The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

July 1, 2013

July 1, 1961

So what is the fascination the literary greats have for Celine, the French collaborator, and anti-semite? Celine (May 27, 1894 to July 1, 1961).was a physician and writer. The New Yorker asked the same question, (as many have of course,) recently, in their May 28, 2013 issue. They collected this answer from Philip Roth's writings--

“Céline is my Proust!” Philip Roth once said. “Even if his anti-Semitism made him an abject, intolerable person. To read him, I have to suspend my Jewish conscience, but I do it, because anti-Semitism isn’t at the heart of his books… . Céline is a great liberator.”

The article goes on to sketch a biography:

Everything that Céline became was an act of will. From a modest background, he was taken out of school early to work in trade, but he seemed unable to hold down jobs. The First World War—in which he was wounded while voluntarily undertaking a dangerous mission—freed him from this humdrum future; he educated himself relentlessly and came out of the war determined to be a doctor. He worked as an obstetrician and later in a public dispensary for the poor. The mind that emerged from this background is defiant, obscene, unsparing, willfully provocative, but it is also entirely without vanity.

Here is an excerpt from his most famous work--Journey to the End of Night (1932)

When you stop to examine the way in which words are formed and uttered, our sentences are hard put to survive the disaster of their slobbery origins. The mechanical effort of conversation is nastier and more complicated than defecation. The corolla of bloated flesh, the mouth which screws itself up to a whistle, which sucks in breath, contorts itself, discharges all manner of viscous sounds across a fetid barrier of decaying teeth—how revolting! Yet that is what we are adjured to sublimate into an ideal. It’s not easy. Since we are nothing but packages of fetid, half-rotted viscera, we shall always have trouble with sentiment … Feces on the other hand make no attempt to endure or to grow. On this score we are far more unfortunate than shit; our frenzy to persist in our present state—that’s the unconscionable torture. 

The New Yorker author, Adelaide Docx, assesses the passage above: While using language to persuasively undermine itself, this passage captures the essence of Céline’s deepest comedy: the energy of the writing versus the sense of utter futility he conveys.

I wonder; it may rather be that Celine's agony is his inability to turn away from the juncture of the visible and the invisible.

It is said, he always spoke warmly of his wife and of his cat. Another explained his views this way-- he just hated everybody. Now that I CAN understand. 

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