one thing about yourself: that YOU object such hopelessness in your life.

Once I announced to a literary friend of mine that If I should ever write a novel it would be devoid of any romantic love and thus the sentimentalism of it. She replied: If love is so blatantly absent it will be all over the book.

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