Ferdinand Celine


(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )

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Mòrt à credit e` scritto in uno stile esagitato e comico.
Ferdinand, medico con ambizioni letterarie, vive un’esistenza mediocre con la vecchia Vitruve, madre d’una sua antica amante, e sua nipote Mireille, solo sedicenne ma non voluttuosa, dalle quali si sente abusato. Durante una febbre delira, ed inizia a raccontare la sua vita. Figlio di piccoli borghesi, un padre, Auguste, manesco e tuttofare, ed una madre bottegaia, Ferdinand dà loro una delusione dietro l’altra, perdendo un posto di lavoro dietro l’altro; dai Gorloge sta per avere successo, ma il padrone, arruolato, affida a lui un prezioso gioiello e la padrona, baldracca, glielo ruba fingendo di lasciarsi sedurre, così lui viene accusato di furto. Allora la famiglia lo manda in un collegio inglese, che però fallisce per la concorrenza d’una scuola più moderna; uno ad uno gli studenti lasciano l’insegnante, il vecchio Merrywin, e la sua giovane moglie, Nora, prima si getta, in un momento di disperazione, fra le braccia di Ferdinand (che l’aveva sempre desiderata), e poi va a suicidarsi nel fiume. Ferdinand torna dai suoi genitori, che gli addebitano tutte le loro disgrazie; lui dà loro ragione da vendere, non riesce a trovare lavoro, gozzoviglia fino a tardi. Un giorno si scontra con il padre e quasi l’uccide, rischiando il linciaggio dei vicini. Lo zio Edouard lo porta via e gli presenta l’inventore e tipografo Courtial des Pereires; diventa suo assistente sia al giornale sia ai suoi strampalati tentativi di fare fortuna (per esempio con una mongolfiera), che mandano su tutte le furie sua moglie Irene. Un prete eccentrico dà loro l’idea d’organizzare un concorso per il recupero di tesori sottomarini: l’idea ha successo, ma non appena l’impresa rivela i suoi limiti, inventore ed assistente sono inseguiti dai creditori e devono fuggire in un altro Paese. Lì Courtial sperimenta la radiotellurgia per l’agricoltura, servendosi d’una dozzina d’aiutanti ragazzini; ma, al cospetto del fallimento, questi ultimi si mettono a rubare verdura e polli ai vicini. Già malvisto dai contadini, Courtial è nel mirino della polizia; come se non bastasse, Irene scopre che la radiotellurgia ha come effetto di far proliferare un tipo particolare di verme che distrugge le colture di patate: alla fine Courtial s’uccide, lasciando la moglie sul lastrico. Tornato a Parigi, Ferdinand non osa chiedere, per la vergogna, ospitalità ai suoi e peferisce riparare dallo zio, meditando di partire per un viaggio. Céline usa un linguaggio turpe e sconnesso, pieno di parolacce ed imperfezioni, un linguaggio proletario. I suoi personaggi sono meschini e volgari, guidati dal materialismo del quotidiano; la loro esistenza si trascina grama e violenta. Nell’assenza di qualunque sentimento, i rapporti sono improntati all’astio ed al disprezzo, tutt’al più all’insofferenza; in particolare, Ferdinand è paralizzato dall’impulso erotico, dal bisogno di conquistare la donna, e dal fastidio d’esserne ricattato.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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"Voyage a Bout de la Nuit/ Journey to the End of the Night" (1932) is a satirical fictional biography of the ultimate anti-hero, a young man who grows up during World War I and simply tries to avoid being killed. The book describes his comic adventures like in the old picaresque novels except that Ferdinand lives in the age of world wars, colonialism, capitalism and the welfare state, all of which he mocks unceremoniously. The book becomes a frank study of the human nature, which is in general not pretty at all. What holds the philosophical meditations, the satire and the narration together is the style: Celine's writing is simply spectacular. The weakest point of the novel is that there is no ending: Celine stimply stopped the protagonist's adventures when he got tired of narrating them, but it could have gone on forever. There is no real "closure". The final scene is not particularly inspiring nor revealing. Ferdinand Bardamu, a self-professed anarchist, is chatting with his friend Arthur and suddenly decides to enlist in World War I. Before he knows it, he is marching through the streets of countless towns. The war is senseless: he doesn't understand why the Germans are shooting at the French. After all, they were neighbors. Nonetheless, he is plunged into the demented cruelty of warfare, with soldiers dying next to him and officers (sometimes sadistic ones, sometimes indifferent ones) living the nice life while sending the young ones to die at the front. None of the soldiers wants to fight, but they have to. They are aware of being "condemned to a deferred death". His captain sends him to find out where the Germans are and he finds villagers who sell him wine for the highest price, a mayor who clearly does not want French troops around for fear of German reprisals, and a fellow soldier who would love to surrender and be taken prisoner, Leon.
Wounded, Ferdinand ends up in a military hospital with a medal. There he meets Lola, a female soldier from the USA who becomes his lover, a girl obsessed with diet. That's when he starts dreaming of moving to America. One day he goes mad, mad with fear of the war, and is interned in a mental asylum, where the concierge sells sex to the patients and where Ferdinand meets the teacher Princhard, accused of theft, but soon forgiven of his crime so that he can return to the front. Lola forgets him, seduced by the aviators. Allowed to wonder around Paris, the patients attend the salon of the promiscuous Madame Herote, who gets rich selling her body to the Allies. Ferdinand falls in love with her protege Musyne, but she is soon monopolised by the Argentine soldiers. Ferdinand realizes ever more clearly that his missions in life is to save is skin and to find a way to emigrate to America. He realizes that Lola and Musyne are the real winners, because the war has created a huge demand for out-of-wedlock sex.
Sent to a new hospital, he has to compete with Branledore, a big mouth who boasts of heroic feats, while their doctor boasts that the war has been a godsend for the psychiatric profession. A beautiful actress likes Ferdinand and asks a poet to write a tragedy about Ferdinand's heroism, but Branledore manages to steal the show at the premiere. And the actress ends up sleeping with the poet instead of Ferdinand. Ferdinand has now lost three women, one after the other: one to the aviators, one to the Argentines and one to a poet.
The army releases Ferdinand and he jumps into a ship bound for Africa. His mysterious behavior becomes the object of gossip especially by the ladies on board. He saves himself by giving a comically patriotic speech. Once they arrive at the French colony of Fort-Gono, Ferdinand applies for a job to run a store in the jungle. During his stay in Fort-Gono he witnesses how the whites use black slaves and is repulsed by life there. The only decent places are the hospital and a restaurant whose female owner he befriends. Next he travels to Topo, where a small group of soldiers is being trained by a sergeant, Alcide, who also trades illegally with the natives, while a lieutenant, Grappa, administers the justice with unorthodox means. Ferdinand assumes that Alcide is a corrupt scoundrel until Alcide confesses that he is taking care of his niece Ginette, who lost both parents and is paralyzed, back in France. Ferdinand travels by canoe to the trading post in the jungle, where he meets Robinson, a crazy man who routinely steals from the natives and is robbed at night by them. One night Robinson disappears with the entire stock of the trading post. Ferdinand fears that he will be accused of stealing the goods. He also falls very sick, during which time the natives proceed to steal whatever items are left. The rainy season comes and floods the village. Ferdinand, exhausted, sets fire to the shack and, afraid of returning to the fort, sets out for the same jungle into which Robinson disappeared. He is still sick with malaria and the priest who takes care of him in the first village readily sells him to a ship captain. That turns out to be a lucky turn of events because Ferdinand finds himself on a ship bound for the USA. He finally arrives in New York and merges with the millions of poor people of the megalopolis. Reduced to extreme poverty and still stricken with African fevers, he looks for and finds Lola, now relatively wealthy, but absolutely indifferent to his problems. Her black servant, a former activist who openly collects bombs, tells Ferdinand that Lola owns cars and even a yacht. Lola is only interested in adopting a child and in her mother's cancer. The doctors told her that the cancer is curable but Ferdinand is adamant that the cancer is incurable and that the doctors are simply trying to get as much money as possible out of her. Lola, furious, gives him money to stay away from her. Ferdinand travels to Detroit where it is supposedly easier to find jobs. The brutal work of the assembly line quickly ruins his mental health. He finds solace only in the local brothel and eventually falls in love with one of the prostitutes, Molly, who even starts dreaming about marriage. She even supports him when he stops working. Even knowing that she's the best thing that happened to him, Ferdinand chooses freedom and, after running into Robinson, who is wanted by the authorities for immigrating illegally, decides to return to France, regretting from that day on that he lost track of the loving Molly.
Once in France, Ferdinand completes his studies in Medicine and starts his own practice. He has few patients and even fewer who actually pay. His main worry is a boy, Bebert, an orphan who lives with his aunt, a child who has contracted typhoid and is likely to die. He also meets the Henrouilles, who have saved money all their lives to finish paying their house and now are worried that their son will get into debt and are trying to send granma to a convent, so they keep her pension (which they already do) and not spend a penny for her. They basically bribe Ferdinand to declare the old woman crazy but the old woman kicks him out of the house before he can be bribed. He also meets a young woman, still single, who has had three abortions, whose parents, ashamed, keep moving from one place to another. He can hear a girl being tortured by her parents in an apartment nearby, but they behave like a respectable family when they walk in the street. Another single young woman already has a two-year child and she reacts hysterically to Ferdinand's rude manners, something that adds to Ferdinand's dubious reputation in the neighborhood. His reputation now depends on saving Bebert's life, and for that Ferdinand travels to meet an expert in the field, Parapine, but the old professor simply rambles on and on without providing any help, and ultimately is more interested in spying on the little girls of the nearby high school than in saving Bebert's life. And so Bebert dies. Surprisingly, granma Henrouille gets out of her apartment and socializes with Bebert's aunt. Robinson resurfaces. He now has an honest job but a job that is destroying his health: his lungs are in terrible conditions. Ferdinand is annoyed by his presence. Not only does Robinson, a failed man, remind Ferdinand of his own failed life, but Robinson is also desperate to get out of his job. Eventually, Ferdinand discovers that Robinson has made a deal with the Henrouille to provoke the death of granma Henrouille. Ferdinand is not particularly outraged, since granma is very old. Ferdinand is busy bandaging the barmaid Severine while Robinson reveals his dream of rescuing his own life with the huge sum of money he will receive from the Henrouilles. However, the scheme fails badly: granma understands what is going on, and Robinson makes a mistake that costs him his eyes. Now the Henrouilles have to keep him in their house, Ferdinand is called to care for the eyes of the failed murderer, granma is more hysterical than ever. Ferdinand realizes that he's actually happy with this weird situation. Meanwhile he is assigned a dispensary for poor people afflicted with turberculosis, people who survive on microscopic government pensions. One day the Henrouilles finally come up with a new plan to get rid of both granma and Robinson: they pay a priest, Protiste, to bribe Ferdinand so that all together they can convince both granma and the blind Robinson to move to a convent in the south of the country. Ferdinand gladly accepts the deal but, not trusting the couple and even less the priest (a priest had sold him into slavery in Africa after all), he asks to be paid upfront. After this Ferdinand decides to leave the town. He is six months behind in rent and sneaks out of his building without saying goodbye to anybody. He meets Parapine at a cafe: the old pervert has been fired from his laboratory and has been beaten by the principal of the high school for spying on the little girls. He is now working on some applications of Freudian theory to the subconscious. Ferdinand moves to a hotel mostly patronized by students. The students introduce him to Pomone, a shady character who provides erotic encounters to both sexes but suffers from the odd disease of wanting to touch his genitals all the time. Ferdinand becomes friend with a Polish girl, who has a long-distance relationship with a middle-aged bank clerk based in Germany. One day she is informed that the man died. Ferdinand does not waste time to make love to her, but then he wants to get rid of her as soon as possible. Ferdinand visits the Henrouilles and finds out that the man is terminally sick and in fact he dies soon afterwards. His wife's main regret is that she didn't get his expensive dental plate. Protiste brings good news about Robinson and granma Henrouille: they are making money in the south with a tourist attraction (some century-old mummies) and Robinson is to be married to a young girl. Protiste offers Ferdinand the money to visit the pair and Ferdinand sees it as an opportunity to run away from the Polish girl, Tania. Robinson's fiance Madelon gives him a tour of the crypt where the mummies are kept. Granma is more energetic than ever, having taken control of the business and enjoying doing the tour for the paying tourists. She doesn't seem too sorry that her son died.
Robinson's eyes improve, but he still cannot see Madelon. He doesn't want to have sex with her until wedding day. She, instead, is not faithful to him, and Ferdinand himself takes advantage. Before leaving, Ferdinand educates the discreetly promiscuous Madelon about venereal diseases. Just when he is heading for the train station he is informed that granma Henrouille has fallen down the treacherous steps of the cellar where the mummies are kept. Ferdinand doesn't want to know what happened and how hurt she is: he simply gets on the first train.
Back home Ferdinand is in desperate need of a job and Parapine offers him one in the clinic where he works. The clinic for madmen and idiots is run by the verbose Baryton. Ferdinand enjoys the lodging and the availability of the nurses to sleep with the staff. Baryton is obsessed with a coming apocalypse of sorts and Parapine is so nauseated that he decides to stop talking to the boss. Ferdinand then becomes Baryton's favorite, and soon appointed personal assistant. Baryton even hires Ferdinand to teach English to his daughter Aimee. The girl has no desire to learn but Baryton does: soon Ferdinand is teaching Baryton, not Aimee, and Baryton forgets everything else and becomes obsessed with the Anglosaxon civilization. Eventually he decides to resign and travel to England, leaving Ferdinand in charge of the hospital, the first lucky event in a long time.
But luck doesn't last long. First Protiste shows up to tell him what Ferdinand already suspected, namely that granma was pushed down the stairs by Robinson, who inherited the lucrative business (the neighbors did not suspect him because he was known to be blind and the woman was very old), and Ferdinand dislikes and distrusts the priest even more than the murderer. Then Robinson himself shows up. His eyes are almost completely healed, but now that he can see he has no intention of marrying Madelon whereas the girl and her mother expected it (and the financial benefits that would come from marrying the man who inherited the mummy crypt) especially since they supporter Robinson when he was poor and blind (granma was keeping most profits for herself). Now that he ran away the girl could retaliate by sending him to jail for the murder. Robinson begs Ferdinand to give him shelter and a job, and Ferdinand has no choice. Robinson starts playing music for the idiots of the clinic. However, Ferdinand sees Madelon spying on the clinic: she tracked him down. At the same time Ferdinand is getting tired of his life. They become friends with the neighborhood cop, Gustave, a man who likes to play cards and drink alcohol. Madelon reappears, determined to get back her Robinson. Eventually she wins him over. Meanwhile, Ferdinand hires a new nurse, Sophie, from Slovakia, and becomes her official lover, although aware that she also sleeps with another man. Ferdinand and Robinson takes the ladies to a carnival. Robinson and Madelon get into a heated argument. First she threatens to tell the police how granma fell down the stairs, then she pulls out a revolver and shoots him. Ferdinand and Sophie take the dying man to the clinic but there is nothing to do. Gustave and Parapine take the dead body away.
Life goes on. Ferdinand, Parapine and Gustave go to a bar. Gustave gets drunk and wants to do the Fire Dance, but falls asleep before he can.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )