Journey into an Endless Night

In what has been dubbed l'affaire Céline, the ghosts of France’s political past have sprung back to life. On this occasion, the controversy surrounds the legacy of Louis-Ferdinand Céline, author of classic satirical novels such as Journey to the End of the Night (first published in 1932) and Death on the Instalment Plan (1936).

These novels have earned Céline, nom de plume of Louis-Ferdinand-Auguste Destouches (1894-1961), a high place in the French literary canon. His work has influenced writers like Charles Bukowski and Irvine Welsh. But in the 1930s Destouches also published political writings that established their author as, in the words of Will Self, a “rabid anti-Semite”.

Céline was on a list of prominent French figures (including scientist Marie Curie) to be honoured on January 21 this year. On the eve of the ceremony, Holocaust survivor and historian Serge Klarsfeld called on President Nicolas Sarkozy to remove Celine from the list in an article in Le Figaro (in French). At the last minute, Céline was dropped from the list by order of the culture minister.

The move has triggered national hand-wringing, with media commentator Eric Nulleau leading the charge. Speaking on national television, he’s accused the government of allowing culture policy to taken hostage by what has been dubbed ‘communitarian lobbying’. “It is not normal, even scandalous, that a communitarian lobby, however honorable it is, dictate the behavior of the French state through the ministry of culture,” he said.

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