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.)

14 Comments:

Anonymous Eric D Lehman said...

Hello, Thomas. I just used your essay, “Death, Rebirth, and the Self in Tropic of Cancer" in a forthcoming essay that will be published in NEXUS. I look forward to reading your book.

9:51 pm  
Anonymous Kreg said...

A very interesting post. My one complaint about Nesbit's book is that it wasn't longer. Only a Joycean tome could encompass all of Miller's religious allusions. I very much enjoyed the way he teased out hidden references in Miller's work -- something like what you're doing in the Plexus annotation, though within a more concise scope.

I really like the interview format and would enjoy seeing more of it. Some potential interview subjects: James Decker, Roger Jackson, Karl Orend, Yasunori Honda, Barney Rosset, Valentine Miller, Jay Martin (would love to hear what he has to say about Opus Pistorum).

Also, one can find the complete text of Blavatsky's Voice of the Silence online, a short work which is littered throughout with references to the nature of 'Mara' giving insight on Miller's vision of June as he depicted her in Capricorn and The Rosy Crucifixion.

9:14 pm  
Blogger RC said...

Thanks Kreg. I'll consider using the interview format again.

11:57 am  
Blogger Junda Xu said...

20151109 junda
jordan 13
adidas superstars
louis vuitton outlet
michael kors
true religion outlet
louis vuitton
nike sb
louis vuitton outlet
cheap ugg boots
cheap jordan shoes
louis vuitton
moncler jackets
sac longchamp pliage
ray ban sunglasses
michael kors outlet
canada goose jacket
fake oakley sunglasses
ugg outlet store
louis vuitton
pandora jewelry
toms outlet store
toms wedges
north face uk
tory burch outlet
jordan 8
christian louboutin uk
coach factory outlet
coach factory outlet
mulberry bags
coach factory outlet
juicy couture
michael kors uk
tommy hilfiger outlet
basketball shoes
snapbacks wholesale
cheap oakley sunglasses
coach outlet
michael kors outlet
michael kors handbags
oakley sunglasses

10:00 pm  
Blogger xumeiqing said...

151118meiqing
oakley sunglasses wholesale
christian louboutin outlet
coach outlet
lebron james shoes 2015
toms shoes
louis vuitton purses
oakley sunglasses
jordan retro
uggs outlet
pandora jewelry
louis vuitton outlet
nike running shoes
toms
coach factory outlet
ugg boots
louis vuitton bags
hollister kids
ugg clearance
hollister co
michael kors outlet
canada goose jackets
michael kors handbags
coach outlet
coach outlet
abercrombie
uggs clearance
cheap uggs
louis vuitton
gucci handbags
louis vuitton handbags
ray ban outlet
ugg australia
oakley sunglasses wholesale
air max 90
michael kors outlet online
ray ban sunglasses
michael kors handbags
michael kors outlet
abercrombie fitch
louis vuitton handbags

1:29 am  
Blogger John said...

ugg boots
nike huarache
coach outlet store online
ugg boots
polo ralph lauren outlet
uggs boots
oakley sunglasses
michael kors outlet
ugg australia
michael kors outlet
ugg boots
toms
true religion outlet
oakley sunglasses
polo ralph lauren
abercrombie
replica watches
louis vuitton handbags
ugg clearance
ugg boots
michael kors outlet
ugg boots
mont blanc pens
louis vuitton outlet
longchamp outlet
michael kors handbags
hollister uk
ugg australia
chanel bags
coach factory outlet
adidas originals
toms outlet
20151228yuanyuan

2:44 am  
Blogger Gege Dai said...

new york giants jerseys
nike mercurial
air jordan 4
redskins jerseys
los angeles clippers
air max 2014
bengals jersey
seahawks jersey
cardinals jersey
nike outlet store
miami dolphins jersey
indianapolis colts jersey
nike air max uk
los angeles lakers jersey
carolina jerseys
los angeles lakers jerseys
los angeles lakers
new york knicks jerseys
abercrombie outlet
packers jerseys
detroit lions jerseys
san antonio spurs jersey
cincinnati bengals jerseys
vans outlet
raiders jerseys
tommy hilfiger
jets jersey
chicago bulls
falcons jersey
arizona cardinals jerseys
chargers jerseys
nike trainers
buffalo bills jerseys
baltimore ravens jerseys
tommy hilfiger uk
linyuan0511

5:57 am  
Blogger chenlina said...

chenlina20160517
kd 8 shoes
oakley sunglasses cheap
michael kors outlet
lebron shoes
louis vuitton handbags
oakley sunglasses
supra sneakers
burberry scarf
nike roshe run
louis vuitton purses
louis vuitton
fake watches
ralph lauren outlet
michael kors handbags
north face outlet
louis vuitton handbags
louis vuitton purses
toms shoes
nike outlet
toms shoes
coach outlet
polo ralph lauren
coach outlet
michael kors handbags
timberland outlet
ed hardy clothing
replica watches
christian louboutin outlet
toms shoes
louis vuitton outlet stores
louis vuitton handbags
jordan 3
burberry outlet
cheap jordans
hollister clothing
coach outlet
mont blanc
toms shoes
polo ralph lauren
cheap toms
a

2:42 am  
Blogger Gege Dai said...

05028wangjuan10
ed hardy tshirts
jacksonville jaguars jerseys
mac cosmetics sale
golden state warriors jerseys
ferragamo outlet
philadelphia eagles jersey
detroit lions jersey
arizona cardinals jersey
green bay packers jerseys
abercrombie and fitch
oklahoma city thunder jersey
nike air max uk
bengals jersey
air max 2014
lacoste pas cher
boston celtics jerseys
san diego chargers jersey
oklahoma city thunder jerseys
fred perry polo
converse shoes
golden state warriors
foamposite shoes
cheap nike shoes
arizona cardinals jerseys
puma outlet
new england patriots jerseys
kobe 9
valentino outlet
tennessee titans jersey
jaguars jersey

1:33 am  
Blogger Chen Zhiqin said...

abercrombie outlet
redskins jerseys
polo pas cher
new york jets jersey
chicago bulls jersey
nike outlet online
abercrombie outlet
air max uk
dallas cowboys jersey
marc jacobs
buffalo bills jersey
nike outlet store
supra shoes
air jordan 4
foamposite shoes
eagles jerseys
nike outlet store
broncos jerseys
abercrombie and fitch
jacksonville jaguars jerseys
saints jerseys
converse shoes
new orleans saints jerseys
giants jersey
miami heat jerseys
boston celtics jersey
san diego chargers jerseys
detroit lions jersey
converse shoes sale
los angeles clippers jersey
new york knicks
golden state warriors
new orleans saints jersey
vans shoes
cowboys jerseys
czq20160704

4:40 am  
Blogger Gege Dai said...

michael kors outlet
canada goose jackets
vans shoes
ugg outlet
air max 90
louis vuitton
coach outlet clearance
michael kors outlet clearance
nike store uk
hermes belt
20161122lck

1:56 am  
Blogger xjd7410@gmail.com said...

20161122 junda
cheap jordans
tory burch outlet
swarovski uk
timberland boots
canada goose jackets
nike trainers
michael kors handbags
coach outlet clearance
louis vuitton outlet stores
michael kors outlet clearance

3:37 am  
Blogger dong dong23 said...

longchamp outlet
coach outlet store online
scarpe hogan
kate spade
replica watches
tiffany and co
christian louboutin paris
ray ban sunglasses
coach outlet
ugg uk
20171.11wengdongdong

11:01 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

kobe 9
michael kors handbags
new england patriots jerseys
michael kors handbags
yeezy boost 350
redskins jerseys
cleveland cavaliers
michael kors outlet
red valentino
abercrombie and fitch

8:53 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home