Paul Nizan 1932

Review of “Journey to the End of the Night”

Source: L'Humanité, December 9, 1932;
Translated: for by Mitchell Abidor.

This enormous novel is a considerable work, of a force and breadth which the well-coiffed dwarves of bourgeois literature haven’t accustomed us to. A thousand reservations impose themselves that can’t prevent us from greeting this book differently from the nice, clean, idealistic novels of our talking dogs. “Journey to the End of the Night” is a picaresque novel and not a revolutionary one; a novel of the lower depths like those of the famous Lazarillo de Tormes, whose baseness and tone it recalls.

A doctor – one quite ignoble himself – recounts his explorations in the varied worlds of misery. In it are tableaux of the war, of the African colonies, of America, of the poor suburbs of Paris, of the illnesses and deaths whose traits we cannot forget. A hate-filled revolt, an anger, a denunciation that kills off the most illustrious phantoms: officers, scholars, the whites of the colonies, the petits-bourgeois and the caricatures of love. There is nothing but baseness and rot in this work, the march towards death with a handful of divertissements: popular festivals, brothels, onanism. Céline, in this novel of despair, sees no way out other than death. We can barely glimpse the first rays of a hope that might yet grow.

Céline is not one of us. It is impossible to accept his profound anarchy, his contempt, his general repulsion, from which he doesn’t exempt the proletariat. This pure revolt might lead him anywhere: among us, against us, or nowhere. Missing from his book is the revolution, the true explanation for the misery he denounces, the cancers he lays bare, and the hope that carries us forward. But we recognize the world of his sinister portrait. He rips off all the masks, all camouflages, he tears down the décor of illusions, he increases our consciousness of man’s current degradation.

We shall see in which direction this man who is the dupe of nothing will go. Céline’s literary language is an extraordinary transposition of spoken popular speech, but towards the end of the book it becomes artificial. This is due to the fact that the novel is 200 pages too long. Céline doesn’t stop at the point where he has said everything.