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Celine: A Biography by Frédéric Vitoux

Celine: A Biography

by Frédéric Vitoux

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"Celine" was the pen name of Louis-Ferdinand Destouches, a viciously anti-Semitic, but brilliant (not my judgment,) French writer.

During WW I he was seriously wounded (although there is some dispute about the nature and severity of the injury). His fans have attributed his callousness and hatred to the insufferable headaches and mental noises that plagued him until his death in 1961. "I've learned to get along with my ear noises....I listen to them become trombones, full orchestras, marshaling yards....If you move your mattress...show some little sign of impatience...you go crazy." So he wrote in his autobiographical novel North, finished in 1960.

Most of his writing, after his most famous novel Journey to the End of Night, is viciously cruel and racist. So suggest reviewers of Frederic Vitoux's recent biography of Celine entitled appropriately Celine.

You wonder, "Where is this going?" Well, George Steiner, in his review of Vitoux's book in the New Yorker, August 24, 1992, ponders the value of such vituperative literature. "The liberal case against all censorship is cant. If serious literature and the arts can educate sensibly, exalt our perceptions, refine our moral discriminations, they can, by exactly the same token, deprave, cheapen, and make bestial our imaginings and mimetic impulses."

Steiner makes the same mistake that Medved does. Surely no one would ever suggest that anyone reading a "good" book would immediately run out and commit all sorts of "good" works. The inverse must also be valid.

It seems to me we need the literature of the racists and fascists out in the open where it can be read and its flaws exposed. The contrast to literature exalting the best in humanity becomes all the more stark and valid.

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  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Is it possible for a biography to be too detailed? Possibly not... I know more about Celine now than any person I have ever met in the flesh ... do I know any more about the works ... no of course not ... does any biography ever change the way one thinks of the works of an artist ... No. Should it? ... No way ... Vitoux has detailed Celine and his life in a way even Celine would not recognise ...

Many biographies of artists reveal them to be almost monsters ... I am not surprised.... I knew Celine was not a man I would have wanted to go drinking with ... he didn't drink anyway ... didn't smoke ... a doctor. Making art distances ... some distance is needed for creative endeavour .... how far away ... how hurt can one man be ... how vituperative ... plenty plenty ... to love only one other and pets ... that hurt ... that damaged

Vitoux does not make the mistake of trying to deny or excuse Celine's despicable anti-semitism. He did make me think of the times that Celine grew up in ... the prevailing acceptability of anti-semitism ... the way that made Hitler possible ... the horrors of war ... we know nothing of that ... firsthand ... the years between the wars are a time we cosseted baby boomers can never know -- the horror ... the nihilism ... collective loss of hope ... optimism dead imagine ... the wasteland ...

A truly comprehensive biography - read it and weep
2 vote papalaz | Feb 27, 2009 |
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