“my mother explained the ’60s & ’70s to me by giving me her worn copies of Joan Didion’s essays”

It was 13 degrees outside. The winter light was piercing on the western side of Park Avenue. I had on two sweaters under my wool coat, a pair of leggings under my jeans, and winter boots with fur trim up to my knees. An ill-fitting knit hat scratched at my forehead and my sunglasses sat cold on my nose. I had just stepped out of an office where a doctor had told me about my inverted cervical spine, the herniated disc in my thoracic spine, and the pain I would need to accept.

At a previous appointment, another doctor had pressed on my back and said, “You know the old ladies you see up here on the East side that are all stooped over? This is the beginning of that.” I had always imagined that it was the weight of decades of city living that had made those women curve in on themselves. When I thought about it this way it did not seem inconceivable that at the age of 23, and after three years of living here, my own spine would begin to buckle. For four months I had visited this office three times a week for physical therapy with no improvement. The doctor suggested six additional months of the same. He and I both knew that I would not be coming back.

The sidewalk was nearly deserted as I started walking north. There was only one other figure in sight: a small woman with striking white hair, very pale skin, and large dark eyes. She had a cane and was picking her way slowly across 57th Street in my direction. Her tiny frame was draped in a thin coat more suited to 60 degrees than 13. She wore white slipper shoes, thin white chinos, and her ankles were bare to the icy wind.

My first thought was of the doctor’s words, “this is the beginning of that,” but this woman’s spine was straight. This was a woman I had never met, but thought of everyday. Between doctor’s appointments, I had been reading and re-reading my way through her work. This was Joan Didion. I recognized her immediately. She was looking at my boots and then she peered up at my face as we crossed paths. Startled perhaps by my look of recognition, she quickly looked down at her feet and kept walking. I stood there and watched her go.

When I was a teenager my mother explained the ‘60s and ‘70s to me by giving me her worn copies of Joan Didion’s collected essays. Haight-Ashbury was Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Howard Hughes was “7000 Romaine, Los Angeles 38.” I knew “John Wayne: a Love Song” before I had any idea who John Wayne was. My mother read these titles off to me with a deep reverence and it sounded like a different language. This was before I knew writers to have distinct styles. I would not understand the full meaning of many of the cultural references in Didion’s work until later re-readings in college, but I learned to associate the eras of my parents’ youth with the severe rhythm of a Didion sentence. I did not see Didion’s style as belonging to Didion; I saw it simply as the way sentences were written before I was born. I thought it was as much an indication of time passing as the yellow of the pages. My mother was captivated by Didion’s California and it became the California of my imagination. I would read “Los Angeles Notebook” and get the words mixed up with my mother’s voice.

But my mother’s personal geography never included New York. When I was run down and sought to think of New York City as a force responsible for the bend in my spine, it was Joan Didion’s words that I wanted to hear.

At a dinner party that same night, in an apartment overlooking the Natural History Museum, I tried to relay my afternoon encounter to the group—all writers of varying ages. It was the younger writers who could most appreciate the excitement of the sighting—the ones who still read “Goodbye to All That” repeatedly, who were still unsure of New York City themselves. We had all worked together over the past few months and Didion’s work had been a frequent point of conversation. What did I think of the cane, they wanted to know. Was it temporary? Did she look sad? Why was she dressed so strangely? Our hostess, a contemporary of Didion’s, begged us to change the subject. She hadn’t been able to get through The Year of Magical Thinking, which she thought portrayed an idealized version of Didion and John Dunne’s marriage. There were friends of friends in common, she had heard some stories. The professor among us, a successful essayist in his own right, told me that he would never see her on a pedestal. She was, to him, just another successful writer who had done some very good early work. He could not read the words, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” or “In time of trouble, I had been trained since childhood, read, learn, work it up, go to the literature,” and find in them messages on how a life can be lived.

“You should have offered her your boots,” one friend said. “She was cold.”

—from V. L. Hartmann, "Joan Didion Crosses the Street." The Morning News, November 18, 2009.

Read the rest

le clézio on lautréamont and co.: “man’s freedom to seek & reveal himself through visions & dreams”

J.M.G. Le Clézio, “Freedom to Dream”


We could begin the story this time around 1867, when the young Isidore Ducasse—not yet Comte de Lautréamont—decides to move into a furnished room on the Right Bank of Paris, and when, in 1868, he gives "Le Premier Chant" of Les Chants de Maldoror to the publisher Balitout. This act, perhaps one of the most important of modern literature and thought, begins an epic tale of dreams that ends in death and oblivion. Indeed, between 1868 and 24 November 1870, when the young poet dies at the age of twenty-four, in the solitude and abandonment of the Parisian winter, the story unfolds of one of the most burning and disturbing dreams that poetry has ever known—a dream that throws off flame and consumes the dreamer, in the silence and indifference of those around him, and whose waves will not touch his fellow man until long after, like one of those stars whose fixed and silent explosion seems to outrace time.

Freedom of dreams: this seems paradoxical, since dreams are clearly the freest expression of life. But it is this very freedom that is frightening, because it is a threat to reason and the moral order, which is why society’s prohibitions, censorship, and propriety have sought for so long to obscure or stifle it. Dreams are free, but locked up in the prison of silence, thrown into the dungeon of memory. Dreams are the hidden fire that man must steal off with in order to reveal the other side of himself, in order to attain real freedom.

In the chilly aloofness and hypocrisy of Europe’s nineteenth century, Lautréamont’s sacrifice has something truly cruel and despairing about it, but it allows us to see the error that corrupts the mind of civilized societies at the outset of the Industrial Age. Through its indifference and forgetting, nineteenth-century bourgeois society in its entirety casts Lautréamont out into another world, in both senses of the term: it sends him back to the world in which he was born, to Montevideo, the overseas territories, tomb of the banished; but it also throws him back to a world from before civilization, a primitive, violent, magical world, one to which the rationalism and bankers’ reign of the Second Empire could not give credence. It casts him back toward dreams—that is to say, toward the deepest past of mankind.

It is indeed a question of a return toward our origins. The freedom to dream, and to live one’s dreams, takes us back toward another world, that of prehistorical societies (in Lévi-Strauss’s sense of the term). In the Indian societies of the New World, for example, the social structure in most cases is that of a "loose democracy,"1 founded on equality and the self-sufficiency of the family, where each person can be at once warrior, preacher (or shaman), doctor, artist, or orator. The Indian societies of North America (the Iroquois, Sioux, Comanches, Apaches), of the subtropical forests (the Carib, Tupinamba, and Amazonian tribes), and of South America (the Araucan Indians of the pampas) all testify to this full expression of man, which seems to precede the specializations of the hierarchized and sedentary societies (Mexicas, Mayas, Quechuas). But the importance of this full expression of man is apparent even in the most urbane and organized of societies. The Amerindian religious rites all express these influences—magic, concepts of recurrent and cyclical time, the possibility of man’s identification with the gods—which in a sense form the foundation of "savage" philosophy and which the conquering Europeans will try (successfully) to extinguish.

It is in dreams that the original civilizations of the Americas found their explanations for existence. For the ancient Mexicans, as for the Tupi-Guaranis or the Quechuas, dreams were a soul’s journey outside the body, which enabled contact with the beyond and knowledge of the future. The Mexicas, Purepecha, Carib, and Quechua nations were troubled by dreams (or auguries) to such an extent that they couldn’t find the force to resist the conquering peoples from the East whose coming had been announced by the auguries. Upon the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico, the omens multiplied: visions of death and of peoples in chains, lakes of blood, comets, and swarms of insects. As in the books of the Yucatec Mayas’ Chilam Bilam or in the apparition of the gods meeting on the mountain of Xanoata Hucatzio in the Relación de Michoacán, the most ancient dreams associated with the prophecies thus meet up with reality, but only to bring about the destruction of the dreaming peoples.

The first Spanish writers captured this final moment of the dreamers’ society, manifested in its strange rites, dances, and sacrifices. The Relación de Michoacán, chronicle of the Purepecha Indians, shows us a people wholly given over to their omens and dreams. The kings’ power and their destiny depend upon their dreams, during which the supreme gods (Curicaueri, god of fire, or the moon goddess Xaratanga) appear before them and strike up alliances. Father Bernardino de Sahagún recounts that the cruel and bloody festivals of the Aztecs took place in this mytical incarnation of gods dancing among men, as in the ixnextiua festival: "It was their belief that on this festival all the gods were dancing, and therefore all the natives who danced were dressed in diverse fancy costumes, some impersonated birds, others different animals; some represented the bird called ‘tzinitzcan’ [hummingbird], others butterflies; some dressed like drones, others like flies, still others like beetles; some carried on their backs a sleeping man who, they said, represented sleep."2

This magical society, this society of dreams and auguries, will be destroyed by Western civilization in the name of rationalism. For the conquering Spaniards, Portuguese, and, later, Anglo-Saxons or French, these magical societies are antiquated. They must be transformed, confined to reality, in order to integrate them into the rationales of productivity and causality on which the modern world rests. This will also be the Christian church’s role, shared among its millennial illusions and its will to destroy religious and philosophical concepts in contradiction with those of the conquerors.

As has been said, for the Renaissance mind, belief in magic and dreams is absurd and illogical. Founded on the sciences, on observation, nascent humanism can only condemn these obscure aspects of the human soul, since the new ideas come about precisely as a response to the beliefs and superstitions of the Middle Ages. In order to affirm this new "man," it is necessary to kill the old one, the one who lives off dreams and chimeras.

The new era is also that of absolute powers: Charles V, Francis I, and Henry VIII each demonstrate the supremacy of true power, armed force, and merchant empires. Curiously, however, it is in these periods when political powers are most extreme—the immense power of gold and silver, the Spanish flotilla, the Holy Roman Empire, the world divided between Spain and Portugal, the birth of the English Empire, the slave trade, the colonization of the Americas—that the place of doubt, dreams, and magic seems the largest, the most troubling. In France, the biggest witchcraft trials, in Louvain and Pau, take place first under first Louis XIII, then under Louis XIV. The peak of Spain’s rise corresponds in fact to the Baroque Age, which is the age of doubt and questioning.

The dreams of the Baroque Age are a questioning of reality, power, and money and mark the appearance of a certain relativity (as one would say today in this other baroque age which is our own). Time, value, love, goods, and the pleasures of our lives are ephemeral. Who is not familiar with these magical lines from Francisco de Quevedo? "Yesterday has gone; tomorrow hasn’t arrived; / Today is going away without stopping for one one moment; / I am a ‘was’ and a ‘will be’ and an ‘is’ tired."3

Or these mysterious and moving lines from Luis de Góngora:


While, to compete with your hair, gold burnished in the sun gleams in vain; while, with scorn, in the midst of the plain, your white brow regards the lily fair; while each lip is pursued by more eyes than follow the early carnation; and while with proud disdain your neck triumphs over bright crystal: enjoy neck, hair, lips, and brow, before what was in your golden youth gold, lily, carnation, crystal bright, not only turns into silver or a crushed violet, but you and all of it together into earth, smoke, dust, shadow, nothingness.4


The Baroque is not merely a literary mode or school. It is a philosophy, a natural tendency of man, the expression of his nocturnal side, of his dreams and worries. Approximately one hundred years before Góngora’s verses, Quevedo, and La vida es sueño, in the Aztec world on the verge of disappearing, the great Netzahuacoyotl, Lord of the Acolhua people from Tetzcoco, sang the same elegies and laments that would make up the poetry of the English Romantics and of Novalis. One finds here as well the themes of the fragility of happiness, time, the beauty of youth, death and destruction, the final void.


Dress yourself in flowers
In flowers the color of the ara of the lakes,
Brilliant as the sun,
The flowers of the raven,
Adorn yourself here on earth,
Only here.
It is thus
Only for a brief moment,
The flowers, for a moment,
We have readied them.
Already, we carry them to the god’s home,
To the home of the Fleshless.5


The Baroque asserts nothing other than the right to dream, and it speaks of nothing other than man’s former ties to the supernatural, which is why that right is the dominant force of civilization.

It is in the very era of rationalism, the Age of Classicism, that dreams reveal their power. Cartesian philosophy also has its part of shadow, as Descartes’ dream and the Pascalian illumination bear witness. Writings on the irrational flourish during the years of the Encyclopédie. One can cite not only the writings of Saint-Martin and Swedenborg but also the fantastic tales of this period: Jacques Cazotte with his Diable amoureux, the translations of A Thousand and One Nights, the English Gothic novels by Beckford and Lewis, the German ones by Tieck, and the sometimes absurd, often disturbing tales of the famous Cabinet des Fées, published in Amsterdam at the end of the eighteenth century.

Born of the European wars and the Napoleonic adventure, the Age of Romanticism also dreams of a different society. The second wave of Romanticism (the one which will nourish the young Isidore Ducasse) is at the once the era of the birth of the great industrial empires, colonization, and banks, as well as an era of dreams, of a return to origins, of the resurrection of magic and mysticism. If, as Vladimir Propp notes in his essay on the origins of Russian folktales, most dreams are tied to the tribal or theocratic organization of human societies—the dragon, for instance, as an expression of tyranny and despotism—then the imagination of fantastic literature expresses a demand, a struggle for the freedom to dream.

Romanticism is also the age of messianisms, in the Americas, Oceania, and Africa. The same "wave of dream," as Paul Eluard would later call it, runs throughout the world, pitting conquered peoples against the new industrialized masters. In North America, the Indian "dreamers"—Sioux, Arapaho, Apache—guide the last barbarous nations in total war against the conquering Europeans, who for their part draw on the most effective weapon of all, that of money. Dream dances, ghost dances,6 visions, dreams set the primitive peoples against the modern world and send them on toward the only outcome possible: death. It is a case of a total confrontation between the ideas of the modern world—utilitarianism, logic, determinism—and the prior beliefs in magic and the beyond. Dreams are an insurrection aimed at a new freedom, the freedom of the individual against the prohibitions of classical morality, against logical order; they are a means of access to a new perception of being—i.e., this totality which was the primary value of primitive societies. The deep meaning of Lautréamont’s quest lies in this insurrection of dreams.

After Lautréamont and Nerval, the Surrealists also defend the right to dream, this freedom to dream that can hardly be considered a gentle one. For the Surrealists, dreams are far more than just a poetic theme or means of inspiration. It is a question of a total experience, both physical and metaphysical, from which man will emerge different, changed. It is for this reason that they spoke of a "Surrealist Revolution."

At issue therefore is a complete reversal of values (born, moreover, of nihilism and of the absurdity of the deadliest wars man has ever known). As Breton states in the first Surrealist Manifesto from 1924:


To reduce the imagination to a state of slavery—even though it would mean the elimination of what is commonly called happiness—is to betray all sense of absolute justice within oneself. Imagination alone offers me some intimation of what can be, and this is enough to remove to some slight degree the terrible injunction; enough, too, to allow me to devote myself to it without fear of making a mistake (as though it were possible to make a bigger mistake). Where does it begin to turn bad, and where does the mind’s stability cease? For the mind, is the possibility of erring not rather the contingency of good?7


Man’s freedom to seek and reveal himself through visions and dreams implicates the dangers of limits, which is why the rationalist and progressivist society of the modern world, spawned by the Reformation, cannot allow it to exist. Man—this "definitive dreamer" as Breton puts it, or Lautréamont’s "pubescent dreamer" victimized by the cruelty of his own creator—ust choose for himself the path of his revelation, the means to his freedom. In undertaking this extreme experience, a man sometimes risks his own life, like the poet Roger Gilbert-Lecomte, creator of the movement "Le Grand Jeu"; like Nerval; or like Antonin Artaud, who, in the tradition of his hero Van Gogh, was "suicided by society."

Doubtless one of the last seers of the modern world, Artaud le Momo, poet-magus par excellence, takes his introspective quest to the very edge of madness: "Where others present their works, I claim to do no more than show my mind. / Life consists of burning up questions. / I cannot conceive of work that is detached from life. / I do not like detached creation. Neither can I conceive of the mind as detached from itself. Each of my works, each diagram of myself, each glacial flowering of my inmost soul dribble over me."8 Artaud renders the totality of this experience of being, in which man is the receptor of magical and unreal forces, in the following terms: "Delights and furies, the entire sky / Launches upon us like a cloud / A whirlwind of wild wings / Torrential with obscenities."9 This burning, harassing freedom leads Artaud all the way to Mexico, to the lands of the Tarahumara Indians, where he seeks the Mountain of Signs, the Race Principle, and a complete, ecstatic communion with creation. Later, in the solitude of madness, it leads still further, to the asylum in Rodez.

Acquired through so much suffering, anguish, and pain, this freedom to dream has something mythlike to it. The myth of katabasis comes to mind: out of curiosity, love, or a fascination with the unknown that is the destiny of some, the human hero descends into the underworld, defying danger and taboo, crossing through the portals of death. Most of the heroes of ancient civilizations have made this journey: the giant Gilgamesh, seeking the flower of immortality; Orpheus, for the love of Eurydice; or Quetzalcóatl, the god of Tula, sacrificed by his celestial enemy Tezcatlipoca and reborn at the end of each century in the form of a morning star. The ecstasy of the shamans and the visions of the prophets had no other goal than to undertake, one more time, this initiatory voyage beyond death. The poets and the seers after them sought out this encounter, this meeting with the two truths of man: that of his life and that of his death. Primitive man, or, in Lévi-Strauss’s terms, "man without history" (since, by way of this other reality, man abolishes time and death, the very things which make up histories), experienced this meeting in its entirety, in each one of the acts of his daily life. In hiding this truth, the determinist, rationalist, Western society has mutilated the nocturnal side of man, the side of his magical and creative origins. Thanks to the poets’ dreams; thanks to Baudelaire, Nerval, and Lautréamont; thanks to Jorge Carrera Andrade and Octavio Paz; thanks to the writers since Joyce and Proust, up to those of today—Borges, Rulfo, Onetti, Mercè Rodoreda—we know now that this imaginative freedom is one of our most precious assets. Like the ancient Mayas, like the Egyptians and Greeks, we have learned that time is cyclical and that visible reality is only a reflection. As Borges, perhaps one of the last visionaries of our world, so admirably puts it, we have learned that "the whole of time has already happened and that our life is a vague memory or dim reflection, doubtless false and fragmented, of an irrevocable process."10 Is this not the rejoinder to the ancient Aztec proverb that expresses the notions of time and creation through the myth of eternal return? "Another time, it shall be thus, another time things shall be thus, in another time, in another place. What happened long ago and which now is no longer done, another time it shall be done, another time it shall be thus, as it was in very distant times. Those who live today shall live another time, they shall live once again."11

—J.M.G. Le Clézio, “Seminar On Lautréamont And ‘Freedom To Dream,’” University of Oklahoma, 18 February 1997.


Published as J.M.G. Le Clézio, “Freedom to dream.” World Literature Today v. 71 (Autumn 1997) p. 671-4. Translated by Ralph Schoolcraft III



1 The phrase appears in English in the original.
2 Sahagún, A History of Ancient Mexico, vol. 1, tr. Fanny R. Bandelier, Nashville, Fisk University Press, 1932, p. 146.
3 Quevedo, "Metaphysical Poems, #2," in Elias L. Rivers, Renaissance and Baroque Poetry of Spain, tr. Elias L. Rivers, Prospect Heights (Il.), Waveland, 1966, pp. 260-61.
4 Góngora, "Sonnet CLXVI," in Rivers, Renaissance and Baroque Poetry of Spain, p. 163.
5 The translation used here is that found in J.M.G. Le Clézio, The Mexican Dream: Or, The Interrupted Thought of Amerindian Civilizations, tr. Teresa Lavender Fagan, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1993, p. 113.
6 These two phrases appear in English in the original.
7 André Breton, "Manifesto of Surrealism (1924)," in Manifestoes of Surrealism, trs. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1972, pp. 4-5.
8 Artaud, The “Umbilicus of Limbo,” in Selected Writings, tr. Helen Weaver, New York, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1976, p. 59.
9 Artaud, "Windowpane of Sound" ["Vitre de son"]; my translation.
10 Jorge Luis Borges, "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," tr. Alastair Reid, in Ficciones, New York, Grove, 1962, p. 25.
11 Codex Florentinus, facsimile edition, Mexico City, AGN, 1969, tr. Alfredo Lopez Austin, book VI, p. 196. This English translation is also from Le Clézio, The Mexican Dream, p. 208.


deleuze says le clézio’s act of becoming via fabulation reveals his pedigree—melville, kafka, céline

Gilles Deleuze, "Literature and Life"  


Translated by Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco

Critical Inquiry 23 (Winter 1997)


To write is certainly not to impose a form (of expression) on the matter of lived experience. Literature rather moves in the direction of the ill- formed or the incomplete, as Witold Gombrowicz said as well as practiced. Writing is a question of becoming, always incomplete, always in the midst of being formed, and goes beyond the matter of any livable or lived experience. It is a process, that is, a passage of Life that traverses both the livable and the lived. Writing is inseparable from becoming: in writing, one becomes-woman, becomes-animal or -vegetable, becomes-molecule, to the point of becoming-imperceptible. These becomings may be linked to each other by a particular line, as in J. M. G. Le Clézio’s novels; or they may coexist at every level, following the doorways, thresh- olds, and zones that make up the entire universe, as in H. P. Lovecraft’s powerful oeuvre. Becoming does not move in the other direction, and one does not become Man, insofar as man presents himself as a dominant form of expression that claims to impose itself on all matter, whereas woman, animal, or molecule always has a component of flight that escapes its own formalization. The shame of being a man—is there any better reason to write? Even when it is a woman who is becoming, she has to become-woman, and this becoming has nothing to do with a state she could claim as her own. To become is not to attain a form (identification, imitation, Mimesis) but to find the zone of proximity, indiscernibility, or undifferentiation where one can no longer be distinguished from a woman, an animal, or a molecule—neither imprecise nor general, but unforeseen and non-preexistent, singularized out of a population rather than determined in a form. One can institute a zone of proximity with anything, on the condition that one creates the literary means for doing so. André Dhôtel, for instance, makes use of the aster: something passes between the sexes, the genera, or the kingdoms.1 Becoming is always "between" or "among": a woman between women, or an animal among others. But the power of the indefinite article is effected only if the term in becoming is stripped of the formal characteristics that make it say the ("the animal in front of you .. ."). When Le Clézio becomes-Indian, it is always as an incomplete Indian who does not know "how to cultivate corn, or carve a dugout canoe"; rather than acquiring formal characteristics, he enters a zone of proximity.2 It is the same, in Kafka, with the swimming champion who does not know how to swim. All writing involves an athleticism, but far from reconciling literature with sports or turning writing into an Olympic event, this athleticism is exercised in flight and in the breakdown of the organic body—an athlete in bed, as Henri Michaux put it. One becomes animal all the more when the animal dies; and contrary to the spiritualist prejudice, it is the animal who knows how to die, who has a sense or premonition of death. Literature begins with a porcupine’s death according to Lawrence or with the death of a mole in Kafka: "our poor little red feet outstretched for tender sympathy."3 As Karl-Philipp Moritz (1756-1793) said, one writes for dying calves.4 Language must devote itself to reaching these feminine, animal, molecular detours, and every detour is a becoming mortal. There are no straight lines, neither in things nor in language. Syntax is the set of necessary detours that are created in each case to reveal the life in things.


To write is not to recount one’s memories and voyages, one’s loves and griefs, one’s dreams and phantasms. It is the same thing to sin through an excess of reality as through an excess of the imagination. In both cases it is the eternal daddy-mommy, an Oedipal structure that is projected onto the real or introjected into the imaginary. In this infantile conception of literature, what we seek at the end of the voyage, or at the heart of a dream, is a father. One writes for one’s father-mother. Marthe Robert has pushed this infantilization or "psychoanalization" of literature to an extreme, leaving the novelist no other choice than that of the Bastard or the Foundling.5 Even becoming-animal is not safe from an Oedipal reduction of the type "my cat, my dog." As Lawrence says, "if I am a giraffe, and the ordinary Englishmen who write about me … are nice, well-behaved dogs, there it is, the animals are different…. The animal I am you instinctively dislike."6 As a general rule, fantasies simply treat the indefinite as a mask for a personal or a possessive: "a child is being beaten" is quickly transformed into "my father beat me." But literature takes the opposite path and exists only when it discovers beneath appar- ent persons the power of an impersonal-which is not a generality but a singularity at the highest point: a man, a woman, a beast, a stomach, a child…. It is not the first two persons that function as the condition for literary enunciation; literature begins only when a third person is born in us that strips us of the power to say "I" (Blanchot’s "neuter").7 Of course, literary characters are perfectly individuated and are neither vague nor general, but all their individual traits elevate them to a vision that carries them off in an indefinite, like a becoming that is too powerful for them: Ahab and the vision of Moby Dick. The Miser is not a type, but on the contrary his individual traits (to love a young woman, and so on) make him accede to a vision: he sees gold in such a way that he is sent racing along a witch’s line where he gains the power of the indefinite—a miser…, some gold, more gold…. There is no literature without fabulation, but, as Henri Bergson was able to see, fabulation—the fabulating function—does not consist in imagining or projecting an ego. Rather, it attains these visions, it raises itself to these becomings and powers.


One does not write with one’s neuroses. Neuroses or psychoses are not passages of life but states into which we fall when the process is interrupted, blocked, or plugged up. Illness is not a process but a stopping of the process, as in the "Nietzsche case." Moreover, the writer as such is not a patient but rather a physician, the physician of himself and of the world. The world is the set of symptoms whose illness merges with man. Literature then appears as an enterprise of health; not that the writer would necessarily be in good health (there would be the same ambiguity here as with athleticism), but he possesses irresistible and delicate health that stems from what he has seen and heard of things too big for him, too strong for him, suffocating things whose passage exhausts him while nonetheless giving him the becomings that dominant and substantial health would render impossible.8 The writer returns from what he has seen and heard with red eyes and pierced eardrums. What health would be sufficient to liberate life wherever it is imprisoned by and within man, by and within organisms and genera? It is like Spinoza’s delicate health, while it lasted, bearing witness until the end to a new vision whose passage it remains open to.


Health as literature, as writing, consists in inventing a people that is missing. It is the task of the fabulating function to invent a people. We do not write with memories, unless it is to make them the origin and collective destination of a people to come still ensconced in its betrayals and repudiations. American literature has an exceptional power to produce writers who can recount their own memories, but as those of a universal people composed of immigrants from all countries. Thomas Wolfe "inscribes all of America in writing insofar as it can be found in the experience of a single man."9 This is not exactly a people called upon to dominate the world. It is a minor people, eternally minor, taken up in a becoming-revolutionary. Perhaps it only exists in the atoms of the writer, a bastard people, inferior, dominated, always in becoming, always incomplete. Bastard no longer designates a familial state, but the process or drift of the races. I am a beast, a Negro of an inferior race for all eternity. This is the becoming of the writer. Kafka (for central Europe) and Melville (for America) present literature as the collective enunciation of a minor people, or of all minor peoples, who find their expression only in and through the writer.10 Though it always refers to singular agents [agents], literature is a collective assemblage [agencement] of enunciation. Literature is delirium, but delirium is not a father-mother affair; there is no delirium that does not pass through peoples, races, and tribes and that does not haunt universal history. All delirium is world historical, "a displacement of races and continents."11 Literature is delirium, and as such its destiny is played out between the two poles of delirium. Delirium is a disease, the disease par excellence, whenever it erects a race it claims is pure and dominant. But it is the measure of health when it invokes this oppressed bastard race that ceaselessly stirs beneath dominations, resisting everything that crushes and imprisons, a race that is outlined in relief in literature as process. Here again, there is always the risk that a diseased state will interrupt the process or becoming; health and athleticism both confront the same ambiguity, the constant risk that a delirium of domination will be mixed with a bastard delirium, pushing literature toward a larval fascism, the disease against which it fights—even if this means diagnosing the fascism within itself and fighting against itself. The ultimate aim of literature is to release this creation of a health or this invention of a people—that is, a possibility of life-in the delirium. To write for this people that is missing … (for means less "in the place of" than "for the benefit of").


We can see more clearly the effect of literature on language: as Proust says, it opens up a kind of foreign language within language, which is neither another language nor a rediscovered patois but a becoming-other of language, a "minorization" of this major language, a delirium that carries it off, a witch’s line that escapes the dominant system. Kafka makes the swimming champion say, I speak the same language as you, and yet I don’t understand a single word you’re saying. Syntactic creation or style—this is the becoming of language. The creation of words or neologisms is worth nothing apart from the effects of syntax in which they are developed. So literature already presents two aspects: through the creation of syntax, it not only brings about a decomposition or destruction of the maternal language but also the invention of a new language within language. "The only way to defend language is to attack it." "Every writer is obliged to create his or her own language."12 Language seems to be seized by a delirium, which forces it out of its usual furrows. As for the third aspect, it stems from the fact that a foreign language cannot be hollowed outin one language without language as a whole in turn being toppled or pushed to a limit, to an outside or reverse side that consists of Visions and Auditions that no longer belong to any language. These visions are not fantasies, but veritable Ideas that the writer sees and hears in the interstices of language, in its intervals. They are not interruptions of the process but breaks that form part of it, like an eternity that can only be revealed in a becoming, or a landscape that only appears in movement. They are not outside language, but the outside of language. The writer as seer and hearer, the aim of literature: it is the passage of life within language that constitutes Ideas.


These three aspects, which are in perpetual movement, can be seen clearly in Antonin Artaud: the fall of letters in the decomposition of the maternal language (R, T, . . .); their incorporation into a new syntax or in new names with a syntactic import, creators of a language ("eTReTé"); and, finally, breath words, the asyntactical limit toward which all language tends.13 And even in Céline—we cannot avoid saying it, so acutely do we feel it: Journey to the End of the Night, or the decomposition of the maternal language; Death on the Installment Plan, with its new syntax as a language within language; and Guignol’s Band, with its suspended exclamations as the limit of language, as explosive visions and sonorities. In order to write, it may perhaps be necessary for the maternal language to be odious, but only so that a syntactic creation can open up a kind of foreign language in it, and language as a whole can reveal its outside, beyond all syntax. We sometimes congratulate writers, but they know that they are far from having achieved their becoming, far from having attained the limit they set for themselves, which ceaselessly slips away from them. To write is also to become something other than a writer. To those who ask what literature is, Virginia Woolf responds, To whom are you speaking of writing? The writer does not speak about it, but is concerned with something else.


If we consider these criteria, we can see that, among all those who make books with a literary intent, even among the mad, there are very few who can call themselves writers.

the céline effect: “céline is a great liberator; I feel called by his voice”—philip roth

Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s influence on North American writers makes for a fascinating case study in literary influence. Is Céline a "strong poet" whose anxiety of influence has been felt on this side of the Atlantic for several generations? Have many of our best writers been "misprisioned" by the sinister Frenchman via the Freudian dynamics of Harold Bloom’s theory of literary progeniture? Do Céline’s populist sympathies for the poor and the sick and the outcast account for at least part of his attraction?    

Or does his searing contempt for that Dostoevskyean antheap, modern society (a contempt that many mistake for fascism), make him the exemplar of the truly authentic artist, the one who stands apart from the rest—and therefore markes him as a writer of highest possible integrity?

I think the real attraction of Céline is his frenetic style of wised-up street talk and caustic social observation. It’s a style that seems to survive in part the harrows of translation.

To be more precise: Céline’s voice, ably rendered by Ralph Manheim for the benefit of non-Francophones, plus the circumstances of his life, as captured and refined in his fiction, exerts such a seductive, siren-like lure for the safe and well-fed North American writer.

It is ironic Céline that remains so alluring for the North American writer, for that writer, no matter what degree of aliention he or she may feel, has never known the horrors and hardships of Vichy—occupation, resistance, treason—or had to endure the fugitive status of being allied with the wrong side, the losing side, indeed, quite clearly the criminal side in a global conflict, and, further, of being personally selected by the highest-ranking officals of your country as a most-wanted criminal, worthy of the death penalty, and even further again of being on the run in the Europe of 1945, with the continent itself now being rebooted by the victorious Allies to start again at Year Zero, with the determination to remove all vestiges of the Nazis and their accomodators very much on the agenda … to find one’s self alone, hunted and destitute, your country and continent in ruins…

Céline’s circumstances for a major portion of his writing life make Charles Bukowski’s call to "run with the hunted" seem like an invitation to a Japanese tea ceremony… everything Céline did seems marked with the stamp of the true isolate, and I often hear somewhere in my mind D.H. Lawrence’s dictum that "the essential Ameriucan character is cold, hard, stoic, isolate—and a killer." And Céline was at least the first four of those things when he had to be, and he may indeed have been a killer, too, what with his political pamphlets and his countrymen’s propinquity for betraying even to certain death the stigmatized and isolated among them, something that within a decade of his noxious political writings Céline came to know all too well.

Now here’s one academic’s take on the matter of Céline’s influence on North American writers (Alice Kaplan is the author of a fascinating study of an anti-Semitic writer in Vichy France, The Collaborator: The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach):   

Alice Kaplan, "The Céline Effect: A 1992 Survey of Contemporary American Writers."
From Modernism/modernity. Volume 3, Number 1, January 1996, pp. 117-136. 

Louis-Ferdinand Céline confounds the paradigm for fascist writers. A doctor for the poor with clear populist tendencies who emerged on the literary scene from out of nowhere, he produced a runaway best-seller, Voyage au bout de la nuit (Journey to the End of the Night) (1932), then a misunderstood bildungsroman, Mort à crédit (Death on the Installment Plan) (1936), that revolutionized the look of written French and exploded narrative convention. In the late 1930s he published two anti-Semitic pamphlets (Bagatelles pour un massacre [Trifles for a massacre] and L’École des cadavres [School for corpses]), both wildly successful, that pushed back the envelope of acceptable hate speech. In occupied France, he wrote letters to the editors of collaborationist newspapers and was identified with the racial policies of Vichy, but he was inconsistent and fairly useless as a polemicist for the "new order," since his spleen turned against Vichy as well its enemies. Nonetheless his camp was chosen: he was the writer who had passionately demanded the extermination of the Jews. At the end of the war he fled, following the Vichy government to the castle town of Sigmaringen, then to Denmark, where he was imprisoned by the Danes and released into exile. He was not extradited back to France during the early days of the purge, when collaborators such as Robert Brasillach were being condemned to death. By the time Céline stood trial, in absentia, the fury days of the purge had ended. Amnestied in 1951 as a veteran of World War I, he returned to a semireclusive life in the Paris suburb of Meudon, where he penned a trilogy of novels about the immediate postwar moment, featuring a shattered Europe and a paranoid, misunderstood, and wildly comic narrator. His novels (but obviously not his complete works) have been edited in the prestigious "Pléiade Collection"; his work appears on the French state agrégation examination, which certifies teachers of literature at the highest level. He is generally acknowledged, along with Marcel Proust (perhaps as an anti-Proust, in terms of class and syntax), as the great literary innovator of the century. Céline’s pamphlets, according to the wishes of his widow, have not been reedited since the war; pirate versions have been seized by his estate. There is currently a debate in France about whether or not his pamphlets should be reedited; whether, on the one hand, there is enough "Céline" in them to make them valuable as literary objects, or, on the other hand, whether it isn’t dangerous, in a current French climate of escalating racism and electoral successes by Le Pen’s Front National, to make this writer’s hate speech available to a public who reads him as great literature.

Céline has figured in the American literary context at least since the early 1930s; the story of his American reception runs along not quite parallel tracks to the French story, with some fascinating differences. This essay concentrates on one part of the American picture: Céline’s reception among writers.

The Miller Paradigm

Georges Brassaï, in a memoir entitled Henry Miller: grandeur nature (Henry Miller: lifesize), tells the following, now famous story: Henry Miller was living in Paris in 1932 and struggling with the manuscript of Tropic of Cancer, which had already been rejected by publishers. 1 An agent connected with the French publishing firm of Denoël and Steele gave Miller galley proofs of Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit. This was Frank Dobo, also of the Winkler International Literary Agency, the agent who would help sell and promote the English version of Céline’s first novel with Little, Brown and Company, and who was soon after to become deeply involved in Miller’s literary career. According to Brassaï, reading Céline so affected Miller that he rewrote Tropic of Cancer. 2 Miller told Brassaï that "no writer had ever given him such a shock"; Brassaï went so far as to claim that Miller moved to the working-class suburb of Clichy to be near Céline—a strange claim, since Céline never lived in Clichy, although he consulted at the medical clinic there.

It is no coincidence that Brassaï, who with novelist Pierre MacOrlan was identified with 1930s Montmartre-Montparnasse bohemianism, and who prowled Paris by night with Henry Miller as he prepared his famous photo essay Paris by Night, should be fascinated by Miller’s attraction to the author of Voyage au bout de la nuit. Whether or not the story, as Brassaï told it, is literally true, we know that Miller sent Tropic to Céline, that he championed Céline throughout his career, calling him his "brother" and a "great man," and that he signed an American petition in his defense when Céline was threatened with extradition on charges of collaboration.3 The "shock" that Miller is said to have felt upon reading Céline had a positive and long-lasting effect. Samuel Putnam, a translator of Rabelais who was also closely linked to Miller through their shared Paris expatriate scene (Putnam would employ Miller at his literary magazine, The New Review ) used the word "shock" in a different register in his 1934 review of the American edition of the English translation of Journey to the End of the Night: "It is safe to wager that nine out of ten non-French French teachers in America would be unable to make head or tail out of the original, while the French-born ones would be terribly shocked, linguistically as well as morally."4 The difference between the academic and the artistic response is clearly marked here: Henry Miller’s discovery of Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit, as related by Georges Brassaï, establishes a distinct relationship to Céline on the part of American authors, showing Céline en route to becoming a writer for writers.

The fact that Miller first read Céline in the original French is not to be overestimated in accounting for the impact Céline had on him. Many critics, including Putnam, acknowledged in the 1930s that John Marks’s translations of Céline were inferior to the original in tone, in addition to being expurgated. At Little, Brown, the telegram that editor Herbert Jenkins sent to the Boston branch, listing the phrases that Marks had cut, was hung on the wall as a reminder of the scandal that Journey constituted for the American reading public in 1934.5 It is astonishing that we had to wait until 1983for Ralph Manheim’s translation of Journey. By then, Céline’s American reputation had waned considerably.

American Moments

Under the impetus of the New Directions 1947 reprint of Death on the Installment Plan, Journey to the End of the Night in 1949, and the 1954 publication of Guignol’s Band in English, the circle of American-based writers interested in Céline expanded. For understanding the constellation of references and positions that accompanied the American taste for Céline during the 1950s, there is no more representative figure than Kenneth Rexroth, the New Directions author and critic who, in a series of articles on poetry, the Beat Generation, and literary rebellion, consistently used Céline as a counterpoint to the "polite" American writers, critics, and poets he dubbed the "Reactionary Generation." The paradox is that a writer like Céline, in the American context, shows up as an aesthetic alternative to writers who, like him, in the European context are situated on the reactionary Right. T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound represented for the anarchist Rexroth the very essence of orthodoxy, crowned by a New Critical formalism for which he reserved his wittiest contempt: "there was growing up in Vanderbilt University, one of the few institutions of learning in the American South, a little coterie of political reactionaries, under the leadership of their English professor, John Crowe Ransom. . . . Their idol was T. S. Eliot, Classicist, Anglo-Catholic, Royalist. . . . They approved of Ezra Pound but wished he paid more attention to the rules of verse."6 At the other end of Rexroth’s spectrum was Allen Ginsberg, with his "denunciatory" jeremiad Howl, representing "an almost perfect fulfillment of the long, [Walt] Whitman, Populist, social revolutionary tradition in American poetry."7

Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs set out to visit Céline in Meudon in 1958. (It is generally thought that Burroughs learned of Céline through Miller as early as 1944 and transmitted his knowledge to the younger Beats, Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.) In the volume of poems that Ginsberg began writing in Paris that same year—entitled Kaddish, after the Jewish mourner’s prayer—Céline appears with a host of other writers—Whitman, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Blake, Charles Dickens, William Carlos Williams, Arthur Rimbaud (Céline and Rimbaud are the only French writers mentioned)—in a poem called "Ignu." He is portrayed in his decrepit Meudon persona, administering morphine:

Céline himself an old ignu over prose
I saw him in Paris dirty old gentleman of ratty talk
with longhaired cough three wormy sweaters round his neck
brown mould under historic fingernails
pure genius his giving morphine all night to 1400 passengers on a sinking ship
"because they were all getting emotional"8

The physical description corresponds to the person Ginsberg and Burroughs must have seen at Meudon—decrepit, ill, covered in sweaters in an unheated house. The elements of Céline’s first two novels are suggested as well: the gathering of crowds, the ship, Céline’s medical practice. The gift of morphine in "Ignu" is much closer to a Burroughs fantasy (Burroughs had published Junkie in 1953, and he presented a copy of the book to Céline) than to any dominant aspect of Céline’s prose, and shows how Céline’s aura could be appropriated. In the mid-1960s, Ginsberg would acknowledge the influence of Céline on his poetry in technical, rather than thematic, terms: "the rapidity of transitions and shiftings made possible by the 3-dot syntax . . . that’s what impresses us in US who are interested in the use of aural speech patterns transferred to written language."9

That the Céline celebrated by the Beats was a sentence-level writer was no doubt part of the decision made by New Directions to underwrite a new translation of one of the French writer’s previously translated novels during the 1960s. In 1966, they published Ralph Manheim’s translation of Mort à crédit, Death on the Installment Plan, which rendered Céline in a style that was more syntactically interesting, and more American in terms of vocabulary than the earlier, British-idiom translations by John Marks. Manheim’s work is more attuned to the qualities that Ginsberg valued in Céline’s writing: the odd speech patterns and the three dots, which were often ignored or "corrected" in Marks’s translations. This was the first of the decade’s several major publishing events in the American career of Céline: in 1968, Manheim’s translation of D’un chateau l’autre, Castle to Castle, won a National Book Award for translation, boosting the visibility and prestige of Céline’s post-World War II historical fiction.

In 1965, Céline made a significant appearance in Bruce Jay Friedman’s anthology of short stories, Black Humor. Céline is represented in the volume by the Admiral Bragueton episode from Journey to the End of the Night. He is the only French writer, appearing alongside Thomas Pynchon, Joseph Heller, John Barth, Terry Southern, and J. P. Donleavy. The essay in which Friedman introduces the black humor genre is political and aesthetic in focus; black humor, Friedman argues, is the only possible literary response to the mad reality of the Vietnam war, and Céline was the precursor of this angry, hallucinatory genre: "There is Thomas Pynchon appearing out of nowhere with a vision so contemporary it makes your nose bleed and there is Céline who reminds you that he thought all your thoughts, worked the same beat, was dumbfounded as many times a day as you are, long before you were born."10

It was in the 1960s that Kurt Vonnegut, author of Slaughterhouse-Five; John Clellon Holmes, the chronicler of the Beat Generation who became a teacher of fiction writing; and Philip Roth, the young Jewish author of the infamous Portnoy’s Complaint, all taught Céline in fiction courses at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.11 The appearance of Céline as an antiwar writer in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), the dominant theme of which is a critique of the bombing of Dresden and whose success was overdetermined by protests against the American bombings of Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, presented the French writer to a mass of American readers as an antiwar figure at a time when opposition to the Vietnam War was becoming a mass movement. If the 1950s was the decade when Céline’s reputation was expanding among writers and critics connected to the Beat Generation, the 1960s—with Céline’s canonization as a black humorist, the impact of the new Manheim translations, and the interest in his work shown by such mainstream novelists as Vonnegut and Roth—was the decade when Céline came closest to reaching a mass American audience—when Céline was reinvented as an antiwar novelist.

The Survey

In 1991, I undertook a survey of contemporary American writers. It was an attempt to document an afterlife for Céline—a life after the oppositional cultural movements of the 1960s, after the waning of avant-garde writing. The angry young men have been replaced as the most celebrated figures on the literary scene by women and minorities, and first-person narrative has attained a decidedly more confessional, less hallucinatory quality than it had thirty years ago. I wanted to know: Is Céline remembered? Is he still a writer’s writer? Who is reading him today?

The idea of asking a group of contemporary writers about a literary figure is an almost shockingly simple approach to questions of intertextuality and influence that have received sophisticated theoretical treatment. A survey cannot capture effects that are unconscious, repressed, or even indirect, but it can provide writers with a chance to give testimony—to create a text of their own. It is this "text"—the collective written responses to my questions on Céline—that I analyzed for patterns, repetitions, and surprises.

The empiricism of a survey was bound to antagonize a group of people who define themselves by their creativity. Asking writers to respond to yes-or-no questions is a bit like asking artists to complete a paint-by-numbers landscape. As I compiled the list of writers and later grappled with their answers, more often than not the survey came to seem rather like one of the experiments carried out by French writers of the twentieth-century OuLiPo school, which wants to formulate elaborate rules and mathematical structures as the bases for literary creation. My survey was a constraint, a mold, an opening into literary history that the writers could follow, resist, or ignore, as they pleased.

Among the thousands of writers producing in the United States today, I chose to survey novelists, poets, and translators. I included editors who have shaped some of the most interesting writing of the past twenty years and essayists who, in my opinion, have left the scholarly domain to reach an audience outside the university through large-circulation literary magazines such as The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker. I chose individual writers for a variety of reasons: some had written or had spoken about Céline in interviews; others wrote in a genre or style favored by Céline; some writers were surveyed simplybecause I thought they would respond vehemently. At the same time, I aimed for a representative sample from various schools and tendencies in American writing: New Directions writers, Language poets, mainstream Knopf and Random House writers, writers born after 1950, and writers closely identified by their race, ethnicity, or sexual politics. The oldest writer to whom I sent the survey was born in 1897; the youngest, in 1964. The majority of writers who responded were born between 1927 and 1951, although there was a cluster of responses from writers born between 1909 and 1917, who came of age during the 1930s, when Céline’s American star first rose (fig. 1). My basic source for writers’ addresses was The Writers Directory, 1990-1992, although finding the right address was still not easy, and ten surveys never reached their destination.12

What do I mean by "writer"? The distinctions between writers and critics, between producers and analysts of literature, are not always clear, especially today when for economic and institutional reasons American writers often make a living by teaching criticism and creative writing in university English departments and in writing programs. This is a characteristic of American writers today that distinguishes them both from Céline, who always defined himself against literary and academic communities, and from contemporary French writers who are not institutionally linked to the French university system. Even Ginsberg, who was indicted on obscenity charges in 1957 for Howl, today teaches writing at Brooklyn College; Maxine Hong Kingston, the best-known Asian-American novelist in the United States, is a distinguished professor at Berkeley; and John Barth, known for his metafiction, holds an endowed professorship at Johns Hopkins. Very few of the writers surveyed are [fig. 1] completely independent of the academic world: either they teach, write criticism for academic journals, or depend on income from speaking engagements at universities.

I sent the survey to 163 writers.13 I received 65 responses, including completed surveys, letters, and one postcard, which constituted a response rate of 40 percent—unusually high for this kind of survey (10 percent is considered a very good response rate to any kind of direct mailing). I was struck by the generosity of the respondents, both in answering my questions and in suggesting more complex ones than I had asked.

Of the 65 respondents, 55 had heard of Céline, of whom 43 had read him; 12 people who hadn’t read Céline took the trouble to return the survey. Fourteen respondents asked to be quoted anonymously.

What Texts Have You Read?

I asked writers to check off the works by Céline they had read; these included the French editions of his novels and anti-Semitic/political pamphlets, and the English translations of his novels by John Marks and by Ralph Manheim.

An equal number of writers (17) had read Death on the Installment Plan in the Marks and Manheim translations. The figures, however, tilted toward Marks for Journey (34 people had read his translation, while 13 had read Manheim’s). More writers, that is, had read Journey before 1983, when the Manheim translation was first published.

The Céline work most frequently read by the American writers surveyed was Marks’s translation of Voyage au bout de la nuit, the only translation available from 1934 to 1983. The same number of people who had read the Manheim translation (13) read Voyage in the original French. The fact that Manheim’s translation appeared so long after the publication of Voyage is an important factor here. The ages of the Voyage readers ranged from 52 to 81, indicating that an older generation of American writers was more likely to have read novels in French than those born after 1945. One surprising result was that 9 of the 13 readers who read Voyage in French also read it in English as Journey: either they read the book twice, once in French and once in English, or they used one of the English translations as a guide in reading the French—an indication not only of their dedication as readers, but also of the specific appeal, and difficulty, of Céline’s French.

Discovering Céline

Céline is an antiacademic figure who nonetheless requires an educated taste. His work is transmitted in this country mainly through schools. Eleven writers had read Céline for the first time in college, either in a course or because friends had recommended his work. Five respondents precociously read him in high school or as teenagers, 1 in a graduate seminar, and 1 in a writer’s workshop—only 2 of the writers surveyed had first encountered him as book reviewers.

There were a number of writers who reported reading Céline as their first intense brush with literature (the experience that readers often recall with respect to J. D. Salinger or Rimbaud). The poet and translator Richard Howard, who has read a great deal of Céline, discovered him in high school—in Cleveland, where "a sort of diabolic aureole surrounded this antisemitic figure." 14 Novelist Jim Harrison also first read Céline "in high school, a rural agricultural school where my teacher subscribed to the Nation and Saturday Review so I found out early about Céline." Gary Indiana "first read Céline precociously, at age 13 or 14, because his books were available in paperback at the local news store: I liked the titles." If we date these high-school encounters to 1945, 1953, and 1963 respectively, we have evidence of a Céline influence on young people extending over three decades, from the period of his greatest infamy—the immediate aftermath of the war—to the decade of his most obvious influence, yet before the appearance of the first Manheim translation in 1966.

In addition to these high-school readers, the following writers (fig. 2) reported specific years for their first "awareness" of Céline (they are listed by order of birth year). Norman O. Brown (b. 1913) wrote a particularly interesting response to this question in a letter describing two different discoveries of Céline, fifty years apart.His initial encounter occurred

in my first Marxist incarnation in the late 1930s . . . as a "muck-raker," with ambiguous proletarian affinities. [Then] in the past year [1990] I discovered as more relevant to my post-Marxist tendencies Kristeva’s Pouvoirs de l’horreur [Powers of horror]. . . . the material was so fascinating I went to the French edition and read it bilingually, paying special attention to the quotations from Céline. Thus through Kristeva in bilingual translation I got some access to Céline in the original.

Only 2 writers (not counting Brown) mention French sources—either personal or literary—for their first encounter with Céline: overwhelmingly, then, his reputation seems to have depended on word of mouth within an American network.

Placing Céline

I asked, "Where do you place Céline (list other comparable authors, give a value judgment or a description): (a) in terms of French Literature; (b) in terms of American literature; (c) along with other translated European authors?" The results were eclectic; some writers placed Céline among the timeless classics, others with nineteenth-century novelists, with his contemporaries in the 1930s, or with writers working today. There was no discernible pattern of generational affinity in these comparisons: Jay McInerney (b. 1955), sees Céline as someone who "made the Beat Movement possible," while Ted Morgan (b. 1932), compares him to Eric Bogosian, the 1990s performance artist. Céline is poet Philip Levine’s "favorite French writer of this century," whom he prefers to André Gide, Proust, and André Malraux. Richard Howard calls Céline one of the "three greatest prose writers of the Second World War period," along with André Breton and Maurice Blanchot.

In terms of American placement, Henry Miller was the most frequently cited in comparison with Céline (6 times); Norman Mailer, William Burroughs, and the Beats were each cited 3 times, while John Hawkes, Ray Federman, Vonnegut, Pound, Harold Brodkey, and John Dos Passos were each mentioned twice. Clark Blaise defined Céline as a "proletarian lyric writer," along with Henry Roth, Edward Dahlberg, early James Farrell, Dos Passos, and William Saroyan (Nathaniel West was also mentioned). A number of writers chose to respond to this question in the "not as good as" mode—that is, evaluatively. According to Ron Sukenick, "Céline doesn’t rank with Faulkner or Melville but beats the Hemingway-Fitzgerald bunch by a longshot."

It was surprising that Norman Mailer responded to the survey by specifying that only one of his responses could be quoted—the response to this comparative question. He claimed that Céline is "significantly less valuable than Henry Miller." The remark is consistent with Mailer’s having championed Henry Miller in The Prisoner of Sex, after Miller had been famously attacked by feminist essayist Kate Millett in her Sexual Politics. Céline is an occasion for Mailer to continue championing Miller15


Céline’s English-language titles attracted attention. Gary Indiana, as noted above, saw Céline’s paperbacks at the newsstand when he was thirteen or fourteen years old, and "liked the titles." Tom Wolfe thinks that Death on the Installment Plan is the "greatest book title ever devised—better in English than it is in French."16 Greil Marcus, music critic and historian of punk rock, confessed to never having read Céline—"I haven’t gotten around to it (also haven’t read Woolf, Forster, etc); afraid I might like it too much (not kidding)"—yet he responded to several of the questions on the basis of his received ideas about Céline. Marcus has clearly absorbed Céline, in English, at the level of the titles: in Dead Elvis, published the year of the survey, he entitled a chapter "Ten Years After: Death on the Installment Plan."17 There is already a strong trickle-down effect of Céliniana in the culture, available to a knowledgeable critic like Marcus. Céline’s English titles are recyclable as slogans; the writer himself is known, even by someone who hasn’t read him, as forbidden and dangerous.

Voice and Freedom

Céline’s effect on a writer’s own practice was often connected by the respondents to the category of voice, although what "voice" means varied widely:18 Jay McInerny, for example, spoke of "a freeing up of the inner voice, a license to say whatever you feel," while for Andrei Codrescu, Céline’s writing is characterized by "the closeness of the speaking mouth: you can taste the spittle." Clark Blaise in a follow-up interview referred to Céline as promoting a "singularity of voice": "voice" in this case is akin to originality, or "signature," and for Blaise this is the key element in Céline. Like Samuel Beckett, Blaise contends, Céline is "entirely a ‘voice writer.’"19

Several writers acknowledged the effect of Céline as one of "freedom." Again, what liberation meant varied. For the Rumanian-born Codrescu, Céline represented a freedom from institutions: "He has given me license to practice medicine regardless of what authorities are watching." For Maxine Hong Kingston, he endorsed a freer speech, an end to secrets: "Perhaps I am assured by Céline that it’s all right to say anything I want." In Jim Harrison’s response, this freedom is physical and spiritual, linked to speed and range, power and godliness: "a strong early influence along with Faulkner etc., in terms of digression, freedom, how to accelerate fiction as if you were a god." Even 2 of the anonymous respondents, who were otherwise hostile to Céline, used the word "freedom," though grudgingly: "he freed [my writing] up—slightly"; "perhaps a certain freedom." In a 1984 interview in the Quinzaine Littéraire, Philip Roth combined these notions of voice and freedom in a provocative tribute to Céline, calling him "my Proust": "Céline," Roth concluded, "is a great liberator; I feel called by his voice."20 It is difficult to tell from his phrasing, translated here from the French, to what purpose Roth feels called. Céline’s "call," I suspect, is nothing other than the call to read Céline and to write.

The Pamphlets

Céline’s political affinities, his targets, and the passionate debates over what purpose his hate language served in its original context wither, or are suspended by many passionate American readers, in the interests of his writerly, emancipating effects. This may be both because he is not an American writer—and is therefore exempt from more local political passions—and because the full-blown expression of his racism takes place only in the pamphlets, which (with the exception of Mea Culpa [1936], an anticommunist polemic) are not available in English translation and so tend not to cloud his American reception.

Nevertheless, many more people (13, the number of Voyage readers) claim to have read one or more of the pamphlets (Mea Culpa, Bagatelles pour un massacre [1937], L’École des cadavres [1938], and Les Beaux Draps [1941]) than have read the playful postwar send-up of the world of journalists and editors, Entretiens avec le Professeur Y (1955), which was translated and published as Conversations with Professor Y in the United States in a 1986 bilingual edition.21 Saul Bellow read Les Beaux Draps in Paris in 1948, and responded to the survey with the following pun: "I still remember the hackles those fine sheets raised" ("fine sheets" being the transposition of the reference to bedsheets in "beaux draps," by which Céline is referring to the "fine fix" that the French have gotten themselves into during the Occupation).22

Overwhelmingly, the pamphlet readers have closer connections to France and to the French language than do the writers who have read only the novels. Saul Bellow was born in Montreal and has lived in France. Clark Blaise is of Quebecois origins. Raymond Federman, an American writer born in France in 1928, was the only survey respondent to have read every Céline text, French and English. Richard Howard is the foremost American translator of French literature. The writer and former journalist Sanche de Gramont came to the United States from France as an adult and changed his name to Ted Morgan. The poets Michael Palmer and Keith Waldrop also translate from the French and have close intellectual ties to France. Gary Indiana read the pamphlets while living in France.

Age is significant: of the 13pamphlet readers, 9 were born between 1911 and 1932, and only 3 were born after 1940—the youngest, Gary Indiana, in 1950. While he was living in France in 1980, Indiana read copies of Bagatelles pour un massacre, L’École des cadavres, and Les Beaux Draps borrowed from Jean-Jacques Schuhl, an experimental French novelist with an affinity for the Beats. No respondent under forty-two years of age had read the pamphlets. This is a provocative result, for it implies that the memory of Céline’s anti-Semitic writing is fading among his readers today. One might argue about whether that is good or bad, from both an ethical and an aesthetic point of view.

The responses I want to juxtapose with the surprising number of readers of the pamphlets—20 percent of those who responded to the survey—are to the question "Are you aware of the controversy over Céline’s political views?" and to the follow-up question "What effect has that awareness had on your appreciation of his work?" Forty-two writers responded that they were aware of the controversy, while only 1 writer wasn’t. What interests me here is the way American writers deal with a figure who is morally compromised, how they factor politics and formal considerations in reading Céline.

Politics versus Form

Thirteen people said that Céline’s political views had no effect on their reading; they answered with such startling one-liners as "none," "little or none," "little," "almost none," "not much," and "absolutely no effect." Of these 13 readers, 1 had read all four pamphlets, while another had read only Bagatelles pour un massacre. The "none at all" group included Adrian Piper, a professor of philosophy and performance artist who has taken strong political positions against American racism in her own art, most recently in an installation on the Rodney King incident.

At the other end of the spectrum were the people who refused to read Céline. For example, Paul Bowles declared, "I have avoided him for 5 decades," while Richard Selzer said, "I prefer not to read bigots and fascists. Life is too short. Art is too long." The anonymous respondents had harsher things to say, for example, "don’t you dare associate me with Céline." Or, in response to the question "Are you aware of the controversy over Céline’s political views?" one respondent asked in turn if the evil of Nazism could be construed as controversial, i.e., debatable. Jim Harrison offered up his own split between politics and aesthetics in the form of self-criticism: "Writers tend to be politically naive, self included. Have to stick to the work itself."

Another group of respondents considered politics and form as inseparable issues (this is one of the few groupings where none of the respondents asked for anonymity). Charles Bernstein described the effects of Céline’s politics as "part of the complexity of his work," whereas for Clark Blaise, "it provokes a sharper scrutiny of the good work and helps explain the bad." With regard to the effect of his awareness of the Céline controversy, Michael Palmer commented that "an awareness comes through the work, not apart from it." For Gary Indiana, "Céline’s vision is so deranging and raucous that his political views—which are impossible to take seriously—become a source of humor." Andrei Codrescu expressed it more figuratively: "the writing is generative: the views are to the writing what shit is to flowers, unfortunately." Céline, for Bob Perelman, is "an intensely interesting problem." Maxine Hong Kingston, however, reported a negative effect. She "liked the energy, the language . . . the idea that one must do anything—including go to jail—rather than join the army"; she saw Céline as a "wild hare, like Ezra Pound in American literature" but stopped reading Céline after hearing about his "weird views." Lydia Davis responded to this question with questions of her own:

To raise the very difficult question of morality and literature—i.e., how immoral can a piece of writing be and still be given highest honors and esteem—more broadly, how much, if anything, can or should be sacrificed for the sake of a piece of art. It forces me to judge author as man separately from work as work, despise a moral failing while admiring a consummate work of art.

Again, in the 1984 Quinzaine Littéraire interview, Philip Roth, perhaps the best-known American Jewish writer in France, gives this dichotomy between ideology and literature a poetic form, describing an art that transcends his own subject position. "To read him," Roth says about Céline, "I have to suspend my Jewish conscience, but I do it, because anti-Semitism is not at the heart of his books, even D’un chateau l’autre. "23

Historically Céline has always been positioned differently in the United States than in France. Thus Roth’s bracketing of Céline’s anti-Semitism can be understood as part of an American tradition and as the long-range consequence of an editorial decision made by an American publisher during the 1930s. In 1938, the year Bagatelles was selling briskly in France, Céline proposed the anti-Semitic pamphlet to Little, Brown. His American editor, Herbert Jenkins, rejected it definitively:

As you indicated in your letter, this is a four-hundred page attack on the Jews written with your usual vigor and violence. It does not appear to contain any narrative or personal experiences except in the last forty pages. We feel that you have made statements which are unsupported by evidence and that its publication here will seriously damage your reputation as an outstanding author.24

It was a rejection that would have long-term consequences for Céline’s American reputation. It looks, in retrospect, as if the rejection of Bagatelles in 1938—and the fact that all of the anti-Semitic material of the 1930s and 1940s would remain untranslated and therefore unavailable to American readers—helped create a situation in which Céline could maintain his identity for American readers of the late 1940s and beyond solely as the author of Journey to the End of the Night and Death on the Installment Plan. When Kenneth Rexroth, in a 1959 essay, "forgives" Céline on the very point that he can’t forgive Eliot and Pound, he does so by purposefully limiting the Céline corpus to the novels: "We can, if we confine ourselves to the two great novels, forgive Céline for being an anti-Semite, but when, as the Communists used to say, ‘Art is a weapon,’ then we cannot forgive. We cannot forgive the direct, depraved political tendentiousness of T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, or [Eugène] Guillevic."25 Whether or not, in their French context, the pamphlets functioned as "weapons" is not an issue Rexroth explores.

Conclusion: The Céline Effect

The most important finding to emerge from the survey is that while Céline’s novels may sell under 5,000 copies a year in the United States, he apparently endures as a writer for writers in a specific tradition: Céline as anarchist, liberator, anti-James/anti-Eliot figure in twentieth-century American letters, pitted against a whole tradition of polite, subtle psychological fiction and poetry. This dominant Céline effect was what I wished to explore.

Peter Glassgold, who succeeded James Laughlin as editor-in-chief of New Directions, wrote in response to the survey that Céline "had an interesting impact in the ’60s, helping to dynamite the Jamesian dominance of what a real novel ought to be. But I’m afraid this has degenerated and been watered down by creative writing programs." I asked Clark Blaise to tell me, therefore, as an educator of writers at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and director of its International Writing Program, what he thought "being a Jamesian" meant.

Rigorous attention to unity of point of view, tone, elevation of psychological realism, stifling expression; everything disguised—out of that comes Eliot, the aged eagle spreading his wings at age twenty. In the U. S., the clichés of writing are "politics are ruinous for good writing/dreams and allegories are cheap devices; write what you know; show, don’t tell." Céline, who breaks all the rules, "expands the perimeter of the permissible." The New Yorker, with its tailored tone, would detest Céline. . . . I learned through Céline that an unevenness of tone is not a flaw; spleen can be bracing.26  

Blaise uses Céline in the classroom to dismantle received ideas about American writing. He is highly critical of the idea that you must write from your own experience; he thinks it culturally impoverishes young American writers, making them anti-intellectual. It is paradoxical to use Céline against the write-what-you-know rule, given that Céline himself was an autobiographical writer, but for American students both the experiences described by Céline and his mode of description are radically unfamiliar.Céline’s work provides alternative forms and demonstrates that a writer can rave and lose control, to "tell" as well as to "show."

The Céline effect is also marked for Blaise by a class difference. As a writer of the lower crust, again the opposite of James and Eliot, Céline is an emblematic figure for writers of French-Canadian descent (including Blaise and Kerouac before him), whose French identity is tied to the marginalized working classes rather than a more aristocratic sense of literariness connoted by "Frenchness" in the United States. Paradoxically, the French writer gives Americans license to reject the worship of Europe that is part of our cultural baggage: "I’m not a francophile in terms of French," Blaise explained. "Céline tells you that the French are a low, vermin-encrusted culture; highfalutin phrases come down to shit." According to Blaise, Céline’s portraits of the disenfranchised have situated his writing in a register that is subliterary, "stinking of the world and of everything impolite, authentic, and dangerous"—what Blaise referred to as an "aim of artlessness" in Célinian poetics.27

The picture that finally emerges of the American Céline—in terms of published, acknowledged influences (as opposed to my survey)—is West Coast, not East Coast; Beat and City Lights, not The New Yorker; New Directions, not New Critical. New Directions is certainly an East Coast institution, so the East/West American split is not literally true. But it is evocative: Céline as westerner—roving, the bad boy. He is a scandalous figure who can be celebrated by people who hate the system.28

Bob Perelman, a Language poet who spent many years in the San Francisco area, acknowledges the flavor of this American Céline when he says, as noted above, that he did not come to Céline through the usual "leftist-nihilist-anarchist enthusiasm." That this enthusiasm should be occasioned by a foreign writer whose deeply felt ideas are unacceptable in this culture is perhaps no accident, and it remains a subject for further analysis. How would American writers describe the effect of Pound’s or Eliot’s anti-Semitism on the appreciation of these poets? How would French writers come to terms with Céline’s ideology in response to a similar survey?

There is something specific in our culture that gives American writers the freedom to love Céline, or—to put it another way—that might account for the fact that the United States was the only country where writers organized a petition in favor of Céline in 1946, when he was threatened with extradition from Denmark to France.29 Certainly the American First Amendment tradition is consistent with a libertarian defense of Céline, regardless of his views. The First Amendment is tacitly present in several of the responses to the question about the effect Céline’s politics on an appreciation of his writing ("none at all," "absolutely none"). 

Along with our First Amendment culture, there is a specific New Critical tradition of close reading, which separates politics from aesthetic appreciation. The Beats were not New Critics—anything but—yet the impulse toward art that aims to be formally transcendent, canonical because disinterested, runs deep. James Laughlin explained this position in his introduction to the 1946 New Directions annual. Although he is defending Paul Eluard and Pound, his explanation could just as easily apply to his defense of Céline, that same year, when he signed the petition in his favor:

I have been severely criticized for publishing Eluard because he is said to be a Stalinist. He is a killer, they tell me; he killed Germans with his poems. Very well: I have two answers to that. Much as I am opposed to the whole business of war and legal killing I would probably have done, or tried to do, exactly what Eluard did under similar circumstances. And secondly, I don’t care whether he is a Stalinist or what he is; the man can write. He is a poet and no mistake. That’s enough for me. I am one who still thinks Ezra Pound’s poetry is good—very good—not withstanding his political folly. These people who changed their minds about the merits of Pound’s poetry the day he was indicted for treason make me sick and angry. A poem is a thing in itself. You judge it by itself, for itself and of itself—not by the politics of the man who wrote it.30 The gist of this defense is pacifist and libertarian, but appeals most of all to the integrity of the art object and the talent of the artist: "the man can write." In 1942, Henry Miller articulated the same position, in his case specifically in reference to Céline: "I don’t care whether he is a Fascist or a Democrat or a shit-house cleaner. He can write. "31 This can-do/separatist defense of the politically compromised writer informs the 1946 petition and remains a familiar stance in all subsequent American discussions of Céline.

The other side of the coin is the refusal to read Céline. This rejectionist position is the same one often taken with respect to Martin Heidegger or Paul de Man. Political flaws or ideologically unacceptable positions in the text or in the author’s life become a kind of obscenity, and the work is censured. This, too, is distinctly American.

A third position that comes out of the survey is an integrationist one. This position would read Céline in many layers, many contexts, and recontextualizations, measuring the energy of the work in its passage through time and space. Often the most nuanced and conflicted positions boil down to this attempt to make the work make sense on both an ideological and poetic level, without reducing it to either one. Michael Palmer, who objected to the either/or quality of my questions about Céline’s politics versus his writing, explained in a follow-up postcard: "It really comes down to the reasons, at a fairly early stage, for my ‘refusal’ of the work. Certainly the fascism, but something else as well, perhaps a reductive bitterness which permeated it and (for me) ‘automatized’ the process of composition."32 For poet Charles Bernstein, who, unlike Palmer, is "very excited by the style, the urgency, the ‘. . .’ as poetic fragmentation, stream of tirade," Céline’s politics "deepens an appreciation of the dystopian and repulsive character of this work."

As a counter to the well-made novel or poem, as a figure of resistance and liberation from literary authority as historically constituted by the New Criticism, even as the occasion for moral conflict, Céline still signifies a vital critical function within the American institutions of literature.

[Please see post immediately below for text of footnotes.]

Alice Kaplan is Professor of Romance Studies and Literature at Duke University. Her previous work on Céline includes Sources et citations dans "Bagatelles pour un massacre" (1987) and a special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly, coedited with Philippe Roussin, "Céline, USA" (1994).

notes for alice kaplan’s “the céline effect”

Alice Kaplan, "The Céline Effect: A 1992 Survey of Contempoary American Writers.From Modernism/modernity. Volume 3, Number 1, January 1996, pp. 117-136.


1 Tropic of Cancer was finally published in September 1934 in Paris by the Obelisk Press, a publisher of pornography. Miller launched his own publicity campaign for the book.

2 Georges Brassaï, Henry Miller: grandeur nature (Paris: Gallimard, 1975), quoted in editor’s notes of Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Voyage au bout de la nuit, ed. Henri Godard (1932; Paris: Gallimard, 1981), 1279.

3 See Robert Ferguson, Henry Miller: A Life (New York: Norton, 1991), 307-308; and François Gibault, Céline, vols. 2 and 3 (Paris: Mercure de France, 1981, 1985).

4 Samuel Putnam, "Prelude to the Revolution," review of Journey to the End of the Night, by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Saturday Review of Literature, 28 April 1934, 657-62.

5 See One Hundred and Fifty Years of Publishing: 1837-1987 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1987), 91.

6 Kenneth Rexroth, "The Influence of French Poetry on America" (1959), in The World Outside the Window: The Selected Essays of Kenneth Rexroth (New York: New Directions, 1987), 163.

Rexroth’s hostility toward Eliot’s orthodoxy, as well as toward Pound, the American New Critics, and what he called the "Reactionary Generation" pervades his essays; see The World Outside the Window. For Rexroth’s view of Céline, see especially "The Commercialization of the Image of Revolt," reprinted in The Beats: Literary Bohemians in Postwar America, ed. Ann Charters, vol. 16 of Dictionary of Literary Biography (Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1983), 643-50, where Céline is described, in retrospect, as "the man whose writing first moved me to . . . reconsider my own position and the general tradition to which I suppose I belong" (647).

7 Kenneth Rexroth, American Poetry in the Twentieth Century (New York: Seabury, 1971), 170-71.

8 Allen Ginsberg, "Ignu," in Kaddish and Other Poems, 1958-1960 (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1961), 59.

9 Allen Ginsberg, quoted in Erika Ostrovsky, Céline and His Vision (New York: New York University Press, 1967), 21, from a letter by Ginsberg to Ostrovsky, 24 September 1965.

10 Bruce Jay Friedman, forward to Black Humor, ed. Friedman (New York: Bantam, 1965), viii.

11 Clark Blaise, interview with author, San Francisco, 27 December 1991. The University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop was founded in Iowa City by poet Paul Engle in 1936, a time when the study of English in graduate schools was strictly scholarly, rather than creative, and when a Depression-era cultural agrarianism was spawning arts activities in small towns and rural areas. The writers’ workshop model established at Iowa proliferated to the point where by 1986 there were 150 graduate writing programs in the United States. Most major university English departments now offer creative writing at the undergraduate level. The influence of the Iowa Workshop on the writing and marketing of American fiction and poetry cannot be overestimated, given the prominence of the writers who have taught there and the highly developed network between workshop graduates and such periodicals as The Atlantic, The Paris Review, and Antaeus, which have launched the careers of many workshop writers. See Maureen Howard, "Can Writing be Taught in Iowa?" New York Times Sunday Magazine, 25 May 1986, 2.

12 The Writers Directory, 1990-1992, 9th ed. (Chicago: St. James Press, 1990).

13 The survey on Louis-Ferdinand Céline was developed in June 1991 in consultation with Henri Godard, Jean-Paul Louis, and Philippe Roussin as preparation for the conference "Céline: His American Presence," held at Duke University in November 1992. Jean-Paul Louis was also a valuable consultant. Andrea Loselle and Philip Watts helped compile the original list of writers. In the spring of 1992, Amy Allen statistically analyzed the surveys that had been returned; Rod Herrer designed the graphic display in fig. 1; Alden Bumstead assisted with follow-up research and annotation. I am grateful to the Duke University Research Council for funding this project.

14 Survey on Louis-Ferdinand Céline (1894-1961). All quotations not otherwise identified are drawn from the survey.

15 The Céline/Miller/Mailer triad figures in Vivian Gornick’s 1976 essay, "Why Do These Men Hate Women?" Céline’s "radiant poison," Gornick argues, was preferable to Miller and Mailer’s more mundane misogyny. See Vivian Gornick, Essays in Feminism (New York: Harper and Row, 1978), 189-90.

16 Wolfe also discussed the influence of Céline’s idiosyncratic language and "the dots": "I had my moments of dot-craziness in the 1970s, although I was already something of a cutup, I suppose, with punctuation, including multiple colons. I guess I overdid it at times, but on the whole I’ve considered Céline a very salutary influence."

17 Greil Marcus, Dead Elvis: A Chronicle of Cultural Obsession (New York: Doubleday, 1991).

18 See, in the French context, Henri Godard, Poétique de Céline (Paris: Gallimard, 1985). For a taxonomy of voice in American literature, see Marc Chenetier, "La Bouche et l’oreille," in Au delà du soupçon: la nouvelle fiction américaine de 1960 à nos jours (Paris: le Seuil, 1989), 321-64.

19 Clark Blaise, interview with author, San Francisco, 27 December 1991.

20 The original reads: "À vrai dire, en France, mon ‘Proust,’ c’est Céline! Voilà un très grand écrivain. Même si son antisémitisme en fait un être abject, intolérable. Pour le lire, je dois suspendre ma conscience juive, mais je le fais, car l’antisémitisme n’est pas au coeur de ses livres, même D’un château l’autre. Céline est un grand libérateur. Je me sens appelé par sa voix" (Philip Roth, interview with Jean-Pierre Salagas, La Quinzaine Littéraire, 16 June 1984, quoted in Henri Godard, Henri Godard Présente Voyage au bout de la nuit de Louis-Ferdinand Céline [Paris: Gallimard, 1991], 190).

21 Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Conversations with Professor Y, trans. Stanford Luce (Hanover, N. H.: University Press of New England, 1986). With the exception of Mea Culpa (for which there exists a 1937 translation by Little, Brown), the pamphlets are untranslated, out of print, and unavailable except in libraries.

One indication of the availability of Céline’s pamphlets in the United States is the number of copies listed by the on-line library system (OCLC), which lists the holdings of over 6,000 American libraries: Mea Culpa in English: 10 holdings for the first edition; 48 holdings for subsequent editions, and 85 holdings for a 1979 edition; Mea Culpa in French: 1 microfilm; 20 books; Bagatelles pour un massacre: 8 microfilm or photocopy holdings; 54 books; L’École des cadavres: 4 microfilm or photocopy holdings, 24 books; Les Beaux Draps: 1 microfilm, 23 books. These listings may overlap somewhat because of the different catalogers (Yale, Library of Congress, etc.) represented on the OCLC.

22 Saul Bellow, letter to the author, 9 August 1991.

23 Philip Roth, quoted in Godard, Henri Godard Présente, 190.

24 Herbert Jenkins to Louis-Ferdinand Céline, 24 January 1938, in Alice Kaplan, "Selling Céline: The Céline-Little, Brown Correspondence (1934-1938)," South Atlantic Quarterly 93 (spring 1994): 373-420. This volume of SAQ is a special issue, "Céline, USA," edited by Alice Kaplan and Phillipe Roussin.

25 Kenneth Rexroth, "The Hasidism of Martin Buber" (1959), in Rexroth, The World Outside the Window, 98.

26 Clark Blaise, interview with author, San Francisco, 27 December 1991.

27 Ibid.

28 The discovery of Céline makes perfect sense for a literary figure like Jack Kerouac, the French-Canadian boy from the mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts, whose trajectory ultimately took him not to Europe, but to the American West. Kerouac acknowledged his admiration for Céline in Jack Kerouac, "Interférences," in Cahiers de L’Herne, trans. Susan Beresford, ed. Dominique de Roux (Paris: Editions de L’Herne, 1963), 205-206.

29 See the text of the petition and the analysis of it by Philip Watts, "Céline’s Defense: Introduction," in "Céline, USA," South Atlantic Quarterly 93 (spring 1994): 523-29.

30 James Laughlin, New Directions in Prose and Poetry (New York: New Directions, 1946), xxii.

31 Henry Miller to Emil White, Hollywood, Saturday, 1942, quoted in Robert Ferguson, Henry Miller: A Life (New York: Norton, 1991), 308.

32 Michael Palmer, letter to author, 10 December 1991.