Céline, Smasher of Every Known Taboo
by Michael Hoffman
21 July 2004
[The following review originally appeared in Instauration, October 1996]
The French they are a funny race, as the limerick says, and from rebel Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who tied the Vatican in sacerdotal knots for a decade, to Paul Rassinier, Robert Faurisson, Henri Roques, Roger Garaudy and now Abbé Pierre, Frenchmen have regularly monkey-wrenched the manufactured consensus of our aspirant mind-molders, sending the Learned Elders into paroxysms of show-trial prosecutors and media maledictions. The godfather of this on-going intellectual insurrection is Louis-Ferdinand Céline. The Times of London recently termed his writings, "The most spectacularly virtuoso anti-Semitic diatribes in modern letters."
These "diatribes" are sprinkled throughout much of his literary output, but especially in three books: Bagatelles pour un massacre, (Trifles for a Massacre); L'Ecole des cadavres (The School for Cadavers) and Les beaux draps (A Fine Mess). These works earned him a death sentence from the post-WWII French government.
Louis-Ferdinand Destouches was born in Paris in 1894 of Celtic parents from Brittany. His father was a clerk; his mother a lace-maker. He would later take his mother's first name, Céline, as his pseudonym. For his service in the French army in WWI
He was awarded the Medaille Militaire...and invalided out of the army with the rate of 75% invalidity. One arm was severely affected and damage to his eardrums left him with permanent tinnitus (ringing in the ears).1
In the 1920s Céline worked for the medical department of the League of Nations, later traveling to America where he labored as a doctor in the Ford Motor Company.
Céline's first novel, Journey to the End of the Night, was published in 1932 by the major French house, Denoël. Its avant-garde theme created a sensation. It was translated into a dozen languages and acclaimed as one of the monumental works of French literature. Wrote the critic, Lucien Rebatet: "Céline...since Proust the greatest event in French literature."
The prize-winning book was followed in 1936 by another bestseller, Death on the Installment Plan. By now a cataclysmic, strangely vital voice had emerged in France. Never mind that it constituted the blackest vision and harshest truths articulated in modern literature.
Céline was soon a hero to the left for both his innovative, slap-dash writing style and the ferocity of his critique of bourgeois society. After a 1936 trip to Soviet Russia, however, he denounced the Reds as just another gang of swindlers:
The program of communism? In spite of all assertions to the contrary: completely materialistic. The claims of the brute for the usage of brutes...to stuff the belly. Take a look at the mug of fat Marx, his belly full2
Céline was not opposed to communism in principle. He believed the white race was dying due to a lack of community consciousness and the prevalence of a ferocious egotism that he spotted behind the jingoism of Soviet propaganda:
In Leningrad, all around the hotels for tourists, many loiter who would buy anything from you, from head to foot, from your shirt to your overshoes. This basic individualism directs the whole farce, in spite of everything, undermines everything, corrupts everything. A frenzied, feverish, bitter, gibbering egotism, that permeates and corrodes a destitution that is atrocious enough in itself -- a desperate egotism that saturates everything and makes it stink all the more...Self-interest may be curbed, but it is not merged.
Céline's profound and vicious reaction against the modern world was expressed in his rage against the machine, the cult of which Lenin, Ford and Stalin had raised to a pinnacle of optimism and idolatry:
As for the spirit of Man, as for his happiness in Russia there is the Machine....To tell the truth, Machinery rots, corrupts, condemns and kills all who come near it. But Machinery is now "good form." It means "mass production," it means "progress"....So it makes a great hit with the masses. It makes them feel like technicians and specialists; it inspires loyalty....Machinery is infection itself. The supreme defeat. What a sorry joke! The best machine ever invented has never effected deliverance for anyone. It has brutalized Man more cruelly and that is all there is to it!...All the Ford factories resemble each other, whether in the Soviets or anywhere else. To rely on machinery....means to evade the real question, the closest, the only, the crucial one, hidden in the depths of every regular gu, in his own heart, in his own guts and nowhere else! ...As long as he is standing up, on all fours, lying down or even upside down, Man has never had, in the air, or on this earth, but one single Tyrant: Himself!... And he will never have any other....Maybe a real Tyrant could have tamed him, made a social being out of him after all.3
Paradoxically, Céline, the dyed-in-the-wool revolutionary, was bitterly hostile to all modern rebellions. He knew what he wanted -- an organic white community -- and he knew it had to be built on poetry. But he believed that contemporary Aryan man was cursed; that modern "progress" was a mirage and hope an imposture. "The only true revolution would be the one that would abolish man's despicable nature."4
Céline's definition of hell was 20th-century modernism, which blinded man, lured him materialism and exhausted him -- all for the sake of profit.
We are croaking becacuse we have no legends, no mysteries ....Without artistic creation by everyone there can be no lasting society....The only defense, the only resource of the white man against robotism, and undoubtedly against war...is to return to his own emotive rhythm.
The raging French author would be ostracized for pronouncing the unthinkable: that God was "undergoing repairs" (Dieu est en réparation), and human nature was terminally defective. In conveying his negation of Faustian Man from the perspective of his ancient Breton peasant cunning, he did so in a rapturous, corrosive prose which invokes horror, hilarity and the kind of lucidity found only in the graveyard, only in the 20th-century apocalypse, at the center of which Louis-Ferdinand Céline has staked out his claim. Though he has no faith in mankind, he saluted and propagated the revolt of the German people in the early years of National Socialism, calling it in his remarkable and prescient language, "The butter rebellion....The insurrection of the eternally skimmed!"
What's this! What's this! Insolence! Horror! The Aryan, that so docile, always bending butter-brain, who always on every occasion has submitted to Jewish will; whom the Jewish knife has ground up, splattered, mashed, spread like butter for all eternity; that perfect comestible for commerce par excellence, for all war and peacetime trafficking, whom any bleary Kike can slice up, chop up, speculate on, barter, stew, vilify, shit on at leisure, here he is getting together with his own now, en masse, suddenly standing up! The butter rebellion!....That's never been seen before! Heard of! Suspected possible, ever!
In Céline's estimation,
The trick of the Jew who is "hunted" and "martyred" never fails to work on the stupid cuckold of an Aryan. It is they who are persecuting us...We are the martyrs' victims.
Céline was all in favor of communism, not Marxism or Russian communism, but communism of a very special type, which had thus far only prevailed in the distant past of Europe and which he hoped National Socialism would embody. He outlined this in 1938 in his volcanic work of black comedy and intractable anti-humanism, The School for Cadavers, which he dedicated to the pagan emperor, Julian the Apostate. Identifying himself as a "Communist of the soul," he proclaimed: "The Jew is afraid of only one thing, communism without Jews."
Frédéric Vitoux noted:
Deep down, Céline was very jealous of what he called Jewish solidarity. He hardly denounces it in his writing. Mostly he scolds others, Aryans, Bretons...for their terrible lack of it....The Aryan has no family.....That's the essential horror of it...We are anti-solidarity out of principle, religion and damnable habit...[therefore] we must lose.5
In most French eyes Céline appeared to be an anarchist and individualist. Actually he was pro-tribal but incapable of subscribing to the illusions which the hucksters of political dogmas and doctrines employed to recruit and manipulate the masses.
His anti-Semitism of the late 1930s would garner him the jubilant support of racists...But, for all that, he would avoid any ideology codified in little red, black and brown books; any party memberships; any label devised by yellow journalism. It was impossible to enlist Céline under a banner. The socialist or communist intellectuals in 1932, the fascists in '38, and the collaborators in '40 all found that out very quickly. An objective ally on occasion, perhaps, but no more.6
The Charnel House
As the drumbeat for war against the Germans echoed across Europe, Céline argued for a French alliance with Hitler on pactifist grounds.
Above all, war must be avoided. War, for us means the end of the show, the final tilt into the Jewish charnel house. We must demonstrate the same stubbornness in resisting war as the Jews display in dragging us into it. The Jews are motivated by a fearful, talmudic, unanimous tenancity, an infernal perseverance, and we oppose them only with a few groans....I don't want to go to war for Hitler, I'll admit it, but I don't want to war against him, for the Jews....Hitler doesn't like the Jews. Neither do I.
Céline predicted -- correctly -- that his bamboozled countrymen would choose the path of mass fratricide:
Frenchmen, you'll go off to war at the moment chosen by M. le Baron de Rothschild, your lord and absolute master, at the hour fixed, in full accord with his sovereign cousins in London, New York and Moscow.
Céline hated all phonies and was equally unsparing of the dregs of human ignominy among Aryans: "Our Aryan bourgeois are debased, they wail like babies, they are a thousand times worse than the stinking Yids."
Unsurprisingly he was no fan of the English. "The English our allies? Balls! Another great swindle!...We'll be maggots by the time the first Oxford queers disembark in Flanders."
Nor did he spare his native countrymen: "[N]o northernere, no Negro, no savage, no civilized being can come close to the Frenchman in the speed and capacity of swilling wine."
Describing the retreat by French troops fleeing the invading Wehrmacht, Céline calls his nation's army, "the champions of the world at bragging." As he and other civilians fled Paris, he commented:
We could not possibly go any faster. We tried all we could to catch up with the French army, road after road, bends and curves....We could never catch up....
Céline saw France
as a country essentially owned and operated by Jews in which the native or Gentile population could only exist with the indulgence of their Jewish rulers.....If the bourgeois can "smell a little Jewish," then this is all to their benefit as a kind of life insurance. The dream of the French bourgeois is to be Jewish, to worship the Golden Calf.7
Though he was raised Catholic and had positive things to say about the early Church Fathers in his 1936 pamphlet, Mea Culpa, in his work, A Fine Mess (1941), he remarked:
Crime of crimes, throughout our history the Catholic religion has been the great pimp, the great crossbreeder of noble races, the great procuress for t he corrupt....The Catholic religion, founded by 12 Jews, will have proudly fulfilled its role when we have all disappeared under the great boggy waves of that giant Asiatic whorehouse brewing on the horizon.
As the critic Henri Guillemin wrote: "[O]ne needs to don armor -- or better yet, steel plating -- to approach Céline." Accused of racism, Céline responded:
Racism! Of course! And how! The more of it the merrier! Racism! Enough of our soft religions! We've been stuffed enough as it is by all the apostles, all the Evangelists.
it was about time, Céline opined, "that France and the real Aryans find their own white religion." Céline's theology consisted solely of, "To be or not to be Aryan, that is the question."
Céline's Three Laws
As dictator he would enact three simple laws:
1. All male jews from 17 to 60 to be attached at the outbreak of war to front-line infantry units. No conscript to rise above the rank of captain.
2. No duty other than front-line infantryman to be permitted to any Jew in wartime.
3. Any breach of these laws punishable by death.
"During WWI," he pointed out,
1,350 French Jews were killed....That represents one Jew for every 1,300 French killed (1,750,000 dead)....I find that this 1/1,300 killed represents most precisely the total extent of Jewish rights in our territory. I would gladly give them 1/1,300 of the rights to practice each profession. Thus for example, in medicine, where we have about 30,000 French practitioners, well, we would accept 23 Jews as colleagues! Gladly!
1n 1940, with Britain near collapse and the armies of Hitler everywhere triumphant, Céline made an astonishing prophecy of disaster to Lucien Rebatet, a fellow pro-German who had come to him for advice and encouragement. What he received was a terrible letdown. Céline told him: "The Germans have lost the war." Rebatet describes his own reaction:
I looked at him stupefied. What had happened to him? This was around October 12 or 15 . The most unbridled Gaullists would have been staggered by such a statement, as would even Churchill himself. "No kidding...What makes you think that?" [Rabatet asked] They blew it [Céline replied] and us with them. In wars like this an army that doesn't bring a revolution with it is all washed up. The Krauts have had it.
Céline was appalled by the accommodations that Germans had made with the French system and French society. In a letter to Jean Lestandi, he wrote, "In order to recreate France it would have to be rebuilt entirely on racist-communal foundations." Since the Germans were doing little in that direction, he believed their occupation was too complacent. They were overwhelmed by French food, French wine, French women and café society. The Germans would never win enough friends among the French poor and working classes to achieve a lasting victory because they accomplished nothing revolutionary. Céline desired a total cleansing, a complete shakeout. When he realized the German army was disposed to do no such thing, he was certain they would lose.
After a December 1941 meeting between Céline and the Prussian officer and novelist, Ernst Jünger, the latter reported:
He [Céline] says how surprised and stupefied he is that we soldiers do not shoot, hang, exterminate the Jews...."If the Bolsheviks were in Paris, they'd show you how to go about it; they'd show you how one purifies a population, neighborhood by neighborhood, house by house."
Jünger wrote that Céline "has the gaze of a maniac, inward-turning, that shines as if from the depth of a pit."
Céline applauded the formation of the LVF, the League of French Volunteers against Bolshevism, which fought on the Eastern Front:
I know Russia well -- come the winter, we'll certainly need as much medical and epidemiological help over there as we will artillery reinforcements! If the idea took root, I'd be happy to join -- but frankly, killing, and I've done a lot of it, doesn't do much for me anymore.
Because of his incendiary writing, Céline was a standing target for assassination by the Resistance, which murdered the eloquent Vichy radio broadcaster, Philippe Henriot in 1944, and would kill many more writers and artists in the years ahead, including Denoël, Céline's publisher, who would be gunned down while repairing his car. Céline constantly carried a pistol concealed on his person. When writers and fans offered to hide and defend him, he was appalled:
For God's sake don't ever come to my defense! I do, and will continue to do, everything in order to be and to remain, if not the richest then at least the most unpopular man in France....The total contempt of all of humanity is extremely pleasant to me -- as is total oblivion....I know what I'm doing. I know the risks. That's how I like it and that's all that matters.8
Céline's relationship with the Nazi authorities was rocky. Though a highly competent medical doctor and a bestselling author with money stashed in Denmark, Céline "occasionally showed up at colloquia or receptions in rumpled pants held up by a string, wearing a three-day beard, spewing forth streams of invective and gibes at his hosts."9
Céline refused to speak at any political meetings. At one pro-Nazi gathering he attended, several pompous, professional anti-Semites were pontificating about the "stupidity of the Jews." An exasperated Céline, who a waiter had earlier mistaken for a hobo and attempted to evict, shouted from the back, "Why don't you talk about Aryan stupidity for a change?"
Like Richard Walther Darré, Germany's visionary Minister of Agriculture whose organic farming policies helped lay the basis for today's ecology movement, but who was eventually dismissed at the insistence of Göring and Bormann, Céline was regarded as too far Left for the prim Nazi hierarchy.
Bernard Payr, head of the Amt Schrifftum, the literary department of Alfred Rosenberg's propaganda agency, wrote in a January 1942 report the extent to which Céline's personality seemed suspect:
He had questioned and dragged through the mud almost everything of positive value in human existence. For several years now he has been writing books against the Jews and Freemasons, whom he hysterically thrashes in a smutty, colloquial French."10
Céline had the greatest contempt for the academic style of writing acquired in a lycée education, regarding it as dried up and dead. "Slang is the language of hatred which enables you to stun your reader...." Kurt Vonnegut wrote that Céline
discovered a higher and more awful order of literary truth by ignoring the crippled vocabularies of ladies and gentlemen and by using instead, the more comprehensive language of shrewd and tormented guttersnipes.11
After the Allied invasion of Normandy, Céline fled east into the true holocaust of the 20th century -- Germany aflame. This horrendous ordeal, which he recounts in his novels, Castle to Castle, North, and Rigadoon, suited him: "Nothing intoxicates me so much as great disasters, I easily get drunk on calamities...."
In 1945 he, his wife and their cat, Bebert, jumped aboard the last Swedish Red Cross train out of Berlin and found haven in Denmark, where he was jailed on death row for several months and nearly died from ill treatment. The French government sentenced him to death in absentia, but when he returned to France in 1950 to face trial, the courtroom spectators laughed uproariously as the prosecutor read passages from Céline's delirious, incantatory anti-Jewish polemics. He was acquitted.
Unlike Ezra Pound, who in his dotage repudiated his attacks on Jews, Céline never recanted and stayed defiant to the bitter end. In 1960 journalists quizzed him on his definition of tragedy. His reply:
Stalingrad. There's a catharsis for you. The fall of Stalingrad was the end of Europe. There's been a cataclysm. Its epicenter was Stalingrad. After that you can say that white civilization was finished, really washed up.
The man who had written Journey to the End of the Night, "The truth of the world is death," died peacefully at his home of a brain hemorrhage on July 1, 1961, at the age of 66.
Céline had asked that his corpse be tossed into a common grave, but his wife, Lucette, did not carry out his wish. "The parish priest of Meudon had refused to allow Céline to be buried on consecrated ground....so the funeral was to take place in the municipal cemetery."12 A druidic holly tree was planted over the grave by Lucette in honor of the dead genius's Celtic-pagan inclinations. Céline had said of himself, "I'm a Celt in every inch of my miserable body."
Céline's anti-Semitic books remain under interdict in France and have not been republished for 50 years. They have never been translated into English. The French publisher of the supposed Collected Works of Céline tried to pretend the books never existed. Nevertheless, Céline's literary output remains the focus of a constant stream of books and articles in France. Interest in his material in English is unflagging.
Céline continues to haunt the dark century of his incarnation. He sought not happiness, but truth, which he defined as facing up to the worst, a vocation that he practiced so relentlessly that he obtained, through his convulsive and oracular verbum, admission to the mysterious dance and eternal dream of racial memory, which he managed to manifest even in this, the worst of times.
1. Merlin Thomas, Louis-Ferdinand Céline
2. L.F. Céline, Mea Culpa and the Life and Work of Semmelweis (1937), pp. 12-16.
4. Allen Thiher, Céline: The Novel as Delirium (1972)
5. Frédéric Vitoux, Céline: A Biography
6. Ibid., p. 61.
7. David O'Connell, Louis-Ferdinand Céline (1976)
8. Erika Ostrovsky, Voyeur Voyant: A Portrait of Louis-Ferdinand Céline
9. Vitoux, op. cit., p. 376.
10. Ibid., p. 382.
11. Kurt Vonnegut, introduction to Rigadoon, p. xiv.
12. Patrick McCarthy, Céline (1975), p. 282.