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Céline’s Rehabilitation, from Nazi Collaborator to Distinguished Novelist

Louis-Ferdinand Destouches, writing under the pen name Céline, published his novel Journey to the End of the Night in 1932; it was praised by his contemporaries as a work of genius, and still retains its place as a seminal work of French modernism. A few years later, he began expressing his admiration for Hitler and hope for a Franco-German alliance, writing a series of viciously anti-Semitic pamphlets. In Céline’s eyes, the fall of France in 1940 was a proud moment. Reviewing a recent, meticulous study of the novelist’s views on Jews and race, Frederic Raphael explores how he returned to polite society after the war:

After France’s capitulation in 1940, . . . Céline was one of a band—Robert Brasillach, Drieu la Rochelle, and Lucien Rebatet at its head—whose gloating collaboration with France’s overlords ensured that their articles and books were printed in unprecedentedly large numbers. . . .

Céline’s post-war affectations of never having meant what he said, or even of never having said it, leave him without the cover of honest monstrosity. Annick Duraffour and Pierre André Taguieff [the new book’s authors] unpick the selective quotations and outright lies that allowed Céline and his bande to pervert the truth about his wriggles and wangles. As early as 1950, he had his supporters. . . .

The factitious category of “genius” spared Ezra Pound, as it has Céline, the consequences of “mere words.” Tactfully confined for a few years, Pound returned to sanity and celebrity status in 1949 by being awarded the first Bollingen prize by a jury of T.S. Eliot and friends. Only the poet Karl Shapiro dissented, to his cost. A veteran of the war in the Pacific, he made the bad career move of taking it seriously that, at the [zenith] of the Holocaust, Pound—while a guest of Mussolini—wrote that Jewish profiteers were transporting Europe’s best men to their deaths in—yes, he actually specified—cattle trucks.

After the war, Pound, like Céline, resorted to self-pity and dissimulation: anti-Semitism was declared a “suburban prejudice.” His seemingly mortified lines “Take down thy vanity, I say, take down” were in no way addressed by “ole Ez” to himself but to those who judged him a scoundrel. Oddly enough, Jews of one kind and another came to make pilgrimages to see, if not quite honor, Pound and Céline. Whatever the motive—perhaps the hope the great man might say it ain’t so—the pseudo-paradox of the artist who is also a [loathsome person] has abiding, morbid interest.

Read more at Times Literary Supplement

More about: Anti-Semitism, Arts & Culture, Literature, Vichy France, World War II

Hannah Arendt, Adolf Eichmann, and the Jews

Feb. 23 2018

In 1963—a year after Adolf Eichmann’s sentencing by an Israeli court—reports on the trial by the German-born Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt appeared in the New Yorker and were soon published as a book. This “report on the banality of evil,” as the book was subtitled, outraged many Jews, including many of her erstwhile friends and admirers, on account of her manifest contempt for the entire preceding, her disgust for the state of Israel, her accusation that a wide array of European Jewish leaders (if not the majority of the victims) were complicit in their own murder, and her bizarre insistence that Eichmann was “not a monster,” or even an anti-Semite, but a mindless, faceless bureaucrat. While extensive evidence has been brought to light that Arendt was wrong both in her claims of Jewish passivity and her evaluation of Eichmann as the head of the SS’s Jewish section, her book remains widely read and admired. Ruth Wisse comments on its enduring legacy:

When Arendt volunteered to report on the Eichmann trial, it was presumed that she was doing so in her role as a Jew. . . . But Arendt actually traveled to Jerusalem for a deeper purpose—to reclaim Eichmann for German philosophy. She did not exonerate Nazism and in fact excoriated the postwar Adenauer government for not doing enough to punish known Nazi killers, but she rehabilitated the German mind and demonstrated how that could be done by going—not beyond, but around, good and evil. She came to erase Judaism philosophically, to complicate its search for moral clarity, and to unseat a conviction [that, in Saul Bellow’s words], “everybody . . . knows what murder is.”

Arendt was to remain the heroine of postmodernists, deconstructionists, feminists, relativists, and internationalist ideologues who deny the stability of Truth. Not coincidentally, many of them have also disputed the rights of the sovereign Jewish people to its national homeland. Indeed, as anti-Zionism cemented the coalition of leftists, Arabs, and dissident minorities, Arendt herself was conscripted, sometimes unfairly and in ways she might have protested, as an ally in their destabilizing cause. They were enchanted by her “perversity” and were undeterred in their enthusiasm by subsequent revelations, like those of the historian Bernard Wasserstein, who documented Arendt’s scholarly reliance on anti-Semitic sources in her study of totalitarianism, or of revelations about her resumed friendship with Martin Heidegger despite his Nazi associations.

At the same time, however, the Arendt report on the Eichmann trial became one of the catalysts for something no one could have predicted—an intellectual movement that came to be known as neoconservatism. A cohort of writers and thinkers, many of them Jews from immigrant families who had turned to leftism as naturally as calves to their mother’s teats, but who had slowly moved away from the Marxism of their youth during the Stalin years and World War II, now spotted corruption and dishonesty and something antithetical to them in some of their very models of the intellectual life.

They and their Gentile colleagues had constituted the only European-style intelligentsia to flourish in America. Most of them were only one generation removed from Europe, after all, so what could be more natural than for them to serve as the conduit of European intelligence to America? Arendt’s ingenious twist of the Eichmann trial showed them how Jewish and American they actually were—and how morally clear they aspired to be.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Neoconservatism, New York Intellectuals