1 The plan to publish a critical edition of Céline’s three anti-Semitic pamphlets,  announced by the leading French publisher Gallimard, provoked a long and intense debate that began in early December 2017 and spread beyond France while also being treated as a matter of state, occasioning the intervention of the Prime Minister.  On January 11, 2018, in a letter sent to AFP, Antoine Gallimard stated publicly that he was suspending the project: “In the name of my freedom as a publisher and my sensitivity to my time, I am suspending this project because I do not believe the necessary methodological and memorial conditions have been met to carry it forward peacefully.”  According to his own statements, Gallimard had wanted to publish a “no-holds-barred” critical edition of the pamphlets, a project that he justified on the basis that “Céline’s pamphlets belong to the most infamous chapter of French anti-Semitism. But condemning them to censorship hampers research into their ideological roots and implications and fosters unhealthy curiosity regarding a text that must be approached critically.” He added: “I understand and share the feelings of readers who, for obvious human and ethical reasons, are shocked, hurt, or worried by the planned edition.” It was an attempt at appeasement at a time when Céline had reentered the public debate in the wake of studies breaking with the hagiographic approach favored by Céline specialists and amateurs passionate about the “literary genius.”  The dense web of lies woven around Céline was beginning to come apart and the literary legend was finally being confronted with the historical truth, revealing a Céline who was an “entrepreneur of invective,” in the service of Nazi propaganda from 1937–1938, with ties to anti-Semitic parties and groups, a friend of high officials in the Sicherheitsdienst (SD, a Nazi Party intelligence service), an active collaborator alongside the worst hired penpushers, a deliberate agent of influence, and a despicable informer.
2 There are plenty of good reasons for publishing a critical edition, all of which have been invoked by supporters of Gallimard’s project. But there are also hidden reasons, whether the pursuit of profit or the whitewashing of one of the publisher’s famous authors. The fact of being published by Gallimard would be sufficient to make the pamphlets acceptable and endow them with literary value. The suspension of the project does not, however, mean its definitive abandonment, and it will probably be back on the agenda in future years. It is hard to see Gallimard letting a critical edition of the pamphlets slip through its hands altogether. On March 4, 2018, Antoine Gallimard stated in an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche that he had “not given up” on publishing the pamphlets.
3 We now turn to the origin of this new Céline controversy. The news was announced as a “scoop” by Philippe Sollers, a member of Gallimard’s review panel, during an interview recorded on April 25, 2017, and published by La Cause littéraire on July 19, 2017: Céline’s pamphlets would be republished in France by Gallimard. In that interview, Sollers—who called Bagatelles pour un massacre “a tremendous book” —claimed that Antoine Gallimard had told him that he had decided to publish a critical edition of the pamphlets based on the one published in 2012 by the Céline specialist Régis Tettamanzi at Editions Huit, a small press in Montreal. This edition was published under the title of Écrits polémiques (Polemical writings)—a euphemism if ever there was one. The clean, academic cover belies the nature of the contents. It is an impressive sleight of hand and a clever way of muddying the waters. The suggestion for the title came from the Céline expert Henri Godard, who was interviewed by Les Inrocks on February 27, 2011, a year before the publication of the book in Montreal: “I would not want the three pamphlets to be republished as separate volumes. I envisage a collection entitled Écrits polémiques, which would also include various other short polemical texts like À l’agité du bocal.” Tettamanzi respected his former dissertation director’s wishes. But by doing so he camouflaged, right from the outset, the ideological content of the pamphlets: the racist, anti-Semitic, and pro-Hitler writings of a famous French writer. In December 2017, it was announced in the press that the Gallimard volume, with a preface by the journalist Pierre Assouline, would be published in May 2018, either in the series “Les Cahiers de la N.R.F.” or as a stand-alone book.  On November 1, the Quebecois publisher Rémi Ferland met Antoine Gallimard to seal the agreement.
4 However, the 2012 Quebecois edition, which would form the basis of the Gallimard edition, is riddled with errors, whether historical inaccuracies and approximations, or omissions and oversights.  The critical apparatus, placed at the end of the book, is unsatisfactory. The work as a whole bears more resemblance to an anthology of anti-Semitic texts combined with a philological study and decorated with a few biographical and bibliographical notes. Clearly, these propaganda pamphlets call for an entirely different approach than Céline’s novels. Their publisher, Régis Tettamanzi, a specialist in French literature, cannot also be a historian specializing in the two world wars, the interwar period, anti-Semitism, and Nazism. No doubt because of his appreciation for Céline and his lack of historical expertise, he denies that Céline acted as an informer during the Occupation and passes in silence over his relationships with various officials at the SD. He also ignores damning accounts that show Céline as a militant anti-Semite, including that of Ernst Jünger. But Céline’s pro-Nazi stance is not in any doubt.  That is why we, a group of researchers and academics, have defined the conditions that must be met by any academically rigorous edition of the anti-Semitic pamphlets, which should be produced by a multidisciplinary team that must include historians specializing in the study of Nazi and Collaborationist propaganda. 
5 It was legitimate to question the need, appropriateness, and urgency of this republication at the current time: Could one argue that the moment had come to sell anti-Semitic and racist propaganda under the Gallimard brand in bookstores, supermarkets, or on Amazon? Why not wait for the texts to enter the public domain? They will be free from copyright in in 2031, seventy years after the author’s death on July 1, 1961. That is when the question of a critical edition will become a serious one, as happened in Germany in the case of Mein Kampf, which entered the public domain on January 1, 2016. On January 8 of that year, a two-volume critical edition of the book went on sale, with 1,966 pages and 3,500 notes, produced under the auspices of the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich. Mein Kampf is a historical document that demanded that kind of scholarly undertaking. But should we accord the same treatment to the anti-Semitic pamphlets written by Céline, the most famous French writer of the twentieth century after Proust? The question has aroused contradictory views and provoked heated debates. 
6 It has been asked, with reason, why a publisher as prestigious as Gallimard would take the risk of hastily publishing an anthology of anti-Semitic and racist texts that would, bolstered by the publisher’s stamp of approval, be likely to feed the anti-Semitic fervor that has been on the rise in France since fall 2000. Those, like Serge Klarsfeld, who call for the application of anti-racist legislation to prevent the republication of the pamphlets, are moved by a legitimate concern: to avoid encouraging the trend of anti-Semitism, to not throw oil on the fire at a time when Jews are being attacked and even murdered simply for being Jewish.  But this political and moral imperative is opposed by a cognitive imperative that has been particularly emphasized by historians: the need to shed more light on an often neglected aspect of pro-Hitler, anti-Semitic propaganda in France, and to contextualize and explain the functions and the symbolic effectiveness of texts that played in important part in the anti-Semitic indoctrination of French citizens between late December 1937 and the Liberation.  The wrong-context argument—“it’s not the right time”—is unconvincing because when it comes to a critical edition of texts inciting hatred against a human group, it will always be easy to show that it is not the right time. Was 2015 the right time to publish an annotated edition of Lucien Rebatet’s Décombres (1942), which contains many virulent anti-Semitic passages,  a French translation with commentary of Alfred Rosenberg’s diary,  or an academic French-language edition of Martin Luther’s pamphlet On Jews and Their Lies (1543), which encourages hatred and violence against Jews?  What is certain is that nobody can foresee the destiny of such publications, which can easily go beyond their ideal audience—researchers and rigorous, educated readers—and fall into the hands of anti-Semitic agitators or fanatics; some may even become bestsellers. But that risk does not, in a pluralist, liberal democracy, justify choosing censorship instead of betting on knowledge. Must potential readers be protected at all costs against the supposed fascinations of evil, or rather helped to behave and develop as enlightened citizens?
7 The rightsholders have always been opposed to the republication of the pamphlets, as shown by these remarks by Lucette Destouches, Céline’s widow, in 2001: “My current position regarding Céline’s three pamphlets […] remains very firm. I have forbidden their republication and worked tirelessly to file lawsuits against all those who, for reasons some of which are more honorable than others, have tried to publish them clandestinely, whether in France or abroad. […] Precisely because of their literary quality, they are still capable even now of exerting a malicious hold over certain people, which is something that I have tried to avoid at all costs.”  As for François Gibault, Céline’s executor and biographer, Lucette Destouche’s lawyer and adviser, and president of the Société d’études céliniennes (Society for the study of Céline), he told Les Inrocks on February 27, 2011, that “Like Mrs. Céline, I am opposed to the republication of the pamphlets. It would be a provocation […].”
8 Six years later, his opinion had changed. His principal argument, as set out on December 22, 2017,  was the existence of the “critical edition” of Céline’s Écrits polémiques, published in Montreal in 2012, followed by the remarkable republication of Rebatet’s Décombres in 2015. He added that Gallimard had published the correspondence between Jacques Chardonne and Paul Morand  without causing an outcry. As a good lawyer, Gibault exploits the logic of precedence. He notes with satisfaction that the said publications did not arouse protest from Jewish organizations or anti-racist groups. The time has thus come, he argued, for the republication of Céline’s pamphlets in France. He claimed that the project had been approved by Lucette Destouches, then aged 105 and in need of twenty-four-hour care from a revolving team of three people. Despite being conscious for only brief periods, she had apparently changed her mind completely, after careful consideration, regarding the republication of the pamphlets, which until then she had always rejected in accordance with her late husband’s wishes. It hardly seems plausible and is difficult to verify. We are reduced to believing Mr. Gibault, a lawyer who one might suspect of having unusual persuasive power. When interviewed for “Stupéfiant !” broadcast on the France 2 television channel on January 22, 2018,  Gibault cautiously acknowledged that the decision to republish the pamphlets had not been taken at Lucette’s “express request” but rather that she had responded “why not?” on condition that it would be an annotated edition with commentary.  What is certain is that the republication project was decided in December 2016 by Antoine Gallimard, with François Gibault’s agreement. The literary journalist Pierre Assouline, another Gallimard author, would play the role of historian-endorser by writing the preface to the volume.
9 It is important not to misunderstand the status of these texts. The incitation to hatred and violence against Jews is at the heart of the first two anti-Semitic pamphlets, which depart sharply from the measured, polite, “respectable” anti-Semitism of high society, a literary anti-Semitism characterized by a desire to avoid brutality and coarseness when expressing anti-Jewish sentiments and exemplified by Paul Morand or the Tharaud brothers. Céline made no attempt to hide the principal target of Bagatelles in his correspondence, as in this letter from early 1938: “I have just published an abominably anti-Semitic book […]. I am the number one enemy of the Jews.” There is homicidal intent detectable here, despite what Céline’s supporters in high society would have us believe. The desire to kill is explicit in places, as in Bagatelles: “If we need calves for the Venture, let’s butcher the Jews! That’s my view!” Céline does not conceal his dream of the total elimination of the Jews, as in L’École des cadavres: “The Jew must disappear.” And again: “Either we want to get rid of the Jews or we don’t want to get rid of them. Whoever desires the end desires the means, with no half measures.” In the preface to the 1942 reissue of L’École, Céline brags shamelessly: “L’École was the only text at that time […] to be simultaneously: anti-Semitic, racist, collaborationist (avant la lettre) until the formation of the current anti-English, anti-Masonic, military alliance […].”
10 Despite several passages—particularly in Bagatelles or Les beaux draps that go beyond conventional slogan-thinking, stereotypes, and controversial clichés, plagiarism of anti-Semitic material, or lies and propaganda rumors taken from French-language Nazi or pro-Nazi publications—Céline’s anti-Semitic and racist pamphlets are not solely or even primarily part of literary history. Céline’s famous “style,” recognizable in these passages, marks the pamphlets out from other texts of the same ideological tenor published by incompetent archivists and talentless polemicists working for Nazi propaganda. Nevertheless, Céline was sufficiently inspired by such texts that he plagiarized parts of them. It is important not to neglect this seductive, persuasive aspect of the pamphlets.
11 On February 17, 1939, Lucien Rebatet commented admiringly in Je Suis partout that “the biggest bestseller in years has been Céline’s admirable Bagatelles pour un massacre, which enhanced the debate with that violence, that verbal genius that often brings about more conversions than the best statistics.” The pamphlets belong less to the “pamphlet literature”  strand of literary history than to the history of twentieth-century anti-Semitism, racism, and eugenics, the history of French Nazism and Parisian collaborationism, and of course the history of propaganda in the totalitarian age. Any critical edition worthy of the name must be produced by a range of specialists in these fields, including historians, sociologists, political scientists, and discourse and argumentation analysts.
12 For the various people who have criticized Gallimard’s planned publication, the project’s “suspension” was a victory on three fronts: “methodological” (our Researchers’ Manifesto), political and moral (Alexis Corbière), and “memorial” (Serge Klarsfeld). It is an unprecedented achievement to have made Gallimard back down on this pitiful republication project, which is “critical” in name only. But this “suspension” may be no more than a tactical operation. Gallimard’s communications have been so vague on the question that we cannot rule out the possibility of new surprises.
13 I have, therefore, no objection to a critical and historical edition of the pamphlets, as long as it displays all the guarantees of an academic work produced by specialists in the various fields relevant to such a formidable task. There can be no question of entrusting the job to a literary historian alone, however responsible. Knowing and admiring Céline and his work is not enough to be able to undertake a task that only a multidisciplinary team, including historians specializing in all the necessary fields, could carry out successfully. But there is no reason for urgency except from the perspective of the financial interests of those involved.
14 My position, which is shared by numerous other researchers, is founded on basic realism and the ethics of responsibility. In a context where pirate editions of the pamphlets are proliferating and freely available on the internet—often in faulty, abridged versions—it seems to me that we should opt for the lesser evil: to publish a critical edition that is irreproachable in every respect. The proposal to forbid publication is founded on the ethics of conviction, but it amounts to leaving things as they are: the unauthorized circulation of toxic, even explosive texts, with no critical commentary or historical contextualization to limit their seductive, “radicalizing” power. If the ban on the pamphlets is not total, then it is an empty gesture.
15 To defend a position based on the ethics of responsibility is first of all to consider the effects, and the effects of the effects, of decisions taken, with the aim both of evaluating them and preventing them. It is easy to imagine the adverse effects of a ban. The strict application of France’s 1972 law pertaining to the fight against racism would certainly make it possible to prevent Gallimard from republishing the pamphlets. But it would not prevent the online distribution of the pamphlets or pirate editions of the texts. Moreover, a ban would give the pamphlets the added attraction of forbidden fruit and would risk opening the door to attempts at censorship aimed at politically incorrect texts of any type.
16 Compelled to acknowledge the negative effects of both these opposing positions, we find ourselves at a loss: on one hand, the risk of cultural legitimization owing to republication by Gallimard, however methodologically and ethically satisfactory; on the other hand, the surrender of the pamphlets to pirate editions, anti-Semitic propagandists, and the crooks who upload abridged, tampered, misrepresented texts that include no critical apparatus to serve as a safeguard. We must, therefore, resolve to avoid the worst, given that the best is not an option. We can treat these toxic texts like any historical object, taking the time to produce a proper critical edition of these propaganda pamphlets. But no one has the power to transform a poison into an antidote.
Bagatelles pour un massacre (December 1937), L’École des cadavres (November 1938), and Les Beaux Draps (February 1941).
In an interview published on January 7, 2018, in Le Journal du Dimanche, Édouard Philippe said of Gallimard’s plan to republish the pamphlets that “there are excellent reasons for hating the man, but you can’t ignore the writer or his central place in French literature. I am not scared of the pamphlets being published, but it will have to be carefully done.”
Translator’s note: This quotation is our translation. Unless otherwise stated, all translations of foreign language material cited in this article are our own.
Odile Roynette, Un long tourment. Louis-Ferdinand Céline entre deux guerres (1914–1945) (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2015); Annick Duraffour and Pierre-André Taguieff, Céline, la race, le Juif. Légende littéraire et vérité historique (Paris: Fayard, 2017).
Phillipe Sollers, in Le Procès Céline, documentary film by Alain Moreau and Antoine de Meaux, first aired on October 18, 2011 on Arte.
“Exclusivité : les pamphlets de Céline réédités courant 2018,” L’Incorrect, December 1, 2017; Jérôme Dupuis, “Les pamphlets antisémites de Céline vont être réédités en 2018,” L’Express, December 5, 2017; Antoine Oury, “La réédition des pamphlets antisémites de Céline ‘n’est pas une bonne idée,’” actualitte.com, December 6, 2017; Jérôme Dupuis, “Réédition des pamphlets antisémites de Céline : le gouvernement veut des garanties,” L’Express, December 14, 2017; Laurent Lemire, “Les pamphlets antisémites de Céline en mai 2018 chez Gallimard ?” Livres Hebdo, December 21, 2017.
Annick Duraffour and Pierre André Taguieff (interviewed by Marc Knobel), “Le dernier rebondissement de l’affaire Céline : le projet d’une réédition des trois pamphlets antisémites,” Crif, December 13, 2017.
Annick Duraffour and Pierre André Taguieff, Céline, 76 ff., 277–439, 575–634.
See the Manifesto we published on the L’Obs website: “Voici les conditions pour rééditer les pamphlets antisémites de Céline,” Bibliobs, December 28, 2017. The first signatories were Marc Angenot, Annette Becker, Emmanuel Debono, Annick Duraffour, Philippe Gumplowicz, Laurent Joly, Grégoire Kauffmann, Marie-Anne Matard-Bonucci, Odile Roynette, and Pierre-André Taguieff.
Doan Bui and David Le Bailly, “Faut-il rééditer ses pamphlets antisémites ? Enquête sur la nouvelle affaire Céline,” Bibliobs, January 3, 2018.
Serge Klarsfeld, “Je réclame l’interdiction de la réédition des pamphlets antisémites de Céline,” Bibliobs, December 20, 2017.
Pierre-André Taguieff, “Pour une véritable édition critique des pamphlets de Céline,” Le Monde des livres, January 5, 2018, 7.
Le Dossier Rebatet. Les Décombres. L’inédit de Clairvaux, edition produced and annotated by Bénédicte Vergez-Chaignon, preface by Pascal Ory (Paris: Robert Laffont, 2015).
Alfred Rosenberg, Journal 1934–1944, translated into French by Bernard Lortholary and Olivier Mannoni, edition produced under the direction of Jürgen Mattahäus and Frank Bajohr (Paris: Flammarion, 2015). See also the French translation of Joseph Goebbels’s Journal 1923–1945 (Paris: Tallandier, 2005–2009, 4 vols.).
Martin Luther, Des Juifs et de leurs mensonges (1543), critical edition, translated into French by Johannes Honigmann, introduction and notes by Pierre Savy (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2015).
Lucette Destouches, cited by Véronique Robert, Céline secret (Paris: Grasset, 2001), 128.
François Gibault, “Nous publierons les pamphlets de Céline quand nous serons prêts” (interview by Doan Bui and David Le Bailly), Bibliobs, December 21, 2017.
Paul Morand, Jacques Chardonne, Correspondance, Tome 2: 1961–1963, edition produced, presented, and annotated by Philippe Delpuech (Paris: Gallimard, 2015).
“Spécial censure - Émission intégrale du 22 janvier 2018 - Stupéfiant !”, video, accessed December 21, 2022, https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6dkaoc
Interviewed by the journalist Élise Le Bivic for the program “Stupéfiant !” before Antoine Gallimard decided to suspend the project, Gibault explained why he was in favor of republication: “I am doing it, not at Lucette’s express request, but we have spoken about it fifty times over the years, and now she says ‘OK, why not?’ but with the conditions that we explain things properly, and not published by just anyone but by Gallimard, which is anyway a great publisher.”
Marc Angenot, La Parole pamphlétaire. Contribution à la typologie des discours modernes (Paris: Payot, 1982).