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Amber Paulen

Louis-Ferdinand Céline

Death on the Installment Plan

9 February 2007


There is not much left unexpressed in this work of Céline’s. What, you may argue, is the point of all those ellipsises? For is not omission their explicit function? Perhaps it is just this, the blatant contradiction, which envelopes the whole of this novel, giving one the impression of being told too much and nothing at all. I believe this man to be a genius. His voice is potent and harsh. The ellipsis then may be utilized as a space to inhale because Céline, taken in mouthfuls, could very well cause the light-hearted to feel a bit queasy.

It is only appropriate that in the preceding entry I invoked the writings of Roald Dahl. These two men appear more similar on prolonged ingestion then one would immediately be drawn to believe. Death on the Installment Plan is Céline’s fictional memoir of childhood. It is at once brutal and poignantly comical. Ferdidnand, a young boy growing up in an obscure passage in Paris, a child among adults who are consumed with an unrelenting torment of their disadvantages, who are constantly tormenting him as the one true cause of their burdens. An experience akin to Dahl’s, who spent the greater part of his childhood in a private British boarding school. The ferment of both of their young lives over at the onset of World War I, where they both served until injured.

Does a dark childhood leads to a perverted sense of humor? I have no authority to respond either with affirmation or in the negative, so I will discard my hypothesis in its conception.

But the visions Ferdinand endures. . . as if an already repulsive world were examined through the lens of a microscope. . . as if all bacteria, microbes and every germ ever manifested were striding along the top-soil with us. . . as if all that was ugly was all that there is. That’s not the point either.

There is comedy within the deeply tragic. Céline skews his monsters until they are more horrific. . . until they are completely distorted. . . until one is not sure where the head has gone. . . wasn’t that a tail? It’s this I find funny and it’s this I believe to be the point. Feridnand’s parents, who took themselves so seriously continued on the downward spiral for the complete length of the book (no short time, I will have you know.) His mother, god rest her soul, limped from door to door peddling a fifty pound bag of lace. She returned home to find her legs swelled with boils, the pus draining down them in streams. This pain is to be prolonged, she must make ends meet, she has no choice. It is only Céline who knows, the Céline sitting at his writing desk, looking backwards into childhood. He knows the ends will never meet, there’s a choice but it doesn’t really matter; the pristine or collaboration with the devil are one in the same.



Commentary for Death on the Installment Plan


1 On Sunday 22 February 2009 Bill Quinn wrote:

I read these books around 1981 at the age of 25. I was knocked out by Celine’s reportage on humanity’s favourite pastime – self destruction. I for one could not stop laughing, particularly when reading Death On The Installment Plan.

Everything in Journey reminded me of myself – content of consciousness, common inner life shared by all. I consider Celine the most significant writer of the 20th century. Written in the 1930’s, those books predicted the writing style of other greats such as James Ellroy, (I refer to his now finished trilogy on the shananagins of 1960’s American movers and shakers, fictional or not), whom most closely resembles Celine, of the writers I am familiar with.

2 On Monday 14 November 2011 everett mayo wrote:

…indeed a genius…and with non-stop humor and a writing style like a machine gun expresses empathy with life’s frustrations …most notable in Giugnol’s Band


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