Today is the birthday of Louis-Ferdinand Céline, born in Courbevoie, France, 120 years ago, author of Journey to the End of the Night (Voyage au bout de la nuit), “the first genius international beat twentieth-century picaresque novel written in modern classical personal comedy prose “, according to Allen.
“Have you read Louis Ferdinand Céline? – he’s translated into English from French – Celine vomits Rasberries. He wrote the most Chaplin-esque prose in Europe and he has a bitter mean sad ugly eternal comic soul enough to make you cry..” (Peter Orlovsky)
“I think (Henry) Miller is a great man but Céline, his master, is a giant” (Jack Kerouac)
Here’s a revealing 1957 television interview with him
and here’s another interview with English subtitles
Here En Francais, a 1957 Interview with Louis-Albert Zbinden on Swiss radio.
His 1959 interview with Francine Bloch (in three parts, again en francais, but with an English translation), may be heard here, here and here
It was William Burroughs who turned Allen on to Céline
“Not many prose writers alive (Céline, (Jean) Genet, a few others) would have the freedom and intelligence to trust their own minds, remember they made that jump, not censor it but write it down and discover it’s beauty..” (Ginsberg, en passant, on Jack Kerouac)
Michel Mohrt arranged for me and (William) Burroughs to go and visit Céline in 1958. We did want to touch home-base, we did want to visit our heroes and receive their blessing and we did do that.
Burroughs and Céline were like two cousins literally and the conversation was interesting and very straight . I wrote a little bit about it in a poem called “Ignu”…
(Ginsberg, in 1972, to Yves Le Pellec)
“Tomorrow night Bill (Burroughs) and I go make visit to Céline. I spoke to him on the phone, he has shy reticent young voice, almost quavering, very delicate voice and hesitates – no ogre. I said “How lovely to hear your voice “. He said. “Anytime, Tuesday, after four..”
(Allen Ginsberg, July 7 1958, in Paris, writing to Neal Cassady)
“..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””
(from Allen Ginsberg’s “Ignu” (1958)
“.. he [Ezra Pound] didn’t say anything more that whole afternoon, except one time, when I talked about a visit with (William S) Burroughs in 1958 to Louis Ferdinand Céline who I thought was the greatest French prose writer.
And I’d asked Céline whom he’d liked among French prosateurs and he said C.F.Ramuz, Swiss writer, and Henri Barbusse, who wrote Le Feu (Under Fire – World War I) and Barbusse, he said, had jazzed up the French language..
to have “jazzed up the language”
When Céline dies (in the summer of 1961) Allen writes, portentously, in his notebook:
“All Nobility leads to the tomb/Céline the garden and the great harmless black dogs..”
and: “-Céline dead. Old man/hairy image in – nothing/Fare thy shade well in Eternity…”
For more on Céline see here