Celine controversy in France

I absolutely despise anti-Semitism and all forms of racism. That may seem an uncontroversial stance to take, in the 21-century U.S., but it was quite a controversial stance (and I was hated, and actually tormented, for it, at times!) in the small Southern town in which I was born in the early '70s, and where I lived until 2000.

I also absolutely despise a mentality which would have only certain socially acceptable, and even very good and true and laudable, views to be allowed to be spoken and/or printed. Racism sucks. As does censorship.

I don't like that Celine, or Wagner, or the poet Amiri Baraka (at least in his black-nationalist period), held and sometimes promulgated anti-Semitic views. I also oppose, with every fiber of my being, anyone who would say that I shouldn't have the opportunity to read/listen to their work-- even the problematic, and, yes, even, sometimes, repulsive, parts of it.

Joseph K

Over 100 posts
Interestingly, a forthcoming book of unpublished texts by William Burroughs will include some anti-Semitic texts from the early 1960s. That was a time when Burroughs was under Gysin's influence. Gysin was a huge anti-Semite. That doesn't excuse Burroughs but it explains why it became a preoccupation of WSB for a time. The editor's rationale is that people (esp. fans) should see all aspects of WSB's outlook, including the ugly ones...

Otto jr

Over 100 posts
I've read them on the Internet. I believe I was searching for information on the Robinson character and found links to them. It didn't take long to find them.

Black Swan

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Most astonishing information for me in this article is that Celines widow is still alive at 105 :oo ... did not know this at all.
Her name was Lucie Follet, Lucette Destouches. Born in 1912.
She was a ballet dancer and a dance teacher. They lived in Meudon. I visited his grave on a rainy day and a cat was sitting on his stone. I left a potato on it :wb:. Mort à Crédit had touched me so much. She always said that Céline was a very kind man.

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Does anyone know if those essays have been translated into English ever?
I read through a good bit of this particularly disquieting one several days ago, and afterward, I struggled, internally, with the serious question of whether I could ever read any of Celine's works again without visceral disgust (I've settled that question, for myself, at least for now, in the affirmative, and thus, I will continue to read his fiction, but forewarned is forearmed) : https://schoolforcorpses.wordpress.com
Continuing on the subject of Celine's anti-Semitism, last night, I ordered a used hardcover edition of a 1950 book by Milton Hindus, who was a founding professor at Brandeis University, a very enthusiastic fan and promoter of Celine's novels, and a man who happened to be Jewish. The name of the book is Celine: The Crippled Giant. It is the result of much personal pain and struggle over Dr. Hindus having heard about Celine's rabidly vocal anti-Semitism. At first, the professor could not even believe that his great literary hero actually held and promoted such views, and quite vigorously, at that. Finally, Dr. Hindus traveled to meet Celine in person and talk with him, at length, in an attempt to get to the truth and try to "understand" him. I can't wait to read this book.

Black Swan

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I was reading on a blog that Céline had requested for the texts to never be republished. His wife have respected his wishes. Apparently she needs special care that is very costly and that she is being pressured to let it happen. At 105, I suppose that she might not be fit to take that decision.
Due to the opposition of such a project par the French jewish community, Gallimard has suspended its decision to reprint the works .
The pamphlets were republished in Quebec in 2012 and could already be read online.
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It would be very interesting to know, if one could know, why Celine did actually request that these texts never be republished. Perhaps he simply didn't wish for his wife to have to face any potential blowback from the reappearance of these books? (Reading some of them online, they really are books, lengthy works, running to hundreds of printed pages, and not only small pamphlets, though either way, of course, they are still vile.) I've never read, or heard, of Celine having had a late-life change of heart regarding his anti-Semitism. I would like to think that he did, but I haven't seen any hard evidence for it.

In this video interview, done in his last years, he does seem to be somewhat reflective, and not so much, anymore, the angrily raving man which his writing would indicate, but that doesn't mean that he repudiated his racist views:


Black Swan

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I would think that it is because of all the trouble that it has caused him. He probably did not expect to face so much fury. I believe that he never denied having had thoughts that were antisemitic but he did not wish for any of the violence that the nazis displayed, he actually condemned that violence. Many writers during those times had similar views on the social climate. This is a touchy subject to discuss since it has become black or white. Pro or con, no discussion permitted.
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In School for Corpses, Celine writes that Jews should be treated as human beings treat rats-- at least, in his mind, if the "problem" of Jews is to be dealt with effectively. No equivocating, no distinguishing between "good Jews" and "bad Jews," no half-hearted half-measures, but basically, get rid of all of them.

The implications of the genocidal extermination of one group of humans, by other groups of humans, are unavoidable. If Celine did not wish for the violence of the Nazis against Jewish people to happen, he had an extremely strange and misleading way of expressing that view. He enthusiastically articulated the exact opposite view, over and over, for hundreds of pages. https://schoolforcorpses.wordpress.com

Black Swan

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there you go! you got your answer.
I have read that in a book of letters he has condemned the violence done by the nazis. I'll post it if I can find it. I have read that info on a french Céline blog.
Here is one of them:

April 15, [1948]

My Dear Paulhan,

Bravo, très bravo, for the brave note full of wit and courage.

But the essential misunderstanding remains, or rather the ambiguity knowingly maintained by my enemies, my jackals.

When I attacked the Jews. When I wrote Bagatelles for a Massacre I didn’t mean to say or recommend that Jews should be massacred. Fuck, I meant the contrary. I asked of the Jews that they not drive us into a massacre more disastrous than that of 1914-18 through their hysteria.

There’s quite a difference.

With great crookedness people play with the meaning of my pamphlets. People persist in considering me a killer of Jews. I am a patriotic wholehearted protector of Frenchmen and Aryans – and incidentally, also of the Jews. I didn’t want Auschwitz, Buchenwald. Fuck! Basta! I knew full well that in declaring war we would be headed directly into those horrible “petiotieries.”3 If war is declared tomorrow we’ll see a hundred times better, or worse! It’s obvious! On the other hand, saying there are no war-mongering, provocateur, hysterical Jews means denying the obvious. I sinned in believing in the pacifism of the Hitlerites – but that’s the limit of my crime. A glance at Palestine shows us that the Jews are every bit as bellicose as the worst Aryans or the worst Arabs! Fuck!

I thought it was possible to reach an agreement with Hitler, send him to make war in Baikal is what I wrote. But I don’t write Gospels, godammit! I don’t prevent anyone from responding to me! from telling me I’m full of shit! what a mess!

The hatred that pursues me that’s searching for me the most stupidly in the world and what’s more the most cowardly, is hunting me down on all continents. An example is the attached letter from Milton Hindus Jewish professor in Chicago, who has ratted me out to the French embassy in Washington.

The French have to finally get it into their stupid pig sold-out to all the bastards in the world heads that I’m one of the few imbeciles to have lost everything, risked everything, suffered everything so that their filthy degenerate species would be spared preserved and perpetuated.

I don’t do it for them, I do it for Couperin, Gervaise, and Jacquin.4

Affectionately yours,

LF Céline
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Of course, Celine was deeply concerned to avoid more violence, in the sense of preventing involvement in war itself. However, the vexing problem with Celine's assertions that he didn't literally mean to advocate for the Nazi extermination of Jewish people is that he wrote passages such as these in his anti-Semitic screeds (these particular ones are all from School for Corpses, and there are even worse, more violent ones, but I have to go now and can't look them up at this exact moment, but these should suffice):

"Who did the most for the working man? It wasn’t Stalin, It was Hitler."

"All of the wars and revolutions are massacring Aryans orchestrated by the Jews. The negroid, Jewish destroyer, the roaring parasite, the cretin-virulent parodist, has repeatedly shown itself incapable of civilising even the smallest part of the flea-infested Middle East. Only 15 of their Abrahamic straw huts are needed to wreak pestilence, damnation and contamination in their fantastic way, rendering all of Africa and Europe inhabitable."

"And while these awful monkeys, to whom we vociferously beg, are re-creating all the States of the world, reforming our traditions, virtues, vices and souls, why aren’t we immediately asking the laughing hyena of the zoo for his recipes of idealism? The rattlesnake for his devotion? The sewer rat for his magic?"

"The Jews, racially, are monsters, insane hybrids, mongrels, which must go away. Everything they do, everything they plot is cursed. They are all gangrenous bastards, devastators, rotten people. The Jews have never been persecuted by the Aryans. They persecuted themselves. They’re a result of their own making, their race-mixing of their hybrid flesh. Where does this state of fake asceticism come from? This self-righteous moralism? This arrogance? This extravagant nerve? This euphoric conceit, this bawling insolence which is so disgusting and repugnant?"
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Black Swan

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I think that it would be fair to say that this discussion on Céline's intentions should be discussed on a Céline blog rather than on a Bukowski site. You originally wondered if he had a change of heart or regrets. I believed that he did when I read some of the letters he wrote.
A thread about Celine's anti-Semitism was allowed to be posted, here, on a Bukowski forum. In that light, I don't see how the discussion of Celine's intentions in writing that "The Jews, racially, are monsters, insane hybrids, mongrels, which must go away," should somehow not be discussed on that same Bukowski forum, but oh well. On to other subjects.