“Courtial n’a commis qu’une erreur! Mais elle ètait fondamentale! Il avait pensé que le monde attendait l’esprit pour changer… Le monde a changé… C’est un fait! Mais l’esprit lui n’est pas venu!… “
“(..) le désordre (..) c’est la belle essence de votre vie même!”
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Mort à crédit, p. 389-390 & p. 358 resp., Gallimard, 1952.
[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dated January 3d 2008, with excitement 😉 Rather proud of this one: for all of its quasi-complete lack of intelligibility, it conveys a thought that is interestingly actual, also for me.]
(Amateuristic English translation: “Courtial only made one error! But it was fundamental! He thought the world waited for ‘spirit’ to change … The world did change … It’s a fact! But spirit did not come into it!…” (note: ‘esprit’ is a tricky one and in the original I translated with ‘mind’), and the second one: “chaos (..) simply is the essential feature of your very life!” (note: ‘désordre’ is a tricky one and I also changed this translation, the previous one was even lousier))
In attempting a translation I realized I’m far from sure whether I get it. Still, it is a theme that – certainly after a long read of Bergson – is compelling. Maybe an inclination to well ordered formulae combined with an allergy for the grand & magnificent lead to a fascination for indeterminate chaos, ‘désordre’. “Order!” is a French thing. It’s the substrate for the spirit of ‘esprit’. Decline in French thought over the past centuries is nothing else than a hang-over, from drinking too much Descartes.
What remains from his great thought experiment is restricted to spirituality. The French language itself – and with it the Romanic languages – are quickly becoming just a study object, an antique. Evolutions are, & in many cases by explicit authorities, blocked from occurring. The language is increasingly sterile, essentially binary and dominantly dualistic.
Only great writers overcome this. Céline may be as ‘wrong’ as a writer can be but he succeeded in overcoming it. Surely, most writers rely on the fact that the world is waiting for the ‘spirit’ of their words to convey how all things spiritual are to be ordered. An increasingly Germanic – or, more approximately, Anglo-Saxon or, more to the point, English – world is not waiting for that. Adam Smith and Charles Darwin wrote in English and the root of all living philosophical enquiry is mostly in German, or nearby languages.
How did I get to a long-winded and largely unsubstantiated rant on the character of languages?
Partly because of my difficulty in the translation attempt above but mainly, I guess, to convey as forcefully as I can – and therefore obliquely & indirectly – that, whilst the spirit-part of traditional dualisms is the more sterile, it is the well ordered body-part which is the root of the issue. One is restricted in attempts to directly convey this thought to a long sentence referring to both parts. Restricted because otherwise damned to be understood in line with popular wishy-washy New Age “analysis”.
Ultimately what is at stake is scientific as well as technological optimism which is as scientifically ungrounded as crude animist religions. There’s thought to be put in something more original, something bigger than the orders we’ve been creating so successfully. Hard mundane thought on body and mind – and not grand sublime thought on destinies and deliverance.
‘What we are’ is in need of discovery still. I have no doubt that further discovery is possible, that it will be a ‘good’ thing if only because it will allow us to deal non-dogmatically, non- question-beggingly & non-mysteriously with ‘good’. I don’t know how though and if I did it would somehow spoil the fun.
In closing, the quotes for me come from a tale of friendship. An egotistical but very real friendship – where something is created by stimulation of imagination.
[For those interested, whilst writing this I was listening to “Messiah” of Georg Frideric Handel, by The English Concert and Choir, Archiv Produktion 1988.]