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JUNE 2012

Céline in English

The Oiklet stirs out of a comatose interlude to bring Crazy Oik readers up to date on a few developments.


Those lousy Kikes and Hymies 

My friend Alexis Lykiard, the distinguished poet and novelist, drew my attention to a translation of LF Céline’s crazy anti-Semitic rant Bagatelles for a Massacre. This odd rag bag of pamphlets amounting to 130,000 words was put together in 1937. Jews were at that time considered a threat and at one point LFC imagines a future where Aryans are herded into concentration camps run by Jews. He later criticised the German occupiers for not being anti-Semitic enough even hypothesised that things had got so lax Hitler must have died and been replaced by a Jewish imposter. Yes, quite mad but perhaps explained partly by his head wound in World War I and more by the doom-laden atmosphere of that low dishonest decade as France in the 1930s headed towards disaster. The Third Republic in 1936 was headed by Leon Blum (a Jew) which probably got Céline’s goat. Personally I think there’s much to admire about Blum’s Popular Front under which oik living standards were quite transformed but Céline’s passionate rant against “arse-reaming Kikes, Hymies and Niggers” is a literary curiosity worth reading for its verve and style if not its sentiments. 


The book was an instant success but was never translated. Céline, and later his widow, saw to that. The first (and only) English translation appeared anonymously in 2006. It wasn’t printed but made available on-line. No one in their right mind would read 130,000 words on a computer monitor and the site address I was given no longer seems to work but I did manage to download the text and have printed it as a 380 page book. It needed a few minor tweaks since I’m pretty sure the translator’s first language isn’t English. He uses odd words like “coronate” “disbark” “embugger” and “empoison”. American slang also jars – when we see “ass” we think donkey. These have been adjusted. His footnotes, however, are accurate and illuminating. This book will not be offered for sale to the general public and Nick Griffin need not apply, but Oik readers, being sophisticated lovers of great lit and beyond corruption, can get one at cost price (around a tenner inc postage) 

Céline made his name with two great novels of an earlier period Voyage au Bout de la Nuit (Journey to the End of the Night) (1932) and Mort à Credit (Death on the Instalment Plan)(1936). Look out for the Ralph Manheim translations. I insert a chunk of Death on the Instalment Plan to give you a flavour of his style: 

Edouard offered once more to take us out one Sunday, all the way to Fontainebleau. Papa finally gave in. He got our clothes ready and the provisions.

Edouard's first three-wheeler was a one-cylinder job, as massive as a field howitzer, with half a coachman's seat in front.

We got up that Sunday much earlier than usual. My arse was given a thorough wiping. We waited a whole hour at the meeting place on the rue Gaillon before the contrap­tion got there. Our departure was something. It had taken at least six men to push the thing from the Pont Bineau. The tanks were filled. The carburettor spewed in all direc­tions, the steering wheel quaked . . . There was a series of terrible explosions. They tried it with the crank, they tried it with a strap . . . They harnessed themselves to it by three and sixes . . . Finally a tremendous explo­sion ... the engine began to turn. Twice fire broke out . . . and was quickly extinguished. My uncle said: "Pile in, ladies and gentlemen, I think she's warm now. Now we can get started . . ." It took nerve to stay put. The crowd pressed in on us. Caroline, my mother, and I wedged ourselves in. We were tied so tightly to the seat, so squeezed in among the clothes and gear that only my tongue protruded. But I came in for a good little whack before we moved off, just to keep me from getting any ideas.

The three-wheeler bucked and settled back ... It gave two, three big jolts ... A terrible crashing and belching were heard . . . The crowd shrank back in terror . . . They thought we were goners . . . But the monster was climbing the rue Reaumur in frantic fits and starts . . . My father had rented a bike . . . Since he couldn't pedal up the hill, he pushed us from behind . . . The slightest stop would have been the end ... he had to push with all his might ... At the Square du Temple we stopped a while. We started off again with a crash. In full flight my uncle poured grease, straight out of the bottle, into the connecting rods, the chain, and the whole works. It always had to be swimming in grease, like the engine of an ocean liner. There's trouble in the front seat. My mother has a bellyache. If she takes time out, if we stop, the engine is perfectly capable of conking out . . . if it stalls, our goose is cooked . . . My mother bears up heroically. My uncle, perched on his infernal machine, looking like a shaggy deep-sea diver surrounded by a thousand tongues of flame, adjures us over the handlebars to hold tight . . . My father is tagging after us. He pedals to the rescue. He picks up the parts as they fall off, pieces of levers and pedals, nuts, cotter pins—and some bigger things. We hear him cursing and swearing louder than the clatter of the machine.

The cobblestones were the cause of our disaster ... At Clignancourt they snapped all three chains ... At the Vanves tollgate they demolished the front springs . . . We lost all our lamps and the big horn shaped like a dragon's maw in the rills where the. road was being re­paired at La Villette . . . Near Picpus and on the high­way we lost so much stuff that my father missed some of it ...

I could hear him cursing behind us: that it was the end of the world and night would catch us on the road.

Tom ambled along ahead of our expedition, we took our bearings by his asshole. He had time to piss wherever he pleased. Uncle Edouard was more than clever, he had real genius for repairs of all sorts. Toward the end of our outings he had everything in his hands, his fingers were doing all the work, between jolts he juggled with splinters and wrist pins, he played the leaks and pistons like a trumpet. His acrobatics were marvellous to watch. But at a certain moment everything came tumbling out on the road all the same . . . We'd go into a drift, the steering gear would founder, we'd run plunk into the ditch. Crash­ing, gushing, snorting, the thing would run us all into the mud.

My father came up bellowing . . . The tin can let out one last BWAAH . . . And that was all. The bastard passed out on us.

We stank up the countryside with crankcase oil. We dis­entangled ourselves from the catafalque . . . and then we pushed the whole thing back to Asnieres. That's where the garage was. My father was magnificent in action, his calves bulged in his ribbed woollen stockings . . . The ladies along the road couldn't take their eyes off him. My mama was proud of him . . . The engine had to be cooled off, we had a small collapsible canvas bucket for the purpose. We'd take water from fountains. Our three-wheeler looked like a factory mounted on a pushcart. There were so many hooks and pointed gadgets sticking out on all sides that we ripped our clothes to tatters pushing . . .

At the tollgate my uncle and Papa went into a bar for a beer. The ladies and myself collapsed wheezing and pant­ing on a bench outside and waited for our pop. Everybody was in a foul temper. In the end I was the victim. Storm-clouds hung over the family. Auguste was aching for a tantrum. He was just looking for a pretext. He was pooped, he was sniffing like a bulldog. No one but me would do, the others would have told him where to get off ... He took a stiff drink of Pernod. He wasn't used to it, it was a dumb thing to do ... On the grounds that I'd torn my pants he gave me a royal thrashing. My uncle stuck up for me, kind of. That only added to his fury.

It was on the way back from the country that I got my worst lickings. There are always crowds of people at the city gates. I screeched as loud as I could just to get his goat. I stirred up mob sentiment, I rolled under the café tables. I heaped mountains of shame on him. He blushed from head to foot. He hated attracting attention. I hoped it would make him bust. We started off again with our tails between our legs, our backs bent over the infernal machine.

There were always such scenes on the way back from our trips that my uncle gave up the whole idea.

"Of course the air is good for the little fellow," they said, "but the automobile gets him upset ..." 

LF Céline Death on the Instalment Plan p 71 – trans Ralph Manheim – John Calder 1989


Before we leave Ferdinand for good I insert another snippet from Death on Credit. This account of a cross channel voyage should be part of Eurotunnel's advertising. It's hilarious. But don't read it if you're about to eat, have just eaten, or even merely thinking of eating. In fact don't read it unless you are ten days into a hunger strike. I see now why Oik contributor Tanner was so taken with this writer.

We went on board ahead of time . . . We had the cheapest seats, in the bow . . . they were fine . . . We had a wonderful view of the whole horizon ... It was agreed that I'd be first to point out the foreign shores . . . The weather wasn't bad, but even so, as soon as we were a little way out and had lost sight of the lighthouses, it began to be kind of wet . . . The ship started to seesaw; this was real seafaring . . . My mother took refuge in the shelter where the life jackets were kept . . . She was the first to vomit across the deck and down into third class . . . For a moment she had the whole area to herself . . .

"Watch out for the child, Auguste," she had barely time to yelp . . . That was the surest way to infuriate him ...

Some of the others began straining their guts over the side ... In the rolling and pitching, people were throw­ing up any old place, without formality . . . There was only one toilet ... in one corner of the deck ... It was already occupied by four vomiters in a state of col­lapse, wedged in tight . . . The sea was getting steadily rougher ... At every rising wave, oops ... In the trough a dozen oopses, more copious, more compact . . . The gale blew my mother's veil away ... it landed wringing wet on the mouth of a lady at the other end . . . who was retching desperately ... All resistance had been abandoned. The horizon was littered with jam . . . salad . . . chicken . . . coffee . . . the whole slobgullion ... it all came up ...

My mother was down on her knees on the deck . . .she smiled with a sublime effort, she was drooling at the mouth . . .

"You see," she says to me in the middle of the terrible plummeting . . . "You see, Ferdinand, you still have some of that tuna fish on your stomach too . . ." We try again in unison. Bouah! and another bouah! . . . She was mistaken, it was the pancakes . . . With a little more effort I think I could bring up French fries ... if I emptied all my guts out on deck ... I try ... I struggle ... I push like mad ... A fierce wave beats down on the rail, smacks against the deck, rises, gushes, rolls back, sweeps the steerage . . . The foam stirs up the garbage and spins it around between us ... We swallow some of it ... We spit it up again ... At every plunge the soul flies away ... at every rise you recapture it in a wave of mucus and stink ... It comes dripping from your nose, all salty. This is too much! . . . One passenger begs for mercy ... He cries out to high heaven that he's empty ... He strains his guts . . . And a raspberry comes up after all! ... He examines it, goggle-eyed with horror . . . Now he really has nothing left! ... He wishes he could vomit out his two eyes ... He tries, he tries hard ... He braces himself against the mast . . . he's trying to drive them out of their sockets . . . Mama collapses against the rail ... She vomits herself up again, all she's got ... A carrot comes up ... a piece of fat . . . and the whole tail of a mullet . . .

Up top by the captain, the first and second class passen­gers were leaning over the side to puke, and it came tumbling down on us ... At every wave we caught a shower with whole meals in it ... We were lashed with garbage, with meat fibers . . . The gale blows the stuff upward ... it clings in the shrouds . . . Around us the sea is roaring ... the foam of battle . . . Papa in a cap with a chin strap . . . supervises our misery . . . He's in the pink, lucky man, he's a born sailor ... he gives us good advice, he wants us to lie even flatter ... to crawl on the floor ... A woman comes staggering . . . she wedges herself in beside Mama so as to throw up better . . . There's a sick mutt, too, so sick he shits on the ladies' skirts ... He rolls over and shows us his belly . . . piercing screams are heard from the shithouse . . . Those four are still jammed in, they can't puke anymore, they can't pee, they can't shit . . . They're leaning over the toilet, pushing . . . They bellow, begging someone to shoot them . . . And the tub pitches still higher . . . steeper than ever . . . and plunges into the depths . . . into the dark green . . . And she rises again, the stinker, she picks you up again, you and the hole in your stom­ach . . .

A stocky little character, a wise guy, is helping his wife to throw up in a little bucket . . . he's trying to encourage her.

"Go on, Leonie . . . Don't hold back . . . I'm right here . . . I'm holding you." All of a sudden she turns her head back into the wind . . . The whole stew that's been gurgling in her mouth catches me full in the face . . . My teeth are full of it, beans, tomatoes ... I'd thought I had nothing left to vomit . . . well, it looks like I have ... I can taste it ... it's coming up again . . . Hey, down there, get moving! . . . It's coming! ... A whole carload is pushing against my tongue . . . I'll pay her back, I'll spill my guts in her mouth ... I grope my way over to her . . . The two of us are crawling . . . We clutch each other . . . We embrace ... we vomit on each other . . . My smart father and her husband try to separate us ... They tug at us in opposite directions . . . They'll never understand . . . Why bear grudges? It's nasty. Bouah! . . . That hus­band is a stupid brute! . . . Come on, sweetie, we'll vomit him up together! ... I give his fair lady a com­plete hank of noodles . . . with tomato juice ... a drink of cider three days old ... She returns the compli­ment with Swiss cheese ... I suck at the strings . . . My mother's snarled up in the ropes . . . she comes crawling after her vomit . . . The little dog is caught in her skirts. We're all tangled up with this brute's wife . . . They tug at me ferociously ... He starts peppering my ass with his boot to get me away from her ... He was a regular bruiser ... My father tried to mollify him . . . he hadn't said two words when the other guy rams him in the breadbasket with his head and sends him sprawling against the winch . . . And that wasn't the end of it! The strong man jumps on him and starts hammering at his face... He bends down to finish him off ... Papa was bleeding all over . . . The blood poured down into the vomit ... He was slipping down the mast ... In the end he collapsed . . . But the husband still wasn't satis­fied . . . Taking advantage of a moment when the roll has sent me spinning he charges me ... I skid ... He flings me at the shithouse . . . like a battering ram . . . I smash into it ... I bash the door in ... I fall on the poor sagging bastards ... I turn around . . . I'm wedged in the middle of them . . . They've all lost their pants ... I pull the chain. We're half drowned in the flood. We're squashed into the bowl . . . But they never stop snoring ... I don't even know if I'm dead or alive.

The siren woke everybody up. We climbed up and stuck our heads out the portholes. The jetties at the entrance to the harbor were like a lacework of wooden piles . . . We looked out on England as though disembarking in the other world . . . Here too there were cliffs and then green . . . But much darker and rougher than on the other side . . . The sea was perfectly flat now ... It was easy to vomit . . . but you didn't need to so much anymore.

Talk about shivering . . . it's a wonder our teeth didn't crack . . . My mother was weeping spasmodically from having vomited so much ... I had bumps all over . . . A big silence fell in our ranks . . . everyone felt bashful, worried about going ashore. Corpses couldn't have been any more bashful.