Kerouac talks about Céline

In this 1959 Radio Canada interview with Pierre Nadeau, Jack Kerouac talks about his favorite writers and specifically Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Please find below our tentative English transcript of this beautiful document.

I personally consider that the greatest writer in the world is Louis-Ferdinand Céline – his real name is Destouches… he is a doctor, Dr Destouches – because he wrote great epics (“épopées”) on modern life better than anyone else.

When he was on a boat to Africa as a passenger, people didn’t like him. Women would say: “This man here, this doctor, he is mad!”. But one evening, when men were ready to hit poor Dr Destouches, to punch him in the face, he shook the hand of the first lad and said “Vive la France!”.

Then he went down to the side of the boat with some Negros… on a boat, a small boat, boom… Africa! The “Journey to the End of the Night”.

Also he wrote “Mort à Crédit” (Death on Credit), which we call here “Death on the Installment Plan”. It’s beautiful. So this is the greatest.

After that I say that Genet is a great writer. There are only two great writers today. Oh! But there’s another, there’s a great satirist, William Seward Burroughs from the fortune of the Burroughs adding machine. You know the Burroughs adding machine? He is a descendent of… his grandfather invented it. And also Allen Ginsberg. And Gregory Corso, an Italian, well an Italian, anyway…

There are interesting poets too, like Peter Orlovsky, Philip Lamantia, also in Canada, what’s his name, Dubé, in Montréal, what’s his first name? Marcel, Marcel Dubé. Great Men! Blaise Cendrars… But Sartre, Camus, Michaux and Malraux and Mauriac and Maurois and Gide, they’re all…

I say that good writers never win any grand prize, that they will never give the Grand Prize to Céline or to Genet or to Burroughs…

Or to Kerouac?

Oh yes… I am popular! I can win prizes… but if they give me the Nobel Prize when I am fifty years old, if they haven’t yet given it to Louis-Ferdinand Céline, if Céline is still alive, I will say: “No, I don’t want it. Give it to my master!”

Featured Image: “Jack Kerouac #2”, a Jack Kerouac look-alike walking in the streets of Istanbul (Devin Smith, 2011, License CC BY 2.0)