Journey to the End of the Night
L.-F. Céline in 1932, Renaudot prize winner
|Original title||Voyage au bout de la nuit|
|Translator||John H. P. Marks (1934), Ralph Manheim (1988)|
Bardamu is involved with World War I, colonial Africa, and post–World War I United States (where he works for the Ford Motor Company), returning in the second half of the work to France, where he becomes a medical doctor and establishes a practice in a poor Paris suburb, the fictional La Garenne-Rancy. The novel also satirizes the medical profession and the vocation of scientific research. The disparate elements of the work are linked together by recurrent encounters with Léon Robinson, a hapless character whose experiences parallel, to some extent, those of Bardamu.
Voyage au bout de la nuit is a nihilistic novel of savage, exultant misanthropy, combined, however, with cynical humour. Céline expresses an almost unrelieved pessimism with regard to human nature, human institutions, society, and life in general. Towards the end of the book, the narrator Bardamu, who is working at an insane asylum, remarks:
…I cannot refrain from doubting that there exist any genuine realizations of our deepest character except war and illness, those two infinities of nightmare,
(…je ne peux m'empêcher de mettre en doute qu'il existe d'autres véritables réalisations de nos profonds tempéraments que la guerre et la maladie, ces deux infinis du cauchemar,)—Voyage au bout de la nuit [Paris: Folio plus classiques, 2006], p. 442)
A clue to understanding Céline's Voyage is the trauma he suffered during his experience of the Great War 1914–1918. This is revealed by a study of biographical and literary research on Céline, histories of the war, diaries of his cavalry regiment, and literature on the trauma of war. Céline's experience of the war leads to "…the obsession, the recurrent anguish, the refusal, the delirium, the violence, the pacifism, the anti-Semitic aberration of the 30’s, [and] his philosophy of life …."
Céline's first novel is most remarkable perhaps for its style. Céline makes extensive use of ellipsis and hyperbole. He writes with the flow of natural speech patterns and writes vernacular, while also employing more erudite elements. This influenced French literature considerably. The novel enjoyed popular success and a fair amount of critical acclaim when it was published during October 1932. Albert Thibaudet, perhaps the greatest of the entre-deux-guerres critics, said that during January 1933 it was still a common topic of conversation at dinner parties in Paris.
Influence and legacy
Paolo Sorrentino's 2013 film The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza) opens with a quote from Journey to the End of the Night. The film concludes visualizing the last paragraph of the book passing under bridges, arches, locks along the city's river.
Charles Bukowski makes reference to Journey in a number of his novels and short stories, and employs prose techniques borrowed from Céline. Bukowski wrote in Notes of a Dirty Old Man that "Céline was the greatest writer of 2000 years".
In Jean-Luc Godard's 1965 dystopian science fiction film Alphaville, protagonist Lemmy Caution dismisses a taxi driver's offer of route options to his destination by stating that he is on "a journey to the end of the night". The film depicts the use of poetry as a weapon against a sentient computer system.
The title of noise/punk band Heroine Sheiks' 2008 release Journey to the Edge of the Knife is a reference to the novel.
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Jacques Tardi illustrated a 1988 edition with 130 drawings.
- Céline, Louis-Ferdinand; Manheim, Ralph (translator) (1983). Journey to the End of the Night. New York: New Directions. ISBN 978-0-8112-0847-5.
- Céline, Louis-Ferdinand; Manheim, Ralph (translator) (1988). Journey to the End of the Night. London: Calder. ISBN 978-0-7145-4139-6.
- Sturrock, John (1990). Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-37854-0.
- Céline, Louis-Ferdinand; Vollman, William T. (afterword); Manheim, Ralph (translator) (2006). Journey to the End of the Night. New York: New Directions. ISBN 978-0-8112-1654-8.
- Tom Quinn, The Traumatic Memory of the Great War 1914–1918 in Louis-Ferdinand Céline's "Voyage Au Bout De La Nuit" (Lewistown, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2005).
- From "Foreword" by Frédéric Vitoux of Académie Française in Quinn's The Traumatic Memory.
- Henri Godard, "Notice", in Céline, Romans, vol. 1 [Paris: Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1981], p. 1262.
- Will Self (10 September 2006). "Céline's Dark Journey". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 July 2010.
- Notes of a Dirty Old Man, p. 86.