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Céline (1894 - 1961)

Lifespan: 1894 - 1961

Related: nihilism - pessimism - 20th century literature - French literature

Recommended title: Death on the Installment Plan (1936)

Céline's style and black humor profoundly influenced many writers who came after him, including Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Charles Bukowski. As Kurt Vonnegut states in his introduction to Rigadoon, "[Céline] demonstrated that perhaps half of all experience, the animal half, had been concealed by good manners. No honest writer or speaker will ever want to be polite again." [Apr 2006]

His Work

Céline's reputation as a writer has been overshadowed by his anti-semitism and anti-communism, although his importance as an innovative author has been recognized.

Pessimism pervades Céline's fiction as his characters sense failure, anxiety, nihilism, and inertia. Céline was unable to communicate with others, and during his life sank more deeply into a hate-filled world of madness and rage.

A progressive disintegration of personality appears in the stylistic incoherence of his books based on his life during the war: Guignol's Band, D'un château l'autre and Nord.

His novels are verbal frescoes peopled with horrendous giants, paraplegics, and gnomes, and are filled with scenes of dismemberment and murder. Some readers also find them very funny, which infuriated Céline. The preceding sentence is totally silly and in no way represent Céline's work. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis-Ferdinand_C%E9line, [Mar 2004]

Adaptations by Jacques Tardi [...]

Journey to the End of the Night (1932) - by Louis-Ferdinand D. Céline

"'Nihilism, unrelieved despair and negation, misanthropy, pessimism' - very much the same set of cliches that greeted Louis-Ferdinand Celine's Journey to the End of the Night, which to my mind is a very funny book, in a picaresque tradition stretching back to Petronius and to The Unfortunate Traveller by Thomas Nashe. I have always seen my own work in the light of the picaresque - a series of adventures and misadventures, horrific and comic, encountered by an antihero." --William Burroughs

  • Journey to the End of the Night (1932) - by Louis-Ferdinand D. Céline [Amazon.com]
    When it was published in 1932, this then-shocking and revolutionary first fiction redefined the art of the novel with its black humor, its nihilism, and its irreverent, explosive writing style, and made Louis-Ferdinand Celine one of France's--and literature's--most important 20th-Century writers. The picaresque adventures of Bardamu, the sarcastic and brilliant antihero of Journey to the End of the Night move from the battlefields of World War I (complete with buffoonish officers and cowardly soldiers), to French West Africa, the United States, and back to France in a style of prose that's lyrical, hallucinatory, and hilariously scathing toward nearly everybody and everything. Yet, beneath it all one can detect a gentle core of idealism. -- amazon.com

    Death on the Installment Plan (1936) - Louis-Ferdinand Céline

    Death on the Installment Plan (1936) - Louis-Ferdinand Céline [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    Death on the Installment Plan, also translated as Death on Credit, (original French title: Mort à crédit) is an existential novel by author Louis-Ferdinand Céline, published in 1936.

    In 'Death on the Installment Plan', Ferdinand Bardamu, Céline's alter ego, is a doctor in Paris, treating the poor who seldom pay him but take every advantage of his availability. The action is not continuous but goes back in time to earlier memories and often moves into fantasy, especially in Bardamu's sexual escapades; the style becomes deliberately rougher and sentences disintegrate to catch the flavour of the teeming world of everyday Parisian tragedies, struggles to make a living, illness, venereal disease, the sordid stories of families whose destiny is governed by their own stupidity, malice, lust and greed.

    It is referenced in the autobiographical first chapter of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_on_the_Installment_Plan [Apr 2006]

    From the publisher
    Louis-Ferdinand Celine's second novel continues the style of black humor and the delirious but immediate prose that made the author instantly famous in his native France in the aftermath of World War I. Celine's goal was to create a kind of literature that described people in honest terms, unembellished by the conventions of fiction, no matter how mean and crummy they were, and to portray them in the real language of everyday life and thought. He succeeds darkly and brilliantly in Death on the Installment Plan, yet it is also a sweet kind of book, a young boy's coming-of-age tale, struggling with his parents and looking for his own kind of personal freedom.

    The hundreds of pages spent with Courtial des Pereires (the hot air ballooner), in their manic schemes and unrestrained rhetoric, speak of the joy of the crazy dreams we all harbor and their manipulation by those just a bit more avaricious and crafty than the rest of us. [Apr 2006]

    See also: 1936

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