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Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Trifles for a Massacre


Louis-Ferdinand Céline, 1894–1961

1,568 words

French translation here [2]

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
Trifles for a Massacre
Trans. anonymous
Asunción, Paraguay: Les Editions de La Reconquête, 2010

Louis-Ferdinand Céline (1894–1961) is my favorite writer I don’t enjoy reading, much as Vertigo is my favorite movie I don’t enjoy watching. 

I started browsing through Journey to the End of the Night [3] in a used bookstore during my last year of undergraduate study. At the time, I knew nothing of Céline’s politics, and I would have rejected them if I had. I was a libertarian who thought that Ayn Rand was the greatest writer since Victor Hugo, and all my prejudices should have led me to hate Céline, but to my surprise I loved him anyway.

Around the same time, I was reading Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions [4], and between it and Journey, my Enlightenment optimism was pretty much ground to dust. The following summer, before I started graduate school, I read most of Céline’s other novels, and frankly I overdosed on them. Céline is a disillusioning writer, and getting rid of illusions is a good thing. But reading him again would be the spiritual equivalent of re-breaking and resetting a bone, so when I packed my bags, I left Céline behind, and I have never read another one of his books until the title under review.

I first heard of Bagatelles pour un massacre (1937) in July of 1992 in Florence King’s With Charity Toward None: A Fond Look At Misanthropy [5]. Bagatelles is one of three legendary anti-Semitic “pamphlets” (actually quite substantial books) published by Céline between 1937 and 1941. The others are L’École des cadavres (The School for Cadavers, 1938) and Les beaux draps (A Fine Mess, 1941).

When Céline published Bagatelles, he was fired from his job as a doctor in a state clinic for the poor. He was invited to write for French Right-wing papers, but it is said that his contributions were rejected for being too extreme. The pamphlets were also reportedly banned by the Nazis for being too hateful. In truth, Céline’s ranting style, sweeping generalizations, questionable source material, and literary inventions betray the essential rationality of his position and play into the hands of the enemy.

Naturally, for his troubles, Céline also earned a place on the death lists of the Résistance, so when the Americans swept into Paris, he fled with the remnants of the Vichy government to Germany, where he served as the personal physician of President Pierre Laval.

When Germany fell, Céline fled to Denmark, where he was imprisoned. He was tried in absentia in France and sentenced to a year in prison, “perpetual disgrace,” a fine of 50,000 francs, and the confiscation of his worldly possessions, which hardly mattered since he was a pauper. He returned to France in 1951 after an amnesty and went back to practicing medicine and writing.

Given the trouble they caused, it is perhaps understandable that Céline’s widow has refused to allow the “pamphlets” to be reprinted or translated. But the world of literature is subject to higher laws, so the courageous publisher Les Editions de La Reconquête, operating under relative legal impunity in Paraguay (!), has reprinted all three volumes in French and brought out the first translation of Bagatelles.

Aside from the threat of a lawsuit, the greatest impediment to translating Bagatelles is the style. My French is quite good, but I found Bagatelles impossible to read in the original because it is filled with impenetrable slang, and how many virtuoso translators are willing to work on Samisdat translations of a writer condemned to “perpetual disgrace”? Finally, though, a translator has been found.

So, what is Trifles for a Massacre about? It seemed amazing to me that the secondary literature about Bagatelles never really tells us what the book is about. Having read the book, I am amazed no more.

Céline served as a soldier in the trenches of the First World War, where he was wounded and where he saw countless men killed and maimed in unimaginably terrifying ways. This gave him an abiding hatred of war. When Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, a deafening and coordinated din of anti-German, pro-war propaganda began to issue from virtually all the presses of every Western society. Céline examined this propaganda, connected the dots, and noticed that its chief propagators were Jews who were urging non-Jews in France and England to spill their blood in another war with Germany to slake Jewish hatred of Hitler.

That is the “massacre” of the title. It is a massacre of Europeans advocated by Jews, not a massacre of Jews advocated by Céline. What then was Céline’s solution to the Jewish problem? First, he wished to relentlessly expose the roles of Jews as war-mongers as well as agents of Bolshevism and cultural decadence. Eventually, he hoped to expel all the Jews from France.

Literary commentators, of course, shake their heads and play dumb, asking what could possibly have sent Céline off on his tirade against the Jews. Could he have been crazy? Could a comely Jewish girl have broken his heart?

The answer, of course, was the overwhelming daily evidence of Jewish-instigated anti-German hate- and war-mongering. The critics deftly sidestep this problem by seizing on the fact that Céline decodes this propaganda with the aid of The Protocols and other hoary chestnuts of anti-Semitica which, we are constantly told, have been “discredited” by their shady origins even if they seem confirmed by every daily newspaper.

Céline also harms his case by accusing virtually every agent of decadence of being a Jew. Even the Bourbons, we are told, were Jews. Look at their noses! Some of this, of course, is literary playfulness. But anything you say about Jews can and will be used against you.

Any American who has paid attention to the nearly ten years of intense war-mongering since September 11, 2001, and who has connected the dots and noticed that Americans are killing and dying not for our interests, but for the interests of Israel and Jews around the globe, will find Trifles for a Massacre all too spookily . . . familiar. But that shouldn’t be the least bit surprising. It is the same people saying and doing the same sorts of things, because . . . it works. Because we fall for it again and again and again.

Imagine if America’s greatest avant-garde novelist (whoever that would be!) spent the last ten years reading Anti-War.com and decoding events with the aid of Kevin MacDonald’s Cultural Insurrections [6]. Then imagine that he tosses in the occasional ballet scenario and Mike Roykoesque Slats Grobnik common man dialogue in the most impenetrable working class argot, phonetically rendered. Then you will have a sense of Trifles for a Massacre. Or better yet, let me pick a page at random:

That which is called Communism in well-advanced circles is a great reassurance-cache, the most highly perfected system of parasitism of any age . . . admirably guaranteed by the absolute serfdom of the global proletariat . . . the Universalism of the Slaves . . . under the Bolshevik system, a super-fascist farce, an internationalist superstructure, the greatest armored strong-box that has ever been conceived, compartmentalized, riveted, and soldered together using our guts, for the greater glory of Israel, the ultimate defense of the elernal pillaging Kike, and the tyrannical apotheosis of delirious Semites! . . . Salute! . . . For that truly! . . . not for Moloch! I just don’t feel like it! . . . to enable still other mad half-niggers a thousand times as bad, as incompetent, as chattering, a thousand times as criminal as those which are going to lose! So many super-Béhanzins . . . No way! . . . Why do it? . . . But if it were a question of true communism, of the sharing of all of the world’s goods and sufferings on the basis of the strictest egalitarianism, then I would be for it more than anyone . . . I no longer need to be agitated, to be catechized . . . to be bothered. I am ready, so be on your guard . . . I am the most sharing person that you’ll ever know . . . and I’d let you share my bills, so that it wouldn’t cost so much for me to live . . . Communism such as you’d want, but without the Jews, never with the Jews. (p. 105, all ellipses in original)

Céline was serious about his egalitarianism. His misanthropy was tempered by a deep sympathy for the poor and the downtrodden. Journey to the End of the Night was so suffused with solidarity for the working man and hatred of capitalism that it was published in the USSR in 1934.

Céline was invited to visit the USSR in 1936. He was horrified by what he saw. Upon his return, he published Mea Culpa (1936), a short book about his experiences where he noted in passing the overwhelmingly Jewish nature of Bolshevism and rejected the very idea of progress and the perfectibility of man.

But clearly he also believed that a non-utopian socialism was possible, but that this possibility had been aborted in Russia and that Communism had been turned into a means by which Jews expropriated the wealth of Russia and killed the best of the gentiles.

You can purchase Trifles for a Massacre from the publisher’s website: http://editionsdelareconquete.com/ [7] It was published in paperback only, in a limited edition of 5,010 copies (of which I have number ten). Unfortunately, it is very expensive: 68 Euros plus 12 Euros postage. But considering the risks and costs the publisher has shouldered, as well as the service he is rendering to world literature and historical truth, it is an expense worth bearing.