Thursday, June 11, 2009

Furnishings For Another Room

When Louis Ferndinand Déstouches a.k.a. Céline was captured and imprisoned for supposed collaboration after WWII, he started writing his 'fiction' again.

His undeniable masterpiece of WWI, the Belgian congo, Detroit, and other existential nightmares was "Voyage au Bout de la Nuit" - (Céline was always raving about his "Voyage!") - original translation by John H.P. Marks, new translation by Ralph Mannheim. (Writing this post was an attempt to chew up time so I wouldn't go in buy this. I'm going now anyway... sigh.)

More about Journey to the End of the Night

The towering success of this bleak monster haunted him and even in his hard times of poverty and rejection "the professors" (often emissaries from George Plimpton's Paris Reveiw) would forever seek him out to talk to him about this work, often getting it wrong, as many others after them would. ("I: But your feeling is rather one of despair? L-F C: Why not at all. What is this business about despair?") Out of a sense of frustration he wrote a book to answer all their possible questions and get them off his back... You get the impression in some of PR interviews (reproduced in the Penguin editions of 'North') that while the gentle medical practitioner Dr Déstouches really did resent their intrusions, yet he lapped them up as well. What he really needed, he always complained to them, was money not fame. He claimed to be forever in debt to his publishers at Gallimard...

More about Conversations With Professor Y More about North

Céline didn't actually collaborate in the classic sense (he wasn't a Nazi and he was exonerated by a military tribunal in 1951), but for being so outrageous as to be a literary genius and (now ex-)hero and yet write the insanely anti-semitic diatribes of Bagetelle pour un massacre, École des cadavres, and Les beaux draps, he had to be condemned somehow. Céline was not of course alone in his unsavory opinions. French anti-semitism was pretty severe and many did facilitate the Holocaust in more physical ways than Céline. See for e.g. 'Bad Faith' for details on Louis Darquier, the "Commissioner For Jewish Affairs" in Vichy France.

More about Bad Faith

But nevertheless the Bagettelles, et al were there, a chain of infamy around his outspoken neck. His assets were seized and he was imprisoned in Denmark for a year without trial. Céline was pretty furious... mad you might say... about how the French had in his opinion turned coats and let him down. The result was Féerie pour ue autre fois. It is the bridge between the relatively apolitical novels of the pre-war and his German war trilogy 'Castle To Castle', 'North,' and 'Rigadoon' (not to be confused with 'Brigadoon!') all of which have been available for quite some time in English. Finally the Féerie is available in English as 'Fable for Another Time!' There is only one more novel (Féerie... II) to be translated.

More about Fable for Another Time

The word 'Féerie' according to the translator, "can be translated as fairy tale, or fairyland, or enchantment, but it is not precisely any of these, rather a mixture of all three. Féerie also refers to a type of entertainment similar to pantomimes, popular at the turn of the twentieth century, in which a brightly lit stage threw out sparkling images of princesses, goblins, and the like to the delight of the children in the audience." Céline has a penchant for this sort of fabulous romance. Recall the work the narrator is laboring over in 'Death On The Installment Plan' - The Legend of King Krogold - maybe something Céline actually did try to write as a boy.

DOTIP is of course the book pseudo-goth-emo Neve Campbell is reading in Wild Things*.

More about Death on the Installment Plan
(* Could Kevin Bacon pull his pants any HIGHER in that movie?)

Neve's line: (cop looks quizzical at the book on her lap) "Céline. He had a pretty good line on what cheap fucks people are."

Like many people, I discovered Céline in the writing of Kurt Vonnegut Jr, whose posthumous latest is also on my desk here, Armageddon in Retrospect.

More about Armageddon in Retrospect

A truly fantastic person for other reasons, Vonnegut deserves much of the credit for keeping Céline's notoriety alive, in America at least, by talking about Céline in 'Slaughterhouse Five' (this link will take you to the Google reader - search for 'Celine'. I can't wait for the Guillermo Del Toro film remake in a few years) and also for writing the introduction to the German trilogy. Famously KVJr said he got a headache whenever he wrote about Céline. It would seem that KVJr's shrugging acceptance of things horrible was 180° to Céline's angry refusal to accept them, yet somehow the two writers click together...

More about Slaughterhouse-Five

So it goes. Céline claimed at one time to have been trepanned in the war (similar to the Aussie drill story, but before electric motors) for a head injury. Was he trying to explain his lunatic opinions or his crazed style? In actual fact he had a shoulder injury, while he spoke about being shell-shocked in 'Journey'. Other excuses include a ravaged childhood or just that he was plain crazy. He was probably just a person of his time with a gift for exaggeration and ranting. In his medical practice, he was unstintingly egalitarian and generous. A complete contradiction... Well fuck off, he'd say. I am what I am.

(Scroll down in the comments to those of 'arbereagle666' who provides some translation of the first 7 minutes.

e.g. "Celine: I never thought about violence, even I wrote this book with a lot of love, I denounced the reasons of the war, I saved a lot of people, the history gave me reason, but not the humans, this is a big difference. It was a book against the war. There is a difference between the opinion of the others and the facts.") [some spelling changes.]

I was actually looking for the Martin Amis, Clive James, one - here it is at Slate - where at abut 9:50 they splutter about Bagatelle and can't get past his deep antisemitism to speak (it would be so fascinating to hear their opinions, if they had any) of Céline's profound influence on Beckett, Kerouac, Bill Boroughs, not to mention Neve Campbell.

Turns out that James, who speaks at length on the savagery in 'Bagatelle', has only heard that 'Journey' "is supposed to be a good book." WTF Clive - you have read his worst writings but not his best? Amis hasn't read 'Journey' either: "I didn't get far...", and the conversation devolves into an interesting one nonetheless on artistic credibility in the face of overwhelming political reality. Why does the phrase "pompous ass" come to mind?


More about The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov

Nokolai Vavilov was the hard working geneticist whose brilliance was sacrificed by the Stalin regime in pursuit of the pseudo-science of Lysenkoism. Ironically, in this post's context, genetics were considered by Stalinist Russia to be a fascist science since the Germans used it to support their race-based policies. (Stalin hated Georgian Muslims, but there's nothing racist about that.) In the typical millenarianistic logic of all oppressive regimes, to be wrong politically was to be wrong in every other way as well; scientifically, religiously, and racially and therefore you stand in the way of the perfection of whatever vision it is they uphold. It is best for humanity if you just disappear. Gas-chamber, gulag, killing fields, inquisition, Insein prison in Rangoon, literary Coventry - just go away.


Also purchased in the last weeks:

Not every genius, literary or otherwise, escaped the war with their reputations unscathed. Einstein was one, Oppenheimer, not so much. Einstein at first warned of the Germans building an atom bomb yet was always a pacifist, making him a hero. Oppenheimer built the bomb for the Americans and became a pacifist afterwards, making him suspect. I might not have that right. Anyway, in this book I hope to find out what exactly was going on there.

Still waiting for Anobii to catch up - here's the Amazon link.

And finally, one more on mathematics. The Déscartes story this time. Also by Aczel, who wrote the Tryhard book in my previous book post.

More about Descartes's Secret Notebook

I'm having trouble tying this one in with the above ramble about Céline, but big
deal. Enough rambling, there's work to be done... Fuck off...

Armageddon! Armageddon! Armageddon out of here...



Momentary Madness said...

All much too much for a soul like me, though I do admire the passion.
I have to get back to me Beano.

expat@large said...

All just a way of explaining to whomever what I've been doing in my room these past 30 years when I should have been 'out' watching movies. Or getting a degree in literature instead of medical radiography.

savannah said...

so, when you look at your stats, you'll see i was "here" for a very long time, but in reality, i wasn't. i had to answer my front door for a flower delivery and then, i was sidetracked by the esquire 75 movies...(i've seen 71) anyway, what were you going on about? ;~D xoxoxo

expat@large said...

Sav: good for you. Flowers from MITM I presume? He's so nice. I never did flowers, hence me single.

71 movies - you are way more he-man than me! I did see (da da da dada) Terminator Salvation with Indy and gf tonight however.

savannah said...

naw, the flowers were for miss daisy. today's her 87th b-day!
(re the movies, 3 sons and an actress daughter and living in los angeles what do you expect?) xoxox

(patton is one of my absolute most favorite movies!)

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