Friday, August 22, 2003

Journey to the end of the night...and then what?

Louis Ferdinand Celine is considered one of the classic writers of the early part of the 20th century - at least outside of the United States. A noted influence for writers from Philip Roth, Kurt Vonnegut, and William Burroughs to Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, and Joseph Heller, Celine captured his rambling, dark recollections of life serving in World War I, searching provincial opportunity in West Africa, bridling ambition in New York and jazz-age, auto-crazed Detroit, and finally aspiring to medicine on the outskirts of Paris in the classic, "Journey to the End of the Night". This novel is his whopping story, cloaked in black humor and obscured idealism - one might not sense his anticipation for life under the sardonic disregard for common morals and values.
Celine writes about these exaggerated experiences while trying to fiddle with the riddle of living. What do people really want? Why do we subject ourselves to the passive pretensions that subvert our true desires? Who do people think they really are and who do they think they are fooling? He was "enlightened" by the Great War, bludgeoned by African malaise and disease, discarded by American capitalism, and blased by post-war Parisian peculiarities; mindful of his social state - self-inflicted poverty - Celine dishevels his surroundings in a sundry of perversities, nihilistic and womanizing.
Still, Celine admirably questions our head-long dive into pathos, our inevitable maturation (ironic, he would label it) and its unintended consequences, and ultimately our disregard and acceptance of the plights we face. We are self-interested and distracted, in some ways imprisoned by the contents of our minds. We pretend to care, but we don't, and then it is finished, as the character Robinson lethargically faces with his love, Madelon.
I found the disregard enlightening for the freedom of thought it reveals. Yet Celine has difficulty understanding the ultimate result of this self-possessing trap. When we get to the end of the night and find the hope vanished, why do we care to continue? And who would care anyway if we decided to proceed with our petty, little lives? Most do - which Celine and his embodied character, Bardamu, do too - and therein lies the discrepancy. When we reach the end of the night, all warts and pettiness accepted, what happens next? Perhaps there is hope yet.
Post a Comment