Céline, Louis-Ferdinand (Pseudonym of Louis-Ferdinand Destouches) (Vol. 15)
Céline, Louis-Ferdinand (Pseudonym of Louis-Ferdinand Destouches) 1894–1961
A French physician, essayist, and novelist, Céline was notorious for the extreme pessimism of his misanthropic view of human nature. His masterful use of argot, popular expressions, obscenities, and fractured syntax illuminated his perception of the madness and chaos that was modern Europe. Madness became Céline's pervasive metaphor for the nature of human existence, and his forceful use of language and disregard for traditional literary style and structure helped place him at the forefront of the literature of anarchistic revolt. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 4, 7, 9.)
[Eleven] years after his death, [Céline's] reputation stands high in France and perhaps even higher in the English-speaking countries. (p. 58)
Céline, according to [Nigel] Dennis, was not only that rara avis, a seminal writer, but a seminal writer whose example inspired other talented writers at the same time as his own successful creations have not been surpassed by any of those who have followed in his footsteps as a writer of fiction. When we consider that the latter group, according to some critics, may include men like Sartre …, Burroughs and Mailer, not to speak of lesser writers like Joseph Heller …, we are obviously confronted with an aesthetic phenomenon of a superior order of magnitude….
Even the cautious academic world, despite the explosiveness of his antiacademic temperament, is beginning to take note of his stature. A very interesting article [by] … Colin Nettelbeck is entitled "Journey to the End of Art: The Evolution of the Novels of Louis-Ferdinand Céline" [see CLC, Vol. 3]….
Professor Nettelbeck's article is notable as the most exhaustive account of the whole of Céline's fictional oeuvre…. (p. 59)
Neither Professor Nettelbeck nor Mr. Dennis suggests any defense of Céline's antisemitism. Quite the contrary. But they suggest that this element in his writing be put into proper perspective with regard to his work as a whole. (p. 60)...
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Philip H. Solomon
Alcohol is singled out by Céline as the weapon chosen by the Jews in order to impose their will on the French—and, of course, to attack the drinking of wine is to undermine one of the foundations of the French nation. Literature and alcohol do not mix. Céline decries the "standardization" of literature in his wine-drenched homeland. Literature has lost, according to Céline, its "authentique émotion, spontanée, rhythmée" …, and thus Céline's own oral style … has been rejected for more "literary" styles, derived from such half-Jewish writers as Montaigne and Proust.
Although Céline portrays himself as one of the victims of this imaginary [Jewish] conspiracy, he has not, as a confirmed teetotaler, succumbed to the temptations of alcohol. And throughout his novels, Céline through his various narrative personnae remains the nondrinker. But although he refuses the intoxication of alcohol, he participates in another form of intoxication, one that is lucid and consonant with the style he has chosen. This form of intoxication is délire (delirium). Céline's use of the substantive délire and the verb délirer is pervasive in his works. Cognitively it signifies the expression of ideas contrary to reality, a state of excitement or agitation. To these two meanings—both indicating essentially a mode of verbal expression—Céline adds a third, archaic meaning—poetic frenzy or inspiration. Contextually, as we...
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Survival as a guilt to be exorcised and which must create its own, nonidealistic style; survival as the only possible fixed value in an inhospitable world: into this category [A.] Alvarez attempts to place those writers who have minimised their moral and literary pretensions [in his essay "The Literature of the Holocaust"].
It is a category which appears, initially, to aid comprehension of certain aspects of the work of Céline. At an early point in the narrator's reminiscences of his childhood, in Mort à crédit, he recounts the visit of the family to the Exposition Universelle of 1900. The exhibition-site is swarming with a vast, frightening crowd. At every turn, at every stand, the family, terrified, take to flight…. The emphasis in this scene upon the need for flight in order to ensure personal survival, coupled with the deliberately nonidealistic language, would appear to situate it in Alvarez's category of survival-literature.
Nevertheless, the mechanism of survival in Mort à crédit is more complex than allowed for by Alvarez. In one sense, the family as a group, the collective on is fighting for survival in a world which is becoming increasingly hostile. In the way in which the narrator's family is driven out from the Exposition, Céline is able to present characters from a well-defined social and economic group, the petite-bourgeoisie, in a losing conflict with a rising...
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