Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Celine's 'Voyage Au Bout De la Nuit': The Nation Constructed through Storytelling

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Celine's 'Voyage Au Bout De la Nuit': The Nation Constructed through Storytelling

Article excerpt

Celine's oeuvre, like those of numerous other twentieth-century writers, is strongly marked by the problematic status of the writer's fiction visa-vis his politics. For some critics, Celine's anti-semitism and his avowed fascism raise questions about the "quality" of his writings, these overtly ideological works of the late thirties being viewed as the point towards which the works before the fascist "period" move and as the position from which his post-war work emerges. While these questions are of course important, their significance depends entirely on the way they are posed. On the one hand, they can drastically oversimplify the connection between the text and the writer's reactions to the configuration of political forces that surround him and in which his life is embedded. They can imply the kind of uninterrupted continuity of the author's consciousness over time that much recent critical work problematizes. On the other hand, such inquiries can open avenues of investigation into the development of ideological positions and the complex interrelationship of narrative, history, and ideology.

Celine's first novel, Voyage au bout de la nuit (1932), does not reveal any direct connection to the fascist writings of the late thirties; in fact, the book's abject humor, as well as the reader's consistent and enduring sympathy for Bardamu, seem to undercut the kinds of violence one might expect in the text of such a controversial writer. This obviously does not mean that questions of ideology are not relevant to a critical reading of the novel; it has been demonstrated that protofascist ideology permeates the novel in ways that, although they operate quietly, are nonetheless significant for scholars of Celine, as well as for historians studying the rise of fascism in France in the 1930s.(1) The novel's central ideological tension lies in Bardamu's alienation from the ways of life and structures of feeling of bourgeois France during the Third Republic. This alienation is played out in a number of spheres (in the alienation of the wage laborer, in the terrifying loneliness of the agent of imperial commerce) whose cumulative momentum takes Bardamu on a kind of quest that gives the novel its title. I have shown elsewhere that this alienation occurs not only on a thematic level, but, more significantly, on a discursive one as well: the text is itself a highly charged manifestation of Bardamu's "homelessness."(2)

With regard to the bourgeois world, one of the text's most intractable problems is with that most mythical and powerful "home" of bourgeois invention: the nation. And it is in Bardamu's relationship to the bourgeois patriotism of wartime France that one can locate a link to Celine's later embrace of fascism. While the narrator relentlessly parodies this patriotism, the glorification of the nation that lies at its heart is something he cannot escape. To the extent that in fascist ideology the nation belongs to another discourse, standing in radical opposition to the categories of bourgeois nationalism, and to the extent that the fascist nation is less a "nation" than a primeval collectivity gathered in the mists of romantic historiography, perhaps we can hypothesize a development in Celine's oeuvre. His support for the fascist nation was made possible by another phenomenon: the discursive power of the nation could be escaped only though the embrace of another discourse, the counter-discourse of fascism.

This, then, is the framework into which I would like to fit a close reading of several crucial scenes in Voyage au bout de la nuit. I shall demonstrate that Bardamu becomes inextricably bound to the processes by which the category of nation is both performed and taught. Furthermore, Voyage au bout de la nun' offers insight into the discursive constitution of the "nation" itself.

Bardamu and Storytelling Gone Awry

Current work on the relationship between the nation and writing suggests that the nation is constituted in the potentially violent space opened up by the process of narration itself. …

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