Sidharth Vardhan

Nihlism : Céline Style

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L.-F._Céline_c_Meurisse_1932 (1)(Review of Journey to end of Night, a novel by Louis-Ferdinand Céline – 4*/5*)


“The sadness of the world has different ways of getting to people, but it seems to succeed almost every time.”

“When you start hiding from people, it’s a sign that you’re afraid to play with them. That in itself is a disease. We should try to find
out why we refuse to get cured of loneliness. “

Reading Celine’s ‘Journey to the end of Night’ is like listening to a drunk old man – the kind one sees in those cowboy movies, telling you why his life sucks. He can’t talk about a woman without talking about her legs and there are women he mentions just so as to talk about their body. Then there are a few racist remarks as well.

But it is not to say that he is treating others better – there isn’t a character in the whole book who hasn’t been joked about. Céline is that kind of guy – he just can’t have an acquaintance you don’t want to run away from or a boss who don’t give all the negative connotations of the word and so on. He may not be the sort of the person you could like to be around in real life.

But beware, it might be a trap. He didn’t even mention the part where he showed bravery in first world war.

We are talking about Céline because the novel is autobiographical to some extent – his works are called ‘creative confessions’ whatever that may mean.

However reality is beaten out of story – every character, except the narrator, is a stereotype. There is nothing of a plot and nothing special about prose. The only thing about the book which can be called poetical is the title taken from Song of the Swiss Guards, 1793:

“Our life is a journey Through winter and night, We look for our way In a sky without light. ”

No plot, no deep characters, simple prose with regular dosage of quotable reflections and a lot of satirical, cynical and sarcastic jokes – it kept on reminding me of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. who, btw, has listed him as an important influence.

I don’t think you will find much in there that you don’t already know – but all the same what is in there is not said enough in literature. Remember alien test? Its ordinariness is what makes it so brilliant. Now isn’t these kind of thing some emo or cynic soul sitting in a college canteen would say:

“Just plain living, what a drag! Life is a classroom, and boredom is the monitor, always keeping an eye on you, you have to look busy at all costs, busy with something fascinating, otherwise he comes and corrodes your brain. A day that’s nothing more than a lapse of twenty- four hours is intolerable. Like it or not, a day should be one long, almost unbearable pleasure, one long coitus.”

He is full of nihilism – wars are stupid, rich are better off than poor, young are better off than old. He bares life of all the colorful clothing we put on it – and finds the truth underneath ugly. Everything done on name of nationalism, religion, love is hypocrisy.

“Misery is like some horrible woman you’ve married. Maybe it’s better to end up loving her a little than to knock yourself out beating her all your life. Since obviously you won’t be able to bump her off. “

He feels revulsion at seeing the misery of poor, seeing their children dying. At times he would let his poorer patients off without asking for payments:

“When you get paid by the rich, you feel like a flunky, by the poor like a thief. How can you take a fee from people who can’t afford to eat or go to the movies? Especially when they’re at their last gasp. It’s not easy. You let it ride. You get soft- hearted. And your ship goes down.”

Despite his efforts at humor, you could see an angst building in him that will latter turn him towards facism.

Perhaps that is what happens if we look at reality too much – we will want to destroy the world. Perhaps we are not meant to know the truth; it is better off left veiled in songs and movies.

“Truth is inedible.”

Perhaps that is the real choice for us – to be hypocrites or to be murderers.

“And where, I ask you, can a man escape to, when he hasn’t enough madness left inside him? The truth is an endless death agony. The truth is death. You have to choose: death or lies. I’ve never been able to kill myself.”

Perhaps … beat it.

“Philosophizing is simply one way of being afraid, a cowardly pretense that doesn’t get you anywhere.”

Now the title, cover and this review may give you the impression that it is a really sad book which it is not. Then there is that tag of misanthropy – which is mostly an exaggeration. And what is up with these titles? I kept on avoiding this one because of its unwelcoming title. Shouldn’t humorous books have better titles? Don’t judge a book by its title. Here are some of other humorous books I’ve read: Dead Souls, Slaughterhouse Five, Devil’s Dictionary, Demons.

And now here are some of the scary books I have read: Tell-tale heart, Tin Drum, Room and Pride and Prejudice.

Some one-liner from Céline:

“On close consideration, there are two main classes of chick, the “broad- minded” ones and the ones who’ve had “a good Catholic upbringing.”

“The dullest love dialogues are kind of amusing when you know the people.”

“As a matter of principle, in all things and for all time, I agreed with the boss.”

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