Wednesday, 5 August 2009


Extract from Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night:

Every morning we saw our doctor, time and again we saw him, surrounded by his nurses. He was a scientific luminary, we were told. The old men from the charity hospital next door would come jerking past our rooms, making useless, disjointed leaps. They'd go from room to room, spitting out gossip between their decayed teeth, purveying scraps of malignant, worn-out slander. Cloistered in their official misery as in an oozing dungeon, those aged workers ruminated the layer of shit that long years of servitude deposit on men's souls. Impotent hatreds grown rancid in the pissy idleness of dormitories. They employed their last quavering energies in hurting each other a little more, in destroying what little pleasure and life they had left.
Their last remaining pleasure! Their shrivelled carcasses contained not one solitary atom that was not absolutely vicious! As soon as it was settled that we soldiers were going to share the relative comfort of the bastion with these other men, they began to detest us in unison, but that didn't stop them from begging for the crumbs of tobacco on our window-sills and the bits of stale bread that had fallen under our benches. At mealtimes they pressed their parchment-skinned faces against the windows of our mess hall. Over their crinkled rheumy noses, they peered in at us like covetous rats. One of those invalids seemed cleverer and wickeder than the rest, he'd come and entertain us with the songs of the day. Père Birouette he was called. He'd do anything we asked provided we gave him tobacco, anything except walk past the hospital morgue, which incidentally was never idle. One of our jokes was to make him go that way, while supposedly taking him for a little stroll. 'Won't you come in?' we'd say when we got to the door. He'd run away griping for all he was worth, so fast and so far we wouldn't see him again for at least two days. Père Birouette had caught a glimpse of death.

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