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CELINE AND THE LOST CAUSE OF ANTI-SEMITISM

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Philippe Sollers, the French novelist and critic, said on an episode of the French literary television show “La Grande Librairie” dedicated to the works of Louis-Ferdinand Céline that Céline and Voltaire were the two greatest authors of correspondence in French literature. Leaving aside his omission of Flaubert, his observation is an interesting one, for reading the two men’s correspondence highlights important elements of their personalities.

The genius of reading correspondence is that it reveals the real person. What is written for publication is written with just that in mind, with the knowledge that you will be judged as a writer and as a person. Correspondence is conversation, more often than not with a friend, and so the writer is more likely to reveal his true nature, or at least does so more freely than in published writings.

And so in the dozens of volumes of Voltaire’s correspondence we have, alongside the noble defender of free-thought and the victims of religious viciousness, the toadying sycophant who wrote countless unctuous and fawning letters to the royals who admired him and who he admired, primarily Frederick the Great of Prussia and Catherine the Great  of Russia.  The question of his sincerity in these letters can be posed, since there are rules in corresponding with royals that don’t pertain when writing to the common run of mortals, but if they are not sincere (and we have no reason to believe they weren’t) then they are evidence of a hypocrisy that taints our image of Voltaire.

Céline’s correspondence thus serves as a formal refutation of the assertion made by many that the extremity of Céline’s polemical anti-Semitic writings is so unmeasured that it constitutes a critique or a parody of anti-Semitism, and thus attenuates Céline’s guilt in this regard. As this selection of letters attests, Céline’s anti-Semitism, far from being a form of hallucinatory madness, a satirical reductio ad absurdum of Jew-hatred, constituted the core of his world-view. It could be possible (though not likely) that the rants that constitute his three anti-Semitic pamphlets, Bagatelles pour un Massacre, L’École des Cadavres, and Les Beaux Draps were nothing but showing-off, a stretching of his language to its farthest points.  But when read alongside his correspondence and their inexhaustible racism, it becomes no longer open to question: Céline was both one of the handful of great French writers, and he was also peerless in his moral degradation and Jew-hatred.

The three pamphlets (this is Céline’s description of them, though they are all full-length books) have never been translated into English, and in book form are only publicly available in French only in Canada. This is not because they are banned, but because Céline’s widow, his copyright holder, refuses to allow their republication. In Canada (as in New Zealand) Céline is now in the public domain, allowing the publication of these central pieces of his oeuvre, the pamphlets and the correspondence, without which his work and life and weltanschauung cannot be fully understood.

The obsessive, the nearly lunatic nature of his Jew-hatred is clear throughout these letters. We find him believing that the Pope is a Jew; that in the midst of the attempted extermination of French Jewry, when they have been all but cut out of public life, “all of French public opinion is philo-Semitic.” And when a Breton sailor is executed by the Germans for having bragged of committing sabotage Céline, who had campaigned to save the sailor’s life, insists that, “There is no doubt that if this unfortunate had been a Jew he would have come out fine.”  When Hitler’s anti-Semitic measures in Germany have begun to enter into effect he finds these laws to be something from which advantages can be drawn: “Since the Jews have been driven out of Germany there must be room for the other intellectuals.”  Jewish power is immense: “In the end the Jews will emerge victorious everywhere,” he wrote in 1937. Their power even extends to literary criticism: “Soviet Masonic Jewish clique in power in your country couldn’t but drool the way they did,” he wrote in response to Czech criticism of Death on the Installment Plan.

And his anti-Jewish madness didn’t end with the war. He described the need to act “like a Jew” in order to hold onto his post-war Danish asylum. And Céline’s sense of himself as a martyr, and at the same time of his power was so mad that he write to his lawyer in 1947 that, “I am the only anti-Semite hunted down for his anti-Semitism who could currently be truly useful to the Jews… The latter are far from popular; they’re hated as much if not more than before Hitler… more or less everywhere” 

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What was the source of Céline’s Jew-hatred? Revolutionary as Céline’s style was, there is a phrase in a letter to the great art critic Élie Faure that helps us find an answer and that also situates Céline for us socially and politically. He wrote to Faure, member of a prestigious family that included, on his mother’s side, the elite of French anarchism, the Reclus brothers, that “You didn’t earn your bread before going to school. You have no right to judge me, you don’t know. You don’t know everything I know. You don’t know what I want, you don’t know what I do. You have no idea of the horrible effort I have to make every day and especially every night just to keep upright, to hold my pen.”  The attitude Céline expresses here is nothing but the ressentiment of the petit-bourgeois, of the shopkeeper who, always keeping an eye on any perceived advantages that go to others,  has to slave away as he sees others get ahead of him or have the good fortune to be born into better circumstances. And Céline was, indeed, of this milieu, his mother running a lace shop and his father an office worker. He imbibed from his parents, from the world he grew up in, their world view, one dominated by fear of falling into the lower classes and hatred of those - not least among them the Jews - who have achieved success. Céline’s parents were anti-Dreyfusard and he grew up in an anti-Semitic household. That he took it to frenzied extremes, and that he himself entered the world of the arts (while still maintaining a foothold in the workaday world as a doctor)   changes nothing in the fact that his is essentially a petit-bourgeois view of the world, and that everything about Celine reeks of the selfishness and fear of his parents’ world, which he so vividly depicted in Death on the Installment Plan.  His hatred of the Jews was far from uncommon; his insistence on their omnipotence was far from uncommon: he was the petit-bourgeois as literary genius, and this is one of the paradoxes of his work.

There is another paradox in his oeuvre. As obsessed as he was about Jews in his pamphlets and correspondence and political activity, Jews make almost no appearance in his fiction, and with the exception of his minor work L’Église (The Church) there’s hardly a trace of any anti-Semitism in his literary work. How can this be explained? Jew-hatred has often appeared in fiction, even in great fiction (see Dostoevsky), so why does this not occur in Céline’s work?

The great social and literary critic Philippe Muray views this question in a fertile and provocative way. For Muray the novels and pamphlets are one, and what we find in Celine’s work is the work of a physician: the novels, with their vision of a sick, atomized world, are descriptions of an illness. The pamphlets, and Celine’s anti-Semitism in general, are the diagnosis and the cure: In the novels we are presented “the human violence and wickedness at the basis of every society.” They deny any possibility of solidarity, there being nothing connecting one person to another.  But in its exclusion of the Jew, anti-Semitism serves as a basis for common action by the rest of society: “The other [works are]…comforting for the collectivity, denounc[ing] a certain category of human beings as responsible for the rotting of social ties.” And Muray sums up the role of Celine’s anti-Semitism in a brilliant and lapidary phrase; “”Anti-Semitism is not the interchangeable name for his terror, but on the contrary what he found to suppress or ‘cure’ it.” In the end, as for the Nazis, the Jews are a microbe of which the (social) body must be cleansed. Dr. Destouches and Céline complement and complete each other.

Writers and critics have concentrated on Céline the Jew-hater, which has masked another, equally disturbing side to him: Céline also followed the petite-bourgeoisie down another path, and as we can see in these letters, was also a fascist.

There is, of course, no reason to think that Celine’s Jew-hatred would necessarily lead him to fascism, or even necessarily to the right politically. He was favorably viewed by the left after the publication of Journey to the End of the Night, was translated into Russian by Elsa Triolet, wife of the Communist poet Louis Aragon, and paid for a voyage to the USSR with royalties from that book. The left is no stranger to anti-Semitism, and even on the right anti-Semitism was the province of conservatives and royalists, as well as fascists.

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His attraction to fascism was made obvious before the war. The first of his pamphlets was the anti-communist screed Mea Culpa (1936), written after his trip to the USSR, and though anti-communism doesn’t necessarily lead to either Jew-hatred or fascism, this book was the first step along the way.

That Céline was at the very least a fellow-traveler of fascism is proved by the fact that when he paid a visit to Canada in 1938 he attended a meeting of Adrien Arcand’s fascist party, the Parti National Socialiste Chrétien, a meeting at which he was photographed among the fascist-unformed crowd. Interviewed by the movement’s newspaper, Le fasciste canadien he spoke of the situation in North America, where “the same forces that tore apart and bloodied Spain work at a redoubled rhythm  on this continent, where they are more advanced than they were in  Spain two years ago.” And he went further, saying of Arcand and his fascists that “You are the sole hope, along with your chief, who so impressed me, and your mighty cadres, whose equivalent can’t be found in France today. If you fail in your task your country is fucked.”

Two years later, with France defeated and occupied, the most controversial period of Celine’s life would begin, one covered extensively in the selections in this volume.

Céline would maintain after the war that he never wrote for any Collaborationist newspapers, and, strictly speaking, that was the case. Unlike other fascist writers like Robert Brasillach, Lucien Rebatet, and Pierre Drieu la Rochelle, his byline never appeared in the pro-German press. Instead, Céline wrote to the pro-Nazi press, and his letters, along with frequent interviews, constituted his main contribution to Collaborationism. Never having been part of the staff of any of the papers, he could claim he was free of their taint and was never paid by the Germans or the Vichy government, though the letters he wrote were in perfect consonance with their ideas and were intended to encourage Collaborationists and the Occupiers in their efforts to crush the Jews and the Communists. The German and Collaborationist failure to (totally) succeed in this would lead Céline to complain the rest of his life that he was the victim of an unwarranted campaign against him by these two groups.

Celine was not a joiner, and given the overall lack of a coordinated fascist grouping during the war, the fact that he was not a member of any of the groups hardly comes as a surprise. But that he was a supporter of the most extreme elements of Collaboration, and wanted to assist in the forming of a unified fascist party is made clear in the letter to Jacques Doriot dated February 7, 1942.

Doriot had once been the great hope of the French Communist Party, but when he was expelled from the party in 1934 he rapidly moved to fascism, founding and leading the largest fascist grouping in France, the Parti Populaire Français. During the war he was a key figure in the Légion de Volontaires Français Contre le Bolchevisme (LVFB – Legion of French Volunteers against Bolshevism), and as such fought with the Germans against the Red Army on the Eastern Front, and was even photographed wearing a German uniform.

In the letter to Doriot, written after Celine had attended an LVFB rally at which he and his wife had been photographed, he talks about how he hopes “your victory in the East overturns the course of events.” But the bulk of the letter is about the need for, and lack of, a unified pro-German, fascist political party, the harm this is causing, and how the Collaborationists are refusing to confront the fact that they are “assholes” for refusing to talk about the Jews. In fact, these “verbal” anti-Semites for Celine are “worse than the Jews.” Because the Collaborationists are disunited, because they aren’t sufficiently anti-Semitic “the cause is lost,” and this is what the French, “so rotten, so hopeless, so stupid,” deserve.

All of this is of a piece with his pamphlets, in which it is French weakness, caused by Jewish and Masonic rot, and which the French are too drunk to combat, that is the source of France’s ills.

That, and the refusal to listen to Louis-Ferdinand Céline, though the latter is caused by the former.

The letters, then provide us the portrait of the writer as moral and intellectual monster, as moral and intellectual coward. His Danish lawyer, Thorvald Mikkelsen, described him as “a coward who thought only of himself and who played at the martyr as soon as his own skin was in question.”  But they are also, stylistically, of a piece with the rest of his oeuvre. Céline remains an artistic revolutionary in the letters, privately expressing the most odious ideas in precisely the same style as in his novels and pamphlets. The same elliptical, hysterical, exaggerated stretching of the capabilities of language appear here as they do there. They are of enormous artistic value, and this is where Sollers is right in his praise of them.

Along with Celine the anti-Semite, in the letters we see the young boy sent to Germany by his loving parents to improve himself, the World War I poilu, the African commercial agent, the League of Nations employee, the doctor, the novelist aspiring to France’s highest literary award, the man who knew women better than they did themselves and so could give advice on how they should live, the prisoner, the former Collaborator living out his days as a doctor and writer on the outskirts of Paris… 

For Céline the entire world was leagued against him, and in the post-war years it was not only the Jews, Communists, and government that were against him. His lengthiest war in his final years was with his enemy, the publisher. Perhaps the most entertaining of his letters, entertaining because the stakes were relatively low, is his correspondence with his publisher Gaston Gallimard.

The most prestigious of publishing houses, Gallimard had taken on the author, and the house’s president, Gaston, as well as the house’s most important editors, spent years being bombarded by Celine with complaints that his books weren’t being distributed as they should, that he was being cheated on royalties, that he wasn’t being treated as well as other writers handled by the publisher.

Gallimard was the last of Celine’s many enemies (though in this case there does, indeed seem to be affection and an air of parody in his incessant complaints). It’s no surprise that Celine died fighting for the last penny he felt was owed him, his last writing being a letter to his publisher threatening “to rent a tractor and smash in the NRF.” He died as he lived, a petit-bourgeois in a state of rage.

Translated by Mitchell Abidor

Portrait by Tony Millionaire

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CELINE TO JACQUES DORIOT

To Jacques Doriot[1]

February 7, 1942

My Dear Jacques Doriot,

While you’ve been away with the army there’s been much nastiness here. In all honesty and just between us, we’re witnessing something truly repugnant: the systematic sabotage of racism in France by the anti-Semites themselves. They can’t to get along with each other. A typically French spectacle. All in all, how many anti-Semites are there in our country? I’m not talking about onlookers. Barely a prefecture’s worth!… and among those who are fired up, how many leaders? worthwhile, armed, presentable? A dozen…

At this crucial, inspired, mystical moment, what do we see them working passionately at? At cutting each other down!

Not to mention the troops, who have one concern alone: eliminate, denigrate, relegate to the second rank any possible rival! Me! me! me! no matter what…The toad’s malady. Jealousy! Everyone a star! and the only one on stage! a prize-winner! at the mic! at the Elysée!

And fuck everyone else! And let anti-Semitism die! And let all the Aryan assholes die! This is the true watchword! This is a summary, the simple and sinister result of Aryan rage in action, insane denigration, the insane love of the Self. The cause is lost.

Taking everything into account, it ends up making you sick to your stomach, this ridiculous Aryan cause.

Since we’re so rotten, so hopeless, so stupid, then disappear, carrion!

The story of Vercingitorix repeats itself in the same way on another level. It’s all been written.

Who’s rejoicing? Who’s celebrating? Who’s feasting on this? The Jew, for god’s sake! What a godsend! Put yourself in his place!

Every infiltration, all the undermining is for him. The cast iron of the bastions and citadels! all offered by their defenders! it’s like it’s raining traitors! The city! the state! body! soul! everything! the Church!

The world, a never-ending business deal for the Jew, all in all.

Any serious resistance? My heavens, none! A little bit of pulling faces…

Everything is falling into the hands of the Jews through discord and denigration. All he has to do is grab it. He’s asked to. Begged to. And yet, the task would be simple, childish, with a little bit of will… Making its Jewry vanish into thin air would take a determined nation hardly a week.

And these famous Jews, where does their enormous power come from? Their total control? Their undisputed tyranny?…From some amazing magic?…from prodigious intelligence? from astounding stunning genius?

Of course not! You know this perfectly well! Nothing more clumsy than the Jew, more awkward, more of a blunderer, more stupid, myopic, more of a fantastically rheumy imbecile at all the arts, at every level, in every trade if he isn’t supported by his clique, caressed, camouflaged, comforted every second of his life! More graceless, clumsy, boorish, laughable, Chaplinesque, the only one in the race! Unmistakable! But that’s the thing! The Jew is never the only one in the race!

One Jew means all of Jewry.

One Jew alone doesn’t exist.

One termite: the entire termite mound. One bedbug the whole house.

“Love each other” is the expression of a Jew understood only by the Jews.

One day Lucien Descaves told me when we were talking about these things: “You see, Céline, the Aryan has no family.”

This is what is horrible and this is what condemns us.

Our defeat is moral, not one of the intelligence.

We’re “anti-solidarity” in principle, religion, accursed habit, and the Jew is nothing but that: the man in “solidarity.”

Part of one family, he’s “Monsieur All-in-the-Family,” “Monsieur-Orgy-and-Telephone.”

We can’t but lose.

Aryan solidarity doesn’t exist, except among the Masons and, in the Jewish sense, only for Masonic use.

A team where everyone plays for himself is a team beaten in advance.

I ask you, on the current political plane, what are the five or six national parties?  A treat for the Jews! The Elders of Zion! Confusion, divisions, camouflage, working at loggerheads with each other. I see five, maybe six of these parties that should be executed. Why more than one party? The French Aryan Socialist with People’s Commissars, quite sensitive when it comes to doctrine, appropriate and armed. The rest is nothing but treason, and from all the evidence the creation of the Jews…

Talkative, permanent, entirely Jewish civil war, which so thoroughly dazed us, is once again ready to start up.

Eternal democracy, the free play of parties, the struggle of ideas!

If we worked together anti-Semitism would unfurl across France. No one would even talk about it anymore. Everything would happen by instinct, peaceably. One fine morning the Jew would find himself ousted, eliminated, naturally, like a caca.

I have nothing to say about that “understanding”  “Collaborationist” elite that talks and perorates all over the place, from every tribune and which never talks about the Jews! 95 per cent of the elite, in fact! Lukewarm clever felons, neo-Mensheviks, crooked plotters of catastrophes. Collaborationist flora that I know all too well! too well educated to dirty themselves alongside us! Prolix wordy in all cases! Outbursts of the heart! of reason! The whole nine yards! Glacial when it comes to the kikes! Prudence! “There now!  The Jewish question? Let’s not talk about it dear friend! I don’t know anything about it! I couldn’t say anything sensible on the subject!

Assholes!

Crooked clowns who all should be shot.

There’s only one question: the Jewish Question!

Without the Jews Franco-German Collaboration would have already a fait accompli, assured, accomplished ages ago. There is really no other problem.

The rest is wicked chatter.

And those verbal anti-Semites! non-racist? Who in my   eyes are worse than the Jews! As far as I’m concerned there’s no difference between Maurras[2] and Jean Zay[3]! Péguy too, come to think of it! such a priest-lover, so Dreyfusard, soon to be consecrated Saint Péguy, lauded by Monseigneur Levy!

At the key moment all these people reach an agreement to send us off to the killing fields! and always for the good of the Jews! note this well! no joke! All in agreement to have us massacred! Absolved by Monseigneur Gerlier[4] in the name of the most sublime entities: Fatherland! Family! Culture! Verdun! And gentle Jesus and all that crap!

What’s the most important thing in all this, what’s at the heart of all this evil, is that the Aryans have to disappear! it’s the only trick! The rage for this rises irresistibly from the depth of their balls, from their mixed-race epididymis.

We haven’t yet seen it all!

There’s only one thing they care about, those shits, those bitch bastards, those delirious lowlifes: that we’ll soon be attacked, that soon there will soon be a surge of blacks and Asiatics, our predestined murderers.

There’s not a single day, not a single hour, not a single night where a thousand supplications, a thousand wishes aren’t addressed to our assassins, exasperated prayers, souls that can’t go on…

You don’t hear anything?

Aryans, I’m afraid our die is cast. We weren’t capable of uniting, we don’t love each other at all.

Too bad! Whatever happens happens!

It’s the time of the sharks!

Death can be proud of itself!

We have nothing to do with this!

Let’s congratulate ourselves, innocent and disconsolate as we are!

We arrived too early to be niggers, that’s all!

At the very moment when every swoon swings!

We’ll perish refusing! This, my friend, is my final word!

May your victory in the East overturn the course of events!

I wish I was wrong! To die in error!

And yet always polite! - Never a harsh word! And your affectionate, narrow-minded, stubborn Servant

L.-F. Céline



[1] Doriot (1898-1945) after a period as the rising star of French communism was expelled from the party and ultimately founded his own fascist party, the Parti Populaire Français. During the war he joined the Légion des Volontaires Français Contre le Bolchevisme, served one Eastern Front. He died in mysterious circumstances not far from Lake Constance

[2] Charles Maurras (1868-1952) – Founder and leader of the royalist Action Française

[3] Popular Front politician particularly hated by anti-Semites. Murdered by the fascist Milice in 1944

[4] Cardinal-archbishop of Lyon

Translated by Mitchell Abidor

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CELINE BATTLES HIS PUBLISHER

To Gaston Gallimard

 

Thursday March 6, 1952

My Dear Friend,

You should know that I am very fond of you, too. And if you find my letter a bit edgy it’s because at my age I’ve had enough with all these trials!  to leave fear behind! to see myself assured of a stable literary revenue! Damn! This isn’t asking for the moon! And in order for this to happen I’d like everything to be published, and quickly and in appropriate quantities! have I lost enough having lost everything? Everything, absolutely everything was stolen from me!  Now before dying I want to recover a bit of peace! Me and my poor wife! No longer be hassled worried by a thousand ridiculous material cares! Which is why you see me in a hurry to be published distributed! I’ve had enough of never earning anything and always losing! For so much effort! And what dramas!

In all friendship,

LF Destouches

To Claude Gallimard

September 23, 1953

Dear Sir,

Here’s a letter that confirms what I already knew [1] that Hachette distributes my books as badly as possible[2] that they can’t be found in Buenos Aires any more than at the Montparnasse station or London or Geneva. An all-out boycott! That’s nice! And it continues! And whenever the Gallimard house distributes handouts on NRF authors I’m always left out. It’s the rule, When Monsieur Gaston[3] peddles his packages it’s always Joyce! Everyone! Everyone! But not Céline! Oh no, not him. Shame! A hundred thousand cases of the runs! In the meanwhile I’m copied and counterfeited as much as possible! Books written in my style are prefaced and I’m ignored! Now I’ve seen it all! This would all be funny if I had the means to not give a fuck! But that’s not the case!

Laughlin in America is particularly boorish he has Guignols for 4 years and won’t publish it.[4]

Yours,

Destouches

 

To Albert Paraz

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June 28 1954

It’s ten years that they’ve been busting my balls with this translation of Guignol into American…If you believe in worst sellers… best sellers… anyway, you’ve still got time.  They paid me 200 dollars three years ago… I probably won’t see any more!

I would love to have something built like you did! What prosperity! I have nothing of my own not a chair or a handkerchief…All I can envisage is the common grave… you really have illusions…

As for rich people, as you know, they’re like safes…If you don’t go see them with a blowtorch…what a waste of time!

My health isn’t great…I need rest…It would be nice to get a pension at 60…But you don’t have a pension either! Will you have the common grave! Or better?… Don’t tell me that you own a family vault! That’d be too much for me!

I live (badly) on Gallimard’s “advances” that is debts…What’s funny is that I pay huge taxes on these “advances”…It’s enough to make you laugh, as they say in Rennes….

I embrace you

LF

To Gaston Gallimard

10/7/54

Dear Friend,

You’re absolutely right on the question of superfluous” thank yous!”[5] from one parasite to another thanks are perfectly ridiculous! the opposite is also understood…

In this regard, I dedicated my last book to Pliny the elder and Gaston Gallimard neither the one or the other thanked me[6]…what contempt!…

You’re not lacking in finesse, you’re capable of noting that the bourgeois who replaced the nobles in everything no longer bother with plumes but have substituted them with boorishness. boors in everything, everywhere, rabidly! Louis XIV had ants in his pants to replace his doctor with Fagon who operated on his asshole… what cunning! What diplomacy! “What will the court think of this?” he asked Dangeau[7] …it made him sick not to be… perhaps not…correct! Correct!… You can verify this!

I’m going to get to work…! I confirm receipt of the check for 567,000 (abundantly due) and I’m not saying thank you.

Nevertheless, I send you my version of friendship.

Destouches

 

To Gaston Gallimard

December 8, 1954

My Dear Friend,

I apologize for no longer using the third person… swindling is always in the third person… I’m asking you Gaston, not the pope or the devil, how pissed you’d be if after ten years of efforts (which you aren’t capable of even imagining) you were told that as sole recompense you had 8 million francs worth of debts. You would set the whole damn place on fire in an access of justified anger.

There are many extenuating circumstances. Hirsch, his friends, the commies, Sartre, etc… I know… I know… jealousy between shops, within shops…I know…even so, according to my tiny Gallup you’ve done nothing to defend me against the critics…publicity, etc, no one knows that I published “Féerie I” or “Féerie II[8]…Several bookstores say that Journey is out of print…isn’t being reprinted…a hundred examples! In the provinces…and in Paris… which I’ve taken note of. In short, you’re causing me to die of hunger and cold. And to reach that point you even make me pay taxes! The Renaudot Prize was just given out. None of the idiots in your headquarters thought that this was the perfect occasion to cite my name and Journey …no! Nothing! Not as idiotic as that your idiots! threatening clique! so be it! But you haven’t found an illustrator for the Ambassadrice… or for a deluxe edition of Journey which would sell well… Nothing! Always nothing! All you collect are faded funeral wreaths on your mausoleum.  I’d begun volume III of Féerie, L’Ombrette, which is perfect! But give it to you? No! To amortize my debt? Save me! I need 3 million cash now, in advance, to finish this absolutely immortal work! And so I’m asking you for this! Tell me if you can’t advance me any more… because [in English in the original] the Council…the falling leaves…blah blah blah…it seems to me that Ombrette would make a great feuilleton…I don’t know where…But I’ll figure it out…three mill in advance for  Ombrette is almost giving it away… It’s a matter of Charon’s boat…I’m telling you! And you’ll be on it! Take a ticket! It’ll sell like hotcakes! What a mob there’ll be!…And what a chic crowd!

Pharaoh of literary prizes, watch out for Ombrette. You know that Charon demands his due! Charon doesn’t fool around with the recalcitrant! I’ve heard things!

Watch out!

L. Destouches

Gaston Gallimard to Céline

December 10, 1954

Dear Friend,

I don’t understand anything in your letter – even more, I don’t understand anything about you -  How could you have thought that you didn’t have any debts to the NRF since you requested payment of amounts far in excess of sales  - And what are you talking about with critics, publicity, literary prizes? I know the world is ugly, I know that people aren’t pure - But do you think I could pay a critic or several critics to write articles on your books, especially if they’re acting under orders?

Anyway, articles are no more effective than publicity – And why do you doubt my desire to sell your books, if only to reimburse myself for the advances I gave you? All of this is worthy of novel, and a bad novel, one not worthy of you – Just between us, it’s absurd that I have to write to you yet again (though I’ll never tire of doing so) the same letter – No, my dear Céline, there is only one thing that counts, it’s the public, it’s word of mouth publicity – It’s enough for a thousand enthusiastic people to communicate their enthusiasm to their entourage for it to have a snowball effect and for the books to sell out their print run – For they , alas, are not sold out! So give me the names of these lying booksellers. I’ll send a salesman to them.

As for your Féerie III, don’t forget that I have as legalisitic a spirit as you. For me, a contract is a contract and I will never allow you to publish a book elsewhere.

It remains for me to tell you that if I knew how to escape paying taxes I would take advantage of it myself.

Would you like me to send a request to the minister of finance in your favor? Really, Céline, you amaze me; reading you I thought I was reading Jarry.

That said, I am still and faithfully

Yours truly,

Gaston Gallimard

To Gaston Gallimard

June 20, 1955

My Dear Friend,

I received my statement. I see, alas, that my affairs grow ever worse. Last year at this time I only owed you 7,161,846. This year: 7,790,784.

And yet in the meanwhile I handed immortal masterpieces over to you. And I know you did everything to ensure their distribution and sales via publicity, articles, etc… and yet, over the course of a year of efforts I’ve increased my debt to you by at least 500,000 francs! Let’s say I were to live until eighty-two, not eating or drinking and being every bit as hard-working, I would still owe you twenty-seven million! And you would be, let’s say, ninety-three! Still in great shape! But I would sue you for sure! For I find it completely abusive that you add the amount of 125,800 francs paid for English rights (that you don’t have a fuck to do with) to my debts. We’ll see about that!

I’ll see to this litigation in a decade!

Your faithful friend and hard-working and ever-growing debtor,

Destouches

Gaston Gallimard to Céline

June 24, 1955

Dear Friend,

The explanation you request is quite simple: your last statement was dated June 1954 and on that date you owed us 7,161,846 francs; the latest statement we sent you closed December 31, 1954 and is for a debit of 7,471,434 francs and not, as you erroneously state, 7,790,784 francs. The difference is thus around 300,000 francs and not 500,000, as you wrote. Between these two dates, i.e., between June 1954 and December 1954, we paid you around 600,000 francs, and during the same period we received payments of 180,000 francs from sales of your books and 125,000 francs for the rights to the English translation, which comes to a total of 305,000 francs. The difference between the amounts paid you and the amounts received is thus about 310,000 francs.

I think this clearly explains the increase in your debt. In order for it to decrease it would simply be necessary that the sums paid you become less than the amounts received, both for the sales of  books and for ancillary rights. Please believe that I sincerely hope, both for your sake and mine, that we will someday reach this point.

In friendship,

Gaston Gallimard

To Roger Nimier[9]

February 26, 1957

Dear Friend:

I don’t want to annoy you…but it seems to me that Gaston is leading me on with the pocket edition whose contract I see no sign of…He won’t see the book…he’ll never see it if he keeps on like this, the pipsqueak! Let him enjoy himself, the little sadist!

His funeral interests me, I who go nowhere, I’ll go to his (if it doesn’t rain.)

Affectionately from the both of us,

LF

To Gaston Gallimard

June 30, 1961[10]

My dear editor and friend,

I think it’ll be time we bind each other by another contract for my next novel, rigodon…in the same terms as the preceding one except for the sum – 1500 new francs instead of 1000 – otherwise I’m going to rent a tractor and smash in the NRF and sabotage all the baccalaureate exams!

And I mean what I say!

Best wishes,

Destouches



[1] Céline attached a letter from his friend, the collaborationist actor Robert le Vigan , who wrote to him from his Argentine exile. He wrote that he hadn’t been able to find Féerie pour une autre fois

[2] Hachette was the distributor of Gallimard’s books

[3] Gallimard

[4] Guignol’s Band would be published by James Laughlin at New directions in June 1854

[5] Gallimard had just written Céline, a propos of Interviews with Professor Y that “there’s never any need to thank anyone for anything.”

[6] Interviews With Professor Y

[7] The story is found in the Marquis de Dangeau’s memoirs of Louis XIV’s court

[8] Féerie pour une autre fois was a huge flop

[9] Editor at Gallimard as well as a novelist himself

[10] Céline died the next day

Translated by Mitchell Abidor

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