Sunday, December 30, 2007
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Miller On Mailer
Over at Blog About Town, David Marc Fisher has posted--in honour of Henry's birthday on December 26th--a piece about Miller and Norman Mailer (who died this year). Included is the quote above, and several others, culled from Twinka Thiebaud, from the 1981 book Reflections.
I had previously posted an item listing the synopsis of a Today Show piece from 1976 in which Mailer and Miller were interviewed upon the release of Genius & Lust (Mailer's essay on Miller).
A curious addition to the Blog About Town posting is a YouTube clip of 1950s TV program You Bet Your Life, in which Lord Buckley drops a reference to Henry Miller while speaking with host Groucho Marx (it occurs at timecode 4:22).
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Alfred Perlès - Obituary
Drawing from information in this published obituary, I've updated my posted biography of Alfred Perlès.
"His was an extraordinary life. He must be one of the last men to claim the distinction of serving the Kaiser in the first world war and serving the King in the second. Half French and half Austrian, he was reared in Vienna, made his way to Paris as a Czech national, and began publishing memoirs there. He reached England in 1938. In an amusing and touching passage in his book, Round Trip, he has described the moment when he realised he was destined to become a true Englishman. Walking down Oxford Street he suddenly said to himself: 'I am dying for a cup of tea.' He added" 'With every sip I took, England became clearer to me.' And he goes on: 'Once more I have struck root.'"
"He was a wonderful talker, a wise and witty correspondent and a lovable friend. Small, rubicund, cheerful, eloquent in several languages, he cherished a personal mystical philosophy and firmly believed he would survive death somewhere and somehow. Always, he was sustained by his sense of humour."
Besides the facts of Perles' life (which have been incorporated into by biography posting), Nicholson goes on to explain why Perles took a position as Messenger for Reuters and not Journalist: "he chose the lowliest job that would give him bread and butter [...] He did this on principle, to withhold himself from world affairs." Perles would have been in his 60s when delivering these messages. He was 92 years old when he died.
*1 - Although it is Nicholson himself who states that the two men met at Reuters, the Alfred Perles Collection contains a letter from Perles to Nicholson from 1956. Perhaps they only met in person in the 1960s.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
At very least, Henry is expecting a Christmas greeting from Anais, but no telegram arrives on Christmas Eve or Day. The impatience is making him hysterical. "Je m'en fous de vous," shouts Henry at his house guests, "Je suis triste, je suis triste!" ["I don't give a fuck about you, I'm sad, I'm sad!"] Henry asks an American lieutenant and his wife to come up to his room because he needs to "talk to an American." "I can't stand the sound of French voices." When everyone finally clears out, Henry lies in bed, weeping. Midnight arrives, and Christmas gives way to Henry's birthday: he's now 43 years old. "It was the weakest moment of my life since I have been in Paris."
For Christmas, Henry is giving Anais a creative re-working of her own story, Alraune (which will be evetually be published as House Of Incest. Henry's version will eventually be called Scenario (A Film With Sound).) On December 23rd, he'd sent a cable to Anais, which she receives on the 25th:
This image is not the real telegram sent by Henry on Dec 23, 1934--I made it up myself. But the text is his. Source: A Literate Passion. Editor: Gunther Stuhlman. Harvest: 1987, p. 271.
Anais has wired $20 to Henry for Christmas, "thinking you might be short." But her reply to his letter of December 14th has not come. He fears she is ill, perhaps dead. Her response will arrive only after Chritsmas, and will be somewhat reassuring, but complicated. A few weeks later, Henry will return to New York City.
All quotes from letters published in A Literate Passion, edited by Gunther Stuhlmann. Harvest Books, 1987.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Speakeasy at 106 Perry Street
Henry and June’s speakeasy was located in a basement at 106 Perry Street, in Greenwich Village [Google map]. The three-story building was built in 1847; 6,668 sq ft in all.  Although the modest club was initially profitable, business fell off soon afterward. By December 1925, Henry was no longer even in New York and the business was a bust. In hindsight, Miller would recall “those Arabian adventures in the speakeasy on Perry Street.”  This period is described most explicitly in the pages of Plexus (Chapter 10).
Henry acted as the manager. “I also wait on tables, fill short orders, empty the garbage, run errands, make the beds, clean house and in general make myself as useful as possible.”  (p.393). This also included collecting ice for the icebox which Henry loveed rummaging through. The illicit booze was acquired by June through an underworld connection, and sometimes from a visit to Allen Street for some Jewish “sacramental wine.”  (p.481).
Perry Street at Hudson, looking westward, with #99 at right. This photo taken in 1937, from the New York Digital Archives.
“The opening night came off with a bang,”  (p.395) bringing in an astounding (for 1925) $543.69. “For the first time in my life I was really lousy with money,” said an excited Henry  (p.395). But the short term gains quickly dropped, and, as Thanksgiving approached, the typical evening at the speakeasy consisted of Miller and his friends like Joe O’Reagan, Arthur Raymond, Emil and/or Ned Schnellock playing ping-pong, chess or the ukulele, drinking up the house stocks. "It doesn't take long for the speakeasy to become a sort of private club and recreation center. On the kitchen all is a long list of names. Beside the names is chalked up the sums owed us by our friends, our only steady customers."  (p.480).
They fell into debt. Henry’s unpaid alimony alone had stacked up to $650. Legal papers were served to Henry at 106 Perry Street for his failure to pay; he was facing possible arrest . One evening shortly before Thanksgiving 1925, while June took care of customers, Henry and his friends sat in the kitchen and concocted an idea: go to Florida to make money off the “boom.”  (p.486) Just a couple of days before they left, the Perry Street landlord served them with a summons for unpaid rent  (p.486). June was unable to maintain the business on her own, so the speakeasy went under, and she went to stay with her parents.
Another view of 106 Perry Street as it looks today (photo: Christopher Nesbit).
DAWN POWELL AT 106 PERRY ST.
A search for 106 Perry Street on the internet almost exclusively leads to the name Dawn Powell. Powell (1896-1965) was an American writer of satire. Although she is pretty obscure in my own mind, Herbert Muschamp suggested in the New York Times in 1998 that a plaque be placed at 106 Perry Street to commemorate the place where Powell began writing some of her best novels. Powell moved into 106 Perry Street in 1928, less than three years after Henry and June left it. Powell--whose diaries have been published--would not have been impressed to know that Miller lived in her basement, if this quote from her is any indication: "I feel about his Tropics that reading him is like observing somebody belch - you think, now he feels better but it doesn't do you any good." At any rate, if she is also an important American writer, then, with the combination of the Henry Miller connection, perhaps a plaque should go up at 106 Perry.
At New York Songlines are some other literary historical notes from the immediate neighbourhood.
 Henry Miller: The Final Archive (reference document) . "Letters to Henry Miller to Beatrice (Wickens) Miller"; Item #32.  I'm making an assumption here, that the "tea room" referenced in this letter is 106 Perry Street. In fact, the date of the letter (Sept 4, 1925) matches with a reference in Plexus--in the scene preceding the opening of the speakeasy--that it is September (p.367). As well, on Plexus 392, the speakeasy scene opens with a mention of the "turn of the solstice." Autumn solstice occurs in September.  See contemporary real estate listing at NeXTag.  From Tropic of Cancer: Previously unpublished sections. (Roger Jackson, 1999), p. 45.  Plexus. (Henry Miller). Grove Press paperback edition, 1987.  Happiest Man Alive (Mary Dearborn). Touchstone, 1991; p.97.  Henry Miller: A Life (Robert Ferguson). WW Norton, 1991; p.115.
Note: Oddly enough, in both his life chronology in 1943 and for My Life & Times years later, Miller remembered this speakeasy event as occurring in 1927, not 1925. In The Henry Miller Reader (1959), Henry more correctly states “1925 or ’26.” (p.83)
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Henry Miller in the Census Records
Henry's father, Henry Miller (Sr.), is 33 years old. Born in NYC (says the census) in October 1866, he currently works as a Merchant Tailor. He's been married to his wife Louise for ten years. Louise, 30, was born in June 1869 in NYC. Both of her parents, as with Henry Sr's, were born in Germany. Henry Miller (Jr) was born in New York in December 1891, as is listed as being "at school." His four-year old sister Loretta, born in July 1895, is not yet in school.
New York City - 1920
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Preface to 'My Friend, Henry Miller'
Below are a handful of annotated biographical details found within the preface and prologue.
Miller confirms for us that he had first met Perles on rue Delambre. This meeting took place in May 1928, during Miller's first visit to Paris, with his wife June. Perles makes reference to this meeting on page 13 of his book: "When I first met Henry with Mona [June], in 1928, shortly before the Wall Street crash [...] I bumped into them in the rue Delambre--they were staying at the Hotel des Ecoles."
* In 1928 I had never even heard of Big Sur. It was about 1930 or 1931 that I saw for the first time the name Point Sur. I was then reading The Women at Point Sur by Robinson Jeffers, at the Cafe Rotonde, a rather strange place for such a pursuit.
The narrative poem The Women at Point Sur was published in 1927. In August that year, Time Magazine profiled Jeffers and "Point Sur." Time even put him on the cover in 1932, a few months after Miller wrote about one of its characters to Anais Nin: "And I don't mind at all saturating my work with it--sex I mean--because I'm not afraid of it and I almost want to stand up and preach about it, like that nut in The Women of Point Sur. He was cracked and people forgive that, but I am quite sane, too sane almost, madly sane." (February 13, 1932; from A Literate Passion, p.8). Miller would eventually meet Jeffers in 1954: "Met Jeffers the other day. He's OK. In fact, he's fine--like a good hound. A trembling rock." (March 5, 1944; HM and James Laughlin: Selected Letters, p. 42).
* Point Sur [...] "looks a little like Bingen on the Rhine," I remarked.
Miller makes this comparison to Alf (one which Perles disagrees with). Miller had obviously visited Bingen at some point during one of his several tours of Europe.
* I remember the day when he [Perles] received that wonderful, appreciative, encouraging letter addressed to him by Roger Martin du Gard, now a celebrated figure in French literary annals.
Miller talks about a fan letter sent after the release of Perles' Sentiments Limitrophes (1936). Roger Martin du Gard (1881 - 1958) was awarded the Nobel prize for Literature in 1937 for his cycles of novels called Les Thibault. Miller states that the two of them "wept a little then burst out laughing" when Perles read the flattering letter aloud.
* Until he [Perles] left for England, sometime in '37 or '38, there was hardly a day when we did not meet, eat together, and above all, laugh together.
My impression had been that Perles left Paris in 1939, when everyone else cleared out. Miller's assertion here suggests otherwise.
* This paperback edition arrives at a timely moment. At the time the book was written neither of us dreamed that the Tropic of Cancer, or any of the other books published in Paris, would be openly distributed in America.
The U.S. release of Cancer (1961) was still fresh in Miller's mind when he wrote his preface in May 1962. For this reason, much of the brief preface dwells on his opinion about the freeodm to read ("the censorship of books, films, plays serves no purpose"). He also writes about the value of paperbacks.
* Only recently, in a small California town, I came upon the scarcely known book which Perles had so often talked to me about in Paris--Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parsifal.
This Mediaeval German poem from the 13th century--about a quest for the Holy Grail--was the basis of a Wagner opera of the same name. Although Miller implies that he'd only heard Perles talk about this book before 1962, he still made reference to Parsifal in Tropic Of Cancer in the 1930s: "On the merry-go-round, one doesn't get anywhere, whereas with the Germans one can go from Vega to Lope de Vega, all in one night, and come away as foolish as Parsifal." (p. 26).
"[Due to the proliferation of translations in paperback] We are at last beginning to have a worldwide view, instead of an insular one we so long nourished. We are no longer exploring outer space alone but that inner space in which man has his being and through which he will attain in the not too distant future to new levels of consciousness." -- Henry Miller, "Preface"
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
In Defense Of Conrad Moricand
"Though he was basically not fair-minded, he did his utmost to be fair, to be impartial, to be just. And to be loyal, though by nature I felt that he was essentially treacherous. In fact, it was this undefinable treachery which I was first aware of in him, though I had nothing on which to base my feelings. I remmber that I deliberately banished the thought from my mind, replacing it with the vague notion that here was an intelligence which was suspect."
Saturday, December 01, 2007
The Annotated Nexus - Pages 41, 42
41.1 "high unfathomable ache of emptiness into which all creation might be poured and still it would be emptiness"
Miller places this phrase in quotations, but I can't find the source for it. Miller follows this by saying "this aching for God, as it has been called." Perhaps he's quoted an obscure religious text. Miller believes this aptly describes "the soul's loveless state." To explore these views in a larger context of Nexus and The Rosy Crucifixion, take a look at Chris Light's essay, Art And The Artist in The Rosy Crucifixion [PDF].
41.2 rack and wheel
Miller has entered the loveless state described above, "fully equipped with rack and wheel." This could have two meanings. First, he could be referring to the rack and wheel structure of a bicycle, implying that he foolishly raced headlong into the current situation (he follows this by commenting on how alarmingly fast "events piled up"). Secondly, he could be referencing the mediaeval torture devices of rack and wheel; this is consistent with his self-portrayal as a lovefool who is a glutton for punishment in his relationship with Mona/June.
This is a continuation of the idea of the "mind machine" (also mentioned in this paragraph) state of being, which he first introduced on Page 38.
For those of you in the warmer tropical zones, a toboggan is a snow slide, sled or sleigh. An Olympic bobsleigh is technically a toboggan, so you know what kind of barely-controllable momentum we're talking about here. Miller is comparing a toboggan ride to the journey to self-destruction we take when he go into a "mind machine" state. As long as there is a "flicker of life," the mind machine ploughs forward without being slowed by any other self-regulating emotional factors; in fact, he is an empty vessel (a "victim") into which any "demon" may take possession.
41.5 "this side of Paradise"
Miller compares life inside the "vacuum of the mind" to "this side of Paradise," which he places in quotes. Although these words are more famously attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald's first novel of that name (1920), it originated with the poet Rupert Brooke, and his poem Tiare Tahiti (1914).
As I interpret it, Brooke's line is meant to dileniate the pleasures of earthly life (this side) from the "paradise" of an afterlife (that side). The "wise," Brooke claims, agree that Paradise exists after death; therefore, in the primal pleasures of "this side of Paradise" there is "little comfort in the wise." Miller, then, is saying that he is locked into a pursuit of reckless passion without wisdom.
41.6 St. Vitus' Dance
Miller is so deeply into "this side of Paradise"/"the mind machine" "that even the rigor of death seems like a St. Vitus' Dance." The St. Vitus Dance is a neurological disorder now identified as chorea, in which the victim suffers involuntary, almost-rhythmic muscular jerks. In Mediaeval times, the condition was named after Vitus, patron saint of dancers (as well as actors and comedians). Miller's metaphor, then, describes someone in such a state of passionate auto-pilot, that not even death itself would cause him to rest. As he states in the following paragraph, after equating himself to a dead horse galloping in a void, "I kept galloping to the farthest corners of the universe and nowhere finding peace, comfort or rest."