Are you a good person? I’m not as bad as the truly depraved, but several of my friends are well ahead of me on the road to heaven [lame talking heads joke averted]. It’s not a diss; I respect them, and I think it’s a proof of my taste to recognize their goodness and forgo calling them naïve, fleur bleues and stupid asshats, as I’m sometimes tempted to do.
I have established my lack of credentials to evanescent harp choruses, and I will go on to prove my assertion by saying that my biggest reproach to Céline is not that he was a furiously logorrheic antisemitic schmuck, and not solely, as I had originally thought, a general enemy of the baboonery of the homo sapiens. The trouble is that his deleterious oral diarrhea is also pretty silly. Like in vomit, there is not much solid meat between the greenish flakes of bilis. Baboonery, by the way, is borrowed from another philanthroper, the angsty misanthrope, courage-sceptic and monologue-prone, and very jewish Solal des Solal.
I’ve glanced over “les Beaux Draps”, one of the pamphlets that Céline’s widow has banned from publication in France, thanks to the Internet’s always remarkable morbid curiosity; it has also recently been included in a volume of controversial writing in Quebec. I will be doing the easiest reductio ad Hitlerum ever done when saying that it sucked balls. It felt like a cap-locked teenage scream, a thunderous ejaculation of bottled up hate and dripping rancour. It was the written product of one of Céline’s brain lobes’s fellatio, where he used to storage his grim outlook of life and his sticky little ideas, all wound up and close together like twin teratomas. It was also punctuated almost exclusively with exclamation points.
The real trouble is that, unlike Hitler’s Mein Kampf, that tract is a good text, and Voyage is an excellent one. Mein Kampf is a mess of a book, satisfyingly devoid of redeeming features; it’s a bad argumentation, it’s unappealingly messianic, and it’s tedious. You’d think that such a charismatic autocrat would at least be troubling; not so. Let’s not begrudge him the entertainment factor, tough, and be thankful that the whole of Europe was manipulated by a dull writer.
My enjoyment of the first part of Voyage was based on the assumption that its bleakness was a joke. The portrayal of his uncompromising hypocresy can’t be taken with a straight face. It’s comedy, when they try to kill Bardamu on the boat for no good reason other that making him walk the plank would entertain the women. I thought it was hilarious to have some poet write an elegy based on made up war feats; also when he eats only canned “cassoulet à la bordelaise” in the jungle (the french comic equivalent of the spanish “fabada asturiana”. Has every culture a funny food?), when he enters the USA through his flea-crushing skills. It all turns sour after he comes back to France, and boom! one note gloom thereafter. He met war and colonialism and made a run from both, but poverty got him. Still, unlike other books that have been accused of catering principally to teenagers’ angst, like Kerouac's, Voyage is funny at least for a while.
The antisemitic tract made me hesitate, because it confronted me with the fact that Céline was dead serious about seeing things in shades of charcoal. The Voyage’s spite was meant, not a parody, more than a product of style and a deep revulsion against war -and he firmly believes that it should be fought by our collective mothers-, and against colonialism and capitalism. Céline, who was an extremely clever man or at the very least a genius writer (can one be the one without the other?), had then given up his capacity for simple reason and was just shouting all the time.
Camus apparently said about him “Si c’est sans doute un pauvre type, c’est certainement un grand écrivain”. Céline sentences are beautifully arranged; his style was a small revolution, and my admiration and his morality are not dependant. He's a great sentence-maker. I like clever jerks, at least when they’re not mocking me (then I recognize them for the silly fucktards they really are). The tendency to say “si non è polite è ben trovato” is not something I’m particularly proud of... The trouble is that if Voyage is meant to be taken seriously, I don’t like it quite as much. I’m unable to see any part where it actually contains reasoning, something like an effort to get from some facts to a conclusion. I do find a lot of effort to get to some facts from already coined conclusions. It’s a flawed stand point.
Some people think Naked Lunch is a bunch of laughs. I have tried many times to stare down one of its sentences into making me at least smirk. I don’t mind extreme sex and orgiastic violence, as long as it’s written, but I really, honestly, can’t see the fun in it. Someday I’ll get someone to spell it out for me, although the trouble with jokes is that they are not usually funny once dissected. Well, I really want to get the laughs in Naked Lunch -I would in fact be happy just to finish it.
Céline and Borroughs (and Arthur Conan Doyle and Chekhov and Baroja and Keats and Schiller and Bulgakov and Somerset Maugham) have another thing in common- they were med students and have some indication of severe mental sequels. I heart you guys, I really do, and I hope I never come across any of your kind in school, except Doyle (he’s cool) and Chekhov, who wikipedia says treated the poor for free. Céline, Borroughs: pssst, stay away.
To conclude, Céline’s credo is as follows:
- war, if fought, should be fought by your mother
- if he’s very lucky, she might abort you while busy fighting it and you won’t be born to crap on his lebensraum
- there are in fact decent people in the world. No less than two of them: a sickly french colonialist lost in Congo and a pretty american whore who used to live in Detroit. If you are either of the two you hit the morality jackpot. Congratulations.
- he’ll probably leave you anyway
- poverty sucks
And many more.
PS: the last part of the book, in Vigny’s Maison the Santé, bored me to tears.