Close your beautiful eyes: the denigration of Louis-Ferdinand Celine--a prelude to his evisceration & inquiry into the fate of his "unfortunate plagiarist," Henry Miller, "The American Celine.".
For Michael Neal (1)
"It is always extremely easy to cover a man in shit when he is in no position to defend himself. In my day one was repulsed by this kind of behavior ... these days it can make one's name and reputation."
"Let me choose two lines written by any man and I'll give you a reason to hang him."
Louis Ferdinand Celine is the greatest French writer of the twentieth century--rivaled only by Proust. When Denoel & Steele published Voyage au bout de la nuit on October 20th 1932, it sent shock waves through the literary world. Robbed of the Prix Goncourt due to pressure from Gallimard and Hachette, the book won the Renaudot and went on to become a bestseller internationally: the most talked about work of literature for over a decade. The influence of Voyage, (which Samuel Beckett called "the greatest novel in French or English literature" and Charles Bukowski proclaimed the "greatest novel of the last two thousand years"), as well as Mort a Credit and Celine's subsequent novels, on French and Anglophone literature has been profound and enduring.
Writing favorably about Louis Ferdinand Celine, either as a writer or a man, is fraught with danger. One can easily be labeled a Fascist, anti-Semite, or Holocaust denier. That Celine was a Nazi, was an unconditional supporter of Hitler, and called for the genocide of the Jews are widely accepted facts--even though each is a lie. Other "facts" about Celine that are false, but circulate regularly, include: that he was an honorary member of the SS, that he was personal physician to Petain, that he denounced writers to the Gestapo and was paid by them, that he fled to Sigmaringen in the company of Pierre Laval, that he was responsible for the death of poet Robert Desnos, who died at Theresienstadt, and that he was guilty of treason.
From the beginning of his literary career, Celine was the victim of lies about what he did, wrote and believed. He was also regularly menaced by violence, even death threats, long before he wrote the anti-Semitic pamphlets, Bagatelles pour un massacre (1937), Ecole des cadavres (1938) and Les Beaux Draps (1941), that forever tarnished his name. Attacks on Celine have continued for over seventy years. As the date nears when his pamphlets will no longer be copyrighted, fearful of the impact his words may have after decades of unavailability, vilification has begun to intensify. (2) The claim is that he is either a nonentity as a writer--easily contradicted by his influence on writers as diverse as Samuel Beckett, Gunther Grass, Jean-Paul Sartre, Henry Miller, the Beat Generation, Joseph Heller, Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe and Kurt Vonnegut; or that he was a disgusting specimen of humanity, deserving of no better death than Mussolini, not worthy of being among the Pleiade.
Denigration of Celine, given the brilliance of his writing, rapidly veers towards the personal. In the desperation to paint him as a monster, nothing is spared. Evidence and words are completely distorted and taken out of literary and historical context. Nothing to Celine's credit is mentioned. Rossel-Kirschen paints a picture of Celine as a modern-day Shylock--a caricature of the stereotypical, money-grabbing Jew in reverse. Drudging up everything that might reflect badly, he claims Celine was a bad physician, lambastes him for taking his teapot and wife's castanets when he fled France and is infuriated that he embellished his life story. Bonneton wrote that Celine composed his pamphlets to incite the murder of the Jews and suggests (nearly fifty years after Celine's death) a new trial in which he would be accused of crimes against humanity. Anyone who defends Celine, or tries to contextualize his words or deeds, it is implied, is a hagiographer. Prazan goes even further by claiming that Celine invented a style of writing, as early as Voyage, that was, by its very nature, genocidal.
On June 19th 2009, I reviewed the first English translation of Celine's Normance for the Times Literary Supplement. The novel has traditionally been seen as a failure and evidence of his mental collapse, following his imprisonment in Denmark, after the flight transposed in The German Trilogy. I believe Normance is a major work --an assault on both James Joyce and the lies that individuals and societies tell in order that their consciences may be assuaged. I attempted to humanize Celine and contrasted his treatment with other writers, accused of collaboration--Ezra Pound and Knut Hamsun. (3) I also wished to contextualize Celine's world and show how much it differed from ours--a world in which the Jewish writer Gertrude Stein proposed Hitler for the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1938.
I was immediately accused (in a Letter to the Editor) of "sweeping under the carpet" Celine's demand for the "extermination of the Jews"--even though it does not exist. Using a technique common to his detractors, Ramona Fotiade played to Anglophone ignorance of French language and culture to make her point. She quoted Celine: "Votes for the Aryans. Urns for the Jews," knowing full well that contemporary readers, familiar with Holocaust, which Celine had no knowledge of until years after he wrote the phrase, will make the leap to crematorium urns. In France, votes are cast in urns, not ballot boxes. The line is part of an attack on the voting system, not an exhortation to murder. Similarly, she slyly translates Luxer le juif au poteau from Les Beaux Draps as "fix the Jew to a post," with the implication "execute him." As Robert Faurrison, Regis Tettamanzi and others pointed out, years ago, the phrase has no violent intent. It is argot for "beat the Jew to the winning post;" the post in question being a social revolution.
Fotiade implied that Celine collaborated with the Nazis. He would have none of it. The only time they tried to enlist him for propaganda purposes, Celine accepted an invitation to dinner at the German embassy and then proceeded to ridicule Hitler and stormed out after telling them the war was lost--a position he held in 1940. Fotiade derided Celine for fleeing France and the "just retribution" that awaited him at the hands of "former Resistance fighters," whom Celine had attacked as "hooligans and profit seekers." (4) The "just retribution" that awaited Celine was murder, as in the case of his publisher Robert Denoel. (5) Any intellectual who sees murder as the "just retribution" for writing a book loses all moral authority. It is a return to the ideology of the Inquisition. Murdering a man for his books (as any Jew would tell you) is little different than murdering him for his religion.
Fotiade set Celine against Robert Desnos, who had famously argued with Celine, in 1943. Celine is seen as the incarnation of evil. Desnos is a hero and innocent victim. (6) Celine was, however, a multidimensional character. He signed medical waivers for men called up for labor service in Germany, treated for free a member of the Resistance who was brought to him after being tortured by the Gestapo, kept secret the activities of a Resistance cell that operated in the apartment beneath his and was offered a safe haven, in 1944, in recognition of the help he had given them. In 1941, he tried to save the life of a Breton sailor, condemned to death, by intervening with the German authorities. In private letters, when he realized what had happened in the death camps (knowledge of which horrified him), he showed a face his enemies would never speak of. He told Jean Paulhan:
When I wrote Bagatelles pour un massacre I did not intend to say or suggest Jews should be massacred ... I never wanted Auschwitz, Buchenwald.
Shortly before his death he wrote:
I say that Israel is a real fatherland that welcomes its children home ... and my country is a shithouse.
When his request for amnesty was heard in 1951, he was supported by a leading Jewish organization for reconciliation among the French.
When I replied to Fotiade, Christopher Prendergast attacked me savagely--describing my ideas as "intellectually chaotic" and myself as "ideologically repugnant." The intellectual chaos stemmed in part from the fact my letters were edited, .that I never saw final versions of them and that I was not allowed as much space to reply as my attackers had been given to assault me. To discredit me, he (falsely) suggested that I had said the Jews were complicit in their own destruction. He also wrote that: "by no stretch of the imagination could he (Celine) be described as a great writer." The TLS took the unprecedented step of including an attack on me by two different writers for two different reviews on the same page. (7) Neither of my replies was printed. As one colleague put it: "you were set up."
The letters by Fotiade and Prendergast are part of a trend that seeks to marginalize Celine and criminalize those who admire his writing. They have the aim of diverting attention away from all discussion of Normance and his other novels. They use false allegations about his conduct in order to destroy his literary reputation by tying it to the Holocaust. Constantly putting on trial, fifty years after his death, a man who was tried by his own country's judicial system and was amnestied and using his life to negate discussion of his art is reminiscent of a Soviet show trial. It is paradoxically, the behavior of those (like Stalin, the Nazis and Inquisitors) for whom ideology takes precedence over not only great art, but also the rights of man to freedom of expression, justice and a place in historical truth. This is one of the dominant leitmotifs of Celine's later writing; including the two volumes of Feerie pour un autre fois.
Uninformed readers, who are by now used to tabloid scholarship and gross simplifications, retain nothing of the original positive review. They are left with the impression that Celine was evil and a nonentity, praised by someone of the same ilk, whose literary judgments are worthless. I was obliged to defend myself against the same kind of allegations that faced Celine. I found myself ridiculed and unwelcome in a publication to which I had regularly contributed. Pilloried on other websites, my apparent failure to reply (sic) is taken as an admission of incompetence and guilt. Although I received many messages of support, fearful of reprisals or being labeled anti-Semitic no one dared come to my defense in public.
We live in a culture where people are not encouraged to think for themselves. Amidst a paralyzing dearth of historical knowledge, propaganda is frequently passed off as fact. Rumor and lies easily become truth. Misinformation spreads rapidly through the web and by writers accepting as fact the untruths propagated by previous authors who did hot do adequate research or had a blatant agenda. Celine is one writer where it is necessary to understand the context of his writings, as well as his own character, in order to read his books as they were written--not as his enemies, (some of whom, Alice Kaplan quipped, seem to think they are Simon Wiesenthal) have rewritten or imagined them. An average reader lacks the background and cultural frame of reference to see Celine's books impartially, or to disentangle his life from his art. To his detractors even attempting to contextualize him is considered the "normalization" of crimes against humanity. The result is an Orwellian thought-police that would destroy some of the greatest works of literature of the last century.
The writer who wishes to draw attention to the importance of Celine's writing, especially his later and undervalued books, is faced with a moral dilemma. The content and frame of reference of a biography will not be decided by the life of the subject, but rather by the life of the biographer. The same applies to criticism. If a writer has been labeled a negative way for decades then it takes courage to go against the grain. Henry Miller has been seen as a sexual writer for decades. The people Miller offended most were Christian moralists. The most natural response would be to ask, was Miller a Christian? If not, then how could that explain the discord? Miller's works are suffused with Hinduism and Buddhism. They are religious works rooted in cultures where the opposition between sexuality and religion does not exist--where sexuality is seen as a part of a spiritual experience or an integral part of religious fervor. The first person to recognize Miller's religious intent in Tropic of Cancer was Lawrence Durrell, who had grown up in India, surrounded by Hindus. After Miller's death Opus Pistorum was published as his work on the word of one man, who lied for money. For twenty-five years the book has appeared under Miller's name, even though it is a fake. What that tells us is that financial considerations usually outweigh others and that if people believe Miller is a sexual writer they are willing to accept porn as his work even if it is obvious from the style that it can't be. Similarly, if all readers have ever heard is that Celine was a Nazi, who wanted France to ally to Hitler and to assist in the murder of the Jews they are unlikely to be interested in examining the evidence further. They will read his novels within that frame of reference--all deeper implications are lost.
The dilemma facing the critic who is attacked for writing positively about Celine's work, or trying to achieve greater balance in representing him as a person, is should they ignore a personal attack and focus on the work? Most likely, the writer can and will be portrayed as being something they are not--tied to beliefs they do not espouse and acts they could never condone. Fotiade accused me of exonerating Celine from the crime of calling for the murder of Jews. I could not exonerate him from a crime that he had never been accused of in court and that he did not commit. No one has ever come forward, in seventy years, to say that anyone harmed any Jew because they read Celine's pamphlets. Cornered by public opinion, which is based on a misunderstanding of who Celine was and why he wrote what he did, the writer who tries to contextualize Celine feels the need to defend him or herself. If they have a sense of justice and history they may also explain Celine in more detail. Their explanations can, due to cultural prejudice, then be portrayed as condoning anti-Semitism and genocide, especially in a forum where they are not allowed a right of reply, do not have space to explain at length or are going up against decades of misrepresentation, lies and distortion. This plays into the hands of the accusers. They have shifted the debate to politics and mass murder and away from writing. The discussion is influenced by an even wider cultural prejudice against the French in general--for their collaboration with the Nazis and their unwillingness to face both this and their debt to the Allies squarely in the aftermath.
If one believes, as Stalin did, that "the writer is the engineer of human souls," there are many reasons to fear him. American culture is based on fear and on the opposition between good and evil. This opposition is the heart of not only the Jewish tradition, but also the Puritan. French culture is more deeply rooted in Catholicism and philosophy. The fundamentals are different. That is why Miller referred to the French as the "Chinese of Europe." The opposition between good and evil is not absolute in a culture that recognizes the relativity of human acts and thought and seeks to contextualize. That is why Sartre was able to write of Saint Genet and why de Sade was such an importance influence on French thought and literature. French culture is trained to see beyond the surface. In America and Britain, especially in the popular press, the emphasis is on the surface, not the depths, of human actions and motivation. In cultures dominated by legalism, as in Britain and America, there is much talk of right and wrong, good and evil, but little justice. The aim of the system is not justice, objectivity or fairness. The objective is simply to win or dominate the other. Absolutism is tyrannical. It is based in lies or deliberate distortion. Human words and actions can only be understood by humanizing the person at hand--by exploring the complexity of motivation and context. Those who dismiss Celine or adopt existing preconceptions about him without trying to understand his character are simply falling prey to the same kind of absolutism they accuse him of in regard to the Jews. The understanding of foreign cultures among Americans is so weak that even those who admire Celine's books are often unable to see them for their true worth or to appreciate their true import. (8) Prendergast fell prey to one of Celine's ruses in Conversations with Professor Y where he understated his contribution to literature. Celine is not the kind of writer to take at face value. Neither should we take at face value the accusations of his accusers.
The more time that is spent talking about Celine's pamphlets and life then the less can be devoted to his novels. It raises the question whether Celine should be judged by his novels or by writing that had political portent that was strictly time-bound and not original, not intended to be part of his contribution to literature, his oeuvre. Celine's critics are adamant that the pamphlets be seen as an integral part of his body of work. This allows them to undermine the genius of his novels by contaminating them with both ideas that are nowadays repugnant (even criminal) and plagiarisms that suggest his major works may be similarly flawed. They are given comfort in their aims by the fact Celine did push his stylistic development further in Bagatelles and Ecole. They thereby forma methodological bridge to his later writing. This allows the pamphlets to weigh upon the other books and undermine their value in the minds of readers and scholars.
By implicating himself clearly in his auto-fictions, Celine allows his detractors the prerogative of returning constantly to his life and using it to assail him. The confusion between the everyday man and the man as portrayed through a fictional avatar who acts and behaves in a way the real man would not, dominates public perceptions. Celine was less guarded and more courageous than Miller. For example, he baited writer and Germany army officer Ernst Junger by making compromising comments that Junger later used to attack him. The irony of a German who had taken an oath of allegiance to Hitler, criticizing Celine for anti-Semitism is palpable. Celine's pronouncements, both in the pamphlets, in public letters and in conversations with those he despised, were part of a satirical technique to push reactions to the absolute limits. They are designed to shock and provoke, like koans. They were intended to expose the depths of human hypocrisy and cruelty.
Celine's writing revives the debate between Sartre and Georges Bataille about the nature of literature. When Sartre claimed that literature was innocent, he was both lying and trying to justify himself. A committed Communist, Sartre saw himself as writing books that were innocent--as innocent perhaps as the lie he told which nearly cost Celine his life? It was once said that Sartre went blind the year The Gulag Archipelago was published. It was his defense against the evidence of a murderous totalitarianism he had advocated for decades. Literature encompasses evil if for no other reason than mankind encompasses a potential for evil that lies within the heart and soul of every one of us. Attacks on Celine by Communists raise not only the question why those writers who unequivocally espoused Communism are not considered responsible for the mass murders and imprisonments carried out in its name, but Celine, who was never a Nazi, is considered complicit in genocide. Tens of millions of deaths and lives spent in exile or in prison at the hands of Communists and it is still fashionable to be a Communist in countries throughout the world, including France.
When Celine was indicted for treason in the aftermath of the Liberation, thus facing the death penalty, the charge was politically motivated and rooted in a sense of national shame. His was the voice that reminded the French of the Collaboration--the baseness, anti-Semitism and cowardice that had characterized the life of France for years. His pamphlets, which had sold in the tens of thousands, expressed ideas that had been shared by millions of French, and which now had to be repudiated by the entire nation. The epuration sauvage was a period of summary executions, revenge killings, looting, tonte and most who had collaborated desperately trying to vanish or rewrite history. It was typified by De Gaulle's statement that the French had liberated themselves. Celine had written otherwise. He knew thousands of French soldiers had run from the Germans as fast as they could--throwing their weapons in ditches to lighten their load. The purge was also a time of unbridled cruelty and opportunism; avaricious men raping companies and destroying lives built by their less-well-connected competitors. His enemies judged Laval, at his trial. The judge (who had worked under Vichy) and jury openly insulted and taunted him during the proceedings. For the powerful, like Gaston Gallimard, absolution and a new past could easily be bought. For those less so, they could easily face a sadistic death at the hands of their rivals. There was little justice, mainly dissimulation and revenge, the full horror of which reminded of the French Revolution. Celine likened it to a corrida.
The Realpolitik of post-war Europe allowed countries and individuals to expunge from the record the sordid aspects of their past. Post-1945, Romania was no longer the country of the Iasi pogrom. Italy was no longer the progenitor of Fascism, but a defenseless, family-oriented, Catholic nation, under the moral guidance of the infallible Pontiff. France was a victim--a country peopled by the Resistance, readers of books from Editions de minuit, the victims of Oradour; not the slutty bedfellow of the occupying German forces, to whom they denounced neighbors while they drank at La Coupole, reading anti-Semitic tracts published by Denoel and Gallimard subsidiaries and front-companies led by straw men, and whose Gendarmes and Milice had bundled Jews into cattle cars bound for Auschwitz. Celine was now a traitor and profiteer--Hitler's mistress. In reality, he was their bouc-emissaire.
As evidence gathered by David Alliot (9) has shown, the indictment against Celine for treason was not only dishonest but also incompetent. Any independent judiciary would have rejected it. For a country that had collaborated for years to accuse Celine of treason was the ultimate hypocrisy. In 1945, in France, with Celine's old enemies, the Communists, the dominant political force and an atmosphere of murderous revenge there was no such thing as a fair indictment, let alone a fair trial. When Sartre, in Juif et antisemite (1945), claimed he had been paid by the Gestapo, it was a lie that could have cost Celine his life. Sartre knew it. The real motivation was for Sartre, who was compromised, to distance himself from Celine, who had been one of his main influences and whose allegedly anti-Semitic play L'Eglise (10) he had quoted in La Nausee. Sartre had even come to Celine during the war and asked for his help in persuading the German authorities to support performances of one of his plays (to which Celine replied he had no influence over them).
From the start, Celine's literary voice was seen as not only the most powerful among his contemporaries, but also charged with political import. His anarchism combined with antimilitarism, agnosticism and anti-bourgeois stance initially led many to see in him a potential ally to the Communist cause. The (bowdlerized) translation of Voyage by Jewish writer Elsa Triolet became a favorite of Stalin. Trotsky saw Celine as a man who "had walked into the world of great literature the way other men walk into their own home," (11) Not all Communists were convinced he was on their side. Maxim Gorky recognized a nihilist. Without hope, one was obviously an enemy of the Soviet system. He (simplistically) saw Celine as "in every respect ripe for the adoption of Fascism." (12) Emile Henriot realized early that Voyage was, despite appearances, in some ways closer to a pamphlet than a novel. (13)
Celine worked on Mort a Credit for four years. When it was published, (14) fearful of an obscenity trial, Robert Denoel insisted on censoring the book. This served to alienate Celine even further from the literary world and publishers ("half grocers, half pimps'). Mort a Credit, which he knew was greater than Voyage, appeared at a time of social unrest and international crisis. It did not equal the commercial or critical success of his first novel. Publicity firmly identified Celine as a satirist. (15) Ten days previously, the Front Populaire had swept to power. A Jewish politician, Leon Blum, became President. He would surround himself with Communists, Socialists and fellow Jews. The popular press referred to his "Talmudic cabinet." Maurice Thorez, French Communist leader, spoke of the melding of the tricoleur and the red flag of hope. (16)
On December 28th 1936 Celine published Mea Culpa, ostensibly an account of a journey he took to Leningrad. (17) It was written in a combination of disgust at the poor reception of Mort a Credit, a sense of trying to outdo the popular pamphleteers of the day (such as Goncourt winner Henri Beraud) and the affront he felt at being approached by the Soviet Consul and encouraged to write a eulogy to Stalinism. (18) Celine revealed a vision of Russian Communism based on "bluff and tyranny,"--imposed by terror and deception. Every war and revolution began with optimism and ended in mass murder. Mankind would always find a way to "create its own tortures, under any conditions." The predominant instinct would always be the death instinct. (19) Early in 1937 a change took place that led to the anti-Semitic pamphlets, beginning with Bagatelles pour un massacre. In late 1936 he had begun to mention the Jews specifically in terms of politics. (20)
Celine's first anti-Semitic pamphlet was composed during the summer of 1937--a rapidly written diatribe that, as Celine freely admitted, borrowed liberally from other authors. It included both fiction and ballets. (21) Political and social pamphlets and anti-Semitic literature, which sold in vast quantities, exemplified by Drummont's La France juif, had been a staple of French writing and popular culture, for decades. The comic nature of Celine's book was clearly identified in the publicity blurbs: "For a good laugh in the trenches;" "the most hateful, but most unbelievable lampoon the world has ever seen." The massacre of the title was hot a massacre of Jews, as uninformed writers have suggested, but rather a massacre of Aryans provoked by the Jews, which Celine saw himself trying to avoid. Celine resigned his medical position, before his Jewish superior fired him. (22)
Reactions to Bagatelles were mixed. Gide, saw it merely as an "exercise de style." Other critics wrote it was obviously a satire, a Rabelaisian work, which is how Celine himself described it. Jewish writer, Georges Zerapha, accurately divined that: "Celine has not for one moment considered that an Aryan reader might take him seriously and respond to his call by murdering one or several Jews." Rene Vincent suspected that Celine was himself Jewish. (23) Even most radical anti-Semites were unable to take the book seriously.
It is hard to imagine today that when Celine was indicted (1945) anti-Semitism was not an issue. The Holocaust did not become central to accounts of World War Two, in either France or America, until decades later. The very language of discourse, political and literary dialectic, race and nationality, and cultural norms have altered to the point where it is almost impossible for a contemporary reader to understand what he is reading from the viewpoint of the 1930s. Wyndham Lewis is today widely perceived as a Nazi simply from the title of his 1939 book The Jews: Are They Human? Not only is the book pro-Jewish, the title was, in its day, an innocent play on G. J. Renier's The English: Are They Human? Post-- Holocaust readers are conditioned to read the title of Lewis' book with the assumption of guilt. No one would find Renier's title offensive.
Celine's pamphlets are racist. He never denied they were. Racism, in 1938, was not a badge of shame. It was everyday behavior from Alabama to Bucharest and round the world. It could be argued the pamphlets are now criminal, because of laws designed to combat racial hatred. In the time and place they were written they were not only legal, but not even considered beyond the pale. This was the age of "Nigger minstrels" and "Jewface," and a very real kind of apartheid, not only in South Africa but also in the American south, where Faulkner grew up regularly hearing of "Niggers" being lynched or burnt alive. Bagatelles was written a few years after the racist, anti-Semitic KKK numbered over four million paid up members. When Desnos attacked Celine's pamphlets, in 1943, he did not write of them as "morally repugnant," but simply boring. Anti-- Semitism had been neither criminalized nor made socially unacceptable. That was not only true of Europe. These books were written with a specific purpose (to avoid war) and for a specific time. Post-1945, Celine wrote that anti-Semitic pamphlets had no reason to exist. He would never have allowed republication--not to shield himself, but literally because he felt there was no reason for them to exist.
In Bagatelles, Celine's alter ego, Ferdinand, portrays Jews as a people constantly holding the world to ransom by the tales of its martyrdom, whilst assuming dominant positions of power in international finance, government, trade and the media. Celine believed that the Jews were a racist people and always had been. He saw little difference between the claim of Aryans being das Herrenvolk and Jews as "God's Chosen People," set apart from other races and nations and above them. "For the Jew every non-Jew is nothing but an animal." Celine was not a Fascist. He did not follow Hitler, but spoke of him (prior to his knowledge of the Holocaust) as a potential ally because the French and Germans were of the same race. Only an alliance between France and Germany could avoid war, he believed. (24) In 1938, Celine admired what Hitler had done to improve the lot of ordinary people in his country and to give a nation back self-respect after the humiliation of Versailles. He spoke of the world as a trust in which the Jews hold all the shares--with subsidiaries such as Communism, Monarchism, Democracy and perhaps even Fascism.
His narrator, Ferdinand, is spoken of a clown, even insane. He is a member of an Aryan race that has become debased to the point of worthlessness. The Aryan is a coward, ashamed of his race, -stupid and weak. He no longer even has a soul. The French are a pitiful group of narcissistic, robotic alcoholics living under a form of Jewish Fascism, mesmerized by Jewish-controlled media. Celine wrote of "modern civilization" as the "complete standardization" of the lives of the masses under the command of the Jew. "The Aryan mass believes only in the billboards of Jewish politicians and Jewish movies...." In the conflict between Jews and Aryans Ferdinand speaks of the opposition between intellect and emotion, ideas and feeling. "Personally they bother me very little, practically not at all," he wrote; "our Aryan bourgeoisie ... are a thousand times more reprehensible than the most fetid kike." When it came down to it there was probably little difference between Fascism and Communism. Both were potentially murderous.
The task of opposing the Jew is always presented as hopeless, even suicidal. It is clear that Celine has a vision that makes victory of the Aryan over the Jew impossible. He admires many qualities he ascribes to the Jews and castigates the Aryan for not having the same skills and virtues--including courage, self-- preservation instinct, perseverance, and uncompromising belief systems and group solidarity. His is a vision of despair and resignation. Spenglerian by default, he is certain that his race and civilization will perish. Two hundred years hence there would be nothing more left of them than remained of the Gauls.
L'Ecole des Cadavres was published November 1938. It spoke of democracies desperate to go to war ... a mass of domesticated and depersonalized Aryans, suffering from fratricidal hatred, hypnotized by the machinations and propaganda of a Jewish tyranny. The U.S., the world's leading industrial power, is seen as a country dominated by Jewish interests. The public is manipulated towards a hatred for Germany and anti-Semites. The end result would be an apocalyptic war with tens of millions of corpses, from which the Jews would emerge stronger than ever. The American Dream was, for every home: "three radios, six cars, four fridges, seven telephones.... a super-sized television." Celine uses "Fascist" as a pejorative term. He writes that democracies and the Russians set themselves up as peace-loving protectors of the oppressed and defenders of human rights. In reality, they serve their own vested interests and are equally capable of inhumanity, racism, oppression and mass murder for political and financial ends as Hitler. America and Britain needed a Europe constantly at war with itself to prevent the emergence of a major power block that could threaten their own empires. Celine was in favor of a united Europe based around integration of France and Germany, as existed under Charlemagne. He believed that Switzerland proved that French, Germans and Italians could live together in a strong, cohesive state and prosper, whilst avoiding future wars. He saw himself as a proponent of a single European state, as will eventually emerge from the European Union.
In a forthcoming war the result would be of no interest to France. The nation would be lost, body and soul. All that would remain were fictions and memories--washed in blood. War was suicide. It would be a catastrophe, followed by a purge. "We will go to the Jew's war. We are good for nothing except to die ... even the self-preservation instinct is lost to us." He knew that: "The French, when abroad, far from seeking each other out, avoid each other, hate each other, tear each other apart as much as they can. No sense of solidarity. During foreign occupations they denounce each other." They had the "fatalism of the abattoir." Victory for America and Britain was victory for the Jews. He did not advocate genocide, (25) but rather of expulsion of Jews from France and the closure of all Masonic lodges and secret societies. He advocated an alliance with Hitler solely to preserve peace in Europe. Celine wrote that Fascist countries did not want to fight. They had nothing to gain and everything to lose by going to war.
Celine was a bitter enemy of materialism, which he linked to Judaism. "L'imagination materialiste nous condemn a l'infini dans la destruction ... au suicide par la matiere... Lorsque l'homme divinise la matiere il se tue." Modern wars, he wrote, were "pogroms of Aryans organized by the Jews." Fascism was the natural enemy of Capitalism. It was the Germans who saved Europe from Bolshevism in 1918. He wrote that there exists no fundamental, irremediable hatred between the French and Germans. "The Judeo-British genius consists in pitting us against each other in a constant carnage."
Les Beaux Draps (1941) is markedly different in tone from Celine's earlier pamphlets. He attacks the cowardice of French army and the hypocrisy and cruelty of the French. The only idea anyone seemed to have any more was to become rich. With no notion of paradise and hope for the future, everything had become concentrated in a materialistic and vicious present. The French were a race of sado-masochistic and spineless snobs. The dream of 99% of French people is to die a fonctionnaire, with a guaranteed pension and a member of the Legion d'honneur.
Celine's opponents claim that his pamphlets call for the genocide of the Jews. They do not. In Bagatelles, his Jewish friend asks Ferdinand (not Celine) if he wants to kill the Jews. He replies that the Jews don't seem to hesitate in bringing about the death of their opponents. He speaks of "Jewish Communism" being responsible for ten million deaths in Russia alone (by 1938). He writes: "in the process of my being pushed towards the front line, I'd kill them all...". His phrase is a rhetorical one in a satirical text and could not be taken literally by anyone. Does anyone believe that Celine would personally kill fifteen million Jews on his way to the trenches? Or that he would even kill one? In Les Beaux Draps, he writes of seizing the puppet-master's strings, by which they manipulate the world, and strangling them. Again, it is satire, and cannot be taken literally or as an incitement to mass murder.
Celine's pamphlets are written in a way that is easy to misinterpret and misconstrue. It is easy for his enemies to find quotes to take out of context or mistranslate that condemn him. Stylistically, they represent an important innovation in his transposition of the emotion of the spoken language. They are neither scientific nor logical. They are written from the depths of the delirium in which Celine's hatreds are an expression of his fears and traumas rather than a desire for blood. His "Jews" are abstractions--- not the sub-humans that Nazis believed they were leading to the gas chambers, but rather a race that had already proven its superiority over the Aryan--and which would, in its turn, be superseded by the Chinese.
Celine's pamphlets are emotional documents that transpose the language people use in everyday discourse in moments of rage and fear, but which most writers are loath to commit to paper, because of fear of the consequences. They convey the mood of millions of people of many nationalities at the time. They incorporate the books and gutter press, the rumors, calumnies and lies on which popular anti-Semitism was based. They were not aimed at intellectuals, but at the man in the street. The leitmotifs of the pamphlets are pacifism, protectionism and anti-modernity in opposition to the "Jewish" traits of conflict and opposition, internationalism and modernity. His anti-Semitism is born of this. Like Henry Miller and Dostoevsky, his anti-Semitic comments are inspired by spiritual fervor. Unlike Miller and Dostoevsky, Celine does not believe in God or the ability of his country to replace the Jews and Israel as the focal point of a paradise on earth--hence his despair. He knows his cry for national rejuvenation, a return to the values of another era and race solidarity will not be heeded. America and Russia still believed in the future and their potential to be God's chosen people. The French killed God during the Revolution. They instituted a state of constant potential revolution and opposition, under the guise of liberty, equality and fraternity.
That Celine realized the likely results of his actions is clear. He wrote, in Bagatelles, that his own people would eventually punish him for his anti-Semitic writing--not the Jews. He knew he would be imprisoned for his ideas. Both came to pass. He says that the whole world will be against him. For a time it seemed so. This is why critics have seen the writing of the pamphlets as a suicidal act by a man who was thrown into complete horror and trauma at the thought of another carnage--the loss of millions of lives in another war. Celine wrote of his need to provoke and to place himself in danger as almost a sickness, as early as 1932. If one considers him mentally ill, then he should have been given the same treatment as Pound and Hamsun. What some consider his insanity could, in Artaud's terms, be terrifying lucidity. His writing was always on the edge of death--medieval in its vision of human cruelty and hypocrisy.
Celine's pamphlets are clearly anti-Semitic. By today's standards they are vile and criminal. It is easy to understand why there are those who refuse to lay them aside and focus on his novels. They are written out of despair--part of a hopeless fight against the death instinct in Man. Celine, 1937-43, does not see Jews as the great victims of the world's hostility, but rather the cause of the greatest suffering to humanity through the religious, political, financial and scientific theories and systems they had helped originate: ranging from Christianity, Communism, Socialism and Democracy, to psychoanalysis and the atomic bomb. One anomaly in his system is that he was an anarchist and that many leading anarchists, such as Emma Goldman and Ben Reitman, were Jews.
A close reading of Celine's writings shows that it is not simply Jews (followers of Judaism) that he attacks. His "Jews" are anyone who adheres to any of the belief systems that he classes as Jewish in origin. The Americans are Jews to him, as are the British and most of the French. The Sorbonne is a "synagogue" to him, as are the offices of Gallimard, the Soviets, The City of London and British Intelligence Service. Atone point he even claimed Hitler (Schicklgruber) was a Jew. Celine never conceived that Jews would actually be exterminated en masse. He knew that Hitler would lose the war from the start, because "an army that does not bring a social revolution with it is certain to be defeated." In his ravings against the Jew, Celine is really raging against a host of ideologies, religious, financial and social structures. His support of expulsion of Jews from France he saw merely as the extension of a practice that had been enacted for centuries. The yellow star and idea of making Germany judenrein was perceived as little different than policies undertaken is several countries previously. Stalin was forcibly evicting peoples from their ancestral homelands and taking opponents to gulags, leaving millions to die of starvation, as he wrote. When it has suited them, the Americans had not hesitated to evict and dispossess the "savage" Indians to gain resources and lebensraum, or the British to create concentration camps. How many Palestinians were evicted to create the state of Israel? We look back at Celine's pronouncements on Jews with disbelief or outrage simply because our notions of race are so different from those of his time and because we have horrific knowledge of mass extermination, which he never possessed until years after he wrote them. If Germany wanted to be rid of its Jews then, as the Evian Conference and the S.S. St. Louis showed, no one else (except the Dominican Republic and maybe Shanghai!) was eager to accept them.
In America, which has the largest, wealthiest and most powerful Jewish community in the world, the Holocaust has become a central factor in everyday life and nationalist and religious identity --a major component in the ties that bind Israel, Jews and Americans closely together. Its constant presence in the media, history classes, memorials etc. have led to such an overwhelming abundance of information and images (and the veneration of victims and survivors) that some writers regularly speak of the "Holocaust cult" or "Holocaust industry." This leads to a situation where objective writing about Celine or attempting to contextualize him is both unwelcome and career suicide. (26) The Holocaust is kept so central to our consciousness of history that even to mention other genocides is sure to garner attacks.
Bagatelles was written in an age when Anti-Semitism was commonplace, even in America. Jews were linked indelibly in the mind of millions of people with several events and trends that appeared to threaten social and political hegemony. This was exacerbated by the migration of millions of Jews from Eastern and Central Europe to the West and America. They were seen to pose a major threat to existing communities, professions and vested interests. In the field of politics, prominent Jews were often associated with Anarchism (Goldman, Reitman, and Berkman etc.), Communism (Marx, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Luxemburg, Kun, Lemberg etc.) and attempts at assassination and the murder of members of royal families (Yurovsky etc.). Governments were seen as under threat from Jewish terrorists: perceptions that led to the Red Ark and the portrayal of both Anarchists and Communists as member of cults, wedded to propagande par le fait. Marx had written that Democracy was merely a staging post on the road to Socialism and Communism. Celine said that he had not attacked Jews when they were in a position of weakness, but rather of great power--with a Jewish President in France, a Jewish war minister (Hoare-Belisha) in Britain, Jews in positions of power in Russia and several Jews close to Roosevelt enacting what his opponents referred to as "the Jew Deal."
Anyone who writes about Celine's pamphlets faces the fact that to Anglophone readers even the style in which they are written is alien. The French pamphlet genre is pessimistic, violent and given to caricature, hyperbole and extreme satire. In "A Modest Proposal" Swift suggested the starving Irish ease their burden by selling their babies to the rich to be eaten. Rabelais wrote of building a wall of cunts around Paris. Neither expected their words to be taken literally. Celine's attacks on Jews were of the same ilk. They were not an incitement to mass murder. Events overtook his satire. (27) He became implicated in evil that he could never have imagined. Celine courted danger. He was a provocateur, who sometimes said things just to bait his enemies and those he despised (such as Ernst Junger). Celine often assumed a persona to place a barrier between him and the world. The barrier between his life and writing is fluid because of the very nature of his writing process, which consisted of a form of delirium where the osmosis between life and fiction became complete.
Celine knew that the victors write and rewrite history--not only of a conflict but also of their own failings and crimes. We live in an age where any criticism of individual Jews or Israel, either for current events or events in the past is easily accepted as anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is so closely tied to the Holocaust that anyone suspected of it is automatically linked to genocide and evil. Solzhenitsyn was vilified for his book Deux siecles ensemble. His enormous contributions to the eradication of Communist tyranny were sidelined. The book was never published in English. Probably no publisher will ever dare issue it in New York. Many Americans now accept he was anti-Semitic, even though they have never read his book and even if they did would lack the historical and cultural knowledge to judge it fairly. Anyone writing about Celine who tries to explain the reasons behind his anti-Semitism is facing an impossible task. They are offering explanations that are not required: judgment has already been passed. Celine realized this. When he wrote Feerie pour un autre fois and Normance he did so for an era (un autre fois) that may still be a century or more away, when history would be seen differently: when America (with its powerful Jewish lobby and media) was no longer the dominant world power and had given way, probably to the Chinese. Signs of that time are already at hand.
On October 2nd 2009, The Washington Times listed Celine as one of five monstres sacre. The writer (typically) spoke of Celine as a "Fascist" and "convicted Nazi collaborator." Celine was an Anarchist all his life. That one cannot be an Anarchist and a Fascist at the same time is beyond both the writer and most of their readers. It is as meaningless as "Islamo-Facist." The intent is, of course, to make a link to the Holocaust. Celine was not a convicted Nazi collaborator. In 1950, he was convicted in absentia for certain passages in Les Beaux Draps in which he had ridiculed the French and for his agreement to reprint the six-year-old text, Bagatelles (in 1943) because it called for an alliance with Germany. The magistrate found that he was not guilty of treason and that the "facts reveal neither relations with the enemy nor the intention to serve the enemy's interests and as a consequence do not constitute criminal activity as prescribed in article 75-5 of the penal code." (28) Those who continued to call for Celine's punishment were those whose ideologies he had attacked (such Surrealists and Communists as Peret and Breton) or those who feared being linked to him (such as Sartre). Albert Camus wrote: "Political justice disgusts me. That is why I believe the trial should be stopped and Celine left in peace." Miller added: "In my opinion it would be a disgrace for France to make Celine a scapegoat." Jean Cocteau said: "Celine's significance as a writer far outweighs that of which he is accused." He hoped that Celine would be exonerated. At a new trial, in civil court, January 1950, when excerpts from Les Beaux Draps were read, the courtroom was filled with laughter at his satirical portrait of the French army. Celine was convicted simply of maligning France and the French. In a stark reminder of how different our culture is. Anti-Semitism was not even mentioned. His pardon was granted in 1951. Even his conviction was a face-saving act. He had to be convicted of something or else the Resistance and Army would feel insulted and the total incompetence and lies of state prosecutors made obvious.
Why do those writers who attack Celine feel it is necessary to lie about his writings and acts? The answer rests partly in their lack of familiarity with more than a basic overview of his life and work and a reliance on previous writers who had an axe to grind. This is exacerbated by cultural differences between then and now and between France and the Anglophone world and the difficulty of translating both his language and its context. For others, the reason is more sinister. Some writers, who know better, deliberately feed misinformation to unsuspecting readers about Celine in an attempt to further their own political and academic agenda. Ramona Fotiade is an expert on the Communist writer, Andre Breton, who despised Celine and was despised by him in turn. Prendergast is an expert on Proust, Celine's main rival as the leading literary figure in twentieth century French-language literature.
If Prendergast's embarrassing statement that Celine could "by no stretch of the imagination" be considered "a major writer," were true then why would anyone care what he wrote, seventy years ago? Would anyone still be reading him? He would be as obscure to modern readers as Marcel Jouhandreau. The reality is much different. Celine is attacked so vehemently precisely because he is a great writer and because what he wrote still terrifies his enemies. He is persecuted today for similar reasons as he was persecuted in the 1930s. There is always that fear that he has the power to convince and the fact that he wrote things that many people still believe but no one else dare utter.
If Celine's pamphlets are reprinted, there are many that are afraid they would help engender new anti-Semitism. There are clearly still things in them that those susceptible to those beliefs could espouse. If Celine wrote, in 1937-8, of America being in thrall to the Jews, do we really believe that there are not those to share the sentiment today--that America is greatly influenced by Israel and its Jewish lobby. If Celine writes that Jews use the media and film industry to promote the interests of Jews and Israel, does everyone believe that is untrue? If Celine writes that Jewish financial interests have the power to shape the policies of governments, would everyone disagree? It is only one step from there to claiming that the "Holocaust industry" is a method of not only making vast profits off other people's tragic suffering and horrific deaths and that the Holocaust is used as a smokescreen to justify or exonerate anything that Israel and individual Jews wish to do, no matter how barbaric or wrong--one law for them and one for the rest. With rising tensions between Israel and the Muslim world, notably Iran, some would ask, how long will it be before America goes to war for Israel--ninety-seventh country in terms of population, with a nuclear arsenal? At that point, some people might suddenly see Celine's pamphlets as topical again. Did he foresee a battle to the death between Islam and Judeo-Christian democracies? Does it sound far fetched? When Celine spoke of the emergence of the Chinese and their eventual mastery of the globe, people ridiculed him. Given the rising power of China, its central role in the world economy and the fading supremacy of the United States, does he still seem so impossibly wrong?
Celine's anti-Semitism is, like sex in Miller's writing, the red herring. It is neither the core of his writing and philosophy nor the main thrust of his attacks on civilization or humanity. If his pamphlets are damning attacks on Jews then they are also merciless towards gentiles. It is the avarice, weakness, cupidity, fratricidal hatred, cowardice and soullessness of his race that have condemned them and their civilization to self-destruction. When critics focus on Celine's anti-Semitism it allows them to disregard the other objects of his ire: Communism, Democracy, materialism and the cruelty, sadism, cowardice, greed and hypocrisy inherent in human nature. It allows them to distract from the fact that Celine's bleak view of humanity was, in many respects, terrifyingly accurate--so much so that he has to be destroyed or discredited so that others don't have to examine their own lies and their own countries' complicity and responsibility for the Holocaust and crimes against the potential divinity in Man.
A close reading of Celine's books shows that his disillusionment with mankind was almost complete. Those who profess great admiration for him usually focus on Voyage au bout de la nuit and Mort a Credit. Expressing admiration for Feerie pour un autre fois and Normance is likely to raise the ire of not only his enemies, but even Celine's strongest advocates. The reasoning is that these two volumes can be most closely linked to Celine's years of imprisonment, his trial and his wartime activities and are thus most likely to renew attacks on both the writer and man. Drawing attention to these texts provides an occasion for his detractors to unleash all the old arguments about his political views and racism, which can only harm his reputation.
A book should be judged on its literary merits, not on the life of its author or on the basis of other books he wrote. Normance is a major work of art. It has political overtones, but much more to the point, it has spiritual implications that reach far beyond the Second World War. As with Celine's other post-war books, this chronicle is not merely a partial record of a moment in time, it is a commentary on the whole of human history and the nature of humanity. One expression of that is the constant refusal of people and nations to admit responsibility for their own failings and to seek out scapegoats who may bear their burden. It was Celine's destiny that he lived out the kinds of suffering, torment, terror and punishment that was often meted out to Jews by the Nazis. He was not murdered, but if he had not fled France he would have been. His punishment lasted in one form or another for the rest of his life. Celine became a pariah, who, decades after his death, is repeatedly retried and punished for crimes that in his day were not crimes at all. For the first time, after 1946, Celine understood what the Jews had lived with for centuries: the vilification, the fear, the lies, oppression, injustice, the fear for their lives, loss of property and liberty and so forth. It was his pride that made him unable to express his own guilt. Instead, he identified with the Jew and turned against his fellow Aryans.
The entire body of Celine's work is in danger of being driven out of its worthy place in the literary canon because of views he expressed that were once commonplace and are now unforgivable. Christopher Prendergast was angered at my attempt at "normalization" of Celine's anti-Semitism. The fact he does not know that it was normal in the 1930s shows his inability to grasp history as it was lived, as opposed to how it was rewritten. My description of Celine as a satirist was described as "old." Just because something is old does not make it untrue. The story of the Holocaust is old, but most dreadfully, appallingly true.
William Faulkner wrote that we live in an age of spiritual cowardice. More than that, we live in an age that worships death, soullessness, lies and mediocrity. Celine was a racist and an anti-Semite. He can and should be condemned morally for that. He was also a genius. His achievements in literature should not be negated by his moral failings. He was not a coward, like those who seek revenge against him now and those who would destroy great literature because it tells a story or expresses ideas they cannot bear to face. What would assuage the rage of his enemies? Celine is long dead. Fie can't be executed. It's illegal to desecrate his grave. In my opinion, he suffered enough and died more than once during his lifetime. His books endure. What point in trying a man if you have decided to find him guilty before the trial begins? Perhaps a show trial makes one feel better about oneself, about one's own country and past. It serves no purpose in terms of justice. It is easily to condemn a man as evil--much harder to understand what made him that way. Should Celine's books now be banned or burned? Should they be dismissed as worthless (against all the evidence) and allowed to disappear into oblivion? Ramona Fotiade gave a clue to what his detractors seek. The word is "retribution." Retribution is payback. The notion is "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." Yet, have they no idea that eradicating a genius and his books will never atone for the death of six million? To eradicate Celine's literary writings would be a crime against the human spirit.
It is my belief that any writer must have the ability to put on paper anything he chooses. The attempts to persecute him for this or to destroy his career and literary reputation in revenge are nothing more than an expression of sheer terror at the ideas he expresses. The immorality of morality is an age-old story, as Celine knew. In another age, it would have led to being burned at the stake or tortured to death. We are more sophisticated now. We commit our murders in public by subtly destroying a lifetime of literary achievement by lies and calumny and by rewriting history. Louis-Ferdinand Celine wrote that the one great man of his time was Gandhi. He believed that the human race had not yet been born. He eventually came to see the war between Jews and Gentiles as one of pride. In 1947, he wrote:
It is time to put an end to anti-Semitism on principle. By means of fundamental idiocy anti-Semitism is meaningless.
Would his enemies ever quote that?
My hope is that the publication of Normance, and later the republication of Celine's pamphlets (contextualized by a historian, not a politically correct flunkey or Jewish academic), will serve a purpose that allows us to improve the lot of humanity and not lose ourselves in a constantly renewing war of ideologies and hatreds. Anti-Semitism is vile. The Holocaust is something that must be remembered and that should never happen again. The pain and rage certain Jews feel towards Celine for what he wrote in his pamphlets is both understandable and justified. However, great writers must be allowed their rightful place in the history of literature. Over a century ago Mark Twain wrote texts that could easily have been judged as treasonous and others capable of inspiring religious hatred. Many of the most important writers and thinkers have expressed ideas that could at the time of their publication have led to imprisonment or death. That should not be our world. If we will not fashion a place where a man cannot be put to death or his life ruined for expressing his ideas then the world we live in is no better than that of the Nazis and the Gulags. Prisons do not always have bars and locks upon the doors. Much of contemporary society lives in a prison of its own making, where both imagination and honesty have long since vanished.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn once wrote:
It is not because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes ... we make mistakes because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it accords with our emotions--especially selfish ones.
That was true of Celine, but also of his enemies. Human nature is often hypocritical and cruel, as well as sadistic and violent. Behavior is often fear driven. Indifference to the fate of others and baseness comes almost as easily as crocodile tears and false sympathy. Few would risk their lives to save their neighbor. If the criticisms of humanity made in Celine's books were ever really apprehended and understood they could provide the basis for a most profound soul searching and a rejuvenation of the human spirit --rather than the force for destruction and murder that some would have us believe.
Suggested Further Reading
Alliot, David. L'Affaire Louis-Ferdinand Celine. Paris: Horay, 2007.
-- --. Celine a Meudon. Paris: Ramsay, 2006.
Almeras, Phillippe. Je suis le bouc: Celine et l'antisemitisme. Paris: Denoel, 2000.
Bonneton, Andre-Alexandre. As-tu lu Celine? Paris: Ibis Rouge Editions, 2006.
Celine, Louis-Ferdinand A l'Agite du bocale Editions de l'Herne 2006.
-- --. Bagatelles pour un massacre. Paris: Denoel, 1937.
-- --. Castle to Castle. Champaign: Dalkey Archive, 2007.
-- --. Conversations with Professor. Champaign: Dalkey Archive, 2006.
-- --. Ecole des Cadavres. Pairs: Denoel, 1938.
-- --. Fable for Another Time. Lincoln: Bison Books, 2003. Les Beaux Draps. Paris: Denoel, 1941.
-- --. Lettres a Albert Paraz. Paris: Gallimard, 1980.
-- --. Lettres de Guerre Np: Np, 1981.
-- --. Lettres a Marie Canavaggia. Paris: Gallimard, 2007.
-- --. Lettres a La NRF. Paris: Gallimard, 1991.
-- --. Lettres a Lucette Destouehes & Maitre Mikkelsen. Paris: Gallimard, 1998.
-- --. Lettres a son avocat. Paris: La Flute de Pan, 1984.
-- --. Normance. Champaign: Dalkey Archive, 2009.
-- --. North. Champaign: Dalkey Archive, 2006.
-- --. Rigadoon. Champaign: Dalkey Archive, 1997.
-- --. Romans. 4 vols. Paris: Gallimard (Pleiade), 1981-93.
-- --. Semmelweis. London: Atlas, 2008.
Dauphin, Jean-Pierre, and Pascal Fouche. Celine et l'actualite 1933-61. Paris: Gallimard, 1986.
Dauphin, Jean-Pierre, and Henri Godard. Celine et l'actualite 1932-57. Paris: Gallimard, 1986.
Derval, Andre. 70 critiques de Voyage au bout de la nuit 1932-35. Paris: IMEC Editions, 1995.
Destouches, Lucette, and Robert Veronique. Celine secret. Paris: Grasset, 2001.
Drumont, Edouard. La France Juif. 2 vols. Paris: Flammarion, 1886.
Egger, Anne. Robert Desnos. Paris: Fayard, 2007.
Fotiade, Ramona. "Celine on the Run." Times Literary Supplement 3 July 2009: .6.
Gibault Francois Celine. 3 vols. Paris: Mercure de France, 1985.
Hewitt, Nicholas. The Life of Celine. London: Blackwell, 1999.
Hindus, Milton. The Crippled Giant. Waltham: Brandeis UP, 1986.
Juilland, Alphonse. Elisabeth & Louis. Paris: Gallimard, 1994.
Kaminski, H.E. Celine en chemise brune. Paris: Editions Champ Libre, 1983.
Kaplan, Alice Yaeger. Releve des sources et citations dans Bagatelles pour un massacre. Tusson: Du Lerot Editions, 1987.
Monnier, Pierre. Ferdinand Furieux. Paris: L'Age D'Homme, 2009.
Morand, Jacqueline. Les Idees politiques de L-F Celine. Paris: Pichon & Durand 1972.
Orend, Karl. "A Mirror Held to Horrors." Time Literary Supplement 19 June 2009: 19-20.
Prazan, Michael. L'Ecriture genocidaire. Paris: Calman-Levy, 2005.
Prendergast, Christopher. "Celine." Time Literary Supplement 22 July 2009.
Rossel-Kirschen, Andre. Celine et le grand mensonge. Paris: Mille et Une Nuits, 2004.
Roth, Samuel. Jews Must Live. Madison, NJ: Golden Hind P, 1934.
Roux, Dominique de. La Mort de L-F Celine. Paris: La Table Ronde, 2007.
Scullion, Rosemary, et al. Celine & the Politics of Difference. Lebanon: UP of New England, 1995.
Seebold, Eric. Essai de situation des pamphlets de L-F Celine. Tusson: Du Lerot Editions, 1985.
Stamen, A. Louise. With the Stroke of a Pen. New York: St. Martin's, 2002.
Tettamanzi, Regis L'Aesthetique d'outrance; Ideologie et stylistique dans le pamphlets de L-F Celine. 2 vols. Tusson: Du Lerot Editions, 1999.
Vitoux, Frederic. Celine. St. Paul: Paragon House 1992.
(1) This essay is the first of a two-part work. The second will explore the links and differences between Miller and Celine, in terms of writing, literary reputation and personality. It will also explore perceptions of their alleged anti-Semitism. Celine's influence on Miller, whom he called his "unfortunate plagiarist," will be examined in depth.
(2) After decades of banning in Germany, certain German Jews have requested the republication of Hitler's Mein Kampf. They are fearful that when copyright expires neo-Nazis will use it for propaganda and so wish to issue their own annotated edition. One wonders if Celine's pamphlets will be reissued in a similar way.
(3) Hamsun described himself as Hitler's "close follower." According to the necrology he wrote in 1945, following Hitler's suicide, Hitler was "a reformative figure of the highest rank" brought down by "unprecedented baseness." "I am not worthy to speak aloud of Adolf Hitler" Hamsun wrote, "... He was a warrior for mankind and a herald of the gospel of justice for all nations". Hamsun referred to the media as "Jewish lackeys." In 2009 he is being celebrated by a multi-million dollar museum and a postage stamp. Both Pound and Hamsun were allowed to escape unpunished with the excuse that their mental faculties were impaired. When Pound returned to Italy after his release from St. Elisabeth's, his first gesture was the Nazi salute.
(4) The epuration was famous for revenge, settling old scores, summary executions, tonte, looting, uncontrolled violence and denunciations for profit. There were up to 80,000 summary executions. Celine's apartment was looted and then requisitioned and his manuscripts destroyed. The confusion between true Resistance fighters and profiteers and common criminals who hid behind the mantle of the Resistance is all too clear, yet deliberately obscured by Fotiade's comments. To contextualize the change in French politics from 1939-45, Thorez, leader of the Communists was sentenced to death in 1939, but made Vice Premier in 1945.
(5) Denoel was compromised. He has not only published Celine's pamphlets, but had even created a special imprint to issue anti-Semitic books and books that the Germans would approve of. He even published Hitler. When he realized the Germans would lose the war he tried to cover his ass by helping opponents of the occupation, such as Communist writer Louis Aragon. One of the reasons he was murdered was that he knew too much that could not be revealed if powerful figures were to survive the purge. See Louise A. Stamen's invaluable account.
(6) Desnos' archival papers, Phyllis Birnbaum wrote, "have the feel of sacred documents." P. Birnbaum Glory in a Line: A Life of Foujita (Macmillan 2006), p.160ff.
Desnos was an active member of the Resistance. He was not an innocent bystander. "Desnos reiterated throughout his captivity that the Germans did not suspect the worst of his crimes. The worst, which carried a penalty of execution by firing squad, being the killing of a German, or having assisted in a killing. He perhaps carried out both." Ann Egger in Robert Desnos (Fayard 2007), p.994. It is certain Desnos took part in high-level espionage, including the providing of documents to a Resistance cell from the offices of the German commander of occupation forces for the entire country. He also wrote articles inciting the French to fight the Germans; he concealed firearms for use in insurgency and consorted with Communists. In the atmosphere of total war it is ridiculous to think that anyone so high profile and obviously dangerous to the occupiers would not be arrested. By writing that he died in a concentration camp, Fotiade implies the worst of horrors, but does not mention that he died after the camp's liberation, under the care of the Red Cross, weakened by an attack by his fellow prisoners, or the fact that, as his wife admitted, he could have escaped arrest in the first place. Desnos was warned by telephone that the Gestapo was coming to take him. He was famous for his arrogance and lack of prudence and attacks on both collaborationist authors and those he perceived as such. Even imprisoned, he committed acts that drew punishment upon himself. It was as if he wanted to become a martyr. He chose his own fate, unlike millions of Jews. His friends had intervened repeatedly with the Vichy and German authorities to obtain his release. He would have died in detention in France had not a German officer destroyed the order to execute him.
(7) My negative review of a book on the death of D. H. Lawrence by David Ellis was roundly attacked by John Worthen--who forgot to mention he is an old friend of Ellis and co-author, with him, of the Cambridge Life of D. H. Lawrence. Worthen implied I knew little, if anything, about Lawrence, although I have studied him for over twenty-five years, helped with The Breach House Museum (Sons & Lovers Cottage) in Eastwood, co-founded The Haggs Farm Preservation Society, published his writings, and have written a book about him.
(8) The ideal solution would be extensively annotated critical editions that would allow them to be read more deeply. The danger that exists here is that the editor would probably feel obligated to pander to the expectations of his readers and to spend extensive time distancing himself from anything that might lead him in turn to be attacked. A career is a fragile thing, if one dares to go against the grain.
(9) David Alliot L'Affaire Louis-Ferdinand Celine Horay 2007.
(10) In 1933, Celine published a revised version of a play, L'Eglise, rejected by Gallimard five years earlier. Hindsight leads readers to see here, in the descriptions of the medical staff of The League of Nations dominated by Jews, the first expression of the Anti-Semitism that later made Celine a pariah. Rather, Celine was playing to a topical theme that year. If Celine did harbor anti-Semitic feelings because of his relations with his (Jewish) superior at the League of Nations, Dr. Rachjman and later his (Jewish) superior at the Clichy Dispensary, Dr Ichok, a man who took a job he believed should be his, then he was in the norm for members of his profession at the time. Foreign doctors and medical students inundated France during the late 1920s and early 1930s. A large proportion of them were Jews from Central and Eastern Europe. By 1933, as many as 30% of doctors in the Seine Department were Jewish. A third of foreign students at the Paris faculty of Medicine were Romanian; 85% of these were Jews. The atmosphere became so bad that one witness described a "pogrom-like atmosphere," with violence on both sides. The French government enacted the Armbruster Law (1933) and Nast Law (1935) to curtail the trend.
(11) Leon Trotsky "Novelist & Politician" in The Atlantic Monthly October 1935.
(12) Maxim Gorky Report to the First Congress of Soviet Writers, August 1934.
(13) Emile Henriot "Sur un ecrivain pessimiste" in Le Temps December 19th 1932.
(14) May 12th 1936.
(15) Celine was identified as "the greatest manufacturer of filth in the world." There were calls for his books to be banned or burned. Denoel felt obliged to publish an "Apologia pour Mort a Credit."
(16) Thorez fled to Russia after deserting the French army at the outbreak of World War Two. He was sentenced to death. The Communist Party won the popular vote in the aftermath of the war and De Gaulle was obliged to pardon Thorez and make him Vice-Premier.
(17) Mea Culpa is the only one of Celine's four pamphlets that is not Anti-Semitic and the only one that has been legally reprinted during the last sixty years. It can be round in Dauphin Celine et l'actualite 1933-61 pp. 30-45.
(18) France had been teetering on the edge of revolution for decades, most recently the attempted coup of February 6th 1934, after which Celine had written to his friend, Erika Irgang: "... in five or six years Europe will be united in blood." Celine's damning indictment of Soviet Russia was one was one of a plethora of accounts of the country written by French writers, such as Gide, Duhamel and Rolland, during the 1930s. It made him an instant object of hatred at Humanite and among French Communists and garnered death threats
(19) Mea Culpa is notable for the fact it did not claim Communism as a Jewish movement. This vision of Judeo-Bolshevism, originating in White Russian Propaganda during the Civil War, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the disproportionate number of Jews in the Communist hierarchy (not to mention Bela Kun, Rosa Luxemburg, Kurt Eisner, and Karl Liebknecht), was widely accepted internationally during the 1920s and 30s by everyone from Adolf Hitler to Winston Churchill.
(20) Stalin was now persecuting Jews in Soviet Russia. The Moscow Show Trials of Jews Trotsky & Zinoviev were still headline news, Hitler had been targeting Jews with increasing venom since the 1935 Nuremberg Laws; many other countries were seeing a massive rise in Anti-Semitism, including the United States. The war between (allegedly Jewish and anti-Catholic) Communist and Fascist ideologies was being played out in Spain. The Jewish population of France had increased by some 40% since 1918, as the United States and other countries curtailed immigration and the British opposed mass migration to Palestine. By March 1937, returning from a trip to New York, Celine was writing of America being finished, in thrall to the Jews. On April 5th he wrote that "the Jews will be victorious everywhere."
(21) It sold 75,000 copies by 1945. The studies by Kaplan and Tettamanzi, listed here, are essential reading for anyone interested in Celine's pamphlets.
(22) The reasons claimed for Celine's anti-Semitism are manifold: conditioning by his father, his resentment of the well-connected Dr. Ichock, who had taken a job in Clichy he felt should have been his, antagonism towards Dr. Rachjman from The League of Nations, wounds brought on by the loss of his muse, Elisabeth Craig, to a Jew, the association of Jews with Communism, which he had felt personally targeted by in both the critical press and in Clichy the association of Jews with the United States, which he had come to hate after the loss of Elisabeth, and especially the government of Roosevelt and his "Jew Deal," the apparent takeover of France by Communist sympathizers and Jews under Blum, the suspicion that Britain (which at that time governed a third of the world) was under the control of Jewish interests. In addition, Celine was enraged by the rejection of three ballets he had submitted for performance at the Marinsky Theatre (Leningrad), the Monte Carlo Ballet and the 1937 Exposition des Arts et Techniques. He blamed these setbacks on a Jewish conspiracy. As early as 1933, a demonstration by 50,000 Jews in London had demanded a boycott on German goods. The 1936 Battle of Cable Street had seen 3,000 of Oswald Moseley's supporters repulsed by a crowd of over 300,000 Jews, Communists and Trade Unionists. Elected in May 1937, Neville Chamberlain appointed a Jew, Leslie Hore-Belisha as Minister for War. Many believed he wanted to engage England in war with Germany, solely for Jewish interests. In France, Celine believed he saw the action of "Nazism in reverse."
(23) Cited in Vitoux, p.320-21. The statement would not have sounded outrageous to anyone who knew of Jews Must Live: An Account of the Persecution of the World by Israel, by Jewish writer and publisher Samuel Roth.
(24) This is the same idea that led to the European Union.
(25) Those who wish to demonize Celine translate his phrase "Le juif droit disparaitre." As the Jew must disappear, i.e. be exterminated. It means 'The Jew must go," i.e. leave the country.
(26) Other mass murders or attempts at genocide, such as the Holmodor, are totally unknown. Now that Communism has ceased to be the great menace, even the Gulags, in which tens of millions lost their lives, are barely mentioned.
(27) The "final solution" was implemented in 1942. Celine learned of it in 1945, some eight years after Bagatelles.
(28) Cited in Vitoux, p.503.
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|Publication:||Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2011|
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