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The Sound of Wild and Raucous Laughter,
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Journey to the End of the Night (Taschenbuch)
In George Steiner's novella, The Portage to San Cristobel of A.H., Nazi hunters discover an aged Adolf Hitler living quietly in the Peruvian jungle. Their plan is to kill Hitler, however they offer him the chance to defend himself instead. He is defiant, reckless and taunts them. "I am an old man...You have made of me some kind of mad devil, the quintessence of evil, hell embodied. When I was, in truth, only a man of my time. Oh, inspired I grant you...with a nose for supreme political possibility. A master of human moods, perhaps, but a man of my time."
Louis-Ferdinand Destouches (Celine was a pseudonym) was, like Steiner's Hitler, certainly an inspired man of his time, perhaps terrifyingly so. Born in 1894 to a lowly Parisian family, he had a brutal childhood. Poor, dysfunctional, but recklessly ambitious, he longed to escape all that constrained him. He eventually found a release of sorts through the study of medicine and, after patriotically enlisting, in the trenches of the western front. He was seriously wounded and later decorated.
Celine's revulsion against his wartime experiences infused his debut, Journey to the End of Night (1934), perhaps the greatest work of nihilism, as well as one of the finest novels, of the century. The first hundred pages or so contain descriptions of the absurd carnage of war that few works, not even Erich Maria Remarque's, All Quiet on the Western Front, have matched. After the war, Celine qualified as a physician and traveled in French and Belgian colonial Africa before returning to work as a doctor among the urban poor of Paris.
Celine draws freely from his bank of experiences in Journey to the End of Night; the adventures of the hero-narrator, Fedinand Bardamu, mimic exactly those of the author himself. He travel from the "fiery furnace" of the western front to the screaming jungles of central Africa, and from New York to the slums of Paris. The engine of Celine's disgust is an irrational misanthropy. It is irrational because it is contradictory: those he scourges, he later pities; those he helps, he comes to despise.
In Ferdinand's despair at what industrialization and incipient democracy have done to the contemporary soul, we are reminded of the anguish of Nietzsche's raging free spirit, Zarathustra. Like Zarathustra, Fedinand rails against the instincts of mass man and of the "herd," then crowns himself with laughter. For without laughter he knows he is nothing. "Death is chasing you, you've always got to hurry, and while you're looking you've got to eat, and keep away from wars. That's a lot of things to do. It's no picnic."
In this astonishing book, Celine immerses the reader in a torrential flow of language--fragmented, coarse, street poetic, blackly comic and full of neologisms and ellipses. For this reason, one can only reap the full impact of Celine when he is read in the original French. He writes of suffering, debased lives and poverty with reckless abandon. His vision of humanity in thrall to its own weakness is utterly cynical. He leads his characters--Robinson, a romantic wanderer, conscripted soldiers, abused prostitutes--to the edge of the abyss, the pushes them over. As they fall we hear only the sad echo of their voices--and Celine's wild and raucous laughter.