Sunday, May 27, 2007

Journey to the End of the Night

Today, besides Memorial Day for the war dead, there are many birthdays to honor. Given the climate of the times, I'll briefly showcase Louis-Ferdinand Céline (b. Destouches, 5/27/1894–7/1/1961). When I teach the Great War and the 1920s every so often, students are assigned Journey to the End of the Night (1934) / Voyage au bout de la nuit (1932), Céline's seminal autobiographical novel set during WWI and the 1920s, and ranging from France to Africa, New York City to Detroit, and finally back again to France. To me, it is a key work of art. Céline observes and questions everything, yet soldiers on despite a very dark outlook. The novel remains vibrant and relevant; after all, not much has essentially changed in human behavior, despite scientific and technological changes since its publication. The question is: how does a person build and maintain a meaningful, satisfying life in this world?

Journey to the End of the Night has had a tremendous impact on other writers. Charles Bukowski reportedly declared it the best book written in the past 2,000 years. Existentialists like Sartre and Camus loved it, Henry Miller absorbed it, the Beats read it, and any writer skeptical of the Iraq War and the so-called "War on Terror" would probably like it, too -- or at least those who enjoy following a dispeptic iconoclastic anti-hero on his picaresque way though life, griping and carping all the way.

The sequel is Death on the Installment Plan (1938) / Mort à crédit (1936).

At some point I'll write more about the Detroit section of Journey, Céline's main character Bardamu's work at the Ford factory and romance with a prostitute.

Birthdays: Amelia Bloomer, Wild Bill Hickok, Louis-Ferdinand Céline (Destouches), Dashiell Hammett, Vincent Price, John Cheever, Christopher Lee, John Barth, Harlan Ellison, Lee Meriwether, Siouxsie Sioux (Susan Janet Ballion).


Anonymous said...

Another book about the insanity of war is The Debacle by Zola. That could be the name of GW's war in Iraq. Our troops are the warriors but he as supreme commander is what? I cannot think of enough negative word to even to begin to describe him. War president indeed!

Charles Gramlich said...

Very good book.