Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Merry Birthmas Mr. Miller

"To add to my distress, Christmas was almost upon us. It was the season of the year I not only loathed but dreaded. Since attaining manhood I had never known a good Christmas. No matter how I fought against it, Christmas day always found me in the bosom of the family - the melancholy knight wrapped in black armor, forced like every other idiot in Christendom to stuff his belly and listen to the utterly empty babble of his kin."
--- Henry Miller in Nexus (1960; p. 72)

As paranoid conservatives worry about the supposed "War On Christmas," hybridizations like 'Chrismukkah' keep merrily procreating every year. I think that maybe it's time for the victims of another long-neglected holiday predicament to find their place amongst the bastard festivities. These poor unfortunates are those whose birthdays occur on or around Christmas. Merry Birthmas to all of you and, of course, to Henry Miller, whose overshadowed birthdays began on December 26th, 114 years ago!

Awkward family Christmas dinners have long been a seasonal tradition. Henry Miller has enjoyed his share, as is attested to in the on-line essay "Choking on my own saliva": Henry Miller's bourgeois family Christmas in 'Nexus.' - Family Systems Psychotherapy and Literature/Literary Criticism by James Decker (Style, Summer 1997). In this academic study, Decker explores how Miller's drive for individualism is undermined by his bred instinct to please his parents: "By highlighting the Christmas scene, Miller recognizes what Henry does not: that Henry's Bohemian, "independent" life simply constitutes one more example in a pattern of escapism." [Decker, p. 2]. It's an interesting, dense read; you may feel the need to un-do the top few button of your brain pants and lie down on the couch afterward.

James Decker also happens to be the editor of Nexus - The International Henry Miller Journal. It's my understanding that a brand new issue of the journal is out this month (email them to find out). One of the contributors will be NormaJean Ulery MacLeod (whose poem Dear Henry will appear), who offers this American religious memoir of Christmases past.

As for myself, I need to skip town for a few days this holiday season to partake in my own secular Xmas family/ies dinner(s). I probably won't post again in here until just before the new year. Please don't stay up for me, but feel free to leave out the milk and cookies just the same.

Don't forget to raise a birthday toast to Henry Miller this December 26th.

“Suddenly at this point I thought of my old friends in the neighborhood. ‘Merry Christmas! Mrs. Reynolds!’ I shouted. ‘Merry Xmas Mr. Ramsay, you old goat! Merry Xmas Mr. Pirossa, may your bananas slowly ripen! Fuck Jesus! Puck the Virgin Mary! Fuck Gautama the Buddha! Peace on Earth with neutron and hydrogen bombs! Vive the clap! Vive Syphilis the brother of Satan! When you are in love you must destroy right and left! Long live the street cleaners. Bless the uncteries! Long live Insanity! A new day is dawning, an even worse one. Run for your life! Take cover! Puck your sister, your mother, your aunt, your cousin! Not a crumb of the past will be left. Not a morsel, not even a speck. A clean sweep. Pure, beautiful annihilation.’”
--- Henry Miller in Joey, 1979

The image of Henry Miller in my banner art is a video capture from The Henry Miller Odyssey by Robert Snyder (makes a great Xmas gift!), which I have rather unconvincingly doctored to give him a Santa Claus beard.


Anonymous Pierre from Montreal said...

In "Choking on my own saliva": Henry Miller's bourgeois family Christmas in 'Nexus', Professor Decker doesn’t mention the fact that Miller wrote a first draft of his Christmas dinner story in « Crazy Cock » (Part 5, Chapter 2). It’s very similar to the « Nexus » version, although nearer in style and mood to Knut Hamsun than to Nikolai Gogol. Henry insisted on putting the closing lines of Gogol’s « Dead Souls » (in the original Russian) as the preface to the first edition of « Nexus ». Like « Dead Souls », « Nexus » is filled with pain and humor. The Christmas episode (Chapter 6) is a fine example of that strange mixture and a good read during the Holiday season.
Joyeux Noël!
Pierre from Montreal
December 24, 2005

12:32 am  
Anonymous JamesD said...

Thanks, Pierre, for the comment. I definitely should have included that antecedent. Please, however, call me James--Professor Decker sounds so formal!

The Christmas scene is one of my favorites--it hits home for me.

8:44 pm  
Blogger Claude said...

A question : you mention the Robert Snyder's film. CI was wondering which abstract from his work does Henry Miller read in this film? Can you help me?

And thanks a lot for your wonderful site which I just discovered after watching this film.


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