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Ballets Without Music, Without Dancers, Without Anything

Louis-Ferdinand Céline

Translated from the French, with an Introduction by Thomas and Carol Christensen
With Art by Éliane Bonabel

Out of Stock

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
Ballets Without Music, Without Dancers, Without Anything
Series No.: 018
ISBN: 1-892295-06-7, Pages: 187
French Literature, Dance

Céline's fascination with the ballet spans his literary career: three of the pieces in this volume were written around the same time that he published his great novel, Voyage au bout de la nuit, which he dedicated to the dancer Elisabeth Craig. At the time of his death, according to his wife—also a dancer—he was planning a book devoted to dance. "A man who doesn't dance confesses some disgraceful weakness," he wrote Milton Hindus. "I put dancing into everything."

In 1936, after finishing his monumental second novel, Mort à crédit, Céline visited Russia, where he hoped to have some of his ballets performed at the Theater Marinski in Leningrad. He failed to get any of them performed. But through this period he continued writing ballets. In 1959 five ballets were collected by Éditions Gallimard with illustrations by Éliane Bonabel.

The result is this edition, never before published in English, that reveals a central concern of Céline's writing while simultaneously displaying his comic structures and the struggle between idyllic beauty and inescapable deterioration, death, and the grotesque of his great fictions.

Also by Louis-Ferdinand Céline:
The Church: A Comedy in Five Acts, Out of Stock

Book Review(s)


by James Sallis

Celine is the great bad boy of literature, the original gangsta, complete with rap. And there is much of the adolescent about his work: fascination with bodily functions and scatology, ill-undirected fury, abundant energy, the preen of alienation. Un-bearably bleak, clotted with polemics and obscenities, his texts virtually assured rejection. Yet in many ways style and manner, like the personal behind them, were a careful construct, far more complex and ambigious than generally perceived.

Celine was a man of the past, lamenting the loss of his Europe; his portraits raveled out the rag ends of a world of which beauty was no longer possible, "thick black dreams." He wrote in a delirium, febrile prose dropping to the page as from a sausage grinder, his work a head-on assault upon all our self-delusions. "Everything we are taught is false," Rimbaud wrote. As is everything we believe and hope for, Celine might add. "It's all dance and music—always at the edge of death, don't fall into it," Celine inscribed in a presentation copy of Voyage au bout de la nuit.

Fascinated by dance all his life, repeatedly he attempted to have ballets staged, publishing with Gallimard in 1959 a collection of scenarios for same, now translated here for the first time, wonderfully, by Thomas Christensen and Carol Christensen. Just as music and all certainties of the time dissolve in Ravel's La Valse, so do language and civilization in the fence posts of Celine's exclamation points and the barbed wire of his ellipses. Behind those exclamations lurk the arresting, transformative events of the first half of the twentieth century, and, in those ellipses, the terminal discontinuities of our time: those places where the very foundation and support beams of our world have been torn away.

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