‘Glory, in Our Time, Smiles Only on the Rich …’

Apparently not much has changed since Céline wrote that 82 years ago in Journey to the End of the Night, his first semi-autobiographical novel. The narrator Ferdinand Bardamu is talking about the Joseph Bioduret Institute, which “is clearly the Pasteur Institute,” according to Ralph Mannheim, who translated the novel. Here’s the complete passage:

Glory, in our time, smiles only on the rich, men of science or not. All those plebians of Research had to keep them going was their fear of losing their niches in this heated, illustrious, and compartmented garbage pail. What meant most to them was the title of official scientist, thanks to which the pharmacists of the city still trusted them more or less to analyse, for the most niggardly pay incidentally, their customers’ urine and sputum. The slimy wages of science.

Kurt Vonnegut’s appreciation of Louis-Ferdinand Céline (the pen name of Louis Ferdinand Auguste Destouches) has been memorialized by Cold Turkey Press, like so:

Gerard Bellaart, the publisher of Cold Turkey Press, points out that Kurt Vonnegut had a few other things to say about Céline as well. Here are some of them:

Céline gave us in his novels the finest history we have of the total collapse of Western civilization in two world wars, as witnessed by hideously vulnerable common women and men. That history should be read in the order in which it was written, for each volume speaks knowingly to the ones that came before it.

What Céline managed to imply so naturally in everything he wrote, in effect: “death and suffering can’t matter nearly as much as I think they do. Since they are so common, my taking them so seriously must mean that I am insane. I must try to be saner.”

Ernest Hemingway died on the same day, incidentally, on July 1, 1961. Both were heroes from World War I. Both deserved Nobel Prizes — Céline for his first book alone. Céline didn’t get one, and Hemingway did. Hemingway killed himself, and Céline died of natural causes. All that remains is their books. And Céline’s slowly fading infamy.

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