Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Letters to Kathryn Winslow

In 1944, writer Kathryn Winslow (1906 - 1989) met Henry through his Big Sur cabin-mate, Lynda Sargent. To help out a struggling Miller, Winslow opened a gallery in downtown Chicago called Studio M (a.k.a The Studio of Henry Miller). Besides displaying various items related to Miller, it also became a popular artist hangout. Money raised went to help support Henry, whose gratitude sometimes fell beneath Kathryn's expectations. The gallery held out until 1958. In 1986, Winslow wrote a Henry Miller "memoir" called Henry Miller: Full Of Life. Though the first half of the book is mostly about herself, the second half tells the story of her relationship with Henry and Studio M.
Currently on Ebay, someone is offering to sell several letters Winslow had gathered during her research for Full Of Life. These are letters received from publishers and acqunaitances of Henry.

Henry Miller rented his Partington Ridge home from Keith Evans. In a letter dated March 18, 1982, he explains to Winslow: "Lynda wrote me a letter about Henry M and I was glad to have a relatively permanent tenant while I was absent. This was '44 and '45 and as per agreement he moved out when I returned early '46 -- I remember he paid rent of 15.00 or perhaps 20.00 per month -- always paid on time too. He took reasonable care of the place, Lepska was not too happy about moving to Anderson Ck but Henry stuck to the agreement."

Hargraves published Miller and Fraenkel's Hamlet correspondance (1962). In his typed letter to Winslow from December 28, 1986, he wrote: "I agree with you about the new Nin book. What bothers me more is the book Opus Pistorum. Another Anais authored book. For a woman I must admit she wrote pretty good typical men's pornography. The fellow Milton L. should be shot as well as Barney Rosset of Grove Press for publishing it and claiming Henry wrote it. If these people would have read Jay Martin’s bio on Henry they would have known better. Although Henry hated that book & Martin, there is some very good stuff there and a lot of clarifying..."

And from December 18, 1986: "I got to know Henry quite well during the last five years of his life. I was able to secure the rights to the Hamlet letters from Daphne Fraenkel way back then but couldn't get anyone to publish it (even though Henry wrote an original preface for me). That preface did get published in a small book I published several years ago to help finance the printing of the entire book but alas that didn't work either."

Letter from Michael Hargraves to Kathryn Winslow, December 28, 1986.

Most of the other information is culled from Winslow's own carbon copies of her letters, to people likes James Laughlin (see the Comments section below for more references to her correspondence with Laughlin), Noel Young and Barney Rossett. From these notes, we learn that Winslow's original title for Full Of Life was, Henry Miller Among Friends. As well, she claims to own the original manuscript for Miller's "Dream Book" which she offers Grove Press to publish but is rejected (as is her own Full Of Life). The seller quotes a letter from Winslow in 1983, in which she tries to pitch her book to Grove Press: "I operated a shop which I called M, The Studio for Henry Miller, located near the U. of Chicago. During those ten years all proceeds… went directly to him…I kept nothing…nothing has ever been written about it. I know of no other artist or writer who had such a place devoted entirely to his support. Anais Nin, Michael Fraenkel, Kenneth Patchen were some of the people who were closely connected with the studio. None of this has ever been written about…At one time I owned the largest collection of Milleriana extant."

Please note that I have no connection to the Ebay seller of these letters or to the letters themselves, and cannot personally vouch for either (should you want to buy them).

Here is a review of Henry Miller: Full Of Life from 1987. There is also a Kathryn Winslow Collection at the Archives of California, which includes biographical information. The holdings consist mostly of correspondance with her friends, Miriam and Kenneth Patchen.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Miller At The Forest Park Overlook

According to the website of the New York Department of Parks & Recreation, there is an historical sign at Forest Park in Queens with Henry Miller's name on it. The sign stands on The Overlook section of the park, at which Henry was employed by the Queens Parks Department in 1927. Here is a direct quote of the text:

Iconoclastic author Henry Miller (1891-1980) - famous for Tropic of Cancer (1934) - was employed by the Queens Parks Department and worked in the Overlook. While employed there he was also a member of the Brooklyn Forest Park Golf Club. Miller got the job through a friend, Jimmy Pasta, in an attempt to make enough money to support his wife, June. He began working as a grave digger, eventually moving up to an office assistant. But June left him for Paris, and on May 21, 1927, he spent a tormented night in the Overlook, typing 32 pages that would serve as the outline for much of his literary work. He eventually went to Paris and continued to support June.

The "Jimmy Pasta" mentioned here is Tony Marella. Starting on page 150 of Nexus, Henry describes his work at this urban park, including the night he wrote his outline for what he called his "Domesday book" (Nexus, p.165): the outline of what was to become The Rosy Crucifixion. According to Jay Martin's Always Merry And Bright (p.131), Henry began his job here in April 1927.

A road through Forest Park in Queens (by Morton Fox on Flickr)

In Book Of Friends (I), Henry also mentions his Park Commission job (although I can't find a direct reference to The Overlook anywhere). Tony Marella, he says, was the secretary to the Park Commissioner. Tony introduced Henry to the Park Commissioner, who put him on the payroll that very day as a grave digger. "The next morning I was up bright and early to tackle my new job. It didn't take me long to catch on. The other workers were friendly and helpful. Two of them were from the old 14th ward. That made things still nicer." (p.76)

This map of Forest Park identifies the location of The Overlook at the northern tip of the park (map from TreeBranch.com [PDF])

Henry was quickly graduated as Tony's assistant. "Working as Jimmy's assistant I grew more and more familiar with Jimmy's life. Part of his job was to write the political speeches his boss, the Commissioner, had to make. Now and then he would ask my aid in phrasing a sentence." (p.79). The writing of the outline for what was to become The Rosy Crucifixion will come soon as its own post.

Once Henry finished writing his final pages in the early hours of May 22, 1927, he went to sleep on the floor of the Commissioner's office. "Around eight a.m. the first worker arrived. He saw me lying on the rug and thought I was dead, thought I had committed suicide." (p.80).

This (1930) is the Overlook building in which Henry Miller wrote his outline for what was to become The Rosy Crucifixion. Found on the same Oldkewgradens.com website is an image of what the building looks like today.

The following day (acc. to Nexus, p. 167), Henry found a crumpled letter in the trashcan of the Commissioner, which would become the inspiration for his "Letter to the Park Commissioner," which was printed under an alias in The Booster in September 1937.

Regarding the Brooklyn Forest Park Golf Club that is referred to on the sign: I don't know much about this. I just can't picture Henry playing golf with the New York elite. Maybe Tony Marella brought him over there one day, hoping to make some connections for him. Accoring to the same website, this was a private clubhouse. "The City of New York rightfully acquired that property in 1924, and the house is now a part of Dry Harbor Playground on the north side of Forest Park." (Oak Ridge in Forest Park). [photo of the clubhouse on Forgotten-NY].

The buidling at The Outlook is still used as an administrative offcice for the Queens Parks Department, and is located at 80-30 Park Lane in what is now technically Kew Gardens, NY. Here's a recent visit to the Overlook.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Annotated Nexus Index

Now that I'm approaching 40 pages into my Annotated Nexus project, I thought I should make it a little easier to navigate it by creating an index page. A permanent link for this page will be added to the right-hand column of this blog.

The Annotated Nexus -- INDEX

The first page of narrative text is actually Page 7. Page 8. Page 9. Page 10. Page 11-12. Page 13. Page 14. Page 15-16. Page 17-18. Page 19. Page 20. Page 21. Page 22. Page 23. Page 24-30. Page 31-34. Page 35-36. Page 37. Page 38. Page 39-40. Pages 41-42. Pages 42-43. Pages 44-45. Pages 46-47. Page 48. Pages 49-50. Page 51. Pages 52-53. Page 54.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Leon Shamroy In Paradise

Henry Miller's A Devil In Paradise (1956)--later incorporated into Big Sur And The Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch (1957) as Part Three: "Paradise Lost"--is a short story about Conrad Moricand coming to stay with Henry and his family at Big Sur. Moricand was a pompous and eccentric astrologist whom Henry had befriended in Paris in the 1930s. By inviting the impoverished Moricand to stay with him in the paradise of Big Sur in 1948, Henry thought he was doing right by an old friend. But the offensive Moricand soon made him regret his generosity.
In the middle of Moricand's stay at Big Sur, Henry's cinematographer friend Leon Shamroy came to visit. For me, it's one of the funniest moments in the book. The motor-mouthed Shamroy is a brash Hollywood type who calls things as he sees them. Only a language barrier prevents Moricand from realizing how sharply he's being mocked and insulted by Shamroy.

Leonard "Leon" Shamroy was born in New York City in July 16, 1901 (Henry Miller was nine years old at the time, and had just moved to his home on Decatur Street in Brooklyn). After completing university studies as an Engineer, Shamroy began his career at Fox Film in 1920 as a laboratory technician. Within four years he'd started working as a Director of Photography, and would eventually become one of the innovators of American cinema (he was one of the first to use zoom lenses, and became of master of Technicolor and Cinemascope). One of his first films, 1928's The Last Moment (Dir: Paul Fejos) was honored by the National Board of Review (and is now considered one of the first American avant-garde films).

This marked the beginning of a lifetime of honours and awards for Shamroy (see this Film Reference listing). After signing to 20th Century Fox in 1939, Shamroy went on to win four Oscars, and be nominated for 14 others. Some of the films he shot are: Stormy Weather (1943), State Fair (1945), Cheaper By the Dozen (1950), The Robe (1954), Love Is a Many Splendored Thing (1955), The King and I (1956), South Pacific (1958), Porgy And Bess (1959), Cleopatra (1963), and Planet of the Apes (1968). He's also one of the few Cinematographers to have his own star on Hollywood's Walk Of Fame (6925 Hollywood Blvd [ref].). An interesting trivia note: Shamroy was the one who filmed Marilyn Monroe's screen test in 1946 [this is what he thought of her].

Henry Miller met Leon Shamroy in 1946 (ref), the same year he filmed Marilyn. Presumably, Henry met him through either Benny Bufano or Lilak Schatz. I say this because these two artists had been friends with Miller for many years, and--according to the Shamroy Manuscript collection at Indiana University--Bufano and Schatz had also been corresponding with Shamroy since around 1940.

Leon started buying watercolours from Henry the year he met him. Eventually he would own 30 of them. The Bibliography of Primary Sources v.2 makes reference to a Miller painting in the Shamory Collection called "The Hat And The Man" (1947), which was used on the cover of a gallery ad for a showing of Miller's work by the Westwood Art Association in 1973.

On page 101 of Big Sur And The Oranges of HB, Miller makes mention of 25 Miller watercolors which Leon paid a "good price" for. "He paid an even better price for the frames in which they hang." Two paintings were mailed back to Henry, along with the frames, because they "wouldn't stand the test, these two. The test imposed by the magnificient frames, is what I mean."

In 1946, when Leon met Henry, he appears to have been taking a year-long break from filming. The previous year he'd done four films, including A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (1945). Although nearly a decade apart in age, Shamroy and Miller shared a common bond as native New Yorkers living in California. They both enjoyed fine drink and food, were both direct in their communication, and were both inspired by painters [Shamroy explains how he was inspired by colour theory of Gaugin and Rousseau when lighting South Pacific, in The Art of the Cinematographer (1971)].

The Shamroy Manuscript collection summarizes the following Miller-related letters from a period covering mostly the late-40s and 50s: "Subjects discussed in the letters include several of Miller's books, particularly references to Sexus, Nexus, and Plexus, A Devil in Paradise, and Into the Night Life; Miller's water-colors which Shamroy would buy from him; Miller's generally impoverished state at this time and his problems getting money from his French publishers; marital difficulties of both Miller and Shamroy."

[P.331-338] Henry uses Leon's full name in the book, and identifies him as the "head camera man for the Fox Films. The man who wins all the Oscars." (p.331) Leon arrives at Henry's home on Partington Ridge, loaded with gifts: fine liquor, wine and cigars; a dress for his daughter Val; cornbread, cheeses, salami, and lachs. He's also loose with the billfold in his pocket, peeling them off for Henry. "Haven't made your pile yet, have you?" he states. "You and Bufano! A couple of orphans. Lucky you have a friend like me...someone who works for a living, what?" (p.332) He suggests that Henry haul out more of his watercolors; he may buy a few more.

Leon is clearly comfortable in Henry's home; he asks to use his shower and to stay for a day or two: he'd like to talk Henry into writing a screenplay for him. A few hours with Moricand, however, changes his mind.

Moricand observes Leon with interest--"le vrai type amercain, quoi!," Henry imagines him thinking. Moricand has no idea that the bold Shamroy is insulting his picky ways right to his face. "I only wish you could understand his talk," says Henry to Conrad Moricand, "There's no one in all America who can say the things he says and get away with it." (p.331) Shamroy perceives Moricand as sad, and tries to ply him with his cigars and drink. He's offended when Moricand prefers his French cigarettes over his Cuban cigars. "What's the matter with that guy? What's he got that stink weed in his mouth for? Didn't we just give him some good cigars?" [Moricand explains he wants to save it for later]. "Fuck that nonsense! Tell him he's in America now. We don't worry about tomorrow, do we?" (p.333) When he finds out that Moricand is an astrologer, he remarks: "He doesn't know his ass from a hole in the ground. Astrology! Who wants to listen to that shit? Tell him to get wise to himself." (p.334)

Henry and his friend Lilak Schatz--who is also visiting--try to convince Leon to consider buying Moricand's perverse drawings. Leon isn't impressed: "Hollywood's full of that crap. What do you want me to do--masturbate?" (p.335) He finally agrees to Moricans' outrageous price, sure that he can sell them for a profit elsewhere. When he says he'll have to pay with a cheque, Moricand jacks the price up. Leon: "He's mad. Let him stick 'em up his ass!" (p.337) On his way out, Leon gives Henry his final evaluation of Moricand: "What a finicky prick!" ... "You know what's the matter with him? He's sick [in the head]" ... "When you get rid of him, you'd better disinfect the place." (p.338)

Leon Shamroy had been a bachelor at this time, but when A Devil in Paradise was published in 1956, Leon was married to actress Mary Anderson (1953). Intersestingly, the last film that Shamroy shot was an adaptation of Lawrence Durrell's Justine (1969); perhaps Henry had something to do with this arrangement. After a long illness, Shamroy died on July 7, 1974.

LINKS: Shamroy's article, The Future of Cinematography. An article about the use of Cinemascope in filming The Robe. A biographical overview at Film Reference.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Henry Miller And Religion

In Thomas Nesbit's recent book, Henry Miller And Religion (Routledge, 2007), the author explores how Miller "devoted his entire life to articulating a religion of self-liberation in his autobiographical books. As the guiding principle behind his vision, Miller believed that sex, religion, and art are streams from one holy river of creativity"(Nesbit). The 211-page book views Miller's agenda within the context of "fringe religious movements that were linked with the avant-garde in New York City and Paris at the first of the 20th century," such as Gurdjieff, Rosicrucianism, and Theosophy (Amazon.com - Editorial Reviews). The Miller Walks website offers a more descriptive profile of this publication.

Thomas Nesbit, "author of assorted curios" (and sports fan, as anyone will note when visiting his blog), has kindly agreed to be the first person to be interviewed for Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company.

To say Miller was religious is not to say that he subscribed to any particular sect. Can you distinguish between Miller's view of the conventional, dogmatic religions of the world, and his own personal religious beliefs?
Nesbit: Miller’s religious beliefs were esoteric, more mystical than the conventional religious paths most people know of. But it’s even more complicated, as he wasn’t interested in the esoteric tradition of just one particular sect, as you noted. Miller was more interested in esoteric religious groups like Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society, which tried to synthesize all religions – and all thought – into a cohesive system. You see a similar trend in the works of Elie Faure and Oswald Spengler, two great thinkers who tried to synthesize entire histories into a coherent system. With all these folks, there was a sort of buffet approach to knowledge, where you selected whatever you wanted from whichever traditions. So Miller picked out whatever he wanted from all types of esoteric religious traditions – from Rosicrucians to Zen Buddhists – which was a quite common practice among the intelligentsia in the early 20th century, thanks to the influence of fringe religious movements like Theosophy.

Did Miller perceive his God as a merely symbolic figure, or as a literal entity?
Nesbit: Miller literarily believed in God, but God – for him – was a complicated, mystical conception of the divine. His idea of God is very similar to Henri Bergson’s concept of “élan vital,” which basically means “life force.” Miller mentions this “life force” in many of his works, and he uses it to posit an interconnected relationship among religion, art, and sex.

Where is religion to be found in a book like Tropic Of Cancer?
Nesbit: Religion can be found in many places within Tropic of Cancer and similar works. First, consider the genre. Cancer has a lot more in common with the genres of “testament” and “confession” than, let’s say, “novel.” So if it is a testament, you may wonder what sort of religion he is promoting. Let’s revisit the concept of élan vital. If you look at the narrative of Cancer, it basically tells the story of Miller becoming a writer (his self-liberation), which entails connecting with his élan vital, this “vital flow.” At the first of the book, he says that he’s “dead,” and – by the end of the book – he feels this symbolic river flowing through him. That’s Cancer in a nutshell, a story that shows Miller’s transition from being spiritually “dead” to becoming “alive,” hoping that the book will inspire a similar rebirth in his readers. He talks about his follies along the way in a manner similar to Abelard or Augustine.

Most traditional religions demand a forfeit of the Self to a "higher being." Miller, on the other hand, championed a liberation of the Self, in service of the Self. Does this equate to a worship of the Self?
Nesbit: Miller didn’t necessarily worship himself, but the élan vital that lies within everyone, according to his way of thinking. In Miller’s mind, “self-liberation” means getting in touch with one’s life force. So, in a sense, you are forfeiting the self to a “higher being,” but that “higher being” is already within each of us, and was with us from the beginning. We just lose track of it by doing things like, for example, working for the Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company, as Miller talks about in [Tropic of] Capricorn, or pursuing “Mara” (which means “illusion” in Sanskrit).

You were granted access to unpublished letters and copies of books from Miller's personal library (thanks to the Miller Estate). Can you describe the experience of having this kind of intimate access? As well, what sorts of revelations came from this material and ended up in your book?
Nesbit: It was a wonderful experience. There were many times when I would just step back and realize that, for example, I was holding one of Nin’s diaries . . . the actual diaries! And they are a lot smaller than I had always imagined, really tiny volumes. So there were a lot of moments when I was simply in awe of the material, a feeling that I imagine almost any Miller fan would have.

Of course, there were times when the material felt daunting, as one scholar simply does not have enough time and resources to process, let’s say, 200 boxes of papers! There came a time when I had to say “enough!” and write about Miller based on what I had uncovered. I truly hope that my book will inspire others to go out there and build upon the work I have done.

But as to what I uncovered . . . it was great to look at Miller’s own personal copies of religious texts, as the marginalia and underlined passages helped me get into Miller’s head a bit more. There were a few surprises along the way, including a massive manuscript of occult writings that his astrologer friend Conrad Moricand put together sometime in the 1930s. There is also a chart I found that suggests Black Spring was originally conceived as something much more complicated than childhood reveries. All of this was exciting to discover.

Describe your first exposure to Henry Miller. What is it about him and his work that made a meaningful impact on you?
Nesbit: Funny enough, I first heard of Miller when I was around 14 years old. I had watched the remake of “Cape Fear,” where DeNiro’s character was obsessed with Sexus, if I recall correctly (haven’t seen the film since!). Let’s just say that the film piqued my interest.

It took me a while to find Sexus at a bookstore – I even had trouble remembering the author’s name . . . this was before the World Wide Web – but I did find a copy of Cancer at a Waldenbooks. Once I cracked the book, I couldn’t put it down . . . even if I didn’t understand most of it! Cancer was quite a revelation for me, quite a revolution, and it led me to books by Kerouac, Bukowski, and all the other authors that every teenager should know.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, it was Miller’s working class sensibilities – more than anything else – that made Cancer and his other works have such a meaningful impact on me. By working class sensibilities, I mean his “street language,” his sort of primitivism, and his intimate understanding of suffering on a very basic level. I felt that I could relate to him, even though we were born in very different times and places. How liberating it was to discover a kindred spirit!
In a previous post of mine, Kreg from Miller Walks had highlighted the following piece of information from Nesbit's book: "Miller chose the name he gave June in Tropic of Capricorn from Blavatsky's The Voice of the Silence ... In Miller's personal copy of The Voice of the Silence, he underlined a footnote to this passage which reads, "Mara is in exoteric religions a demon, an Asura, but in Esoteric Philosophy it is personified temptation through men's vices, and translated literally means, 'that which kills' the soul."
(quoted from the Comments section of my posting Visions From Madame Blavatsky.)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Annotated Nexus - Page 38

38.0 Henry continues to lament the affect Mona (June) is having on him. He has become paranoid. He lives in the vacuum of his mind...the mind machine; if the machine stops, he will be annihilated. He's been reduced to a coward.
38.1 Sometimes it was the puppet I clutched in a frenzy...
This is a reference to Count Bruga, the puppet that Anastasia (Jean) had crafted, and June had brought home in advnace of bringing home Jean. [the puppet was earlier mentioned at 8.28]. This is one of the objects that Henry lashes out at in his "confused" and "murderous" state: "Whatever threatened to menace our lair." This includes a piece of stale cheese ... yep, he was losing it.
38.2 murder myself? I tried..
From page 36: "When a situation gets so bad that no solution seems possible there is left only murder or suicide. Or both." During this period, Henry--desperate for June's attention--made an attempt to kill himself with pills and exposure to cold (by lying naked on the bed with the windows open, allowing the winter air to get in). He also wrote a suicide note for June. He awoke 12 hours later, without any negative effect upon him--and an indifferent reaction from June. For an account of this, see (for one) Always Merry And Bright (Jay Martin) pp.126-127.

38.3 "Loving and loathing; accepting and rejecting; grasping and disdaining; longing and spurning: this is the disease of the mind."
The quote above seems to be a version of--or Henry's own adaptation of--a quote found in the Hsin hsin ming (or Xin Xin Ming), a Zen text written by Seng-ts'an (died in 606). There appear to be discrepancies in the translation, but none seem to contain the full listing that Henry had written here. But the R. H. Blyth version has a line that says: "The conflict of longing and loathing, -- This is the disease of the mind." In 26.1, Henry quoted another Zen translation, that may have also been from the same 1942 book by Blyth. As I interpret this, emotions and the affect they have on the mind is the disease.

38.4 Solomon
Henry says that "Solomon himself could not have stated" the above quote better. King Solomon (born around 1000 BCE) is one of the biblical kings, revered for him wisdom. Solomon: ""Gold, silver, and rubies are nice, but we treasure far above those knowledge, wisdom, and understanding".

38.5 Dhammapada
Henry follows this up with a quote from the Buddhist Dhammapada: "If you give up both victory and defeat, you sleep at night without fear." (Henry's reply: "If!"). As with many other quotes, I don't know if Henry worked from memory on this, or if he was referencing a specfic translation that I can't find. The quote appears to derive from Line 201 of the Sukhavagga ("Happiness") section of the Dhammapada. These are verses said to have been spoken by the Buddha. Here are some variant translations:

1. Victory breeds hatred. The defeated live in pain. Happily the peaceful live, giving up victory and defeat. (serve.com)

2. A victor only breeds hatred, while a defeated man lives in misery, but a man at peace within lives happily, abandoning up ideas of victory and defeat. (dharma.ncf.ca)

3. Conquest begets enmity; the conquered live in misery; the peaceful live happily having renounced conquest and defeat. (web.ukonline.co.uk/buddhism).

38.6 Knight Errant
Describing himself at that time as a coward, Henry notices how closely a coward and a fool are to a Knight Errant. The Knight Errant is the romantic image of the Mediaeval "knight in shining armor" who wanders the land (which is where the "errant" fits it; it doesn't refer to "error") heroically saving damsels and fearlessly slaying dragons. Miller offers a quote by Cervantes (1547-1616) from Don Quixote, which defines the Kinght Errant. It's a full paragraph quote; I won't re-quote it here. In a nutshell: he'll approach any danger without fear. By comparison, Miller offers that a coward "braves all dangers, runs every risk, fears nothing, absolutely nothing, except the loss of that which he strives impotently to retain."

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Tropic Of Cancer - A Timeline

"I suppose, nay I am quite sure, I shall never write another book like [Tropic of Cancer]. It was like a surgical operation. And out of it I emerged whole again. Though when I embarked on it, it was with no intention to cure myself of anything--rather to rid, to divest myself of the horrible wounds that I had allowed to fester in me."
--- Henry Miller, April 11, 1933 [Letters to Emil]

Tropic Of Cancer is Henry Miller's most famous work. It's been celebrated and vilified, smuggled and seized, declared obscene and declared one of the classic works of Literature. Here are fifteen moments in the history of Tropic Of Cancer.
NOTE: This posting will be expanded over the next couple of weeks. For now, here are details about the first five moments.

1. 1931. The idea: Fuck eveything.
... August 25. On the day Miller finished writing his long-unpublished (and inferior) Crazy Cock, he wrote from the Hotel Central in Paris to his friend Emil Schnellock in New York: "I start tomorrow on the Paris book: first person, uncensored, formless--fuck everything!" [Letters To Emil, p.80] Originally to be called The Last Book, Miller intended to write as honest an account of his previous year in Paris as possible, with particular emphasis on grit, reflecting the despair and seediness his poverty had exposed him to: "It's like a big, public garbage can ... Only the mangy cats are missing. But I'll get them in yet." [letter to Ned Schnellock, qtd in Always Merry And Bright by Jay Martin, p. 251].

2. 1931. The charity of others allows Henry the time to write the book.
... Henry worked on Cancer while staying in the homes of other people, from Alfred Perles' Hotel Central room to lawyer Richard Osborn's apartment at 2 rue Auguste-Bartholdi. Every morning, Osborn left ten francs on Henry's writing table, and when he returned, therewas always a new batch of writing. Anais Nin heard about the writing of this novel before she even met Henry: "[Osborn's] other monologue concerns his friend Henry Miller. Henry Miller is writing a book one thousand pages long which has everything in it that is left out of other novels." [The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol 1 1931-1934, p. 7]. Miller: "If anybody had written a preface for it they might have explained that the book was written on the wing, as it were, between my 25 addresses." [April 26, 1934; letter to Nin, A Literate Passion, p. 231.)

3. 1932. First draft is completed.
... July. In his letters to Anais Nin from July 1932, Miller announces that he's writing the final pages of his book; writing from his apartment in Clichy, he asks which she likes better: the title I Sing The Equator, or Tropic Of Cancer? [A Literate Passion, pp. 65-82]. The manuscript is revised considerably since he began a year earlier: "I'm sending you, as a gift, the first hundred pages or so, the original draft. It has undergone some drastic changes in the rewrite, but loses none of its violence, obscenity, or defamation of character. But I ask you as a great favor not to show that around. Emil, this is a really swell book--and unique. I think it will cause a riot, and, at the same time, prove a seller--just because it is sensational in character. But shit! I'll stop bragging." [Letters to Emil, July 12, 1932.]

When the book is published in 1934, it will be three times shorter than the first draft. [Henry Miller: A Life by Robert Ferguson, p. 229]. The original typescript also contains the original names of the people he based the characters on, instead of the aliases that were later used. [HM and James Laughlin: Selected Letters, p.19]

4. 1932. Publishing deal with Obelisk Press.
... Anais Nin helped Henry shop his manuscript around. Cancer impressed lit agent William A. Bradley, who took Henry on as a client. Around October 1932, Jack Kahane of Oblelisk Press in Paris expressed an interest in publishing it. [By the end of November, a deal had been inked with Obelisk: "Am signed up, bound hand and foot, for three books by the publisher," Henry wrote to Emil Schnellock (Letters to Emil, Nov. 28, 1932). Anais helps grease the wheels by raising financial backing for the Obelisk publication.
Front pages from the second edition of Tropic of Cancer
(Obelisk Press, Sept 1935)
5. 1933. Publication is delayed, to follow his book on Lawrence.
... February 1933 was originally supposed to be the release date for Tropic of Cancer, but Jack Kahane felt that the controversial book might be better received if Henry is first established as a serious writer [Letters to Emil, p. 91]. To do this, Henry works furiously on a "brochure" of literary analysis of D.H. Lawrence (meant to be followed in a series to include Joyce and Proust) [ibid, April 11, 1933]. The project became too much for Henry, and would only be published decades later as The World of Lawrence. In the meantime, Henry continued to proof and revise Tropic of Cancer.
6. 1934. First edition is published by Obelisk Press in Paris.
7. 1934. Banned in the United States.
8. 1938. First important U.S. reviews in Time and New Republic.
9. 1940. Praise in Orwell's Inside The Whale.
10. 1940. The Medvsa edition is one of many bootlegged editions.
11. 1950. Seized by Customs officials and the subject of an obscenity trial.
12. 1961. Grove Press publishes the first American edition.
13. 1964. The Supreme Court declares that the novel is not obscene.
14. 1970. Feature film adaptation released.
15. 1986. Still being banned in countries like Turkey and South Africa.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Henry Miller Library Souvenir Book

Henry Miller Memorial Library: MISSION STATEMENT
"The Henry Miller Library is a public benfit, non-profit organization championing the literary, artistic and cultural contributions of the late writer, artist and Big Sur resident Henry Miller. The Library also serves as a cultural resource center, fuctioning as a public gallery/ performance/workshop space for artists, writers, musicians and students. In addition, the Library supports education in the arts and the local environment. Finally, the Library serves as a social center for the community."

I have never visited the Henry Miller Library at Big Sur, California. Yet I have vivid, impressionistic memories of the mystical Big Sur coast, thanks to my reading of Miller's Big Sur And The Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch. That's why, one day, I'm sure to make the trip to the cozy shack above the ocean.

A view at Big Sur, by Mark Jackson
The prolific Roger Jackson has made the excursion a number of times. Just recently, he has created a glossy souvenir book called Henry Miller & The Henry Miller Library: A Souvenir Booklet. The 70-page book (6x9 inches) contains 100 Miller quotes (broken down into thematic sections, like Books and Sex), plus information about the Library, its history and its Archive. There are also a number of colour photographs throughout the book, taken by commercial photographer Mark Jackson (yes, a relation: his son). The 36 photos cover everything from the blue scenic views of Big Sur to the toasty amber of the Library interiors, the walls of which are replete with framed Millerania.
These booklets will be on sale at the Library. For those who have been there but went home without a souvenir--or for those who just like to collect everything to do with Miller--this handsome booklet is available for $10 (post-paid) from:

Roger Jackson, 339 Brookside Dr., Ann Arbor, MI 48105

I leave you with several photo series' of the Henry Miller Library, posted on Flickr.

And a couple of older Big Sur-related posts: Big Sur: The Way It Was; Miller in the Online Archives of California; Neiman's Phantom Radio and Missing Showbox; Visions From Madame Blavatsky; Miller's Log Cabin at Nepenthe, 1944.