what would céline do?: inaugural post

 

  

more gallic wisdom from the frenchman’s roy rogers   


Me: All work and no play. Such are the wages of management… that, and not being able to tell co-workers what I think of their cognitive powers and their practiced disdain for matters hygienic. Oh well, best to forget it and move ahead… but maybe I should ask myself “What would Céline do?”…

   

Louis-Ferdinand: The biggest defeat in every department of life is to forget, especially the things that have done you in, and to die without realizing how far people can go in the way of crumminess. When the grave lies open before us, let’s not try to be witty, but on the other hand, let’s not forget, but make it our business to record the worst of the human viciousness we’ve seen without changing one word. When that’s done, we can curl up our toes and sink into the pit. That’s work enough for a life time.

 

—from Death on the Instalment Plan
 
 
 

 

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more summer reading — with bonus representative quotations!

 

recent reading: 

 

forrest gander, as a friend

 

Lyrical, intense, this novel reads like it was written by a southern James Salter, and is apparently based on me:

 

I never heard him read anything he’d written, but he would sometimes quote a poem, his own or someone else’s, in conversation. It sounds unlikely, self-conscious or pretentious or bogus, but across the booth from us at the High Hat, he could join the lines of a poem to the flow of talk seamlessly. His face was so weighted down by its brooding handsomeness that he seemed older and more convincing than the rest of us. His gravitas sucked us in. He could lock his eyes on you and draw you toward an alien realm where you were given to suspend your habits of thought. It was as if he’d come from a place where excitement wasn’t taken to be a reverse indicator of intelligence and where it was normal to mention Cocteau and blue channel catfish in the same sentence. None of us had his range, none of his had read so much. The opal blackness of his eyes was magnetic. 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

gilbert sorrentino, aberration of starlight

 

This novel has four sections, one for each of the four main characters. Each section progress through description, letter, dialogue, questions-and-answers, fantasy, pornography, simple narrative, etc. As with everything Sorrentino wrote, structure is all.

 

It’s probably no use quoting just a portion of Sorrentino’s language – in isolation most excerpts you could pull from the text simply show off his use of the colloquial language of his childhood:

 

But all the time Tom was cool as a cucumber, his voice nice and calm, a smile on his face, just a gentlemanly difference of opinions. Marie would look up at him once in a while, blushing to beat the band when he caught her eye, my God, she looked like a peach! Frau Schmidt was as busy as a goddamn bee, Christ only knew what kind of baloney she was giving that long drink of water, Mrs. Copan, the poor bag of bones was drinking it all in.

 

Or:

 

Was Tom indeed a maker of cuckolds? If rumor is to be given credence, the answer is “yes.” Three men putatively so served were: Lewis D. Fielding, a junkman of Ossining, N.Y., through his wife, Barbara; Alfred Bennett Martinez, a plumber of Ozone Park, N.Y., through his wife, Danielle; William V. Bell, a shop teacher of Paterson, N.J., through his wife, Joanne.

 

But – and this is a big but – the effect of pages and pages of this kind of thing is the production laugh-out-loud black humour: you start to see the jazz-like patterns of repetition and improvisation, and a some point the flatness of the language begins to shift from cliché to grimly ironic understatement.

 

 

    Bookseller Photo 

 

alain-fornier, the wanderer

John Fowles’ favourite book.  Possibly the all-time great portrayal of youthful love outside the pages of Turgenev and Al Goldstein’s seminal (ouch!) Screw magazine.

            (the great edward gorey cover!)

 

dennis cooper, ugly man

 

Damn! I left my copy at the Y.M.C.A. 


 

louis-ferdinand céline, normance

Double damn! I left my copy at the Jewish Y.!  

 
Normance por Louis-Ferdinand Céline
BONUS: cover art from goldstein’s screw magazine . . . 
which céline no doubt would take as proof positive of the prescience of political views:

 


 

céline’s prose style explained, plus more from normance . . .

. . . Normance is a full-throttle grotesquery. The prose rears up at the reader like an exploding grenade, pumping shards of hate and disgust into the air, the pages littered with the fallout of sentences and word shrapnel. The novel lacerates linear narrative, leaving grammatical scars and the broken bones of syntax. What plot there is is lost in invective and fire-and-brimstone prose. Louis/Ferdinand – the novel’s narrator – trapped in a Paris apartment block, under siege during an air-raid by Allied forces during April 21-22 1944, dodges bombs, falling masonry, spastic dancing furniture, occasionally giving a slap to his girlfriend Arlette/Lili, while all the time aiming his own verbal volleys at Jules the hunchback, pervert sculptor he believes is directing the aerial assault and who has fingered Louis/Ferdinand as “a Kraut, a spy! A traitor!” Huddled under a table or squeezed into the concierge’s office, the inhabitants of the apartment block do anything to survive. The characterization of the narrator, the thug Ottavio, and the monstrous and eponymous Normance force the reader to question how far humanity will go – and how low individuals will stoop – to stay alive. The apartment block is an apocalyptic version of Georges Perec’s building in Life: A User’s Manual, but whereas Perec’s building had its rooms exposed to view, as if the façade had been carefully taken down by the author, Céline’s apartment block has had its floors and ceilings ripped out by Allied ordnance; indeed, Normance could be subtitled Death: A User’s Manual. Normance resists categorization, resists the history of the novel. 

  

. . . Exclamation marks mirror the bombs’ detonations, used together with Céline’s trademark use of ellipses … which pepper the paragraphs and act like punctuative landmines, these explosive points !!!!! – even before he became politically ostracized – placed Céline beyond the confines of French literature, beyond even his near-contemporary and un-familiar Jean Genet. This anti-academic approach made  Céline a hero to a new generation of American writers such as Jack Kerouac (the prose velocity), William Burroughs (use of the ellipsis and view of humanity), and Tom Wolfe who – in Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test – took Céline’s experimentation in punctuation to the limits of English grammar: 

  

Sandy hasn’t slept in days::::::how many::::::like total insomnia and everything is bending in curvy curdling lines. 

  

—just then—

 

FEEOOFEEOOFEEOOFEEOOFEEOOFEEOOFEEOO
¡WHOP!

 

—Cassady—twenty feet away across the beach road has suddenly wheeled and fired the four-pound sledge hammer end-over-end like a bolo and smashed the brick on top of the fence into obliteration, fifteen feet from the Mexican. 

Compare to Céline’s:

I can hear him!… ‘grrumph!…hraah!’ there’s a rattle in his throat…he’s got a bit of a cold…see, I’m being precise… you don’t care about the little details? well, tough luck!… I’m not going for artistic effect, that “almost-like-life” stuff! I was there, and while there I saw the following sights! that’s my motto!

Other writers, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Samuel Beckett, Philip Roth, and Ken Kesey, have also claimed Céline as an influence. But try to place Céline in a school of writing and your task becomes near impossible. The closest I can get is some awful hybrid writer/monster: Henry Miller + William Burroughs + Pierre Guyotat but that would be without Miller’s ego and Burroughs’ archness. If Zola is an obvious forerunner, then Pierre Guyotat – albeit from a reverse political pole – is the heir to Céline’s incendiary prose and explosive style. We can even see Céline’s influence on contemporary writers: Dan Fante’s A Gin-Pissing-Raw-Meat-Dual-Carburetor-V8-Son-Of-A-Bitch from Los Angeles is straight Céline “stinking ammoniac piss-sodden tippling snitching thieving spying abominable agitator” filtered through Bukowski. Céline defies and denies the canon, is resistant to history and political correctness.

. . . Is Céline a racist? An anti-Semite? A Nazi sympathizer and apologist? A collaborator? A misanthrope? Is he a novelist? A pamphleteer? And do these questions really matter when his prose is still shocking and fresh and a whole new generation of readers will have access to the phantasmagoric Normance? What Céline offers the reader is a fresh yet ugly take on human weakness, violence, and suffering – far from accusing the good doctor of  treason, we should applaud him for his honesty. Céline doesn’t blink when faced with human excess and pride – his prose may be rebarbative but it is necessary. Like William Burroughs, Céline preferred felines to human beings (the narratorof Normance worries more about the whereabouts and fate of his pet cat Bébert than he does the suffering of his neighbours). Ultimately, both Burroughs and Céline were moralists, their experimental styles and inflammatory prose became their means to deal with the 20th century’s absurd terrors. Despite the dodgy politics, Céline is an unflinching chronicler of humanity’s ethical depravity and moral relativism.

…they talk about love, in verse, prose, or songs, they can’t help themselves! the nerve! and always procreating! unloading fresh Hell-spawn on the world! and then speechifying! and their endless promises! … constantly swollen with pride! drooling and strutting around! only when they’re prostrate, dying, or sick do they lose a little of their human vileness and become poor beasts again, and then you can stand do go near them… 

 

—from Steve Finbow, “Roaring Up from the Depths”

 

http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/roaring-up-from-the-depths/

Cover Image

 

Ferdinand versus Jules “the jerk-off artist”:

— Hey, Jules! Hey, Jules!

He could at least answer!

— You try calling him!

He gestures to us to leave him alone… he’s sulking… brooding…

— Leave me the fuck alone!

I can hear him clearly… between two tremendous bombs… a moment of calm… he wants a drink! Ah, a drink?… he’s outta luck!

The whole garden is flaming, all the shrubs…

It’s amazing that he doesn’t catch on fire, and his gondola and platform with him! considering the waves of sparks!

— Hey bozo, in the cart! jump! weirdo!

He called me a Kraut, a spy! a traitor! I can talk trash as well! all the names in the book!

— Faggot! hey, faggot!

— Please, Ferdinand! Take it easy!…

Always trying to calm me down! me, so tolerant and fair!… me, who he’d offended horribly! and publicly! and intentionally!…

— I hope your Jules roasts, the pig! the sub-pig! you were in on it together? tell me you were! admit it!

— No, Louis, calm down! Of course not!

— I hope that bozo of yours roasts! your fondler! I’d like to see him glazed in the flames all right! he’s poised for it! right into the pot!

Vrrouum! vrroum!

You’re probably finding me monotonous… I’m imitating the ruckus… what can I do? that’s how it is, period!… twenty squads fly over us, seething…

Ah! the windmill is leaning! and us! our whole building!… a powerful puff of air!… up above, Jules pitches against the rail, I think he’s going to crash through… no! he slams into it and ricochets off to the other side… he was thirsty, the gondolier now it must be a bit worse! he must have no tongue left!… it’s a dry wind from Levallois! even in our room, we’re baking in this heat!… especially our eyes! our eyes! our eyelids won’t close!… I’m not making it up!… the people who were there will tell you: an eruption! fifty… a hundred bomb craters spurting into the sky!… and not just in the sky, all around! and the windmill still isn’t burning! you want proof: Jules in all his glory on his skates! look how he maneuvers! and pivots! swerves! but he doesn’t break the barrier!… no! no!…

— Nut-job! Lunatic!

I howl at him!

He’s really taking a ride! his little platform is swaying, pitching, rolling and he’s still riding it in his gondola! from one railing to the other!… and in a hell of a wind! it’s blowing in from the Renault factory! from the west, a real oven! tornado after tornado! I’m not making any of this up! all the outskirts are an eruption… not just one little neighborhood!… the factories are torching!… the clown in his crate catches it all… right in the face! he’s a lot more exposed to the wind than we are… the whole windmill is leaning into the wind!… the whole frame… and the big strut and the ladder!… him up there, he rolls with the swells, pitching, then he shoots off again! if the platform really tips, that joker’s going to take a dive! in the lilacs! in the fire-and-phosphorous lilacs! jeez , he catches the railing! pivots! and off again! ah, he’s the acrobat of the elements! if he were overcome with rage, he’d fling himself off!… all the same I’m insulting him good and plenty! he tacks straight up against the swell… seems to me… I think… really!… they played a trick on him bringing him up there… or did he ask his pals to bring him? isn’t that the question?… there are strange forces at work, frequency waves, and more!… nothing would surprise me seeing how Jules behaves! the way he hangs onto his traffic light… acrobat artiste!

— Jump, you vampire!

There’s a little lull… the windmill straightens up… but the wind starts up again from the other side, towards Dufayel… a terrible aftershock!… this quake, I think this is it!

Sail, ship’s pup

The wind is up

I sing to him… he doesn’t give a fuck!… he throws himself against the other rail! his torso, face and nose are lit up… he’s all you see above Paris… naturally, being so high in the air! take a look at all the sparks hitting him! gust after gust!… even for us in our room, what swarms pouring in the window! crackling over us! we should have caught on fire too! we’re as lucky as Jules!

— I’m thirsty, Lili!… aren’t you thirsty?

She doesn’t answer… I shake her… I pick her up in my arms…

Aren’t you thirsty, Lili?

All she’s watching is Jules!… her eyes are glued to him! Jules up there, doing acrobatics with the bombs! I yell at him!

— Go on, chickie! dive!

It’s true, he’s stalling, the jerkoff artist!… I’m spurring him on!… he takes off at a zigzag, starts over! what a scene!… he’s never gonna break the rail!… and it’s flimsy too…

 

read more from Normance:

at long last: céline’s last novel, normance, now translated into english!

 

The last of Céline’s novels to be translated into English, this account of an air attack on Paris during World War II shows a hallucinatory, altered space in which human aggressions, appetites, and suspicion come boiling to the surface in preposterous dimensions. A frantic narrator, in search of complicity, relates the story of an apocalyptic ballet that leaves reason and order in shreds, as bombing turns Montmartre into an underworld teeming with dirty deeds, while our guide resists the inhumanity with animal desperation and robust hilarity. Céline animates the events with the exuberance and speed of his narrative style, fully developed and uninhibited, and fully his own. 

—from http://www.dalkeyarchive.com/catalog/show/576 


“By 1943, Céline’s only

disappointment

was that the war had not been

destructive enough.”
 

Andrew Hussey, “Death Sentences” 

In the early hours of 21 April 1944, the combined might of the British and US air forces launched a series of raids on the northern edges of Paris. It was the first time the city had been bombed since the First World War. The assault went on for two days and the results were horrifying a convent destroyed, entire apartment blocks wrecked, more than 600 people killed, and the quarter of Montmartre drenched in sewage and blood. From the Allied point of view the raid was high-risk and possibly counterproductive: the Normandy landings were only months away and the bombing might have made an already volatile population even more pro-German. In fact, the raids infuriated ordinary Parisians, and gave Marshal Pétain reason to rail against the brutality of the Allied forces.

 

It is those deadly nights that are the background for Normance, here published in English for the first time and not really a novel, but rather a highly poeticised account of life at street level under the onslaught. There is no real story as such, but rather a nightmarish description of a group of neighbours in Paris  loosely based on Céline and his entourage  who find themselves bombed out on to the streets of the city and into a mini-apocalypse. They drink, argue, search for a lost cat, and look for shelter in the Métro and the local bar. The prevailing tone of delirium and ever-present danger makes this no easy read: Céline’s prose is elliptical and staccato, driven by the nerve-shredding tension of surviving a city under siege. Most crucially, the text is written with all the demonic and feverish logic of a hallucination. The effect is mesmerising; in a translation that is fluid, elegant and faithful to the original in both tone and meaning, Céline more than justifies his reputation as one of the best writers of French prose of the 2oth century, on a par with Proust and Camus.

 

This book is also both compelling and disturbing because it was written by and from the point of view of a virulently pro-Nazi anti-Semite. Céline became famous in the 1930s as the author of the bestselling Journey to the End of the Night, an account of Parisian lowlife that was praised by Gide, Trotsky and Orwell. By the end of the decade, Céline was notorious as the author of a series of “pamphlets” that called for the extinction of the Jewish race and argued for Hitler as the saviour of Europe. He welcomed the arrival of the German forces as “a necessary tonic”, writing: “If you really want to get rid of Jews then you need racism: and it must be total and inexorable. Like complete Pasteur sterilisation.”

 

By 1943, Céline’s only disappointment was that the war had not been destructive enough. Unsurprisingly, by the time he came to write Normance, he was one of the chief targets of the Resistance, which posted small black coffins to warn him that he was under sentence of death. When the war was over, Céline barely escaped a firing squad, retreating to his lair just outside Paris after a spell in prison, snarling and unrepentant, muttering still about Jewish conspiracies and the end of the world, his hatred clearly more pathological than political.

 

But this is precisely why it is essential to read hiswork. Normance uncovers the real emotional climate of Paris during the Occupation in all its ambiguous, terrible complexity. This is shocking only because the English-speaking countries have never taken seriously the deep reservoirs of poison that ate away at French political life in the 1930s. But the signs had already been there in the art of the period  in a generation that hated the French Republican tradition enough to betray it. By this logic, Céline is not only a great writer, but a prophet, one of the truest and most authentic literary voices of the French 20th century.

 

—from New Statesman, June 4, 2009

http://www.newstatesman.com/2009/06/celine-normance-french-paris

 

the opening of Céline’s Normance:  

Telling it all after the fact . . . easier said than done! . . . much easier! . . . After all, you can still hear the echo . . . baboom! your head’s spinning . . . even seven years later . . . your mug . . . time’s nothing, memory’s what matters . . . that and all the world’s infernos . . . all the people we’ve lost . . . the sorrows . . . your pals scattered . . .the nice ones . . . the not-so-nice ones . . . the forgetful ones . . . the blades of the windmill . . . and the echo that’s still beating you down . . . it’ll still be there when they dump me in my grave! . . . Talk about a wind! . . . I’ve had it up to here! . . . the old belly, too! . . . kaboom! . . . I feel it . . . it sinks in . . . my bones quivering, right there in my bed . . . I won’t lose you, though! . . . I’ll catch up with you somewhere or other, down the line . . . that’s all you need! character! . . . rags in the wind! . . . that’s for sure . . . baboom! . . . I’m telling you, they brought me back up! . . . I was telling you they carried me back like Marlborough . . . you know? when they put him in the ground? . . . me, I was in the air . . . with four . . . five knights and ladies-in-waiting . . . Lili told me . . . all seven flights! . . . I’d fallen down the elevator shaft, ’cause the door was open . . . no! . . . further than that . . . I fell even further! . . . into the cellar! . . . Baroom! . . . calling out for Lili! . . . calling out for Bébert . . . calling out for everyone! . . . they’d gathered me up outside . . . the four knights and ladies, to take me back up to my place . . . it’s nothing new, all this baroom, baroom stuff! . . . been going on since ’14, to tell the truth . . . November ’14 . . . baroom! . . . I was thrown into the air by a shell, thrown! . . . lifted right up! . . . I mean a big one! a “107”! . . . on my mare, “Demolition”! in the rear-guard! . . . Saber shining! . . . talk about a wind! I was flying away! . . . just get a load of him! . . . it’s the memories that really unnerve me! . . . you’ll see . . . I’ll gather them all up! . . . I’ll fly away! . . . I won’t keep anything from you! . . . tattered rags of ’14 . . . of ’18 . . . ’35 . . . ’44 . . . I count . . . I recount! . . . I recapture it all! . . . like on the day when we used to count the linens to make sure nothing had gone missing! . . . like the notes on Jules’s bugle! . . . off you go! . . . tatters blowing this way! . . . tatters blowing that way! . . . underpants! . . . C sharp! . . . handkerchiefs! . . . I’ll unjumble it all for you! . . . you won’t believe my quick little hands . . . such deftness! . . . I’ll put it all back! . . . in perfect shape! . . . you’ll be delighted! . . . I’ll really do it right! . . . a piece here . . . a piece there! . . . Baroom! . . . a huge quake rocks the whole Goutte d’Or area! . . . Grandes-Carrières too! What am I saying? Out to Dufayel! . . . and even farther! higher up! my head’s spinning! Oh, and Sacré-Cœur! La Savoyarde, the great bell, the space gong! . . . you heard of it? the Butte

’s big alarm bell! . . . the house quaking! . . . so you can imagine, me, with my spinning head! . . . and they brought me back up! with good intentions! they told me! . . . home again! the building’s seven stories high! I should have told them: you’re hurting me! there were six of them . . . Ottavio, Charmoise . . . Mr. Vluve and Madame Gendron and Arlette . . . I’d fallen down the shaft . . . right onto the elevator car! . . . it’s a good thing the goddamn car was stopped on the sixth floor! . . . any lower and the fall would’ve killed me! . . . I’d only taken a twenty-foot dive! . . . could’ve broken every bone . . . cracked my skull open again!
. . . they asked me: You okay? “you okay” . . . very clever!
— No, I’m not! How’s Bébert?
That’s how I am, body and soul . . . my concern . . . my first thought: my cat.
— Forget about Bébert . . . what about you?
They were worried, especially Ottavio and Charmoise, they knew what bad shape I was in, first of all overworked as hell! and then, excuse me! whack! black and blue! cracks! bruises! . . . they could see! . . .

— No fractures, darling? anything fractured?

I’m a doctor, right? I am, yes! I couldn’t even open my eyes! . . . I’d fallen right on my eyebrows! . . . split the sockets right open! nothing else broken, though! No, just bleeding all over my face . . . especially at the temples . . . I was dripping everywhere . . . real beat up, you might say! . . . a little lower and I could’ve killed myself . . . say the car was on the first floor? . . . I’m telling you! . . . my luck! . . . but I’d had a hell of a blow to the head! . . . dizziness! pulsating! . . . I was throwing up because of it, in my bed! . . . fucking everything up! and I knew it! . . . too bad! courage first! . . . I sneak a peak out of one eye, I have a look around . . . the dresser’s not against the wall anymore . . . the little fucker’s waltzed off! . . . right out the door . . . gone dancing out onto the landing! . . . the building shaking like crazy! what an uproar! all the landings rattling!

— So, Lili? Lili? what happened? the dresser took off?

They’re all answering me at once . . . I can’t understand a thing . . . I’m still buzzing too much . . . there I am, flat on my bed . . . It’s not just the dresser . . . there’s other furniture doing a polka to the door . . . bumping into each other and stomping on each other’s feet! . . . it’s the bombing . . . she’s a frisky little one, our dresser! . . . here she is, coming back towards us down the hallway! . . .

So I was telling you, Ottavio, Charmoise, and Mr. & Mrs. Gendron carried me back to my bed…They found me on the sewer grate in front of Jules’s place . . . Arlette is making me some chamomile tea . . . Arlette, that’s Lili . . . she’s the most loving of loving souls, really! Arlette Lili . . . she has to try and keep her balance with that cup full of tea! . . . the hallway’s rolling . . . surging . . . from one end to the other . . . She better keep away from the dresser . . . but look, Lili’s agility incarnate!

— Some chamomile, Ferdinand? Some chamomile?

They all insist I drink something hot . . .

— What, Ferdinand? What?

I can’t tell if it’s the shock or what, but everybody seems even more stupefied than I am, all my pallbearer friends . . . all they can say is, What, Ferdinand? . . . what? . . . what? . . . I can hardly hear them . . . what? . . . what? what? And I’ve got some of my own noises to worry about . . . I already told you . . . like the bombs! boy, are they coming down! cluster after cluster! And then there’s not just that dresser shimmying in the hallway, there’s the rumble of the cannons and Lili with her cup . . . ping! ping! . . . it’s all settled, it’s over, no more alarms . . . but Jesus! the bombs! . . . they’ve got timers, a delay on them, apparently . . . Baboom! it’s really something! . . .

–Lili! Lili!

I call her.

— To hell with your cup!

I don’t want her to leave me! . . . I don’t want her to go back down to Jules’s place! We have enough water, we have enough milk! If not, we can do without it!

My eyes are gummed up, lined with blood, swollen shut . . . she kisses me, she kisses everything! blood, eyebrows, my split brow . . . my temples . . . she licks me oh so gently, that’s adoration for you . . . she really loves me . . .

You often get adoration like that when your life is slipping away . . . 

 

 

 

 

Ferdinand & Bébert

Ferdinand & Bébert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading

gallic wisdom

You’ve got to think of everything . . .

What about my dogs? 

 

—Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Castle to Castle (1957)

 

 

 

chandler brossard’s the bold saboteurs

thoughts on chandler brossard

the bold saboteurs reads like a strange conflation of louis-ferdinand céline and mark twain.  the main character, called yogi by his friends, james by his father and george by the rest of the family, seems like a slightly more criminal version of a j. d. salinger character, until he begins a surrealistic hallucination while being processed by the washington police. the ending is heartbreaker and reads like some hitherto unknown masterpiece of the theatre of the absurd. in its way as good as anything kerouac wrote – if not better. brossard’s freewheeling style and apparently random and picaresque narrative conceal a carefully modulated narrative voice and tightly-knit structure designed for maximum impact on the reader’s emotions.



Set in Washington, D.C. in the late 1930s and 1940s, The Bold Saboteurs is the story of the young Brown brothers who, along with their mother, must cope with the ravages, and absence, of their violent, alcoholic father. In order to survive, the elder Roland becomes a night watchman and uneasy head of the household; the younger George, a multiple schizophrenic whose hallucinations make up some of the most vivid, free-associative passages in the book, takes up a life of crime.

This autobiographical novel marks Brossard’s emergence from the formal influence of Flaubert and Camus into a wildly free, multilayered narrative where fantasy and reality, sanity and insanity coexist and intertwine.

Within the family, George, whose life chokes him with its "grimy emptiness," is controlled and, at times, brutally disciplined by his powerful brother. Roland, himself a borderline personality with religious delusions, creates an elaborate family mythology, convincing George they are descended from royalty. Outside the family, the rich detail of Brossard’s fictional underworld points to the author’s early life "near the gutter," among the outcasts of Washington society: thieves, muggers, extortionists, prostitutes and the Negro underclass."

By age thirteen, George is basically living on his own. While sporadically attending school (he also spends hours reading in the public library), he sustains himself with burglary, robbery, kidnapping, fencing of stolen merchandise, and hustling tennis matches.

Remarkable in its time for its in-depth treatment of alcoholism and its effects on family life, and its erotically charged descriptions of George’s voyeurism and his sexual initiation by older women.

a semi-accurate accounting cribbed from a later edition’s book jacket

  

 

“no finer death in all the world…”—the opening of ernst jünger’s storm of steel

Ernst Jünger’s Storm of Steel chronicles his experiences on the Western Front in the First World War. It is widely considered one of the finest portrayals of mechanized warfare in all of literature. Its textual history reveals the intense feelings regarding his service in World War I that Jünger carried with him all his life: first published privately in 1920 as excerpts from Jünger’s diary, the text was revised eight times; the last iteration was the 1961 version for Jünger’s Collected Works. Jünger perversely stated in the preface to the 1929 English edition that "Time only strengthens my conviction that it was a good and strenuous life, and that the war, for all its destructiveness, was an incomparable schooling of the heart." Such observations earned him the reputation of a writer who glorified war, even the mindless, mechanized mass slaughter of trench warfare in W.W. I. Yet Jünger’s mimetic gifts persuade us that he saw not just the glory but also the cruelty and stupidity of the war, and catalogued with total precision the impressions the war left on his heart and psyche.  Often dismissed as a conservative reactionary or an unrepentant militarist, Jünger’s portrayal of the absurd and senseless aspects of the daily life of a soldier in the Great War earns Storm of Steel a place next to Louis Ferdinand-Céline’s brilliant Journey to the End of the Night.  

 

Storm of Steel

 

 

 

Ernst Jünger, Storm of Steel

For the fallen

 

In the Chalk Trenches of Champagne

 

The train stopped at Bazancourt, a small town in Champagne, and we got out. Full of awe and incredulity, we listened to the slow grinding pulse of the front, a rhythm we were to become mightily familiar with over the years. The white ball of a shrapnel shell melted far off, suffusing the grey December sky. The breath of battle blew across to us, and we shuddered. Did we sense that almost all of us — some sooner, some later — were to be consumed by it, on days when the dark grumbling yonder would crash over our heads like an incessant thunder?

 

We had come from lecture halls, school desks and factory workbenches, and over the brief weeks of training, we had bonded together into one large and enthusiastic group. Grown up in an age of security, we shared a yearning for danger, for the experience of the extraordinary. We were enraptured by war. We had set out in a rain of flowers, in a drunken atmosphere of blood and roses. Surely the war had to supply us with what we wanted; the great, the overwhelming, the hallowed experience. We thought of it as manly, as action, a merry duelling party on flowered, blood-bedewed meadows. ‘No finer death in all the world than …’ Anything to participate, not to have to stay at home!

 

‘Form up by platoon!’ Our heated fantasies cooled down on the march through the claggy soil of Champagne. Knapsacks, munition belts and rifles hung round our necks like lead weights. ‘Ease up! Keep up at the back!’

 

Finally we reached Orainville, one of the typical hamlets of the region, and the designated base for the 73rd Rifles, a group of fifty brick and limestone houses, grouped round a chateau in parkland.

 

Used as we were to the order of cities, the higgledy-piggledy life on the village streets struck us as exotic. We saw only a few, ragged, shy civilians; everywhere else soldiers in worn and tattered tunics, with faces weather-beaten and often with a heavy growth of beard, strolling along at a slow pace, or standing in little clusters in doorways, watching our arrival with ribald remarks. In a gateway there was a glowing field kitchen, smelling of pea soup, surrounded by men jingling their mess-tins as they waited to eat. It seemed that, if anything, life was a little slower and duller here, an impression strengthened by the evidence of dilapidation in the village.

 

We spent our first night in a vast barn, and in the morning were paraded before the regimental adjutant, First Lieutenant von Brixen, in the courtyard of the chateau. I was assigned to the 9th Company.

 

Our first day of war was not to pass without making a decisive impression upon us. We were sitting over breakfast in the school where we were quartered. Suddenly there was a series of dull concussions, and all the soldiers rushed out of the houses towards the entrance of the village. We followed suit, not really knowing why. Again, there was a curious fluttering and whooshing sound over our heads, followed by a sudden, violent explosion. I was amazed at the way the men around me seemed to cower while running at full pelt, as though under some frightful threat. The whole thing struck me as faintly ridiculous, in the way of seeing people doing things one doesn’t properly understand.

 

Immediately afterwards, groups of dark figures emerged on to the empty village street, carrying black bundles on canvas stretchers or fireman’s lifts of their folded hands. I stared, with a queasy feeling of unreality, at a blood-spattered form with a strangely contorted leg hanging loosely down, wailing ‘Help! Help!’ as if sudden death still had him by the throat. He was carried into a building with a Red Cross flag draped over the doorway.

 

What was that about? War had shown its claws, and stripped off its mask of cosiness. It was all so strange, so impersonal. We had barely begun to think about the enemy, that mysterious, treacherous being somewhere. This event, so far beyond anything we had experienced, made such a powerful impression on us that it was difficult to understand what had happened. It was like a ghostly manifestation in broad daylight.

 

A shell had burst high up over the chateau entrance, and had hurled a cloud of stone and debris into the gateway, just as the occupants, alerted by the first shots, were rushing out. There were thirteen fatalities, including Gebhard the music master, whom I remembered well from the promenade concerts in Hanover. A tethered horse had had a keener sense of the approaching danger than the men, and had broken free a few seconds before, and galloped into the courtyard, where it remained unhurt.

 

Even though the shelling could recommence at any moment, I felt irresistibly drawn to the site of the calamity. Next to the spot where the shell had hit dangled a little sign where some wag had written ‘Ordnance this way’. The castle was clearly felt to be a dangerous place. The road was reddened with pools of gore; riddled helmets and sword belts lay around. The heavy iron chateau gate was shredded and pierced by the impact of the explosive; the kerbstone was spattered with blood. My eyes were drawn to the place as if by a magnet; and a profound change went through me.

 

Talking to my comrades, I saw that the incident had rather blunted their enthusiasm for war. That it had also had an effect on me was instanced by numerous auditory hallucinations, so that I would mistake the trundling of a passing cart, say, for the ominous whirring of the deadly shell.

 

This was something that was to accompany us all through the war, that habit of jumping at any sudden and unexpected noise. Whether it was a train clattering past, a book falling to the floor, or a shout in the night — on each occasion, the heart would stop with a sense of mortal dread. It bore out the fact that for four years we lived in the shadow of death. The experience hit so hard in that dark country beyond consciousness, that every time there was a break with the usual, the porter Death would leap to the gates with hand upraised, like the figure above the dial on certain clock towers, who appears at the striking of the hour, with scythe and hourglass.

 

The evening of that same day brought the long-awaited moment of our moving, with full pack, up to battle stations. The road took us through the ruins of the village of Betricourt, looming spectrally out of the half-dark, to the so-called ‘Pheasantry’, an isolated forester’s house, buried in some pine woods, where the regimental reserve was housed, of which, to this point, the 9th Company had formed a part. Their commander was Lieutenant Brahms.

 

We were welcomed, divided up into platoons, and before long found ourselves in the society of bearded, mud-daubed fellows, who greeted us with a kind of ironic benevolence. They asked us how things were back in Hanover, and whether the war might not be over soon. Then the conversation turned, with us all listening avidly, to short statements about earthworks, field kitchens, stretches of trench, shell bombardment, and other aspects of stationary warfare.

 

After a little while, a shout rang out in front of our cottage-like billet to ‘Turn out!’ We formed up into our platoons, and on the order ‘Load and safety!’ we felt a little twinge of arousal as we rammed clips of live ammunition into our magazines.

 

Then silent progress, in Indian file, through the landscape dobbed with dark patches of forest to the front. Isolated shots rang out from time to time, or a rocket flared up with a hiss to leave us in deeper darkness following its short spectral flash. Monotonous clink of rifles and field shovels, punctuated by the warning cry: ‘Watch it, barbed wire!’

 

Then a sudden jingling crash and a man swearing: ‘Dammit, why couldn’t you tell me there’s a crater!’ A corporal shuts him up: ‘Pipe down, for Christ’s sake, do you think the French are wearing earplugs?’ More rapid progress. The uncertain night, the flickering of flares and the slow crackling of rifle fire produce a kind of subdued excitement that keeps us strangely on our toes. From time to time, a stray bullet whines past chilly into the distance. How often since that first time I’ve gone up the line through dead scenery in that strange mood of melancholy exaltation!

 

At last we dropped into one of the communication trenches that wound their way through the night like white snakes to the front. There I found myself standing between a couple of traverses, lonely and shivering, staring hard into a line of pines in front of the trench, where my imagination conjured up all sorts of shadowy figures, while the occasional stray bullet slapped into the boughs and somersaulted down with a whistle. The only diversion in this seemingly endless time was being collected by an older comrade, and trotting off together down a long, narrow passage to an advance sentry post, where, once again, it was our job to gaze out into the terrain in front. I was given a couple of hours to try to find an exhausted sleep in a bare chalk dugout. When the sky lightened, I was pale and clay-daubed, and so was everyone else; I felt I had lived this sort of mole’s life for many months already.

 

The regiment had taken up a position winding through the chalky Champagne soil, facing the village of Le Godat. On the right, it abutted a tattered area of woodland, the so-called ‘Shell Wood’, and from there it zigzagged across vast sugar-beet fields, where we could see the luminous red trousers of dead French attackers dotted about, to the course of a stream, across which communications with the 74th Regiment were kept open by patrols at night. The stream poured over the weir of a destroyed mill ringed by brooding trees. For months, its water had been laving the black parchment faces of the dead of a French colonial regiment. An eerie place, especially at night, when the moon cast moving shadows through breaks in the clouds, and the sounds of the rushes and the murmuring water were joined by others less easily accounted for.

 

The regimen was taxing, beginning at dusk, for which the entire complement was made to stand to in the trench. Between ten at night and six in the morning, only two men out of each platoon were allowed to sleep at a time, which meant that we got two hours a night each, though they were eaten into by being woken early, having to fetch straw, and other occupations, so that there were only a few minutes left as a rule.

 

Guard duty was either in the trench or else in one of the numerous forward posts that were connected to the line by long, buried saps; a type of insurance that was later given up, because of their exposed position.

 

The endless, exhausting spells of sentry duty were bearable so long as the weather happened to be fine, or even frosty; but it became torture once the rain set in in January. Once the wet had saturated the canvas sheeting overhead, and your coat and uniform, and trickled down your body for hours on end, you got into a mood that nothing could lighten, not even the sound of the splashing feet of the man coming towards you to relieve you. Dawn lit exhausted, clay-smeared figures who, pale and teeth chattering, flung themselves down on the mouldy straw of their dripping dugouts.

 

Those dugouts! They were holes hacked into the chalk, facing the trench, roofed over with boards and a few shovelfuls of earth. If it had been raining, they would drip for days afterwards; a desperate waggishness kitted them out with names like ‘Stalactite Cavern’, ‘Men’s Public Baths’, and other such. If several men wanted to rest at the same time, they had no option but to stick their legs out into the trench, where anyone passing was bound to trip over them. In the circumstances, there was not much chance of sleep in the daytime either. Besides, we had two hours of sentry duty in the day too, as well as having to make running repairs to the trench, go for food, coffee, water, and whatever else.

 

Clearly, this unaccustomed type of existence hit us hard, especially since most of us had had only a nodding acquaintance with real work. Furthermore, we were not received out here with open arms, as we’d expected. The old-stagers took every opportunity to pull our legs, and every tedious or unexpected assignment was put the way of us ‘war-wantons’. That instinct, which had survived the switch from barracks yard to war, and which did nothing to improve our mood, ceased after the first battle we fought in side by side, after which we saw ourselves as ‘old-stagers’.

 

The period in which the company lay in reserve was not much cosier. We dwelt in fir-branch camouflaged earth huts round the ‘Pheasantry’ or in the Hiller Copse, whose dungy floors at least gave off a pleasant, fermenting warmth. Sometimes, though, you would wake up lying in several inches of water. Although ‘roomy-dizzy’ was just a name to me, after only a few nights of this involuntary immersion I felt pain in every one of my joints. I dreamed of iron balls trundling up and down my limbs. Nights here were not for sleeping either, but were used to deepen the many communication trenches. In total darkness, if the French flares happened not to be lighting us up, we had to stick to the heels of the man in front with somnambulistic confidence if we weren’t to lose ourselves altogether, and spent hours traipsing around the labyrinthine network of trenches. At least the digging was easy; only a thin layer of clay or loam covered the mighty thicknesses of chalk, which was easily cut by the pickaxe. Sometimes green sparks would fly up if the steel had encountered one of the fist-sized iron pyrite crystals that were sprinkled throughout the soft stone. These consisted of many little cubes clustered together, and, cut open, had a streakily goldy gleam.

 

A little ray of sunshine in all this monotony was the nightly arrival of the field kitchen in the corner of the Hiller Copse. When the cauldron was opened, it would release a delicious aroma of peas with ham, or some other wonder. Even here, though, there was a dark side: the dried vegetables, dubbed ‘wire entanglements’ or ‘damaged crops’ by disappointed gourmets.

 

In my diary entry for 6 January, I even find the irate note: ‘In the evening, the field kitchen comes teetering up, with some god-awful pigswill, probably frozen beets boiled up.’ On the 14th, by contrast: ‘Delicious pea soup, four heavenly portions, till we groaned with satisfaction. We staged eating contests, and argued about the most favourable position. I contended that it was standing up.’

 

There were liberal helpings of a pale-red brandy, which had a strong taste of methylated spirits, but wasn’t to be sneezed at in the cold wet weather. We drank it out of our mess-tin lids. The tobacco was similarly strong, and also plentiful. The image of the soldier that remains with me from those days is that of the sentry with his spiked, grey helmet, fists buried in the pockets of his greatcoat, standing behind the shooting-slit, blowing pipe smoke over his rifle butt.

 

Most pleasant were days off in Orainville, which were spent catching up on sleep, cleaning our clothes and gear, and drilling. The company was put in a vast barn that had only a couple of hen-roost ladders to facilitate entrances and exits. Although it was still full of straw, there were braziers lit in it. One night I rolled up against one, and was woken only by the efforts of several comrades pouring water over me. I was horrified to see that the back of my uniform was badly charred, and for some time to come I had to go around in what bore a passing resemblance to a pair of tails.

 

After only a short time with the regiment, we had become thoroughly disillusioned. Instead of the danger we’d hoped for, we had been given dirt, work and sleepless nights, getting through which required heroism of a sort, but hardly what we had in mind. Worse still was the boredom, which is still more enervating for the soldier than the proximity of death.

 

We pinned our hopes on an attack; but we had picked a most unfavourable moment to join the front, because all movement had stopped. Even small-scale tactical initiatives were laid to rest as the trenches became more elaborate and the defensive fire more destructive. Only a few weeks before our arrival, a single company had risked one of these localized attacks over a few hundred yards, following a perfunctory artillery barrage. The French had simply picked them off, as on a shooting-range, and only a handful hadgot as far as the enemy wire; the few survivors spent the rest of the day lying low, till darkness fell and they were able to crawl back to their starting-point.

 

A contributory factor in the chronic overtiring of the troops was the way that trench warfare, which demanded a different way of keeping one’s strength up, was still a novel and unexpected phenomenon as far as the officer corps was concerned. The great number of sentries and the incessant trench-digging were largely unnecessary, and even deleterious. It’s not a question of the scale of the earthworks, but of the courage and condition of the men behind them. The ever-deeper trenches might protect against the odd head wound, but it also made for a defensive and security-conscious type of thinking, which we were loath to abandon later. Moreover, the demands made by the maintenance of the trenches were becoming ever-more exorbitant. The most disagreeable contingency was the onset of thaw, which caused the frost-cracked chalk facings of the trenches to disintegrate into a sludgy mess.

 

Of course we heard bullets whistling past our trench, and sometimes we got a few shells from the forts at Rheims, but these little trifling reminders of war came a long way below our expectations. Even so, we were occasionally reminded of the deadly earnest that lurked behind this seemingly aimless business. On 8 July, for instance, a shell struck the ‘Pheasantry’, and killed our battalion adjutant, Lieutenant Schmidt. The officer in command of the French artillery was, apparently, also the owner of that hunting lodge.

 

The artillery was still in an advanced position, just behind the front; there was even a field gun incorporated in the front line, rather inadequately concealed under tarpaulins. During a conversation I was having with the ‘powderheads’, I was surprised to notice that the whistling of rifle bullets bothered them much more than the crumps. That’s just the way it is; the hazards of one’s own line of service always seem more rational and less terrifying.

 

On the stroke of midnight, on 27 January [The birthday of Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941).],we gave the Kaiser three cheers, and all along the front sang ‘Heil dir im Siegerkranz’ [‘Hail thee mid the conquerors’ round’]. The French responded with rifle fire.

 

Some time round about then, I had a disagreeable experience which might have brought my military career to a premature and somewhat inglorious end. The company was on the left of the line, and towards dawn, following a night on duty, a comrade and I were detailed to go on double sentry duty by the stream bed. On account of the cold, I had, in breach of regulations, wrapped a blanket round my head, and was leaning against a tree, having set my rifle down in a bush next to me. On hearing a sudden noise behind me, I reached for my weapon — only to find it had disappeared! The duty officer had snuck up on me and taken it without my noticing. By way of punishment, he sent me, armed only with a pickaxe, towards the French posts about a hundred yards away — a cowboys-and-Indians notion that almost did for me. For, during my bizarre punishment watch, a troop of three volunteers ventured forward through the wide reed bed, creating so much rustling that they were spotted right away by the French, and came under fire. One of them, a man called Lang, was hit and never seen again. Since I was standing hard by, I got my share of the then-fashionable platoon salvoes, so that the twigs of the willow tree I was standing next to were whipping round my ears. I gritted my teeth and, out of sheer cussedness, remained standing. As dusk fell, I was brought back to my unit. We were all mightily pleased when we learned that we would finally leave this position, and we celebrated our departure from Orainville with a beery evening in the big barn. On 4 February, we marched back to Bazancourt, and a regiment of Saxons took our place.