“War”, by Céline: Journey to the Depths of Life

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It is a literary event that one encounters only a few during life. Manuscripts of Louis-Ferdinand Celinestolen in 1944, has reappeared a year ago and is gradually being published by Gallimard. The first of these writings, entitled War (Gallimard, 2022), was published on 5 May. A rather short novel (about 150 pages), in which a certain “Ferdinand” tells of his frontal injury during the Great War, and above all the vital appetite he developed in the months that followed. Gripping, funny … and pornographic. Or how to live again when you have crossed paths with death.

Life after the war, a “torture”

With such a title, we expected a story about the trenches, the rage of the battles and the nights of anxiety under the grenades. None of this in War, which eases when “Ferdinand”, the only survivor of a battalion decimated by the enemy, stops fighting. After wandering around the open country and the fear of being murdered by Germans crossing the road, the soldier landed at a temporary hospital, soon bombed and then another. Arm in porridge, confusingly buzzing under the skull, gripped by constant vomiting, he saw “a torture”. “If I moved a little [mon épaule] I stopped living so much that it gives me a terrible pain at the bottom of life “, writes the novelist, who was inspired by his own war experience to develop this text – by allowing himself just as often deviations from reality as to force the line. At times, aided by medication, Ferdinand hovers and hallucinates: “Clock issue, the ether triggered a really personal hurricane, a surprise anyway.” Even when she’s behind him, the war seems to drag forever in his head, never to let go. Despair accompanies him: “The sun passes and squares easily in the dark, for nothing.”

Rebirth through sexuality

Suddenly, in the middle of an awakening room, a glimpse. “I did not believe it anymore. It was a chicken arm […] Like a dream that begins again. Life has things. » A nurse, Mademoiselle Lespinasse – if this name evokes anything for you, it’s the letter lover’s name. Diderot – puts a hand under the sheets and grabs him “romeoen”. From horror, the novel shifts to pornography, a dreamlike trend. Does it really exist? Does he dream these masturbation sessions between two probe positions? At least life takes over. A life of pure libido, reduced to the most basic instincts: to be fed, to sleep, to ejaculate, several times a day. The only way to stop being at war, for him. “Even when I was having a hard time, it was the most important thing.” As the weeks go by, Ferdinand regains his senses, his mobility, not a zest for life, but a certain libido. He becomes friends with “Cascade”, which he eventually wants “dingle” mistress Angèle. élan vital has become stronger than the bad conscience: “It was not the time to dissolve myself into scruples […] I was tired of carrying myself from one day to the next with a brackish skull, and especially from one night to the next with my factory head and my parachute sensations. I no longer owed humanity. » IN War, Céline reveals herself as more Nietzschean than ever, somewhere between celebrating vitality and denying the morals of the weak or the loser. This war wound, he saw it as a mandate, almost a moral obligation to confirm his wishes and what power he had left.

Style as superb self-affirmation

Being confident is not just about body fluids and alcohol, it is also about style. On several occasions, when he evokes his hated father, the high-ranking officer who comes to decorate him or the prostitute Angèle who makes him suffer very pleasant miseries, Ferdinand is aware of the sentences used: “She had intrigue in the words she used, I listened as she made me jump for joy through the imagination.” Sensitive to this way of being oneself through language, Ferdinand is nonetheless aware of his own advantage in this area: “Now I’m educated. Twenty years, we learn. My soul is harder than a biceps. I believe more in convenience. I learned to make music, sleep, forgiveness, and you see, beautiful literature too, with small chunks of horror torn. from the noise that will never end. “ On each page we read an incredible formula, a mix between Rimbaudan expressionist painting of George Grosz and the most incomprehensible slang – an encyclopedia is there to guide us. Céline has not yet sown the three little dots or exclamation marks that we will find them in Death on credit, published about two years later. But this first draft, uneven in its structure and interest in certain passages, welcomes the ingenuity of the sentences: “I have a solid intelligence, I stumble to my core. Mont Blanc on wheels would not make me move.” Or maybe the most beautiful: “I had all that dizziness like a boat inside my own interior. » The reader is not far from experiencing the same feeling when he closes the book.

War, the first text in a series of unpublished works by Louis-Ferdinand Céline recently found, has just been published by Éditions Gallimard. 192 pp., 19 €, available here.

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