In 1945 Jean-Paul Sartre was one of France’s most respected left-wing writers and intellectuals. He denounced Céline as a collaborator and anti-Semite and also accused him of having been paid to write three highly offensive political pamphlets. Céline’s anti-Semitic ideas about the causes of the Second World War had led to his fleeing France in June 1944, in the expectation of the fall of the Vichy Government. Between 1945 and 1947 he spent eighteen months in a Danish prison as a compromise with the French Government, which had sought to extradite him. Many other suspected collaborators were of course executed, including writers like Robert Brasillach and Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, who shared Céline’s far-right sympathies. As Marlon Jones points out in the brief but useful introduction to his translation of Normance, this knowledge exaggerated Céline’s sense of the precariousness of existence and the violence of the world, two realities that dominate his writings, whether his novels, biographical writings, documentary accounts, pamphlets or letters.
Céline had two favourite nicknames for Sartre, ‘Arton’ and ‘Taenia’. The first is an amalgam of ‘Sartre’ and étron (the French for ‘turd’). Taenia is the Latin genus name for a tapeworm. There is an uninhibited, childish exaggeration about Céline’s style, as well as plenty of delight in