Monday, April 25, 2011

BANNED: a detour and the back

 4-There is only one banned book in the world today and that is Louis Ferdinand Celine’s “Bagatelles pour une Massacre.”  Via the internet a reader can read a translation by Anonymous who has entitled the book Trifles for a Massacre.  The source seems to be in South America. The other two pamphlets of Celine have not been translated. 

5-Of course Maldoror also came out of South America from the imagination of Lautremont.  A detail by an obscurantist, to be sure.

6-I am not na├»ve as to why this book has never appeared from a conventional publisher while all of Celine’s  other books are  easily and widely available with great blurbs from Philip Roth and Kurt Vonnegut among others. 

7-But is the Bagatelles, like the collected works of de Sade with their detailed descriptions of child rape, torture and murder, a something that is beyond the pale as it were? 

9-De Sade of course is celebrated by liberal academics as being transgressive and given pride of place in Queer Studies programs as a misunderstood pioneer into the unthinkable.

9-The Bagatelles is a nasty book and very very funny in the way that A Modest Proposal by Swift is funny… but it is argued that it is an incitement to murder but the same could be said of the Koran or The Bible. for that matter.

8-So forget those nice little displays of Banned Books which allow people to cluck their tongues at the idiots who take offense at words like nigger, cock, pussy, shit, fuck….

7-The word in Bagattelles that causes offense is Jew and the various derogatory equivalents… and the same is true for a book by  that other complicated writer, Ezra Pound, but his Radio Speeches is easily available and again the word that causes difficulty is the word Jew.

6-Only one writer in the US has written about the Bagatelles:  Alice Kaplan, but she has both tenure and a professorship though when I went to look she is no longer at Duke.  I reviewed long ago (  her little memoir French Lessons and have followed her career but I missed that she was one of those who rushed to judgment about the Lacrosse players in the famous scandal of recent memory. 

5-You remember that? 

4-A black woman claimed she was raped by some Duke Lacrosse players.  Liberal academics, including Kaplan, and among other s those stalwart guardians of progressive literary thinking,  Frank Lentrecchia and Ariel Dorfman,  rushed to judgment  by signing a petition protesting the racist nature of Duke society and deciding the case before  a jury had  even  heard the case.  

4-I was thinking recently while driving around in North Carolina that those three academics probably wanted to participate in a lynch mob but lacking, thankfully, such opportunities in the real world, took the plunge and signed this petition: imagine the thrill of it, a risk free membership in a lynch mob and while those Lacrosse players were probably not the sort of guys I would want in my house, one still wonders about the men who had been lynched and the smiling faces of the members of the lynch mobs…  

5-Of course driving around in North Carolina thoughts of the Civil War, the War Between the States, the KKK, lynch mobs, Sherman, Lee, Grant.. .no wonder these liberal academics took the plunge.  What could be more transgressive than wondering what it felt like to be a member of a lynch mob and suddenly being given the chance…  as the kids say: go for it!

6-Kaplan is now at Yale.

7-But to come back to the Bagatelles… the book is seriously funny and while a friend has criticized the translation as being rather wooden, I do find the book as being the only book that it is necessary to read if a reader is to think of him or herself as a reader.  It is the equivalent of that mean cartoon in THE REALIST of long ago which depicted an obviously Jewish guy in prison garb pointing his finger at a Nazi guard saying, Wait until the Pope hears about this.

8-Did Celine’s book send a single Jew to be murdered?  Not as far as I know while De Sade’s books with some regularity show up as the favorite readings of particularly gruesome murderers, usually in the British Isles.

9-I was thinking of Celine when I went to Auschwitz and Birkenau…  I wish I had had his satirical flair, his nastiness to describe the museum at Auschwitz, where mass killing is packaged up in a neat parcel for easy consumption… but Celine would have been stopped as I was by Birkenau…  the size, the desolation, the drawings on the wall in the children’s barracks…

9-Beyond the memoir books, beyond the history books, beyond all the explanations one arrives at the Bagatelles pour une Massacre.

8-The only thing that comes a distant second is to read the writings by that famous New York Times correspondent on the “supposed” famine in the Ukraine in the 1930s.  Walter Duranty is a study in not seeing… a characteristic of most journalists to be sure.

7-Celine sees. Celine hates.

6-If you go looking for Celine’s grave in the cemetery in Meudon there are no directions provided. The ship sails on.

5- Even in this day literary tourists come from as far away as Bulgaria looking for the greatest shit house in the world described by Celine in  the Journey to the End of Night as being located near City Hall in New York City... finding it is for those who know where to look.