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Wyatt Mason

JANUARY 14, 2010 ISSUE

Bagatelles pour un massacre [Trifles for a Massacre]


by Louis-Ferdinand Cline
Paris: Denol, 379 pp. (1937)
Lcole des cadavres [The School of Corpses]
by Louis-Ferdinand Cline
Paris: Denol, 272 pp. (1938)
Les Beaux Draps [A Fine Mess]
by Louis-Ferdinand Cline
Paris: Les Nouvelles ditions Franaises, 158 pp. (1941)
Normance
by Louis-Ferdinand Cline, translated from the French and with an introduction by Marlon Jones
Dalkey Archive, 371 pp., $14.95 (paper)

1.
Louis-Ferdinand Destouches met Cillie Pam in Paris, at the Caf de la Paix, in September
1932. Destouches was a physician who worked at a public clinic in Clichy treating poor
and working-class patients; Pam was a twenty-seven-year-old Viennese gymnastics
instructor eleven years his junior on a visit to the city. Destouches suggested a stroll in the
Bois de Boulogne, took Pam to dinner later that night, and afterward took her home. Two
weeks together began, after which Pam returned to her work and life in Vienna. Over the
next seven years, they saw each other infrequently but corresponded regularly. Pam, who
was Jewish, married and had a son. Destouches, who wrote in his free time, became
famous shortly after their brief affair, his first novel, Voyage au bout de la nuit, published
at the end of 1932 under the pseudonym Cline (his maternal grandmothers first name),
proving an enormous success. In February 1939, Destouches received word that Pam had
lost her husband: he had been seized, sent to Dachau, and killed. On February 21,
Destouches wrote to Pam, who had fled abroad:
Dear Cillie,

What awful news! At least youre far away, on the other side of the world. Were you
able to take a little money with you? Obviously, youre going to start a new life over
there. How will you work? Where will Europe be by the time you receive this letter?
Were living over a volcano.
On my side, my little dramas are nothing compared to yours (for the moment), but
tragedy looms nonetheless.
Because of my anti-Semitic stance Ive lost all my jobs (Clichy, etc.) and Im going to
court on March 8. You see, Jews can persecute too.
How a reader responds to this letter is, I suspect, a fair predictor of how capable he or she
might be of tolerat-ing the extreme disjunctions that predominate in the life and art of its
author. One of Clines biographers, for example, describes the letter as possessing a
curious blend of concern and sheer tactless selfishness, a response that itself seems to
exhibit its own curious blend of sheer shortsightedness and apologism. Another biographer
calls it, reasonably if inadequately, astonishing, but does offer the useful detail that Pam,
upon receipt of the letter, never saw [Destouches] again and stopped writing.
My own sense is that such a letter would astonish most readerswords of condolence over
anti-Semitic violence do not often contain anti-Semitic sympathiesexcept those who
have read not only Clines novels but also what have been inaccurately termed, for
generations, his anti-Semitic pamphlets. Alas, no English-speaking reader who does not
know French could make so comprehensive a survey. Though all eight of Clines novels
are now available in dependable English translations, the so-called anti-Semitic pamphlets
have never been officially published in English. Having recently read them in French in
bootleg editions readily available online,1 I should report that the letter above, taken in that
larger, less available context, isnt astonishing in the least. Rather, its exactly the sort of
letter one would expect from an anti-Semite of Clines tireless and impenitent ardor, a
writer who, from 1937 to 1944, spent all his flagrant literary energy and aptitude calling
shoutingfor the death of every Jew in France (for a start).

Published just after Christmas 1937, fourteen months before his letter to Cillie, Clines
Bagatelles pour un massacreapproximately Trifles for a Massacre, pour conveying in
favor of, to the end of, and the more musicological as accompaniment tois by no
conceivable measure a pamphlet.Running to 113,000 words (The Great Gatsby is 48,000
words), and published in a first printing of 20,000 copies by Denolthe same house that
issued Clines novel Voyage au bout de la nuit; his first play, Lglise (1933); and his
second novel, Mort crdit (1936) Bagatelles is very much a book, one that went on to
sell 75,000 copies by wars end. Narrated by a physician alternately referred to as
Ferdinand (the autobiographical narrator of Clines Mort credit reprised) and as Cline,
Bagatelles revolves around the physician-narrators failed efforts to find a professional

dance company to perform his ballets, scenarios for three of which appear in the narrative.2
Beginning with an apocryphal epigraph attributed to an eighteenth- century Almanach des
Bons-Enfants (He who dies without having settled his accounts is wicked, he will not go
to Paradise) and ending with the ballet Van Bagaden (an allegory involving a lowly
accountants toil over the ledgers of his greedy master), Bagatelles may be read, on one
level, as an exploration of what we value in earthly life and who decides it. The world is
full of people who call themselves refined and who are not, I declare, not even a bit,
Ferdinand tells us at the outset. I, your humble servant, I fully believe that I, I am a
raffin. This self-mocking self-certainty, a voice familiar to readers of Clines earlier
novels, particularly the satirical sections of Mort crdit, is a conspicuous feature of
Bagatelles. In dialogues with a range of interlocutorsLo Gutman, a fellow physician
and a Jew with connections in the world of dance; the narrators cousin, Gustin Sabayot,
another carryover from Mort crditFerdinand vents his spleen, rounding tirelessly and
monomaniacally on the creature he holds responsible for his failures in the world of ballet
and, by extension, all failures in the world: the Jew. A characteristic paragraph:
All the same, you need only consider, a little more closely, the pretty puss of the
average kike, male or female, to remember it forever. Those spying eyes, lyingly
palethat uptight smilethose livestocky lips that recall: a hyena. And then out of
nowhere theres that look that drifts, heavy, leaden, stunnedthe niggers blood that
flows. Those twitchy naso-labial commisurestwisted, furrowed, downward
curving, defensive, hollowed by hate and disgustfor you!for the abject animal of
the enemy race, accursed, to be destroyed. Their nose, the toucan beak of the
swindler, the traitor, the felonthe sordid schemes, the betrayals, a nose that points
to, lowers toward, and falls over their mouths, their hideous slots, that rotten banana,
their croissant, their filthy kike grins, boorish, slimy, even in beauty pageants, the
very outline of a sucking snout: the Vampire. Its pure zoology!elementary!
Its your blood these ghouls are after! Its enough to make you screamto shudder,
if you have the least inkling of instinct left in your veins, if anything still moves
around in your meat and your head, other than pasty lukewarm rhetoric, stuffed with
cunning little tricks, the gray suit of bloodless clichs, marinated in alcohol. Grins
of the kind you find on Jewish pusses, understand, arent improvised, they dont date
from yesterday or from the Dreyfus Affair. They erupt from the depths of the ages,
to terrify us, to draw us into miscegenation, into bloody Talmudic mires and, finally,
into the Apocalypse![My translation.]
The description of Jewish physiognomy and the great peril it portends is as stylistically
lively as it is substantively empty: anti-Semitic stock-in-trade, the Jew as scheming fiend,
out to annihilate the Gentilethis time by leading Europe into war once again. The
roteness of much of Clines ranting owes to his having plagiarized much of the books
contents: large passages appear within quotation marks but without attribution.3 Clines

sources? The very pamphlets that his wide network of anti-Semitic, racist, and fascist
acquaintances had been generating, and for which Clines fame and Denols resources
stole a much larger stage.
Thus Bagatelles (and its succeeding volumes, which adopt the same sticky-fingered
compositional strategy) is, in part, an uncommon sort of commonplace book: a
clearinghouse for the promulgation of libel from many sources, sources by which Cline is
stimulated into producing the original writing that binds the books together.4 Similarly,
the 379 pages of the original edition of Bagatelles are yoked into stylistic coherence
through, in part, their consistent vocabulary, the word Juif occurring 957 times and the
word youtre (kike) 114 more, adequate quantification of a claim Cline made the month
before Bagatelles appeared that his new book would be on the Jews.5

Judging precisely what kind of book on the Jews Cline produced would not seem to
demand great deliberation: the anti-Semitic stance he mentioned in his astonishing
letter to Cillie is hard to miss. There can be no disputing that Bagatelles traffics in the
shabbiest libels (The Jew, directly or through middlemen, controls the following Trusts
making up 750 billion of the 1,000 billion French national fortune), trots out the industries
said to be under Semitic control (fifty-six in all, including railroads, sponges, coal mines,
wheat, armaments, vacuum tubes, insurance, mineral water, movie studios, shoes,
electricity), postulates the familiar global conspiracy (Its the Jews in London,
Washington, and Moscow that stand in the way of a Franco-German alliance), and
promotes the usual forgeries (The Protocols of the Elders of Zion predict almost exactly
all that the Jews have done in the world since thenand the Jews have been doing a lot in
the world!). And yet the slogan on Bagatelles s publicity wrapper (For a good laugh in
the trenches) as well as the publishers blurb (The most atrocious, the most savage, the
most hateful, but the most unbelievable lampoon the world has ever seen), sentences
written by the publisher in collaboration with Cline, suggested to some that the book was
intendedas another world war loomedas a satire on such extremism.
More than a few readers not lacking for sophistication received it this way. It seems to
me, wrote Andr Gide in April 1938 in La Nouvelle Revue Franaise, that there has been
an awful lot of nonsense written about Bagatelles pour un massacre by its critics:
What surprises me is that they could all have been so mistaken. For, after all, Cline
was playing for high stakes, even the very highest, as he always does. He has always
come straight to the point. He has done his best to warn that all of this is no more
serious than Don Quixotes tilting at windmills. Certain other readers might not be
comfortable with a literary game that, with the help of stupidity, runs the risk of tragic
consequences. If one were forced to see in Bagatelles pour un massacre anything
other than a game, then Cline, despite all his genius, would have no excuse for
stirring up our commonplace passions with such cynicism and casual levity.

Follow the Nobel laureates diagnosis of satirefor which Clines apologists rarely seek a
second opinion6to its unconvincing terminus. The sad (but true) biographical facts of the
early life of Louis-Ferdinand Destoucheswounded in the trenches of World War I, by
most accounts severely, exiting the war a decorated veteran with tinnitus so pronounced
that its roaring is said to have produced lifelong seizuresalso left him a vehement
pacifist.
His Prix Goncourtwinning biographer Frdric Vitoux holds that Cline voiced [his
anti-Semitism] with a specific goalto avoid war, save the peace, peace at any price. In
that goal-driven light, Cline, like Juvenal, Rabelais, or Swift, would be designer of, as
Gide put it, a literary game, one that hoped to do what Alexander Pope said satire should:
deter, if not reform. Bagatelles : the anti-Semitic opus to end all anti-Semitic opuses. The
main problem with this line of thinking is that Bagatelles was not Clines last anti-Semitic
book; rather, only the most narratively sophisticated in an increasingly crude trilogy of
anti-Semitic books, one thatonce the war was underwaywas written in a moral
vacuum.
At the end of November 1938, two weeks after Kristallnacht, Denol published Clines
next book, the 57,000-word Lcole des cadavresThe School of Corpses. Where, a
year earlier, in Bagatelles, Cline had used every rhetorical means at his disposal to
conjure, with buffoonish intensity, cartoonish hyperbole, and tireless vulgarity, an image of
the Jews as culprits for the iniquities of modern life and of ancient tyrannya series of
tableaux so absurd in their overstatement that some uncommonly blinkered readers
mistook their naturein Lcole there can be no mistaking what side Cline was on. I
feel very close to Hitler, very close to all the Germans, he writes, I consider them
brothers, they have every reason to be racist. It would bring me no end of pain if they were
defeated.

To avoid such a defeat, a little anti-Semitism wasnt going to be enough. I find Italian
anti-Semitism lukewarm for my taste, bloodless, inadequate, Cline explains, referring to
Italys Leggi razziali, the racial laws promulgated there in September 1938. I find it
dangerous. A distinction between good Jews and bad Jews? It makes no sense:
Does a surgeon make a distinction between good and bad germs? No. It would be
foolish, a disaster. He boils all his instruments before he operates, not during, a good
twenty minutes under painstaking pressure. The ABCs of the Art of Surgery.
Everything is mysterious about germs just as everything is mysterious about Jews.
One germ so harmless, one Jew so admirable yesterday, tomorrow brings rage,
damnation, infernal blight. No one can predict the future of a germ any more than the
future of a Jew. Waves of infection spread through space, as they wish, when they
wish, and thats that. Harmless bacteria, harmless Jews, semi-virulent germs become

virulent tomorrow, epidemial. The same Jews, the same germs, just at different
moments in life. No one has the right to risk introducing a single germ, a single Jew
said to be innocuous, into the operating theater. No one knows what will happen, what
did happen, what will mutate the most benign-looking germ or Jew.
Whats happening with the kikes in Italy and France is exactly what happened with
pseudo-sterilization. Its no mystery. If you want to get rid of the rats in a ship, or
the stink bugs in a house, do you de-rat by half, and exterminate on just the first floor?
Youll be reinvaded in a month by ten times the rats, by twenty times the bugs.
Two go out the door and 36,000 come back in through the window. You have to
know what you want. Do you want to be rid of the Jews or do you want them to stay?
If you really want to get rid of the Jews, then dont do it 36,000 ways, with 36,000
pretenses! Racism! The Jews arent afraid of anything except racism! They dont care
about anti-Semitism. They can always handle anti-Semitism. Racism! Racism!
Racism! And not just a little, not halfheartedly, but completely! absolutely!
inexorably! like Pasteurs perfect sterilization.
Once France was under the Occupation, once Clines publisher, Denol, had launched a
new imprint, Nouvelles ditions Franaises (its inaugural title: Dr. Georges Montandons
Comment reconnatre le Juif? [How Do You Recognize the Jew?]), Clines 34,000-word
Les Beaux Draps (A Fine Mess) arrived in the spring of 1941. Cline finds more Jews
than ever in the streets, more Jews than ever in the press, more Jews than ever at the bar,
the Opra, the Comdie Franaise, in manufacturing, in banks. Paris and France under the
sway of Freemasons and Jews more than ever and more arrogantly than ever before. His
solution?
Beating up Jews (by Jew I mean anyone with a Jew for a grandparent, even one!)
wont help, Im sure, thats just going around in circles, its a joke, youre only
beating around the bush if you dont grab them by the strings [tefillins], if you dont
strangle them with them.
While Cline would have us understand that the Jews, despite his 200,000 words of
wartime incitement, were still enjoying the best of all possible worlds, new editions of
Bagatelles and Lcole were being readied for 1942 and 1943the latter in an illustrated
edition with a new preface by Cline (Much water under the bridge since this book came
out!). Because paper was being rationed in France and Denol was running low, Cline
called in a favor from Karl Epting, wartime director of the German Institute in Paris:
Dear Epting,
You were once kind enough to inform me that in the event of my publisher lacking
paper to print my booksyou might be able to come to my assistance. I have not

forgotten those tempting wordsup to now we have struggled against growing


penury but we have reached the end of our rope To reprint my principal works we
would need fifteen tons of paper. That is the naked truthDo you think you can help
me? [In English] That is the questionBe or not.
Most cordially yours.
Destouches.

2.
While the content of Clines pamphlets is, unintentionally, perhaps even more tragic than
the events that take place in his novels, writes Marlon Jones in his new introduction to
Normance (1954), the fifth of Clines eight novels and the last to appear in English, the
consequences of these anti-Semitic writings gave his life a particular trajectory, led to his
period of exile, and ultimately, provided living fertilizer for some of his richest literary
produce. Jones would have us understand that Clines pamphlets are important today
only inasmuch as we can be grateful for their impact on Clines biographyon how the
troubles they cost him fortified his subsequent, richest writing. Undoubtedly, as France
regained its senses and its borders and started to settle its overdue accountsand as Cline
saw other anti-Semitic agitators rounded up and decided to flee through Germany at the
wars fraying endsuch events did find their way into the novels Dun chteau lautre
(1957), Nord (1960), and Rigodon (1969), just as the eighteen months he spent awaiting
extradition from Danish prison to trial in France after the war fed Feri pour un autre fois
(1952).
In one of these postwar books, Normance, Cline gives us a day in the life of wartime
Paris, as an air raid hits Montmartre in 1944. Here we have play-by-play of the days
explosions, inner and outer:
Ah, all of a sudden, the babooming stops completely!silence!the apartment stops
rockingshudderingcreakingcrackingalmost, at leasta lullthe floors still
bulging, ripplingbut not so violentlythe storms blown overjust a little swell to
crawl acrossgentleI catch [the dog]Ill have to auscultate himdogs hearts
beat faster than humansIm always interested in the physiological angle!never
mind the circumstances!Ill auscultate all the hearts I come acrossIve
auscultated a thousand cats heartsthats delicate work!hardly takes anything for
their pulse to become undetectableyou know? Palpitation in dogs is mainly
caused by their masters voices, more than exertiondogs are sentimentalId even
auscultate an elephantor a crocodilea mouseI dont have the time!I enjoy
creatures physiology.its their pathology that gets me down.

Dogs may well be sentimental, but Cline is no less so, or oddly so, willing to auscultate
the heart of every animal, of thousands of cats, dogs, elephants, crocodiles, mice, but rather
less adept at sounding the hearts of human beings. Consider, for example, how on the first
page of his first book, he writes of the French race that it is
nothing but a hodgepodge of filth like me, rheumy, flea-bitten, aloof, who, chased by
hunger, plague, tumors, and cold, ran aground here, arriving broken from the four
corners of the earth. They couldnt keep going because the ocean stood in their way.
Thats France and thats the French. Vicious and spineless, raped, robbed, gutted,
and always halfwits. We dont change a bit! Neither our socks nor our masters nor
our opinions or, if we do, too late to have it matter. Were born followers and die of it!
Soldiers without pay, heroes for all humanity, talking monkeys, tortured words, were
the minions of King Misery! Were in his grasp! When were foolish, he squeezes.
His fingers forever around our necks, its hard to speak. No way to live.
The language is, indeed, alive. In French particularly one registers the profound technical
gift Cline possessed, his ability to sew vernacular into his syntactically exacting prose,
prose Simon de Beauvoir called a new instrument: writing as alive as speech. But the
theme played on that instrumentThe truth is an endless death agony. The truth is
deathone repeated in book after book, is shallow and simpleminded. To read any single
novel by Cline is to receive, in a bracing style, a hysterical primer on the abjection of
being. To read them all is to register a unique species of racism: a hatred not of particular
elements of humanity but of the human race as a whole. Thus Jean Giono said of Clines
writing, If Cline had truly believed what he wrote, he would have killed himself.

So, of course, we say that he didnt really hate the human race as a whole. His hatred of
the human race, we say, was a novel way of addressing the suffering of its members.
Cline was a brave French soldier in the First World War, wrote Kurt Vonnegut in
Slaughterhouse Five. He became a doctor, and he treated poor people in the daytime, and
he wrote grotesque novels all night. Vonnegut and Philip Roth admired those grotesques
and taught them in their classes at the Iowa Writers Workshop in the 1960s. Bruce Jay
Friedman included Cline in his 1965 anthology Black Humor, the only French writer
beside Barth, Pynchon, and Heller.7 You get humor along with tragedy, the narrator
insists in Normance, and though true enough as a description of Clines method it
suggests a balance between qualities that his work does not, taken as a whole, support.
The lack of proportion in our view of Cline can be seen in unlikely places. On the back of
the Vitoux biography, there is much fuss from American writers claiming Cline as theirs.
For me, Henry Miller says, he will remain always not just a great writer but a great
man. More significant is Philip Roths confession: To tell you the truth, in France, Cline
is my Proust! Now there is a very great writer. Cline is a great liberator. I feel called by
his voice, a remark that remains worthwhile because Roth never made so unqualified a

claim. Spliced from a 1984 interview published in French in LaQuinzaine Littraire,


Roths approbation reads differently in its original, unbowdlerized form:
To tell you the truth, in France, my Proust is Cline! Theres a very great writer. Even
if his anti- Semitism made him an abject, intolerable person. To read him, I have to
suspend my Jewish conscience, but I do it, because anti-Semitism isnt at the heart of
his books, even Castle to Castle. Cline is a great liberator. I feel called by his voice.
Just as Roths Jewish conscience was itself silently suspended by editorial sleight of
hand, a no less misleading elision of Clines posterity has been made. Henri Godard,
editor of the Pliade edition of Clines novels, has argued that, taken together, the eight
novels possess a dynamic unity without which it is not possible to get the true measure
of Cline. This does not go far enough. Once one extends the reach of Godards claim to
include the anti-Semitic trilogy, the congruence of Clines wink-wink misanthropy with
his unblinking sociopathy becomes apparent. It is not that we shouldnt read Cline
because he was, at a profound level, contemptible. It is rather that, to understand Cline,
we must be ready to, and permitted to, read all that he wrote. Only in this way can we
begin to understand what we are saying when we might think to class him asof all
thingsa humorist.

1 An anonymous but largely accurate translation of Bagatelles exists at multiple sites online: 1, 2, 3. The bootleg editions are kept out of print in
France, and banned from translation abroad, by Clines ninety-seven-year-old widow, Lucette Destouches. I have forbidden the reissue of the
pamphlets, she has said, and tirelessly brought to trial all those whosecretly issued them in France and abroad. These pamphlets existed in
a certain historical context, a particular time, and have brought Louis and me nothing but unhappiness. They no longer have any reason to exist
today. Destouchess ban extends until 2031, when the seventy-year term of copyright control that began with her husbands death in 1961
expires. Even so, there is a good chance, because of laws passed by French parliament in 1972 and 1990 making illegal diffamation ou
linjure raciste (racial defamation) and le dlit de ngationnisme (Holocaust denial), that they will never see legal print in France again.
2 These ballets, Birth of a Fairy, Wicked Paul, Brave Virginie, and Van Bagaden, supplemented by two others, were subsequently published by
Gallimard as Ballets sans musique, sans personne, sans rien, and have been available in France since 1959.
3 As Alice Kaplan documented in her pioneering Relev des sources et citations dans Bagatelles pour un massacre (Paris: Du Lrot, 1987). The
project of sourcing Clines anti-Semitic books was continued by Rgis Terramanzi in his Esthtique de lOutrance (Paris: Du Lrot, 1999).
4 The longer passages quoted here are examples of Clines original material.
5 Whereas the word Jew appears only once in the first two novels and kike not at all.
6 See, in these pages, Victor White, Only Joking, October 12, 1967.
7 See Alice Kaplans The Cline Effect: A 1992 Survey of Contemporary American Writers, Modernism/ Modernity, Vol. 3, No. 1 (January
1996), pp. 117136.

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