Traumatic Memory of the Great War 1914-1918 in Louis-Ferdinand CÉline’s voyage Au Bout De La Nuit

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This is the first full-length study to place Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit (Journey to the End of the Night) within the context of the experience and memory of the Great War 1914-1918. In doing so, this study examines the totality of the relationship between the literary artifact and the experience and memory, both personal and collective, of the war from which it emerged. This study is multi-dimensional, drawing on a wide range of sources, including the regimental diaries of Céline’s cavalry regiment in the Great War, biographical and literary studies of Céline, general and cultural histories of the Great War, while reaching out to embrace the literature of memory and trauma. By drawing on the literature of trauma, this study offers a portrait of a Céline traumatized by his war experience, while illustrating the ways in which his trauma shapes Voyage. In doing so, it reveals the mechanisms which govern this work of art and determines its place at the intersection of war, memory and literature. As such, it makes an important contribution to Céline studies, to studies of the memory and literature of the Great War, as well as to broader studies of war disrupted twentieth-century trauma, memory and identity.


"When speaking of Céline, it is always necessary to journey back to that war which in France has been for a long time known as ‘la Grande Guerre’ [the Great War] ... The Voyage au bout de la nuit manuscript came to light in 2001, which the author has usefully drawn on and cited to support his arguments ... Céline’s experience of war was a real one, it can be considered legitimately as the origin of his work. This view represents the author’s starting point, and he has brought new facts and new perspectives to help establish its truth ... " – (from the Preface) Henri Godard, Professor Emeritus of the Sorbonne

"The theme chosen by the author is an essential one. It is, indeed, fundamental. He has examined the decisive months Louis Destouches spent in combat. The author has read, reread, understood and noted all that Louis-Ferdinand Céline has retained of this experience in his work. Make no mistake about it: the obsession, the recurrent anguish, the refusal, the delirium, the violence, the pacifism, the anti-Semitic aberration of the 30’s, his philosophy of life, all, in Céline, starts with this experience. It is not too much to say, therefore, that the Great War 1914-1918 is an important theme for Céline. It is one of the keys–and without question the most valuable one–with which to penetrate to the heart of his work, and with which to dissipate the mists, the ambiguities, the contradictions, and the mysteries which surround his troubling and controversial personality. Let us thank the author for offering us that key!” – (from the Foreword) Frédéric Vitoux of the Académie Française

"This is a groundbreaking book about one of the greatest and most influential writers of the twentieth century and the author’s best-known novel. Not only does it convincingly demonstrate that the trauma Céline experienced on the battlefield in 1914 is at the heart of the author’s novel, but it is also the first critical study that thoroughly explains why and how. The first part of the book is largely historical: after brilliantly presenting the background of World War One and recounting its most tragic episodes, the author deals with its social and literary aftermath, especially the impact of the war on the international literature of the 1920s and 1930s. Applying the most recent theories on survivor trauma to the novel, he effectively shows that Voyage can be really understood only in the light of the events the author/narrator experienced in 1914 ... The author’s analysis is all the more important as Céline’s memory of the Great War permeates his subsequent books. In short, the book provides new insights that help better understand the enigmatic Louis-Ferdinand Céline as well as Voyage au bout de la nuit and his other works." – Pascal Ifri, Associate Professor of French, Washington University

Table of Contents

Foreword by Frédéric Vitoux
Preface by Henri Godard
1. 4 MAI – From Heroism to Alienation
2. REMEMBERING – From Myth to Anti-Myth
3. CÉLINE AT WAR – From Rambouillet to Poelkapelle
4. RE-ENACTMENT – From Hazebrouck to Voyage
5. TRUTH AND UNTRUTH – From Silence to Witness
6. REWRITING THE SELF – From Destouches to Céline
7. BEYOND REDEMPTION – From Accusation to Denunciation
8. ORAL WITNESS – From the Oral to the Demonic
9. THE ANTI-REPUBLIC – From Voyage to Journey’s End

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