Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Rigadoon begins with a renewal of the narrative impulse that initiated the trilogy. The narrator’s illness constitutes another variation on the head wound that appears so frequently in Céline’s novels. The myth that Céline himself was trepanned (an opening made in the skull to relieve pressure on the brain) as treatment for a head wound suffered in World War I reinforces the image of the narration as an outpouring from that wound, as an obligatory creative delirium that exposes the chaos lurking beneath the surface of everyday reality. During the course of his voyage, Ferdinand is struck twice on the head—a reminder of the novel’s opening signals and an obvious link between the protagonist and the narrator as suffering, creative selves.

Whereas the narrator’s delirium is creative, resulting in a heightened perception of reality, other forms of delirium serve to mask reality. Céline uses the term delirium to refer to any obsession or mania which permits one to escape from the disorder of contingent reality or, indeed, from the madness of the world in general. Insanity is the extreme form of delirium, an ultimate refuge, for the insane individual imprisoned within an aberrant psyche is shielded from external reality and abdicates all responsibility. In this context, Le Vigan’s descent into madness can be positively valorized and serve as a temptation against which the protagonist must struggle.

It is the theme of the voyage north that links the three volumes of the trilogy, and that particular direction is emphasized by the title of the second volume. Copenhagen does indeed lie to the north, but the direction has connotations in Céline’s previous works that transcend geographical referentiality and are relevant to the reading of the trilogy. Céline liked to think of himself as a Breton, that is to say, a Northerner, physically and mentally superior to the ordinary Frenchman. In his anti-Semitic “pamphlets”—they are, in fact, book-length volumes—North is opposed to South, to the Mediterranean Basin. As the homeland of the Jews, the latter becomes a source of contagion infecting Europe. In Céline’s first novel, Voyage au bout de la nuit (1932; Journey to the End of the...

(The entire section is 917 words.)