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 through the Summer and Fall in the Brooklyn Rail.
A French Accent
by Jean-Michel Rabaté
In May 1942, speaking on the Fascist Radio Rome, Ezra Pound concluded a talk entitled “A French Accent” with a very idiosyncratic praise of Louis-Ferdinand Céline. His regular broadcast even includes a direct quote in French :
“Bonjour, Ferdinand. I don’t hold it my duty any more to run a chronicle of French publications, but I still know a real book when I see one, whatever the contents. Ferdinand has GOT down to reality, Ferdinand is a writer. Next one will be the last one. Gnrr, gnrrn, gnrrn, gnrr. Suicide of the Nation. La prochaine sera la derniere. Gnieres!
Gn, gn. ça sera le suicide de la Nation.
Au pays n’en reviendra guére.
Not only for his copia, his abundance of language. Not only for the force of his prosody, but for the content. You will have to read Céline sometime. The active members of the community will have to BUY their own copies of L’Ecole des Cadavres, not enough to hear me 5 minutes over the air, or dip into a copy at a friend’s house.”
Here, Pound is quoting one of the most stupendous passages of Céline’s pamphlet, L’Ecole des Cadavres, which had been reissued by Denoël in 1942:
“Si j’étais empereur des Chansons, j’en ferais jamais chanter qu’une. Ca serait partout, toujours la même, en banderoles, en orphéons, en serpentins, en mirlitons, en fredaines phonographiques. Faudrait bien tout de même qu’ils me l’apprennent. Faudrait bien tout de même qu’ils la retiennent! Qu’ils se l’insurgent! Que ça les embrase, que ça les transporte, qu’ils se connaissent plus d’enthousiasme, de ferveur communicative. La prochaine sera la dernière! Gnières! Gnières! Gnières! Ca sera le suicide de la Nation! Gnières! Gnières! Gnons! Ceux qu’apprennent rien comprendront! Gnières! Gnières! Gnières! Tous les cocus plein les wagons! Gnières! Gnières! Gnons! Au pays n’en reviendra guère. Gnières! Gnières! Gnières! Tous les cadavres qu’étaient trop cons! Gnières! Gnières! Gnon! Pour la prochaine gai reguerre! Gnières! Gnières! Gnières! Pour la prochaine gai! ris! donc! Gnières! Gnières! Gnons! (Ce dernier “Gnons” avec emphase.)
Ce sont les discussions qui tuent les races. La prochaine guerre sera vraiment la dernière! Gnières! gnières! gnières! Et pour la meilleure des raisons! C’est que personne n’en réchappera! Tout sera dit. La Paix par le vide. Un Pacte avec le diable! Un traité! Vingt traités! Qu’on lui refile tous les Juifs! les maçons! le Pape! Toute la lyre! La Paix pour voir venir! La Paix d’abord! Nom de Dieu! Retrouver une confiance, un rythme, une musique à ce peuple, un lyrisme qui le sorte du baragouin juif. Un Dieu! d’où qu’il vienne!” (p. 84-85)
(If I was the emperor of songs, I would only have one song sung. It would always be the same, sung with ribbons, brass bands, phonograph refrains. They would have to learn it, to learn it by heart! So that they rebel with it! That get on fire with it, be transported, give them more enthusiasm, more communicative fervor. The next one will be the last one! Last one, last one, one, one, one! It will be the suicide of the Nation! Gnières! Gnières! Gnons! Those who can’t learn will understand. Gnières! Gnières! Gnières! All the cuckolds in the bandwagons! To homeland will not come back many! Gnières! Gnières! Gnières! All the corpses that were too dumb! Gnières! Gnières! Gnon! For the next little war! Gnières! Gnières! Gnières! For the next exit door! Gnières! Gnières! Gnons! (More emphasis on the last Gnon.) Discussions kill races. The next war is really going to be the last! And for the best of reasons! Nobody will come back alive! All will be said. Peace via emptiness. A pact with the devil! A treaty! Twenty treaties! Let us give him all the Jews! The freemasons! The Pope! All of them! Peace to see the future come! Peace first of all! Goddamn! Find confidence again, a rhythm, a music, give it to this people, a lyricism that pulls it out of the Jewish jargon. A God! Wherever he might come!)
One recognizes Céline’s maniac rhythms, here borrowing from popular French songs, playing on his pronunciation of “dernière guerre” (the last war) to let it echo with “gnons” (slang for blows), just in order to reiterate one single idea: the Jews are behind international finance and they want to create a war in order to further their interests. But the Second World War will be so devastating that it will be the last one, we will all die. The only solution would be to believe in something that would not have been corrupted by the Jews, perhaps God, but no, even that is impossible, since the God of monotheism is also a Jewish invention.
Pound and Céline shared then many delirious tenets, mostly about anti-Semitism, and both understood the function of literature to provide a wake-up call, and both are superb letter-writers. In their literary careers, they have illustrated themselves differently, Pound being a poet above all, Céline a prose writer, but both have the same respect for the inherent musicality of language, and the same directness in their correspondence. One can see this in Céline’s letter to Denoël from 1932: “Please, don’t under any circumstances add even one syllable to my text without notifying me! You’ll destroy the rhythm - I alone can find the place for it. I look like a slobbering idiot but I know perfectly well what I want. Not one syllable.” One observes in Pound and Céline the emergence of parallel delirious constructions.
The construction begins for Céline at the time when he publishes his indisputable masterpiece, Voyage au Bout de la Nuit, a picaresque novel in which, curiously, the positive characters of women are American, from Molly, the golden-hearted whore, to the dancer Elisabeth Craig, to whom the book is dedicated. One sees this when he advises the beautiful German student Erika Irrgang, who had been his lover, to act out her “Jewish” qualities in October 1932: “… you’ll go further – if you hold to your line of conduct like a Jewess. Tenaciously, instinctively, by all possible means. You are charming, you’re dirty-minded when you want to be – Preserve your health – your thighs, your wit – Have leaving poverty behind as your primary goal.” Hence, the first moment of the delirium consists in endowing the Other with a huge and invisible power—all the more dangerous as it can disguise itself as the Same. This philosophical dialectic is not just borrowed from Sartre’s post-war analyses of the Jew or the Negro, it is already in these letters—here is one to émlie Faure from March 1934:
“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, (…) 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.”
Thus Céline shows that he is aware that this will be his role, the role he will consistently play: the outsider who is attacked by all, even when he identifies with a race or a nation (the dwindling numbers of “authentic” French people.) In the same way, Pound will be interested by the English-sounding names of African-American soldiers in the Camp at Pisa, since these testify to the deepest roots of slavery.
In his fascinating dialogue with the art critic émlie Faure, whom he admires, Céline oppose his strong “images” and true rhythms to the weak intellectual “drooling” of the Jews:
“I am only, I remain only truculent maker of images and nothing else. And I don’t want to be any more than that. I have the modesty to never say what I think of the people. This is also part of me. Knowing how to keep quiet. To not drool like a Jew, make a product so it can be sold, reveal what should remain secret in order to sell it. I’m speaking to you brutally, émlie, because despite yourself you’re on the other side. You don’t speak our language and you like to hear it.” Thus when Céline speaks his own language, he is both teaching the Jews how to imitate it and rejecting their baser version. Obviously, Faure, who was on the left, was trying to convince Céline that they were on the same side, that is against the exploitation of the capitalists and for the people, all the lower ones who people the pages of the Journey. Yet, Céline rejects such a notion: “… there is no such things as the “people,” in the touching sense you mean it, there’s nothing but exploiters and exploited and every exploited wants nothing more than to be an exploiter. He understands nothing else. The heroic egalitarian proletariat doesn’t exist. It’s a hollow dream, UTTER NONSENSE, from which flows all that imbecilic imagery, the proletariat in blue overalls, the hero of tomorrow and the sated evil capitalist with his gold chain. They’re equally pieces of shit. The proletarian is a bourgeois who didn’t succeed. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing touching about any of this, a senile and deceitful tearjerker. That’s all. A pretext for congresses, for remuneration, or paranoism…”
Here, Céline betrays his own paranoia, and we can see the lineaments of this structure emerge. Like Freud’s President Schreber who has to imagine a sadistic and lubricious God who wants to transform him into a woman, have sex with him, and generate a new human race, Céline projects an Other that is infinitely evil, perverse, and plays with hundreds of disguises. The frantic acceleration of the rhythm of his denunciations is modeled on the increasing ubiquity of this malin genie, the Jew. In 1940, he writes to an editor of La Vie Nationale that “Yesterday’s Blumists are today’s Hitlerites, more or less, and if the winds change, the communists of tomorrow.” Hence even the most devoted anti-Semites can turn out to be Jewish (wasn’t this after all Hitler’s plight?) and the Fascists are Communists in disguise. Why: “Seen from the behind they’re all the same.”
As with Pound’s war pamphlets, there is a return of the repressed anality, as we see in the excremental Hell of Usury depicted by Cantos XIV and XV. This would include all homosexual, suspected of being not only Jewish and riche, but also a free-mason like fraternity. Yet, like Pound, Céline appreciated the grace and elegance of Jean Cocteau, who was by then notorious as a gay artist and writer. It is true that during the war, he was a collaborationist. But this is not why Céline can praise him—he just needs to know whether Cocteau is also an anti-Semite: “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.” He then blurts out his secret: he is racist because the Jews are, because he has been forced by them to become as racist as they are. But to become as racist as they are, one has to become more racist than they are, because they have already anticipated that very move. Céline continues:
“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?” When he adds that “everything is politics,” he also confirms this rule: the world is conspiring to hang him.
What is surprising in Céline’s life is that he was almost hanged, but finally avoided the expected penalty, much as Pound avoided the electric chair by pretending to be insane. But indeed, in fact, as we know, and at that time at least, he was insane. Céline’s own brand of insanity thus produced the most rabid critique of anti-Semitism (by exhibiting its mad and maddening excess) and attacking the other anti-Semites for being too lukewarm. Thus he criticizes the members of the Milice for organizing a dancing party in which there are not enough French-sounding names and he can write to the arch collaborator Jacques Doriot that he is witnessing “the systematic sabotage of racism in France by the anti-Semites themselves.” His 1942 rant is typical and must have annoyed Doriot, who had first been a Communist and then a pro-Nazi:
“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.”
But then the rhetoric of anal expulsion returns, but this time like a vanishing utopia of national cleanliness:
“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.”
Like Pound, who was closely reading Karl Marx’s Capital at the time in a desperate effort to understand the roots of economic oppression that he called “usury,” Céline also quotes Marx—thus to Henri Poulain who worked for the feared Je Suis partout, in June 1943 (Je suis partout, the most influential of the Collaborationist newspapers, had begun advocating Nazi leadership, and ended up advertising recruitment to the Waffen-SS):
“Karl Marx, who must be reread, a Jew much more precise and instinctive than Montaigne, writes: “The Jews emancipate themselves to the extent that the Christians become Jews.” In France the Jews are totally emancipated and the Christians have become totally Jewish. (…) In ’39, the bourgeoisie had become so Jewish, the army officers such pleasure-seekers, so soft that the war was immediately unbearable to them. Complete breach of duty. The bourgeoisie could no longer be found in front of their safes, but behind them. This is the entire difference between ’14 and ’39. Rapprochement through the bourgeoisie was still possible in ’14 – it no longer is in ’43 – because the bourgeoisie, finished, spineless, cowardly, no longer has a national (or international) role to play, it has discredited itself once and for all in this war – It has demonstrated its death.” Yet Céline surprisingly refuses to cooperate in the sense Brasillach did, since he adds: “The current Franco-German alliance is an alliance with carrion – It deals death to all who pet it. And that’s all that’s been done for the past 3 years. The pit at Katyn is bigger than is imagined – I’d even say it reaches the Tuileries.” Like Pound, who mentions Katyn in his speeches, the truth about the slaughter of the Polish army had been made then. Yet, in this passage, it is not clear who would be responsible: the Soviet army, the Nazis, or both?
Céline’s paradoxical whirlpool of rages found its perfect and logical conclusion when he fled France and arrived in the castle of Sigmaringen, that he evokes so brilliantly in Castle to Castle, and then left for Denmark with other Nazi exiles. This is why in 1946 he objects to his wife’s agreement that he might return to France to be judged: “Hell no! I agree to nothing of the kind. I’m hold on to the right of asylum like a devil! Like a Jew!” And one year later, he write to Albert Naud, who can help him with the French administration: “… it seems to me it would perhaps be clever to let them understand that I am the only anti-Semite hunted down for his anti-Semitism who could currently be truly useful to the Jews… The latter are far from popular; they’re hated as much if not more than before Hitler… more or less everywhere… But experience, alas, has persuaded me that anti-Semitism leads nowhere and what is more, has no raison d’être. I can say this officially, loudly, whenever they want, and in all sincerity, not from cowardice, recantation or calculation, but simply so that no one ever falls into this trap again. Anti-Semitism is a political and police provocation.”
Is Céline just playing it safe by minimizing his previous anti-Semitism? This is partly the reason, obviously, although we see him beginning another rant in the late forties, this time about the “Asian danger,” facing which Aryans and Jews can be said to be united. Is Céline disingenuous when he claims in 1948 that he has never asked for the mass killing or Jews? Not really, since the text I began with, L’Ecole des Cadavres, or Bagatelles pour un Massacre, always return to the same accusation that WWI, of which he was a veteran, had been triggered and masterminded by Jewish capitalism. This time, the paranoia can be downgraded to simple hysteria:
“… where did you read, creep, a single line of mine demanding “the mass murder of Jews”??? Filth! I asked that the Jews, certain Jews, not push us into a massacre, into a catastrophe, into the slaughterhouse! That’s quite different, IT’S EXACTLY THE CONTRARY, and you know it. It’s you who push, who always pushed the Jews, your brothers, into the slaughterhouse through your provocations, the criminals are among you, the traitors are among you. And you know this perfectly well – in your hysteria – in your lies – in your jealousy.”
A more rational assessment was made to Jean Paulhan in 1949, when the idea that the Jew was the Other is replaced with the suspicion that it is on the side of the Same: “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.” In writing, in his writing, in his rantings, Celine has thus remained, for better or for worse, the wandering Jew of French modernity. If Gide could say about Victor Hugo that he was the best French poet, adding a revealing “hélas,” we might also conclude, if asked who was the best French novelist of the twentieth century: “Céline, hélas!”
Jean-Michel Rabaté, University of Pennsylvania.
To Herbert Jenkins
(This letter to his American publisher was written in English.)
25 May 1934
I hope you have understood I wanted 4 Journeys – not 8! In the case I should get 4 extras I will send them back – Dont charge.
I am writing to know exactly the figures of your sellings to make my plans for the States. As I am travelling on my own expenses I want to see the film people, it is very important. Literary opinions have little to do with prosperity as you know –
But I assume the last Literary Review was [very- added] extraordinarily interesting –
But I don’t see the public buying – And that is after all the final test –
Any how I will arrive in new York on the 20 by the Champlain. That is sure.
I surely will absolutely refuse to have anything to do with boat interviewers. I will not either participate in banquet, dinner, lunches, teas or others, absolutely not – no use trying –
I don’t like to eat with other people –
I don’t like to sit at tables at all –
But to be very nice for your publicity I will see privately 2 or 3 people you will choose at different times
I don’t think I will come to Boston –
As you insist on my paiement of 6 dollars, I will send you instead a beautiful face of mine – original 12 tin engravings, worth 25 dollars a piece (at least) by a very fine Parisian Artist Gen Paul. That will cover my balance with you.
To Robert Denoël
[New York June 19341]
I did what had to be done here with the journalists and agreed to some really stupid interviews, including, alas, photos. Little Brown expects to soon reach 20,000 copies. Through Elizabeth I received news of California Cinema, which is still mulling over an adaptation. So I’ve decided to go there in person, and I leave New York on Monday for Chicago, where I’ll see some people. I’ll be in Los Angeles in early July and will stay there about three weeks. I’ll write you.
I spend a fortune on food. I’ll need 4000 francs from the Journey account. You can give it to me upon my return. I have some hope for the people from California Cinema. But not too much. As for book sales, things look good in the United States it’s a big success. Faulkner doesn’t sell more books than I. The public is divided here, just as they are in England. The movie public reads Bênoit-type books2 and is happy with that. The other 20,000 read books of the Céline and Gide type. What’s more, the price of $2.50 reduces the number of possible readers.
L F D
- Letter written on letterhead from the Vanderbilt Hotel.
- Reference to Pierrre Bênoit, writer of best-sellers between the two wars.
To Cillie Ambor
28 August 1934
I’ve just this instant returned from America and I found your letter.1 I would love to see you too, but how? This trip was terrible. I found Elizabeth2 in a state of demi-dementia that can’t be either recounted or explained. I assure you, a horrible nightmare. Anyway nothing that happens surprises us. All of this is of no importance – like us. I’m back to my usual occupations. I’ll probably go to Vienna this winter. The affair with Max seems to be a happy one.
You’re still beautiful naked.3 This will last for some time yet. As long as us. What’s become of Annys? My love. Your Guthembourg wanted to change cities? You’ll miss him. At a certain point we miss everything – the fight between desire and regrets is no longer a fair one. I’ve heard many people were killed around your house. There were too many people in the cafes. All this could only have end badly.4
- Céline always used the formal “vous” form with Cillie Ambor, but in this letter he addresses her in the familiar “tu” form.
- The American Elizabeth Craig, to whom Journey to the End of the Night was dedicated and with whom Céline had once been passionately in love.
- Cillie Ambor included a nude photo of herself with her letter.
- Céline is referring to the events in Austria when Nazi putschists assassinated Chancellor Dollfuss.
To Henry Miller
[September or October 1934]
I will be more than happy to read your Tropic. What I’ve already glanced at intrigues me and makes me want to read the whole book. But will you allow me a piece of advice of a type I know well. Exercise discretion. Ever more discretion! Know how to be wrong – the world is full of people who are right –that’s why it’s sickening.
To émlie Faure
[July 22, 1935]
Dear émlie Faure,
Your letter is touching. You say I’m fond of you, but I don’t always understand you. You’re not of the people, you’re not vulgar, you’re aristocratic, you say. You don’t know what I know. You went to high school.
You didn’t earn your bread before going to school.1You have no right to judge me, you don’t know. You don’t know everything I know. You don’t know what I want, you don’t know what I do. You have no idea of the horrible effort I have to make every day and especially every night just to keep upright, to hold my pen. When you’ll be at death’s door you’ll completely understand me, but only then. I speak the language of the intimacy of things. First I had to learn it, to spell it out. I took the measure of everything. Nothing I say is gratuitous. I know. I am only, I remain only truculent maker of images and nothing else. And I don’t want to be any more than that. I have the modesty to never say what I think of the people. This is also part of me. Knowing how to keep quiet. To not drool like a Jew, make a product so it can be sold, reveal what should remain secret in order to sell it. I’m speaking to you brutally, émlie, because despite yourself you’re on the other side. You don’t speak our language and you like to hear it.
We’ll miss wars émlie...Man is the Devil. He’ll invent tortures a thousand times more horrifying to replace them…From the time he’s an ovule he’s nothing but death’s plaything.
- Should be read to mean that he didn’t have to work before he even began his studies.
To émlie Faure
[July 22 or ,1935
What’s unfortunate in all this is that there is no such thing as the “people” in the touching way you mean it, there’s nothing but exploiters and exploited and every exploited wants nothing more than to be an exploiter. He understands nothing else. The heroic egalitarian proletariat doesn’t exist. It’s a hollow dream, UTTER NONSENSE, from which flows all that imbecilic imagery, the proletariat in blue overalls, the hero of tomorrow, and the bloated evil capitalist with his gold chain. They’re equally pieces of shit. The proletarian is a bourgeois who didn’t succeed. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing touching about any of this, a senile and deceitful tearjerker. That’s all. A pretext for congresses, for remuneration, or paranoism… The essence doesn’t change. No one ever pays attention to that, they drool in the abstract. The abstract is easy it’s the refuge of all the fuckoffs. Those who don’t work are rotten with general and generous ideas. What’s much more difficult is to make the abstract concrete.
Would you ask Breughel and Villon if they had political opinions?...
I’m ashamed to carry on about these obvious facts…I’ve earned my living since I was 12 (twelve). I don’t see things from outside but from within. They want to make me forget what I saw, what I know, make me say what I don’t say, think for me. I’d have been rich as could be if I’d been willing to deny my origins. Instead of judging me they’d do better to copy me instead of drooling platitudes – so many writers would finally write things that were readable.
The flight into the abstract constitutes the cowardice of the artist. His desertion. Congresses are his death. Praise, from wherever it might come, is his yoke. I don’t want to be the first among men. I want to be the first at work. I shit on men; what they say makes no sense. You have to give yourself entirely to the thing within you, not to the people or the Crédit Lyonnais; to no one.
Louis F. Céline
To émlie Faure
[August] 3, 
Of course I’m right, ten thousand times right! “Love” isn’t something for men, it’s a stupid expression for chicks. Man goes to the heart of things, stays there, settles in and dies there. You don’t talk like a worker, you’re dragged along by women and talk like a woman-and-a-half. Let the barcarolle begin! Private Man has no language he’s mute. Man should be taken on a stroll in front of this silent panorama. No more drooling. We exist only in the silent intimacy of men and things. We delimit we don’t define. Feel and shut up. You all talk too much. What is said doesn’t exist. You know all this, my good friend. You know how little, how infinitely little immodesty it takes in “the place” where the things sing and offer themselves, retract, get soiled, thicken and die under the gaze, under the word, under the finger.
It’s not brutality that violates “this,” it’s pretention and reason. What difference does it make that you or I are a thousand times more scorned, more grotesque, unhappier. If men one day don’t find us don’t join us in the chain of time in the intimacy of work, well, then there were never any Men in the intimacy of things, nothing but cowards and runaways, the drumbeat of defeat. Of the people or not, they have nothing to do with me.1
- As the editor of the French edition of this letter says, the “last three sentences of this paragraph present several points difficult to understand.”
To MacIntyre (of Little, Brown)
(Letter in English in the original.)
11 March 1937
Dear Mr. McIntyre
Just received your letter 2nd march, I regret to say that I don’t agree with you in regard to Mea Culpa. The book sells very well in France, Germany, Italy, even South America.1 I don’t see why USA should be so exceptional. I don’t see why it should interfere with Mort à crédit if you publish it in June (mea culpa) and Mort à credit in september? I think the opposite, it should help Mort à credit. I don’t want a newspaper publication. If I did, I would be rich by now and would have no need to practic medicin or write novels. We don’t understand at all the same way about Mea culpa. Far from being a secondary book, it is on the contrary very much favored by the critics over here, much more than Mort à credit. I don’t want to deliver you a lecture on those matters, but I must point out that there is between the public and myself a bitter fight going on. Mea culpa and Semmelweis help me to fight it out. It makes them think twice before they accuse Mort à credit to be just dirt eroticism and so on… But it ought to be published very fast. Parker seemed willing to accept the work of translation2 (By then Denoël will probably take on of his books on my demand).3 I think Marks is much too busy just now to translate mea culpa. So he wrote to me. Another publisher will be found in England, but if you desire you can have all the rights on the book England and USA and I am ready to sell all these rights to you for a total sum of 120 pounds.
It is absolutely false to consider Mea culpa composed of two essays with no common sense. I am no child and I don’t work with no purpose. One is the background of the other. That is a very good occasion for your “experts” to learn something about emotional composition (lacking very much in USA). [Since when was USA public not interested in biographies? And medical biographies?!! - ] added.
I would like to give my opinion on much less dictator terms, but I cannot in English. You will understand. Of course, [as much as - add] I don’t like to change publisher, I will have to if you don’t take mea culpa as a book and for july – to my deep regrets. I am very firm on the decision to have it published as a book in USA.
Very sincerely yours.
Will you please send me a cable about your final decision – we say the first of April
- The book was, indeed, translated in German and Spanish in 1937.
- Robert Alterton Parker was the translator of the eventual edition of Mea Culpa.
- Denoël was presented a novel by Parker, which never appeared in French.
To Karen Marie Jensen
April 5, 1937
Dear Karen: It’s true that the years are passing. Since you’re young this isn’t too serious, but the days are numbered for your servant… Indeed, the future is packed to overflowing. What a world! I’m afraid the poor Scandinavians will be no more spared than everyone else! There’ll be a general catastrophe! Maybe worse for them than for the others! It’s horrible in Russia! That lousy shithouse! A hundred times worse than the Poles! In the end the Jews will emerge victorious everywhere – Vanguard of the Asiatics, their victory will be short-lived! The whites will disappear! Defeated by avarice, selfishness and alcohol, and they deserve it! What a mess! I’m not talking about the USA – there everything is in a perfect state of decomposition – and at full speed! Phenomenal!
Here in Clichy I navigate among the assassins, as you can imagine. I no longer go out at night. I only see Gen Paul. But the Jews and the Communists are becoming increasingly insolent – the time probably isn’t far away when I’ll have to flee or die. Unfortunately, I have very little money available. I don’t want to sell my house – no purchaser.
Are you coming this summer? Where will we be this summer? I was given an update about you. You were seen in Warsaw – still beautiful and triumphant, I’ve been assured. That’s great. How is Bucharest? Really beautiful women, I’ve been told, and the most depraved in Europe. Is this possible? And the men?
Take care of yourself! Take care of yourself! What can one say in these horrible times? Nothing. Remain silent, it seems to me. You always reproached me with being sad and depressing. I will never be so to the same extent as the rest of the world.
To Jaroslav Zaoralek1
Saint-Malo, [May] 12[, 1937]
Your critics’ reaction doesn’t surprise me: I was expecting this. The Austrian Soviet Masonic Jewish clique in power in your country couldn’t but drool the way they did. Anyway, I don’t think that even if they’d been in good faith they could have understood. The fate of criticism is to unfailingly be full of shit. In reality, Death on the Installment Plan is in every way superior to Journey. It is direct expression and Journey was still literary, that is, full of shit in more ways than one. Like the public, critics above all like the fake, imitation, imposture. They flee the authentic. We won’t change them.
So be it. After all I don’t give a damn. I’m willing to share the fate of all true creators. I’m willing to be alone against all. I’m even perfectly pleased to have reached this point. There is something degrading and base in approbation. It’s applause that makes the monkey. In this time of the herd I find it agreeable to shit on every authority. As for optimism, don’t make me laugh! All charlatans are optimists! What would they be without good humor? This says it all.
[In the margin without point of insertion: As for the photographic, nothing is less photo than Death on the Installment Plan.
You have to be as stupid as a critic not to feel any transposition]
- Czech writer.
To Arthur Pfannsteil
(Arthur Pfannsteil was an anti-Semitic German translator and writer living in France. In 1938, in his école des Cadavres Céline would claim that Pope Pius XI’s real name was, not Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti, but rather Isaac Ratish.)
[September 21, 1937]
I would be really happy to have a detailed reference on the subject of the Jewish ancestry of the Pope. The name of his Dutch Jewish mother – can you provide me with this?
With friendship and gratitude
To John Marks
My Dear Rabbit!
How nice it was of you to go to so much trouble for Gen Paul!1 Your name is blessed! The next book? Hmmm! The Jews are harshly treated in it! The English pretty badly, too! It’s not destined to make me many friends, but certainly many bitter enemies!2 Who will publish it in England? I can’t imagine such a publisher! Anyway, none of this is very serious. How are you all? I haven’t seen Mahé, but he must have returned.3
With affection for both of you.
Louis F D
- Marks served as intermediary in arranging the sale of watercolors by Gen Paul in London.
- Bagatelles Pour un Massacre.
- Mahé had gone to London to decorate a restaurant.
To Henri-Robert Petit
(Henri-Robert Petit was a French anti-Jewish and anti-Masonic propagandist whose book “Où va l’église?” (Wither the Church?), in which he spoke of the “Jewish and Masonic infiltration of the upper clergy” had just appeared.)
[August] 2[, 1938]
Could you please send me four copies of your very remarkable Whither the Church?
I had heard but… people say so many things…that the mother of the pope was Dutch Jewess?... “Lehman” or something like that…
In any case, I think your pamphlet is a masterpiece.
Allow a modest neophyte Judeologist to warmly congratulate you.
To A Journalist at La Vie Nationale1
27 August 1940
My Dear Confrere,
Don’t you think that all these good things would have gained by being said, or better, written, three or four years earlier, under Blum, for example?
Who wrote them then? No one.
Who kissed Blum’s slippers? Everyone.
Yesterday’s Blumists are today’s Hitlerites, more or less, and if the winds change, the communists of tomorrow…
Seen from the behind they’re all the same.
“Who once made shoes will always make shoes.”
Without its2 raison d’être this closed, shriveled people, lacking in folly, phony, heartless, runs in circles: shitting ever bigger turds. France is nothing but an enormous mass of filth. France must be entirely re-made. In those places where we need a fiery lyricism the squeezing of law books is proposed to us. Misery! eternal idiocy of this country made idiotic by reason, prosaic as a potbelly – We’re dying not only from the military drubbing, of chronic alcoholism, of floods of wine, of absolute selfishness, of fanatical Jewry, of frantic face-stuffing, but above all, before anything else, from our hatred for any form of lyricism.
The Flaw doesn’t date from yesterday!
No lyricism between Villon and Chénier!
It’s “Mr. My3 under the god boor.”
Whoever hates the lyrical dies ignobly. The garbage pails are waiting.
- A Collaborationist newspaper.
- Alternatively, “in its’.
- Alternatively, “Mr. Me”.
To Evelyne Pollet1
[May] 10[, 1941]
Don’t think you’re the only one living on memories…That’s what we’re all doing. The summer is so much nicer where you are than here. The hot months in the north are divine. How sorry I am that I can’t come see you. I so love Antwerp and Flanders…These days everything is a dream…Your son wants to be an actor. That’s great. I think he’s got good genes. So much the better. We can accomplish nothing without a good pedigree. Most of the work had to have been done by our parents and grandparents. All that’s then left is, with a little effort, to pluck the fruits of the past and the dead. Which we already are. So be it. Today it’s finally sunny after so many months of gloom and ice. I can see the Escaut from here. It’s horrible to think about all this. Work hard. These hours of oblivion are the only ones that make one want to start afresh. The only vice that is agreeable.
- Pollet was a Belgian writer who had been in contact with Céline since the publication of Journey.
To Dr. Augustin Tuset
(On April 4, 1941, Noël L’Helgouarch, a simple-minded sailor, bragged of having sabotaged a telephone cable connected to a German post in Brest. When L’Helgouarch was arrested and sentenced to death Céline used his contacts to try to save the sailor’s life, though his efforts were in vain. In reaction to this execution Céline wrote to Ambassador Fernand de Brinon: “What Jew has been executed since the Occupation?” (By this time no less than eleven anti-Jewish measures had been enacted). The following letter was written to Augustin Tuset, a doctor in the region who was also attempting to save the sailor’s life. )
And how’s this for morality -
There is no doubt that if this unfortunate had been a Jew he would have come out fine. ...It doesn’t matter what Jew: Wandering disgusting or showman. Why? Because all of Jewry would have immediately moved heaven and earth, Mgr Duparc1 first among them, and all of Christianity of the Finistère and elsewhere would have taken up the cause of the little Jew in time – Countless petitions would have been signed in less than a week – The Krauts would have been so annoyed that they would have released their prey.
But an Aryan! When it comes down to it no one gives a damn – neither Jews nor the Aryans give a damn. The proof is that they were ready to sacrifice two or three million more to defeat Germany, to start 1914 all over again. Who is ready to sacrifice three million Jews? No one! And especially not the Pope.
The Aryan is a dog, fit only to be killed. This is what all the Jews think, and the Aryans, too. In the case in question - imagine a Jew! All of Brittany would go into a trance; Rome, the Lodges, Vichy, New York, the world. It’s the crime of crimes! For an Aryan? Weak protests lacking in faith and conviction, numberless,2 sporadic, abnormal, dragged by the hair, unusual – The fate of the Aryans is to die in the most normal of fashions: for the Jews.
- The archbishop of Brest.
- Read few in number.
To Camille Fégy (editor of “La Gerbe”1)
October 23, 1941
Bravo for your article!
I am completely with you!
Long live cooperative restaurants for all!
The dictatorship of the grocer is the most humiliating of them all!
Let us be rid of the “dread of the guts” through mandatory cooperative restaurants. In France all that matters is stuffing your face. This is the French obsession. The black market opens a career to us!
This is where there must be total innovation and renovation. If he so wishes every city-dweller must be able to eat without resorting to a supplier. He will only find freedom at the cooperative restaurant. Fuck fruit selling tyrants! This is the price of our dignity.
I am not joking: this is what I think. Your idea is admirable. It contains the entire revolution, the only one to begin with.
- Collaborationist newspaper.
To Lucien Combelle1
[after 24 December 1941]
My Dear Combelle,
I don’t agree with you at all. In order to find revolutionaries first you have to show your banner your program.2 The troops follow the flag. We very briefly [but in great detail – add] elaborated on this with Deloncle3 at Au Pilori (where you didn’t show up - )4
What’s become of him?... This is all that matters – Honor! Fidelity! All of this is quite vague…
We must be precise.
Who is it that is frightened by clarity?
Alas, a party means sponsors – friends of the vague…
L F Céline
- Former secretary of André Gide, Combelle was an active Collaborationist journalist.
- Céline is writing in response to an editorial in Revolution Nationale by Combelle that said “before making the revolution we have to find revolutionaries.” Celine disagreed and called a meeting at the offices of the Collaborationist newspaper Au Pilori.
- Eugène Deloncle (1890-1944) – Founder of the pre-war fascist thug group La Cagoule, and of several wartime Collaborationist organizations.
- Twelve anti-Semitic intellectuals attended Céline’s meeting, which laid out a three-point program: “1- Racism: Regeneration of France through racism. No hatred of the Jew, simply the determination to eliminate him from French life. There should be no more anti-Semites, but only racists; 2 –The Church must take a position on the racist problem; 3 – Socialism: no social discussion is possible as long as a minimum salary of 2500 francs isn’t allocated to the working class.”
To Henri Poulain for Je Suis Partout
[June 11, 1943]
You ask me what I think – I’ll tell you – the way things are going every letter quickly becomes a last will and testament, especially in my case – if Germany doesn’t win this war it will be because it didn’t have enough effectives in the lines – shortage of fighting soldiers. It would have won this war with a Franco-German army. I wrote this under Blum I was found guilty for writing this under Blum – it seems I’m often wrong. Indeed. Why wasn’t the Franco-German alliance realized? Because the Franco-German alliance was attempted by the bourgeoisies, not by the people. The bourgeoisie of Europe is a liquidated class and especially the French bourgeoisie, [illegible], decrepit, degenerate, rotten. German diplomacy granted it a semblance of importance. Error in diagnostic, error in maneuver – result: catastrophe – The bourgeois class is as outmoded, as politically insignificant as the nobility and that’s saying something – Franco-German rapprochement through salons and the Deux Magots!
Going to bed with the Bourgeoisie is the same as going to bed with Death. What wasted efforts to “rally” senators and marquises! The conquest of the salons! Franco-German rapprochement under the sign of “La Vie Parisienne” (by the Jew Offenbach, obviously) Blum’s wedding in Berlin.1
A privileged class has no further use or meaning or life when it’s no longer capable of furnishing the army with officers.
This is the criterion, the sole criterion.
It justifies its privileges by furnishing the war with officers – from the moment it’s no longer capable of fulfilling this role, when it no longer makes babies or officers – it is nothing but a parasite, and thus disastrous. The disaster of ’40 was due to Jewry, the low birth rate, and the flight of officers – our bourgeoisie no longer wants to give and wants to take everything –All it wants is profits – it has become Jewish – it only thinks of gold, it definitively keeps its eyes on the dollar. Karl Marx, who must be reread, a Jew much more precise and instinctive than Montaigne, writes: “The Jews emancipate themselves to the extent that the Christians become Jews.” In France the Jews are totally emancipated and the Christians have become totally Jewish - In ‘14-‘18 we knew the final brave bourgeois, who defended their safes with their own skin –
The bourgeois officers didn’t take their armoires with them on retreat.
In ’39 the bourgeoisie had become so Jewish, the army officers such pleasure-seekers, so soft that the war was immediately unbearable to them. Complete breach of duty. The bourgeoisie could no longer be found in front of their safes, but behind them
This is the entire difference between ’14 and ’39.
Rapprochement through the bourgeoisie was still possible in ’14 – it no longer is in ’43 – because the bourgeoisie, finished, spineless, cowardly, no longer has a national (or international) role to play, it has discredited itself once and for all in this war – It has demonstrated its death.
It will contaminate all who would want to wed it – The current Franco-German alliance is an alliance with carrion – It deals death to all who pet it. And that’s all that’s been done for the past 3 years.
The pit at Katyn is bigger than is imagined – I’d even say it reaches the Tuileries. You can publish this if you dare.
I leave for Brittany the 18
- Blum, held in a camp, was authorized to wed in Berlin.
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.Jean-Michel Rabaté
Jean-Michel Rabate is a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. One of the founders and curators of Slought Foundation in Philadelphia (slouhgt.org), he is a managing editor of the Journal of Modern Literature. Since 2008, he has been a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is currently the president of the American Samuel Beckett Studies association.