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Céline, Louis-Ferdinand

war installment death journey

(French, 1894–1961)

‘Céline’ was the pseudonym of Henri-Louis Destouches, who served in the First World War, sustaining head injuries, and then worked as a doctor in the poorest areas of Paris. Though his works are usually written in the first person, and reflect his war service, travels, and knowledge of the Lower Depths, Céline is no realist. Both his best-known novels, Journey to the End of the Night (1932) and Death on the Installment Plan (1936), are hallucinatory, nightmare explorations of mankind's capacity for cruelty, triviality, and viciousness. Full of bitterly anti-humanist rhetoric, they mix street slang with despairing philosophical observations. Journey follows Bardamu's sufferings in the army, witnessing colonialism in Africa, and traversing New York and Detroit, dogged by his mysterious friend Robinson. Death on the Installment Plan is even more extreme, though also full of farcically funny episodes in the early Parisian life of its narrator, satirizing his family and social background. Céline's collaboration with the wartime Vichy regime led to his imprisonment, but he re-emerged as a dissident, cult figure.

Samuel Beckett, Charles Bukowski  JS

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