William Burroughs Conversation continues – 3 (A Visit to Louis Ferdinand Céline )

Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Gregory Corso in conversation (at Naropa, in 1985) continuing from here. Allen and William discuss a visit to the home of the novelist (and notorious anti-Semite), Louis-Ferdinand Céline

AG: So what happened with Céline ?
WSB: Oh well.
GC (to WSB): He told you where you got your shit from.
AG: Let him speak.

WSB: I remember the first thing that happened was he had to put his dogs away, He had big..  six big dogs, or five big dogs.

AG: ..that came out barking as we came in the gate.

WSB: Yes, he put him them in the back lot, and you said, “Have they ever killed anyone?

AG: “Do they bite? Are they dangerous?”

WSB: And he said, “No, I just keep them for the noise, when I go down to the post office, to protect me from the Jews”

AG: He didn’t say that!
WSB: He certainly did!
AG: Well, outside of my earshot.
WSB: Right, not outside of your earshot at all. It was right smack in front of you he said it.
AG: I don’t remember that at all.
WSB: Well he sure did.
AG: I remember him saying, ” No, I just keep them for the noise”.
WSB: Well, no, it was much later, it was a little bit later this thing came up. You know, he’d had all these attacks on the Jews. And, already, the druggist wouldn’t fill in his prescriptions…

GC: They hated him.

WSB: ..and he had a whole Céline scene going there..

AG: And I remember I asked him…

WSB: …in Meudon, this really run-down suburb.

AG: A big mansard.. a big mansard-roofed private house, very large private house.

WSB: It wasn’t very large. It was a run-down..
AG: It was run-down, but it was..
WSB: .… (a) dirty, stucco building. She was a ballet-teacher and supported him.

GC: His wife.

WSB: Yeah, and you asked him,  “You a good doctor?”,  and he said, “Well, I’m reasonable”.

AG: Then I said, “How’s your clientele? Can you make a reasonable living?” – And he said, ”No, most of the people that come to me are middle-aged women and they just want to take their clothes off in front of a young man.  So (would) they want to take their clothes off in front of me?

GC: Oh my god!

AG: Then I recognized that line. Years later, I read it in one of his books.

WSB: Hmm. And another thing.  You’d ask him about everybody – “It is nothing” –  (Jean) Genet? –“Oh, it is nothing.  It does nothing. Every year, yeah, there is a new fish in the literary pond and everyone says it’s a smart fish, it is nothing”. (Jean-Paul) Sartre?, all these people, “It is just nothing, it is just nothing.”

GC: Oh I love it, I love it!

AG: Then you and he had a conversation about the jails you had been to?
WSB: No, I don’t I believe I said…
AG: Yes, because he said you only know a country unless you’ve seen…
WSB: Oh that’s right  “You don’t know a country unless you’ve seen the jails”, yes.
AG: Seen it through its jails, or seen the jails?
WSB: Seen it through its jails
AG: But I..  But I think you mentioned jails that you had been in America.
WSB: Possibly.
AG: And he did..  And then the conclusion was – you really only know a country when you’ve paid a visit to its jails.
WSB: Well that was his conclusion.

AG: Then there was..  We gave him a copy of On The Road
WSB: He had never cracked those, I can assure you.
AG: And we gave him a copy of Naked Lunch.
WSB: Yeah, Junkie.
AG Oh, Junkie?
WSB: Yeah, but I could tell by the way he touched them and put them aside that he was never going to look at them again. I can assure you he never did.

WSB: Ok what else shall we talk about ?

AG: What did he (Céline) look like?

Louis-Ferdinand Céline (1894-1961)

WSB: He looked exactly like an old reactionary concierge, with shawls all around himself, reading Le Monde, and just exactly..  He had several scarfs, about three or four ratty old scarfs, around him, and sweaters..

AG:  ..and several pairs of socks on his slippered feet.

WSB: Right, that’s right.

AG: Then he took us in the house at one point?

WSB: No,  I think.. did he?  I don’t know.

AG: Yes, we went in the house, not into any of the rooms, just into..  He pointed out the room where he worked, I think.

WSB: Yeah.  This was a little courtyard behind the house..

AG: Yeah, backyard garden.

WSB: ..where he received us, yes. Well, it wasn’t a garden, it was just a..
AG:  Well what would you call a garden without a ..
WSB: .. (a) shabby little courtyard.

AG: It was big!
WSB: It wasn’t big.
AG: Yes it was. It was a property at least the size of this (sic), with a house about a third the size but with a mansard roof, a central corridor downstairs, and large French-windowed rooms on either side.
WSB: Well, ok, it was medium-sized. It was reasonable, Allen, it was reasonable.
AG: Well, a run-down mansion, I ‘d say.
WSB: It wasn’t a mansion.. it was almost a villa.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately six-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately nine-and-three-quarter minutes in]

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