The Selected Correspondence of Louis-Ferdinand Céline

These letters are excerpted from The Selected Correspondence of Louis-Ferdinand Céline, additional letters from this manuscript will be featured in the July/Aug issue of the Brooklyn Rail.


Céline: His Life and His Correspondence

In a well-known essay about Voyage au bout de la nuit, Leon Trotsky wrote that its author, French writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline “walked into great literature as other men walk into their own homes.” Indeed, Voyage was a revolutionary book, both in terms of content and of style, a book that immediately turned literature upside down. Written in a popular and colloquial language, it presents a dark and pessimistic vision of mankind as well as a nihilistic philosophy that drastically changed not only the way many novelists wrote, but also what they wrote. In France, traditional academic literature became practically obsolete overnight with the publication of Voyage while in the United States, several generations of writers owe a tremendous debt to Céline and his novel.  

Céline wrote other books, especially Mort à crédit, the two volumes of Guignol’s Band and of Féerie pour une autre fois, D’un château l’autre, Nord, and Rigodon, in which he went further in his experimentations with style and recounted darker and darker adventures in a growing atmosphere of chaos, madness, and paranoia. Today Céline is almost unanimously considered one of the two greatest and most influential French novelists of the twentieth-century, along with Marcel Proust, and one of the giants of modern literature.

In fact, in the title of one of the first books devoted to Céline, American critic Milton Hindus used the noun “giant” to describe him, but modified it with the adjective “crippled.” That title, Céline: the Crippled Giant, was partly the result of an unfortunate encounter between the two men, but it also reflected the ambiguous attitude of Hindus, who was Jewish, toward Céline, then in exile in Denmark as a consequence of the polemical and strongly antisemitic pamphlets he wrote between 1937 and 1941, Bagatelles pour un massacre, L’école des cadavres and Les Beaux draps. Although he justified his behavior and his antisemitism in particular by his desire to prevent a new war and although he never actively collaborated with the Germans, Céline saw his reputation irremediably tarnished by those books.  

Céline, the pseudonym of Louis Ferdinand Destouches (1894-1961), was not just a writer. He was very much involved in some of the major events of the first part of the twentieth century, notably the two world wars. He fought and was wounded in the first one while his political writings prior and during the second one forced him to flee to Sigmaringen with the most notorious collaborationists and the members of the Vichy regime before a grueling trip took him to Denmark where he was imprisoned for over a year and remained in exile until 1951. In addition, his extensive travels on three continents, mainly as a hygienist with the League of Nations, allowed him to witness the effects of colonialism in Africa and those of capitalism in the United States as well as the rise of the Nazis in Germany. Finally, as a medical doctor who worked with the poor and the destitute, he became intimately familiar with human misery and suffering.  

Not surprisingly, with so much material at Céline’s disposal, his novels, written in the first person, are heavily autobiographical. Voyage recounts experiences that mirror his own, on the battlefields of World War I, in colonial Africa, in capitalist America, and in the poor suburbs of Paris where the hero, Bardamu, practises medicine. Mort à crédit primarily deals with the childhood of the physician-narrator, a childhood more miserable but still very reminiscent of the author’s, while Guignol’s Band has been inspired by the time Destouches spent in London after his war injury. Féerie pour une autre fois is loosely based on his life in Paris during the war and but also on his time in prison in Denmark. As for the last three novels, they rather faithfully chronicle his stay in Sigmaringen, his epic adventures in bombed-out and war-ravaged Germany and his escape to Denmark.     

If Céline’s novels reflect his own life in a more or less novelized form, his correspondence sheds an even more direct light on the many events he experienced and on his ideas and beliefs. Indeed, from his first stay abroad, in Germany at the age of 13, to the eve of his death when he wrote his publisher about his last novel, he sent thousands of letters that faithfully chronicle his life and present an image of him and of his adventures that complements and sometimes contradicts his public persona in a fascinating way. In fact, the publication of his Lettres in the prestigious Bibliothèque de la Pléiade in 2009 was a major literary event.

Indeed, Céline’s correspondence often reveals different sides or even different versions of the events and experiences recounted in the novels and, even more importantly, points of view that do not always match those of the fictive narrators or even those of the public Céline. For instance, the child who writes to his parents from Germany is polite, thoughtful, and affectionate, quite the opposite of Ferdinand, his counterpart of Mort à crédit. Likewise, even though his letters from the front reveal some of the horrors of World War I, the young man who writes them shows great courage as well as strong patriotic feelings and a deep hatred of the enemy, unlike the hero-narrator of Voyage au bout de la nuit whose bleak and nihilistic vision of mankind was shaped by his war experience. It is only in Africa, two years later, that the young Destouches presents ideas about war resembling those that appear in the novel. As for the depiction of Africa in the correspondence, it reminds the reader of somes pages in Voyage, but in his letters Destouches occasionally manifests an enthusiasm and an entrepreneurial spirit that is foreign to Bardamu. The same can be said about medicine in which Destouches shows a genuine interest that is usually not shared by his cynical narrator. Soon, however, the latter’s philosophy appears more and more in the letters, as shown by those to élie Faure and, even much earlier, by these lines written to Blanchette Fermon:

Nothing is ever entirely our fault – but neither are we guilty of the sadness that mounts within us and with each passing day replaces the wish to die, and then every evening formulates itself more precisely in our hearts. – life is a melancholy farce, believe you me. A sinister farce, if we abandon the few flowers we might have plucked in the gardens of youth.

Interestingly, Céline’s correspondence to women in general reveals a side of his personality that is generally muted in his novels. Although he can be extremely harsh with them, as in a letter to his then-wife Edith, and although he remarks to Ludwig Rajchman that “Woman is moral and maternal, and pretty, and also almost never critical and profound,” the mysoginy that permeates most of his books disappears behind what appears to be genuine care and concern when he writes to female friends, such as Erika Irrgang and Cillie Ambor who, interestingly, happen to be Jewish.

From the 1930’s on, however, when Destouches becomes Céline, the letter writer tends to resemble the fictional narrator more and more, especially since he often writes in a similar style. In fact, some of his letters look like rough drafts of passages that will appear in his later novels, as if he wanted to use his correspondence as a springboard for his books. For example, the November 26, 1946 (for 1949) letter to René Mayer or some letters to Albert Paraz could easily be inserted in Féerie pour une autre fois, the novel he was working on at the time. To others, especially Milton Hindus, but also John Marks, his English translator, and his various publishers, he occasionally presents his ideas and various theories about literature and summarizes, describes, explains, or justifies his works or aspects of them, especially his style, thus transforming his correspondence into some kind of theoretical treatise that prefigures his Entretiens avec le professeur Y, a sort of novel he published in 1955 in the form of a fictive conversation beween himself and an academic.

Finally, and maybe more importantly, Céline’s correspondence allows the reader to know his true position on the many issues, such as what he calls “the Jewish question,” racism and collaboration with Nazi Germany, which have stained his reputation and about which he has publicly presented conflicting ideas.  

Céline’s antisemitism is so outrageous and so caricatural that many believed and still believe that it should not be taken literally or seriously or that the author of the pamphlets used the word “Jew” metaphorically to designate various people or even some kind of threat or evil. In his post-war interviews, he justified writing his antisemitic texts by claiming that he just wanted to prevent a new war since he was convinced that a large segment of the Jewish population wanted to stop Hitler. The letters he wrote between 1937 and 1948, however, not only do not leave any doubt as to his real convictions, but also show that he was obsessed with the subject. Why else would he ask Arthur Pfannsteil about “the Jewish ancestry of the Pope”? Such a piece of information would have been perfect for his pamphlets where he deals with “the Jewish question” in such an outlandish way that it is often impossible to take his various claims and imprecations seriously. However, in his letters, especially those to Jean Cocteau and Jacques Doriot, he is very serious and uses a radically different tone. To the former he makes clear that he is viscerally antisemitic and racist:

But on the other hand you know my position – my racial position, if you will. And if it comes to racism, well, then I’m blindly against the Jew or whoever. For me Reason of Race is more important than Reason of Art or Reason of Friendship.

To the latter, he regrets “the systematic sabotage of racism in France by the anti-Semites themselves” and reveals his wish that Jews be “eliminated” from France:

If we worked together anti-Semitism would unfurl across France. No one would even talk about it anymore. Everything would happen by instinct, peaceably. One fine morning the Jew would find himself ousted, eliminated, naturally, like a caca.

In the letter to Doriot, he also makes plainly known that he is in favor of a collaboration between France and Nazi Germany: “Without the Jews Franco-German Collaboration would have already been a fait accompli, assured, accomplished ages ago,” which he confirms to Henri Poulain of the collaborationist weekly Je Suis Partout when he claims that Germany would have won the war “with a Franco-German army” and asks: “Why wasn’t the Franco-German alliance realized?”, adding: “You can publish this if you dare.” Of course, to Céline’s credit, it is also possible to find a number of letters in which he is critical of the Nazis and of Hitler, but, even if he was never a collaborationist himself, he is clearly insincere when he writes to Thorvald Mikkelsen that he only takes responsibility for Les Beaux draps (where he makes positive comments about the German occupant), that he has “always remained very strictly A WRITER” and that he “never made propaganda for the Germans.” Indeed, in addition to his letters to various newspapers, he is also responsible for the two other political pamphlets, especially Bagatelles pour un massacre which, as he rightly points out in several letters, aims at preventing a general massacre and does not call for a massacre of the Jews, but in doing so creates resentment against the Jewish population and calls for measures reminiscent of those that Nazi Germany was implementing at the time.
In short, if Céline’s correspondence can be read alongside his novels, since it presents many of the same events in a different light, revealing to what extent they are autobiographical and provides useful comments about them, it also brings some answers about the real nature and the deeply felt convictions of the controversial and contradictory man behind the works.

Pascal Ifri
Washington University in St. Louis

 

To His Parents from the Front

[Céline enlisted in the army in 1912 and in 1914, at the outbreak of the war, where on October 27, 1914 he was wounded in Flanders.]

[Received October 26, 1914]

Dear Parents,

It’s been a few days since I was able to write, since the Germans made things really tough on us and it was only at the price of hard-fought combat, sometimes on foot, sometimes on horseback, that we were able, meter by meter, to gain terrain scattered with large and deep ditches where the Germans hide out and which they’re only driven from by cannons. But they were soon forced to retreat and yesterday with difficulty we took twenty kilometers.

In this enormous concentration of cavalry, after eighty days of campaign you see the strangest things, entire regiments that had to fight in the marshes of Lorraine are clothed in civilian attire because their original equipment had to be left behind.

On the whole, few great charges, but in general a war of ambushes where the machinegun causes terrible damage, also tremendous night and daytime raids in order to reach one flank or the other of an army. There are regiments that particularly suffered, like the 28th Dragoons of Sedan, where only one commander and four officers remain. The 20th Chasseurs of Vendôme of our division which had to charge on the streets of Lille can barely assemble three platoons out of four squadrons.

There are also divisions of Territorials arriving and in this corner of operations you can see all kinds of armies, from the Belgian to the English, along with the Indian Army, which is made up of a corps of 5000 midgets from a village in the Himalayas specially reserved for night attacks and which only fights with knives…No need to say that they don’t take prisoners. We never see them, for at night they sleep in the trees and one passes under regiments of these horrible pygmies without even noticing them.

I think the Germans can prepare the peace, for the scrambling for spoils is imminent. I hope we’ll be demanding and that after all this blood has been spilled we’ll stop playing at chivalry: this is a role the Germans don’t understand and those who are going to negotiate should go see the spectacle we saw the day before yesterday in Lafosse, where a family of fourteen people, defenseless civilians, were killed with lances, of whom the oldest grandmother was seventy-eight and the youngest was two weeks old… Not counting the pregnant mother whose belly had been cut open by a soldier.

Nevertheless ever since we’ve been in the north we’ve been learning amazing things about the beginning of the campaign that show that we got off lucky and that “Deutschland über alles” just missed being not just a vain phrase. Anyway, the danger has been avoided and now, forward!

[In the margin without point of insertion: I was told by reliable sources that the season at Ostende ended prematurely.
I received the articles and the socks; unfortunately our shoes take on more water than the plains of Holland.]

 

 

To the Gallimard Publishing House

(Prior to its publication Céline shopped the manuscript of “Journey to the End of the Night” around to a couple of publishers. He wrote the following summary of the book to the prestigious Gallimard publishing house, but before they could agree to publish it he had already accepted the offer of Denoël et Steele.)

(shortly before April 14, 1932)

Monsieur:
I submit to you my manuscript “Journey to the End of the Night” (five years of work).

I would be particularly grateful if you would tell me as soon as possible if you want to publish it, and under what conditions.

* * *

You ask me to provide you with a summary of this book. In truth, it’s a bizarre task you ask me to carry out, and I would never have thought of it. You might say it’s time I did. I don’t know why, but I don’t feel capable of doing it. (A little like the divers we see in films who splash out of the water onto the jetty…) I’m going to try to do it but without being fancy about it. I don’t think my summary will make you want to read the book.

* * *

In fact, this Journey to the End of the Night is a fictionalized tale written in a singular form, which there are not many examples of in literature in general. This wasn’t the way I wanted it. But that’s how it is. It’s a kind of literary, emotive symphony more than a real novel. The pitfall of this genre is boredom. I don’t think my thing is boring. From the emotional point of view this tale is close to what we get – or should get – from music. All of this stays on the outskirts of emotions and words, of detailed descriptions, except at the accented moments: they’re mercilessly precise.
From which flows a number of divertimentos that gradually enter the theme and finally make it sing like a musical composition. All of this is quite pretentious and worse than ridiculous if the work has failed. I leave it to you to judge. For my part it’s a success. This is the way I feel about people and things. Too bad for them.

* * *

The intrigue is both complex and simple. It also belongs to the operatic genre. (This isn’t a recommendation!) It’s a great fresco, it’s populist lyricism, it’s communism with a soul, and thus mischievous, full of life.

* * *

The tale begins on the Place Clichy at the beginning of the war and ends fifteen years later at the fête de Clichy. 700 pages of voyages around the world, men, and the night, and love, especially love, which I hunt down, disfigure, and which comes out of all this tired, deflated, defeated… Crime, delirium, Dostoevskyism: there is something of everything in my thing, to learn from and to be amused by.


The Facts

Robinson1, my friend, a worker of some kind, goes off to war (I think about the war from his point of view), he flees from battles some way or another…he goes to tropical Africa…then to America… descriptions… descriptions… sensations… Everywhere and always he is ill at ease (romanticism, the evil of the twenty-first century2). Confused, he returns to France… he’s had it with traveling, with being exploited wherever he goes and with dying of inhibitions and hunger. He’s a modern proletarian. He’s going to decide to kill an old woman so that he can finally have a small amount of capital, that is, the starting point of freedom. He fails to kill her, the old lady, the first time. He wounds himself. He temporarily blinds himself. Since the old lady’s family was in cahoots with him they are all sent to the south of France in order to keep the affair under wraps. It’s the old lady who now takes care of him. In the south they engage is a strange form of commerce. They exhibit mummies in a cellar (this brings in money). Robinson begins to see again. He gets engaged to a young woman from Toulouse. He’s going to descend into normal life. But in order for life to be normal you have to have some capital. And so he again gets the idea to knock off the old woman. And this time he doesn’t fail. She’s good and dead. He and his future wife are going to inherit. Bourgeois happiness awaits. But something prevents him from settling into bourgeois happiness, into love and material security. Something! Ah! Ah! And this something is the entire novel! Attention! He flees his fiancée and happiness. She chases after him. She makes a scene after scene. Jealous scenes. She is the eternal woman confronting the new man… She kills him.

* * *

All this is perfectly presented. Under no conditions do I want this subject swiped from me. This is fodder for a century of literature. It’s the Prix Goncourt 1932 as sure as can be for the happy publisher who will grab this peerless work3, this capital moment of human nature…

With my best regards,
Louis Destouches



  1. In the original manuscript the characters of Robinson and Bardamu are reversed.
  2. Typo for twentieth century.
  3. The novel failed – barely – to win the Goncourt.

 

 

To élie Faure

(After the fascist riots of February 6, 1934 Louis-Ferdinand Céline was called upon to join in denouncing the right by the art historian élie Faure. This is the first of his two responses to the request.)

March 18, 1934

Dear Friend:

You know how much I admire, how enthusiastic I am, how I venerate all you have thought, given, and written. I have made much use of your oeuvre. I have read closely, pillaged, and learned from your texts. I still do so and always will. You are one of my rare teachers, and undoubtedly the closest, the most direct. It is not a question of any of this when I rebel against your current directives.1 I absolutely refuse to line up on this side or that. I am an anarchist to the tip of my toes. I always was one and I will never be anything else. Everyone has spit on me, from Inzvezia2 to the official Nazis,3 M. de Regnier,4 Comœdia,5 Stavinsky,6 President Dullin,7 all of them in almost the same exact terms have declared me unacceptable, unspeakable. I haven’t done this on purpose, but it’s a fact. I’m fine with this, because I’m in the right. Every political system is an enterprise of hypocritical narcissism which consists in projecting the personal ignominy of its adherents onto a system or onto “others.” I admit that I live quite well; I proclaim loudly, emotionally, and strongly all of Man’s common disgustingness, on the right and the left. I will never be forgiven for this. Since the death of the priests the world is nothing but demagoguery, shit is constantly flattered, and responsibility is rejected through ideological and verbal artifice.

There is no more contrition; there are nothing but chants of revolt and hope. But hope for what? That shit will start smelling good?

My dear friend, I betray no one, I ask nothing of anyone. Perhaps I’ll be executed (they’ll be taking numbers to do this).

Both Lenin and Napoleon failed miserably. They applied heated rods and shouted a cure had been effected. Nonsense. All this revolutionary cynicism (NOT YOURS) is nothing but vulgar, eternal selfishness armed with new subterfuges. If it’s organzied as communism then you’ll really see something. More sordid than the former ones. I know them well, the apostles and the heroes, on the right and the left. I have lived with them day and night for thirty years. Revolution. Right away. But first within themselves. Not these lazy souls and minds, cocktail or Picon aperitif. Why choose?



  1. Faure had signed an appeal written by the Surrealists in the aftermath of the fascist riots of February 6, 1934.
  2. Actually, the Soviet paper Izvestia.
  3. The Nazis had banned the translation of his works upon coming to power.
  4. Henri Regnier, a critic who had harshly criticizes Death on the installment Plan.
  5. This paper had called Death on the Installment Plan “ a novel of abjection.”
  6. The cause of an enormous scandal whose acts and suicide had led to the riots of February 6, Stavisky - not Stavinsky - had hated Journey to the end of the Night.
  7. Albert Dullin, vice-president of the tribunal of the Seine.

 

 

To élie Faure

April 14, 1934

Dear friend:

I have always been an anarchist: I've never voted and I'll never vote for anything or anyone. I don’t believe in man. Why would you want me to suddenly start playing the bigophone just because twelve dozen failures play it for me, I who play the grand piano pretty well? Why? So that I can be the same height as these shrunken, constipated, envious, hateful bastards? What a joke. I have nothing in common with these castratos who shout their clumsy suppositions and understand nothing. Do you see yourself thinking and working under the authority of the super-asshole Aragon, for example? That’s the future? The one everyone wants me to cherish is Aragon? Ptooey! If they were all less lazy, if they were of such good will as they say they are, they’d do what I’ve done instead of busting everyone’s balls with their false notes. They're pushing their revolution back instead of bringing it closer. They resemble those males who no longer have any instincts, who wound women and never make them come. Don’t you feel, my friend, the hypocrisy, the unspeakable Tartufferie of all these ventriloquist’s slogans? The inferiority complex of all these leaders is palpable. Their hatred of everything that outshines them, of everything they don’t understand, can be clearly seen. They are as avid to belittle, to destroy, to sully, to prune the very principle of life as the least priest of the Middle Ages. Perhaps one or the other of them will execute me. The Nazis hate me as much as the socialists, and the communists as well, not to mention Henri de Regnier and Comoedia and Stawinsky. They’re all in agreement when it comes to hating me. Everything is permitted except doubting man. Then no fooling around is allowed. I am the proof of this. But I shit on all of them.

Affectionately yours
L-F Céline.

(In the margins: I ask nothing of anyone. The young are unaware and go wherever their lyricism tells them to go.

 

 

To the Newspaper Aujourd’hui

[7 March 1941]

Dear Editor,

In your March 3 issue your collaborator Robert Desnos deposited his little ritual turd on Les Beaux Draps.1 A clumsy turd if I compare it to so many others that my books have already provoked – one of my friends has a whole collection of these little gifts. They don’t do me any harm, and in fact I feel better and better all the time. M. Desnos finds me to be a drunk “lying flat on my back on moleskine or under counters,” boring as hell, less than this… worse than that… So be it! That’s fine with me, but why doesn’t Desnos shout out what’s really in his heart, the thing that’s killing him because he’s holding it back… “Death to Céline and Long Live the Jews!” It seems to me that since June M. Desnos (and your paper) has been tirelessly carrying out a philo-kike campaign. The moment has surely come to brandish the banner. The time is right. Why doesn’t he engage in, get stuck in, this laborious gobbledygook…Better still, why doesn’t he publish, M. Desnos, a life-size photo, face and profile, at the end of all his articles?

Nature signs all its works – “Desnos” doesn’t mean anything.2

Would we ask the snake what it thinks of the mongoose? Its sentiments are well-known, natural, and irremediable; those of M. Desnos as well. All that’s needed is a bit of honesty. This is all I wanted your readers to know, a response I ask that you please print in the same place in your next issue.

Please accept my respects,
L.-F. Céline



  1. The poet and former Surrealist Robert Desnos published a review of Céline’s third and final anti-Semitic book Les Beaux Draps (A Fine Mess) in which he said that “Boredom, total boredom put me to sleep after the first words.”
  2. Céline is inferring here that Desnos means nothing because it hides the author’s real, Jewish name. Desnos wrote a response to this response addressed to “Louis-Ferdinand Destouches, alias Louis-Ferdinand Céline” signed “Robert Desnos, alias Robert Desnos.” Desnos, an active and militant anti-fascist, he participated in the Resistance, was arrested in August 1944, and died of typhus in June 1945 at the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

 

 

To Jean Lestandi at “Au Pilori”

(Louis-Ferdinand Céline wrote this letter for publication to Jean Lestandi, editor of “Au Pilori,” the most anti-Semitic and anti-Masonic of the Collaborationist newspapers. A bit of context: by the time this letter was written, among other measures two round-ups of Jews had occurred, camps had been set up for them, two statutes on the Jews had been promulgated, Jewish properties were already being confiscated, Jews were banned from the professions, and foreign Jews had been deprived of their citizenship. This in a France whose public opinion, according to Céline, was “philo-Semitic.”.)

October 2, 1941

To the editor of Au Pilori:

The French, faithful to tradition, have remained, deep down and on the whole, royalist. Since Samuel Bernard1 they have been faithful to their Jewish king. The person in Vichy who at this moment is filling in temporarily for Rothschild is much more powerful than any of his predecessors. (Louis XIV was nothing but a little boy). He recently confided this to one of his doctors. Under these conditions what can the Commissariat for Jewish Questions2 dare to do at the present time? It can make faces. It would be good if it acted? It wouldn’t last twenty-four hours. All of French public opinion is philo-Semitic and increasingly philo-Semitic! (We ate so well under Mandel3). Who would dare swim against such a tide? No one. Public schools (so Masonic) once and for all pointed out to the French their hereditary enemy: Germany. The issue is settled. The French never change their ideas. They are immutable and will die that way. They’re sickly and will never grow up. They’re set in their ways. They are no longer of the age or have the taste for variations. They would rather die than think; they would prefer death to the abandoning of a prejudice. Who (they think) are the surest enemies of the Krauts? It’s the Jews? Well then, five hundred times: Long Live the Jews!

Propaganda? Explanations? Demonstrations? Idle chatter? Zero! Everything is finished. The play is over. Wasted money, wasted time.

In order to re-create France it would have had to be entirely reconstructed on a racist-communitarian basis. We are ever farther away from this ideal, from this fantastic design. The lark has remained valiant and joyful; it still flies into the heavens, but the Gauls no longer hear it.

…Tied to,4 towed behind the Jews’ asses, steeped in their shit up to their hearts, they love being there.

L.F.-Céline



  1. Samuel Bernard (1651-1739) – A financier who loaned large sums to Louis XIV.
  2. Bureau of the Vichy government founded in 1939 that developed laws concerning the Jews.
  3. Georges Mandel (1885-1944) was a French politician of Jewish extraction. Imprisoned after the French defeat, he was later turned over to the Germans and executed.
  4. Since Céline never used the three dots at the beginning of a sentence, it appears the editors deleted something here.

 

 

To Alain Laubreaux and Jean Cocteau

(In November 1941 Alain Laubreaux, the theater critic of the fascist and collaborationist newspaper “Je Suis Partout” attacked Jean Cocteau’s play Les Parent Terribles  for its morality and its resemblance to the “Jewish theater of Henry Bernstein.” Celine had written to Laubreaux to express his disagreement with the moral condemnation, but said that what was really important in this case was “fanatical racism or death.” He wrote to Cocteau directly to express his opinion.)

 

22 November 1941

My Dear Laubreaux,

I wasn’t with you on the artistic and moral levels in the Cocteau Affair.

I could see you ending up like Bourdeaux1. But what virtuosity in setting things straight in the end!2 I’m speechless! On the racist level I’m with you one hundred per cent.

Reason of Race has to overrrule Reason of State. No need to explain. It’s quite simple. Fanatical total racism or death! And what a death! They’re waiting for us! Let the spirit of the mongoose animate us, urge us on!

Cocteau decadent, too bad!

Cocteau International League Against Anti-Semitism-ist, liquidated!

Affectionately yours



  1. Henri Bourdeaux, a famously academic writer.
  2. Laubreaux had ended his review with an imaginary dialogue: “So you admit that your criticism is above all racist ? I told you that my criticism is in service to order – So racism equals order? - That’s exactly what I think.”

 

 

To Jean Cocteau

[November - December 1941]

My Dear Cocteau,
Well, here we are in the middle of a bunch of gibberish – I don’t understand a thing – I’m sending your letter to Laubreaux and I propose we stop all this blathering and that all three of us meet – if you want to, some Sunday – soon – that’s more or less my only free time – and then we can hash out all this foolishness – we’ll see if it’s a matter of an artificially sustained abscess – I’m willing to arbitrate if it’s offered – I’m writing to Laubreaux to tell him this – Cordially yours

L.F. Céline

 

 

To Jean Cocteau

[November-December 1941]

Dear Confrere:

I’ve never been mixed up in any way in the Enfants Terribles Affair. An affair that I didn’t like from the very beginning because moralizing cabals disgust me in principle. This is precisely what I wrote to Laubreaux. But on the other hand you know my position – my racial position, if you will. And if comes to racism, well, then I’m blindly against the Jew or whoever. For me Reason of Race is more important than Reason of Art or Reason of Friendship. My dear Cocteau: are you an anti-Semite? This is all that counts. If you are, then goddammit shout it and everyone will know it. And not just a little bit. But above all Aryan racist the way the Jews are, despite all the nonsense about art ABOVE ALL. Racist militant Jews: crushers, thieves and tyrants of the Aryans (beef cattle). You know that I am someone who is very simple. I refuse to involve myself in (Jewish) arabesques and hairsplitting, (Jewish) dialectical traps. I speak as a man who is under a death sentence. Are you for or against those who are going to hang me? Are you of the opinion that the Jews are responsible for the war and the state we currently find ourselves in? This is more important than any artistic manifestation; this also interests us eternally. I hate the lukewarm. “I don’t get involved in politics.” Keep talking! A stinking alibi! Everything is politics! Are you a friend of Lecache’s?1 Then, dear, Cocteau, you can’t be mine. I wrote to Laubreaux.

Cocteau decadent? Too bad.

Cocteau International League against Anti-Semitism-ist? Liquidated!

You have to put yourself in my place, dear Cocteau. The Jews aren’t fooling around with me. “They mean business” [In English in the original]. The Bernstein Affair is on another level. It doesn’t touch upon the basis the choice.

Who goes there? Cocteau. Who goes there? Jewish fanaticism is total and sentences us to a horrible death; personally and poetically total.

What do you oppose to this Jewish fanaticism, Cocteau? To this enterprise carried out at every minute and at every level?

As long as your interests and renown don’t suffer. Precisely nothing. Like everyone, alas. Everyone.

Please allow me, Cocteau, to refuse to examine things with the same diversity, the same elegance as you.

Dear poet, adhere to, create an Aryan myth! This is what is asked of you and shit on the terrible parents and their children and on all families. Don’t waste a single minute! And then there’ll be no more to be said.

LF Céline



  1. Bernard Lacache – Founder and head of the International League Against Anti-Semitism.

 

 

To Jacques Doriot1

February 7, 1942

My Dear Jacques Doriot,

While you’ve been away with the army there’s been much nastiness here. In all honesty and just between us, we’re witnessing something truly repugnant: the systematic sabotage of racism in France by the anti-Semites themselves. They can’t to get along with each other. A typically French spectacle. All in all, how many anti-Semites are there in our country? I’m not talking about onlookers. Barely a prefecture’s worth!... and among those who are fired up, how many leaders? worthwhile, armed, presentable? A dozen…

At this crucial, inspired, mystical moment, what do we see them working passionately at? At cutting each other down!

Not to mention the troops, who have one concern alone: eliminate, denigrate, relegate to the second rank any possible rival! Me! me! me! no matter what…The toad’s malady. Jealousy! Everyone a star! and the only one on stage! a prize-winner! at the mic! at the Elysée!

And fuck everyone else! And let anti-Semitism die! And let all the Aryan assholes die! This is the true watchword! This is a summary, the simple and sinister result of Aryan rage in action, insane denigration, the insane love of the Self. The cause is lost.

Taking everything into account, it ends up making you sick to your stomach, this ridiculous Aryan cause.

Since we’re so rotten, so hopeless, so stupid, then disappear, carrion!

The story of Vercingitorix repeats itself in the same way on another level. It’s all been written.

Who’s rejoicing? Who’s celebrating? Who’s feasting on this? The Jew, for god’s sake! What a godsend! Put yourself in his place!

Every infiltration, all the undermining is for him. The cast iron of the bastions and citadels! all offered by their defenders! it’s like it’s raining traitors! The city! the state! body! soul! everything! the Church!

The world, a never-ending business deal for the Jew, all in all.

Any serious resistance? My heavens, none! A little bit of pulling faces…

Everything is falling into the hands of the Jews through discord and denigration. All he has to do is grab it. He’s asked to. Begged to. And yet, the task would be simple, childish, with a little bit of will… Making its Jewry vanish into thin air would take a determined nation hardly a week.

And these famous Jews, where does their enormous power come from? Their total control? Their undisputed tyranny?...From some amazing magic?...from prodigious intelligence? from astounding stunning genius?

Of course not! You know this perfectly well! Nothing more clumsy than the Jew, more awkward, more of a blunderer, more stupid, myopic, more of a fantastically rheumy imbecile at all the arts, at every level, in every trade if he isn’t supported by his clique, caressed, camouflaged, comforted every second of his life! More graceless, clumsy, boorish, laughable, Chaplinesque, the only one in the race! Unmistakable! But that’s the thing! The Jew is never the only one in the race!

One Jew means all of Jewry.

One Jew alone doesn’t exist.

One termite: the entire termite mound. One bedbug the whole house.

“Love each other” is the expression of a Jew understood only by the Jews.

One day Lucien Descaves told me when we were talking about these things: “You see, Céline, the Aryan has no family.”

This is what is horrible and this is what condemns us.

Our defeat is moral, not one of the intelligence.

We’re “anti-solidarity” in principle, religion, accursed habit, and the Jew is nothing but that: the man in “solidarity.”

Part of one family, he’s “Monsieur All-in-the-Family,” “Monsieur-Orgy-and-Telephone.”

We can’t but lose.

Aryan solidarity doesn’t exist, except among the Masons and, in the Jewish sense, only for Masonic use.

A team where everyone plays for himself is a team beaten in advance.

I ask you, on the current political plane, what are the five or six national parties?  A treat for the Jews! The Elders of Zion! Confusion, divisions, camouflage, working at loggerheads with each other. I see five, maybe six of these parties that should be executed. Why more than one party? The French Aryan Socialist with People’s Commissars, quite sensitive when it comes to doctrine, appropriate and armed. The rest is nothing but treason, and from all the evidence the creation of the Jews…

Talkative, permanent, entirely Jewish civil war, which so thoroughly dazed us, is once again ready to start up.

Eternal democracy, the free play of parties, the struggle of ideas!

If we worked together anti-Semitism would unfurl across France. No one would even talk about it anymore. Everything would happen by instinct, peaceably. One fine morning the Jew would find himself ousted, eliminated, naturally, like a caca.

I have nothing to say about that “understanding” “Collaborationist” elite that talks and perorates all over the place, from every tribune and which never talks about the Jews! 95 per cent of the elite, in fact! Lukewarm clever felons, neo-Mensheviks, crooked plotters of catastrophes. Collaborationist flora that I know all too well! too well educated to dirty themselves alongside us! Prolix wordy in all cases! Outbursts of the heart! of reason! The whole nine yards! Glacial when it comes to the kikes! Prudence! “There now!  The Jewish question? Let’s not talk about it dear friend! I don’t know anything about it! I couldn’t say anything sensible on the subject!

Assholes!

Crooked clowns who all should be shot.

There’s only one question: the Jewish Question!

Without the Jews Franco-German Collaboration would have already a fait accompli, assured, accomplished ages ago. There is really no other problem.

The rest is wicked chatter.

And those verbal anti-Semites! non-racist? Who in my eyes are worse than the Jews! As far as I’m concerned there’s no difference between Maurras2 and Jean Zay3 such a priest-lover, so Dreyfusard, soon to be consecrated Saint Péguy, lauded by Monseigneur Levy!

At the key moment all these people reach an agreement to send us off to the killing fields! and always for the good of the Jews! note this well! no joke! All in agreement to have us massacred! Absolved by Monseigneur Gerlier4 in the name of the most sublime entities: Fatherland! Family! Culture! Verdun! And gentle Jesus and all that crap!

What’s the most important thing in all this, what’s at the heart of all this evil, is that the Aryans have to disappear! it’s the only trick! The rage for this rises irresistibly from the depth of their balls, from their mixed-race epididymis.

We haven’t yet seen it all!

There’s only one thing they care about, those shits, those bitch bastards, those delirious lowlifes: that we’ll soon be attacked, that soon there will soon be a surge of blacks and Asiatics, our predestined murderers.

There’s not a single day, not a single hour, not a single night where a thousand supplications, a thousand wishes aren’t addressed to our assassins, exasperated prayers, souls that can’t go on…

You don’t hear anything?

Aryans, I’m afraid our die is cast. We weren’t capable of uniting, we don’t love each other at all.

Too bad! Whatever happens happens!

It’s the time of the sharks!

Death can be proud of itself!

We have nothing to do with this!

Let’s congratulate ourselves, innocent and disconsolate as we are!

We arrived too early to be niggers, that’s all!

At the very moment when every swoon swings!

We’ll perish refusing! This, my friend, is my final word!

May your victory in the East overturn the course of events!

I wish I was wrong! To die in error!

And yet always polite! - Never a harsh word! And your affectionate, narrow-minded, stubborn Servant

L.-F. Céline



  1. Doriot (1898-1945) after a period as the rising star of French communism was expelled from the party and ultimately founded his own fascist party, the Parti Populaire Français. During the war he joined the Légion des Volontaires Français Contre le Bolchevisme, and served on the Eastern Front. He died in mysterious circumstances not far from Lake Constance.
  2. Charles Maurras (1868-1952) – Founder and leader of the royalist Action Française.
  3. Popular Front politician particularly hated by anti-Semites. Murdered by the fascist Milice in 1944.
  4. Cardinal-archbishop of Lyon.

 

 

To Paul Bonny1

[Berlin?]

September 5[, 1944]

Dear Friends,

Since our departure from Bath Bath2 we’ve lived a nightmare, not bombarded, but what visions! What a nightmare. Berlin bewitched unto suicide. The place is irresistible. Alongside this incredible horror any cemetery is a light-hearted spot, a laugh. We were sent to the countryside for a few days, I have no idea where…While awaiting a transfer. Poor Robert3 has completely fallen apart. It’s hard to get him to catch his breath. We think of you often and never stop talking about you. What’s become of you? Anything happen with the radio? and Remy and Oltra and all our friends?4 We send you our deepest friendship and we imagine many things…but what a night! What doubts! And your children? it seems we’re probably going to move…temporary…Please be kind enough to write us care of Pr Haubolt  l Reichgesundheitsfürer l Koniigsalée 62 l Berlin Grünwald.

They’ll make sure it’s forwarded.

Of course I have nothing to say concerning events. We don’t know anything about Paris. Nothing. Has Mordrel5 returned? 50 questions an hour remain unanswered. And yet our fate is being decided somewhere… in which catacombs? It’s cold or almost cold here.

Lucette is sad about having left your wife – She feels a great affection for her. She feels great sorrow at being alone at present. Even the damned can have a little hope. Even in hell there are seasons. Robert is forever asking if he wouldn’t have done better to go here or there. Our poor friend is as panicked as a rabbit in hunting season. He sees rifles everywhere….

He’s not one of the damned guys6 - I’m trying to remain one. Of course from time to time one weakens…Everyone can’t be Lesdain7: morality made word. But that’s the realm of the miraculous – Will this last for Lesdain, too? It will be interesting to follow this affair.

We embrace you all.

Destouches



  1. Swiss journalist who had worked during the war as a translator at the German Embassy in Paris.
  2. Baden Baden.
  3. Céline’s friend the actor and Collaborationist Robert Le Vigan.
  4. Maurice Remy and Georges Oltramare were journalists at Radio-Paris during the Occupation.
  5. Olier Mordrel, Breton nationalist close to the Germans.
  6. This was a password among the collaborationist refugees in Baden-Baden.
  7. Jacques de Lesdain, fanatical Collaborationist journalist who continued to broadcast to France from Sigmaringen.

 

 

To Jean Paulhan1

April  15[, 1948]

My Dear Paulhan,

Bravo, très bravo, for the brave note full of wit and courage.

But the essential misunderstanding remains, or rather the ambiguity knowingly maintained by my enemies, my jackals.

When I attacked the Jews. When I wrote Bagatelles for a Massacre I didn’t mean to say or recommend that Jews should be massacred. Fuck, I meant the contrary. I asked of the Jews that they not drive us into a massacre more disastrous than that of 1914-18 through their hysteria.

There’s quite a difference.

With great crookedness people play with the meaning of my pamphlets. People persist in considering me a killer of Jews. I am a patriotic wholehearted protector of Frenchmen and Aryans – and incidentally, also of the Jews. I didn’t want Auschwitz, Buchenwald. Fuck! Basta! I knew full well that in declaring war we would be headed directly into those horrible “petiotieries.”3 If war is declared tomorrow we’ll see a hundred times better, or worse! It’s obvious! On the other hand, saying there are no war-mongering, provocateur, hysterical Jews means denying the obvious. I sinned in believing in the pacifism of the Hitlerites – but that’s the limit of my crime. A glance at Palestine shows us that the Jews are every bit as bellicose as the worst Aryans or the worst Arabs! Fuck!

I thought it was possible to reach an agreement with Hitler, send him to make war in Baikal is what I wrote. But I don’t write Gospels, godammit! I don’t prevent anyone from responding to me! from telling me I’m full of shit! what a mess!

The hatred that pursues me that’s searching for me the most stupidly in the world and what’s more the most cowardly, is hunting me down on all continents. An example is the attached letter from Milton Hindus Jewish professor in Chicago, who has ratted me out to the French embassy in Washington.

The French have to finally get it into their stupid pig sold-out to all the bastards in the world heads that I’m one of the few imbeciles to have lost everything, risked everything, suffered everything so that their filthy degenerate species would be spared preserved and perpetuated.

I don’t do it for them, I do it for Couperin, Gervaise, and Jacquin.4

Affectionately yours,

LF Céline

Wait, I forgot the famous grievance, proof of my guilt He went to Sigmaringen! Ah, Sigmaringen!

The fucking things that went on in Sigmaringen! All those damned voyeurs would have like to have been in Sigmaringen! They love to bullshit based on nothing about Sigmaringen, to be stupid about it!

I went to Sigmaringen from patriotism because French was spoken there and I can’t stand German, or English either, though I speak both of them. You can check on this! I’M FRIGHTFULLY FRENCH. I went to Germany? Where could I have gone? Who in the world wanted me? I asked Laval for Switzerland. REFUSED. If I’d remained in Paris… who has the balls to tell me that I wouldn’t have been automatically arrested, tortured, assassinated in the first days?

Come on now!

What a farce!

Then they’d have had a ball covering me in posthumous shit. What documented, proven, eyewitnessed treason! Etc.

This is just to die for!

Germany naturally horrified me. I find it provincial, heavy, crude. It brings out the Déroulède5 in me. I am not a germanophile, dammit! When I was a doctor for the League of Nations I had to constantly crisscross Europe. I took countless detours in order not to go through Germany. For me Germany is the Germany of 1914, Gare de l’Est! the Vosges line, death, sausages, pointed helmets, the books of Jules Huret,6 and then Charleroi and then 75% disabled at 20! Claudel loves Germany!  And Poncet!7



  1. Editor at Gallimard and an important intellectual in his own right.
  2. Paulhan had just written a text to accompany Casse-pipe in the “Cahiers de la Pleiade.”
  3. Neologism incorporating the name of the serial killer Marcel Petiot, a French doctor responsible for sixty murders.
  4. The French composers François Couperin, Claude Gervaise, and Clémen Janequin.
  5. Paul Déroulède (1846-1914) – Untr-nationalist French writer.
  6. Jules Huret (1864-1915) – Journalist who wrote several accounts of his travels in Germany.
  7. André François-Poncet (1887-1978) – French politician, ambassador to Germany during the time of Hitler’s rise.

 

 

To Jean Paulhan

[February?] 27, 1949

My Dear Paulhan.

Who would ever talk about this Texcier1 he if he hadn’t found a way to shit on my writings? So I – you understand – I don’t bother myself with him anymore.

* * *

The Jews? Damn if there aren’t as many, and in commanding positions, in Paris as in Moscow, as in Washington, as in Tel Aviv, as in London. And what fucking difference does it make to me? Have they invited you to arbitrate their quarrels? Bankers against People’s Commissars. You don’t matter worth a damn in all this and neither do I. Let’s go back to our gardens! Indiscretion. In the panorama of time (not very long) the Jews will melt along with us into the Negro and yellow ocean. The Jews only maintain their race in symbiosis with the Aryans; once mixed with the yellows or blacks THEY MELT. They are biologically “dominant” in relation to us. They are “dominated” by Negro and yellow blood. Our anti-Semitic struggle is stupid. One might say that the Jew is us. For the Jew the black has an irresistible attraction (tropism). If it were a matter of revenge (which god forbid) we could with absolute certainly bet on Jewish rule over the Middle East. It is there that the biological defeat of the Jew will take place through the mixing of races and the return to his yellow and Negro heredity. The same way the rose only asks to once again be a hawthorn. The Jew is an absolutely artificial being, crossbred, a fragile hybrid. The leaders in Tel Aviv know this, by the way, and oppose marriage with Arabs. But a caste regime never saves anyone. See Gobineau.2 Promiscuity leads inevitably to coitus and the return to the hawthorn. See India! Palestine is the perimeter, the smelter, the lysis3 of the Jewish race. As for us, my God it’s already done! We will perish racially along with the Jew.

* * *

No, not even to make you happy can I tell you that I love to write. Shakespeare claims that “we are the stuff dreams are made of.” Mine was certainly not that of writing novels. A gift and a vocation are two different things and can even be in opposition within the same being. Most writers suppose they have gifts and vocations… narcissism does the rest. Yes, I have a horror of writing, just as mediums almost always have a horror of turning tables. This wears me out and sickens me, but I know how to make them turn… The others cheat. And how many times do you think that even an authentic writer can turn tables in his life? What do you think? Once or twice at the very most! And the kettle?

* * *

You see that the drama of the Grasset4 grocery has been worked out. Grocery store dramas rarely turn out badly. This Texcier, for example, who must have a few unreadables in his drawer, must be counting on Grasset…and a thousand filthy Arabs like him. What a joke!

* * *

I can’t say anything about Journey or anything else, everything is hidden, clandestine…evasive, evanescent as Bergson said. Oh, the “becoming!” Article 755 is also a “becoming.”…

Bardèche6 is going to the slammer, and that’s more serious.

In the end all these games that atheism elevates unfortunately lead the joker to the gallows.

Are you a fisherman?

Your affectionate,
L-F Céline

* * *

By the way, can you send a copy of the Casse-Pipe Pléaide to

Bendz7
18 Kastellgaten
Goteborg
Sweden

He’s a fanatic about French letters, reader at that city’s university. He defends me! He’s an anti-Texcier! Damn! Fuck!

I received the admirable geography of circulation. A thousand thanks!

In Copenhagen I acquired a collection of the [Revue] des Deux Mondes going back to its beginnings for almost nothing.

* * *

Ah, Proust. If he hadn’t been a Jew no one would talk about him anymore. And a bugger! And haunted by buggery. He doesn’t write in French but in an elaborate Franco-Yiddish outside any French tradition. We have to go back to the Merovingians to find as revolting a gibberish. It doesn’t flow. As for the profound problems! My gifted one! And sensibility! Nevertheless, I grant he has a carat of creativity, which is EXTREMELY RARE, I must confess. He and Morand,8 but what do the critics recognize in them? Those blind dogs, cross-eyed, fake ears, everything fake. Give me a break.



  1. Tixier-Vignancourt, Céline’s French lawyer.
  2. Arthur de Gobineau (1886-1882), author of the Essay on the Inequality of Races.
  3. In medical terms, the salutary crisis.
  4. The publisher Bernard Grasset was sentenced in absentia to national degradation for life, prohibition to return to France for five teas and the confiscation of his property. In June 1948 his company was sentenced to dissolution and confiscation, but on December 16 President Vincent Auriol reversed the sentence and limited the confiscation to a fine of 10,000,000 francs.
  5. The act of the penal code was that used to judge those accused of collaboration, Céline among them.
  6. Unrepentant fascist Maurice Bardèche, found guilty of apology for crime after the publication in October 1948 of his book attacking the war crimes trials, “Nuremberg ou la Terre Promise.”
  7. Ernst Bendz, Swedish writer and doctor who visited Céline and defended him publicly.
  8. Paul Morand (1888-1976), French novelist.

Contributors

Louis-Ferdinand Céline

Louis-Ferdinand Celine (1894-1961) was one of the great innovators of twentieth century French literature. His first novel, Journey to the End of the Night, completely changed the literary landscape when it appeared in 1932, praised by the critics and Leon Trotsky alike. After the relative failure of his second novel, Death on the Installment Plan (1936) he then turned to political pamphlets, first attacking the Soviet Union in Mea Culpa in 1936, and then writing three horrifically anti-Semitic pamphlets, which have tarnished his reputation ever since. Though he denied collaborating with the Nazis or ever writing for the Collaborationist press, he in fact supported them wholly, and though he never wrote articles for Collaborationist journals he instead wrote letters to them or allowed himself to be interviewed by them. As the Vichy regime collapsed he followed its members to Germany, and his observations of their collapse served as the source for his great late trilogy: North, Castle to Castle, and Rigodon. Imprisoned in Denmark after the war, he later returned to France, where he died in Meudon in the Paris suburbs, his last years spent complaining of the threat posed by a Chinese invasion.

Mitch Abidor

MITCHELL ABIDOR is the principal French translator for the Marxists Internet Archive where a version of this translation first appeared. His books include, The Great Anger: Ultra-Revolutionary Writing in France From the Atheist Priest to the Bonnot Gang, Communards: The Paris Commune of 1871 as Told By Those Who Fought For It, the collection of Victor Serge’s writings on anarchism, Anarchists Never Surrender, selections from Jean Jaures’, Socialist History of the French Revolution, The Selected Correspondence of Louis-Ferdinand Céline, the poetry of Benjamin Fondane and Emmanuel Bove’s A Raskolnikoff.

Pascal Ifri

Pascal Ifri received his Ph.D. from Brown University. His main research area is the Twentieth-Century French Novel, but he is also interested in the Realist movement and in various aspects of French civilization and culture, particularly cinema and politics. He has published five books: Proust (Pardès, 2008), Rebatet (Pardès, 2004), “Les Deux étendards” de Lucien Rebatet: Dossier d’un chef-d’oeuvre maudit (L’Age d’Homme, 2001), Céline et Proust: Correspondances proustiennes dans l’oeuvre de L.-F. Céline (Summa, 1996), and Proust et son narrataire (Droz, 1983). He is also the author of a number of articles and essays, on Proust, Céline, Rebatet, Gide, Zola, Stendhal, and Musset. He is currently working on a project about Lucien Rebatet’s Étude sur la composition des Deux étendards. In addition, he has been the editor-in chief or the co-editor-in chief of the Bulletin Marcel Proust since 1995.

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