Les Bienveillantes by Jonathan Littell

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Les Bienveillantes by Jonathan Littell

Post by SlobodanBurgher » Mon Apr 27, 2009 5:44 am

Anyone read this yet? I'm about 1/4 in and enjoying it immensely. There is not much in terms of style in this monumetal novel that makes me think of Burroughs I should say, but while reading the book I nonetheless could not help myself to drawing some comparison to Burroughs (which influenced me to post this here), particularly Burroughs' Western Lands and some others, for example the following:

-main character observes a hanging, the victims trousers fall down and the character watches the victims erect penis that in death ejaculates...
-the main character (a SS/SD officer) elaborates at length, to a Waffen SS soldier (whom the main character is trying to seduce), on how homosexuality fits in with historic notions of 'the warrior' and how this fits in with true national socialisms...
-descriptions of homosexual acts, arguably in a broadly similar sentiment as descriptions by Burroughs on the same...

I'm sure there were something else but I can't remember just now. I am not saying that these very vague 'Burroghsian' instances mean anything, just that I found it curious. A sort of by the ways to see if anyone else have read this yet...

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Re: Les Bienveillantes by Jonathan Littell

Post by SlobodanBurgher » Mon Apr 27, 2009 5:57 am

I was going to write, above, that I had not seen any reviews making comparisons between Littell and Burroughs. Well someone wrote:

"The author [Littell] flatly rejects the notion that The Kindly Ones is historical fiction. Instead, Littell sees the work as phantasmagorical, more in the tradition of William Burroughs than Flaubert or Tolstoy — to whom he has also been compared."

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/stor ... =101392286

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Re: Les Bienveillantes by Jonathan Littell

Post by SlobodanBurgher » Mon Apr 27, 2009 8:12 am

According to Wiki:

"During his years in Yale, he finished his first book, Bad Voltage, and later on met William Burroughs, who left a lasting impression on him. Due to his influence, he started to read Burroughs, as well as Sade, Blanchot, Genet, Céline, Bataille and Beckett."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Littell

Perhaps this Littell-Burroughs connection was common knowledge? I had no idea...
Last edited by SlobodanBurgher on Fri May 01, 2009 10:33 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Les Bienveillantes by Jonathan Littell

Post by SlobodanBurgher » Fri May 01, 2009 10:27 am

Another observation, not sure if anyone cares much but because I can't think of a better place where to write this...

Somewhere closer to the beginning of novel Dr Aue -the fictional writer and narrator of the novel - mentions in passing socialising with Celine in Paris at around the time of his pamphlets, a page or so later one of the characters in novel quotes a passage from one of them.

Obviously as a great admirer of Celine's novels this was intriguing. It was kind of odd that Celine is name-checked totally just in passing, normally it's a sort of trick made in homage (or so to speak anti-homage). In the context it was somewhat ambigious I felt, because why would anyone pay homage to the Celine of the anti-semantic pamphlets? At the time of publishing (late 1930s, the third '41, I think) Celine was arguably going further than the nazis in expressing sheer hatred of jews (in the three booklets)...

What is clear, is that Littell must had read the pamphlets as part of his research -something not possible to those that can't read French as the estate of Celine has -rightly or wrongly- banned (since the late 1940s I believe) any reproduction, in French or in translation, of the pamphlets (though neo-nazi groups as well as historical revisionists (i.e. holocaust deiners) are known to have circulating reissues of the pamphlets (bootlegs!), including an online English translation -which a British authority on Celine told me by email are grossly abridged and not at all faithful to Celine's French texts anyway, being so much less concerned with the style/language than the content/message...anyway I am digressing)

Without giving away the narrative or the storyline too much -stop reading here? if you're very prickly? - towards the end of the first part of the book, some near 350 pages in, or so, we find Dr Max Aue very near the final collapse of the German defenses in Stalingrad. Reading this part I was compelled to question whether a certain character, a protector of Dr Aue, a higher ranking SS officer who had saved Dr Aue from potential Nazi anti-gay prosecution before the war (we're told earlier in the novel in one of the many brilliant type of short stories set within the novel) as well as Dr Aue's mentor if you like, has taken on a character very much in line with the mysterious Léon Robinson from Celine's great Journey to the end of the night (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journey_to ... _the_Night). That's to say, reading it you're sort of questioning whether this character actually really exist (in novel) or whether he is just a invention of Dr Aue's state of mind...

A few pages later the chapter turns into a full-blown 'Celinesqe' dreamlike section -making it clear that this is greatly inspired by vintage Celine a la Death on Credit. There's even a section in this dreamlike larger section that includes a dialogue that is virtually ripped straight out of Celine - with Celine's trademark three-little-dots ("...") thrown in all over the place.

--
Well this was longer than what I was going to write ha ha!

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Re: Les Bienveillantes by Jonathan Littell

Post by RealityStudio » Fri May 01, 2009 10:43 am

I like the one-man book club you have going on here. It's rather Borgesian to be reading your observations and notes about a novel I doubt I'll ever read (not being a fan of the 900-page tome of fiction).
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Re: Les Bienveillantes by Jonathan Littell

Post by RealityStudio » Sun May 10, 2009 9:18 am

From John Coulthart's blog:

http://www.johncoulthart.com/feuilleton ... assage-11/
David Britton has been recommending Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones to me so I guess I’ll be reading that soon.
Hm, this book suddenly got even more interesting...
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Re: Les Bienveillantes by Jonathan Littell

Post by SlobodanBurgher » Mon May 11, 2009 10:31 am


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Re: Les Bienveillantes by Jonathan Littell

Post by dheadley » Sat Jan 21, 2017 10:10 am

I've just finished working my way through 'The Kindly Ones' . All 900 pages. The scope of the book reminded me a little of 'Europe Central' by William T. Vollmann.

I thought the first few hundred pages were excellent (if you can stomach detailed descriptions of executions). The parts dealing with Ukraine were very well researched.

Celine was mentioned briefly but like you I wasn't aware of any stylistic similarities to William Burroughs. I'm not sure why the main character needed to be homosexual and I started to find the anal sex stuff a bit tedious....unless perhaps the author was exercising his own inclinations.

I'd be interested to know where and when Littell met William Burroughs and under what circumstances.

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