Thursday, February 28, 2008

Busted: Henry Miller In Sculpture

Henry Miller may have been etched by Emil Schnellock in 1929, and painted by John Nichols in 1930, but in 1936, his image was cast in three dimensions. “[In] the studio of a friend in the Villa Seurat, Paris,” remembered Miller in the rare book, Reflections on the Death of Mishima (Capra, 1972), “a young Jugoslavian woman, Radmila Djoukic, undertook to sculpt my head.” [p.29] Miller was impressed that the clay bust was a “very true likeness.”

On the day of its completion, Miller was in the studio with a young Chinese student, having a conversation about English literature. Shocked that the student thought that Jack London was the author of Hamlet, Henry threw back his arms and accidentally knocked the still-moist clay bust of his head onto the studio floor, breaking it into pieces. Fortunately, a photograph had been taken of the nearly-completed bust just the day before. [1-29] A few years later, this photograph (or a copy of it) was signed and given to George Seferis in Athens, Greece on October 11, 1939, and is currently housed in the Princeton University Library. In 1944, the photo was used on the dust jacket of the first edition of Miller’s Sunday After The War, published by New Directions [dust jacket with photo of bust is shown at left].

I can find next to nothing about Radmila Djoukic, except that she was from Belgrade (according to Miller’s note to Seferis). Henry included her name on a list of people with whom he had a “close association” during his Villa Seurat years (Henry Miller Reader, p.386).

Henry Miller was going to turn 70 in 1961. He spent most of that year in Europe, and much of it in Germany due to his new love affair with the German editor Renate Gerhardt. At some point, he befriended the curator of the Berlin art gallery Galerie Springer. In honour of Henry’s 70th year, Rudolf Springer arranged for the world-famous sculptor Marino Marini to cast Henry’s head in bronze. [2-208]

Marini Marino (1901-1980, seen at right) was an Italian sculptor best known for his “many vigorous sculptures of horses and horsemen” (so says the museum now dedicated to his work), of which the phallic, 1948 piece Angel of the City is apparently his most famous. On July 22, 1961, Henry wrote to Lawrence Durrell that he was going to have his “head sculpted” in Milan by “Mario” Marini [3-386]. Before arriving in Italy, Henry, with Renate, drove an old, defective Fiat through Switzerland before arriving in Italy some time around August 15th [4-103].

While Marino’s studio was based in Milan, he kept a summer home at Forte dei Marmi in Tuscany [5-775]. Some accounts state that Henry sat for Marini at this location [6]. A letter from Henry to Alfred Perles shows that he was in fact in Forte dei Marmi on August 15th [7]. While there, Henry also visited “the sophisticated house of d’Annunzio[4-103]. As for the actual sitting, the only account I’ve found was in Italian, which I had translated through Google: “Miller, in fact Marino writes, is a character that when trying to resume, beyond by all parties; you could not stop. I had to imagine, I had to tighten, I had to close it in some way: I had to make in ten minutes” [8]. Marino also made a quick profile sketch for reference [see at left]. (this original sketch is currently available for sale through German Ebay, along with several other Marino etches and paintings.) Five photographs were taken of Miller, Marino and Rudolf Springer at Marino’s studio on or around this day; the pictures by Virginia Dortch were aucitoned through PBA Galleries in the 1990s, “including a shot of them drinking” [ref. only; PBA, Item 192].

The completed bust of Henry Miller by Marino is 12 x 6-1/2 x 8-3/4 inches [9]. Henry did not actually see the finished work of art until the following summer, in 1962, [10] when it was on display at the Galerie Springer in Berlin as part of an exhibit of Henry’s watercolour paintings [an event written up by the German Die Zeit newspaper]. The bust of Miller remained in Springer’s possession until February 1964, when it was sold to millionaire art collector Jospeh Hirshhorn [11]. Although my impression has been that Marini cast only a single bronze bust of Henry, his letter to Elmer Gertz from Febraury 15, 1964, implies there were more: “Another of my Marini heads was sold recently to Hirschhorn, the great art collector. A Brooklyn boy like myself—I met him once. Reminds me in some ways of Joe Levine” [12]. That same year, a photograph of the bust was used on the cover of the first edition of Henry Miller On Writing [at left].

With the creation of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden at the Smithsonian in Washington in 1966 (inaugurated in 1974), Hirshhorn donated the Marini bust of Miller to the prestigious institute. Today, “Portrait Of Henry Miller” (1961) continues to be part of the collection of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

While in a doctor’s office in 1971, Henry picked up a magazine and saw a gruesome photograph of the disembodied head of Yukio Mishima. Mishima, a Nobel-prize nominated Japanese writer, had himself decapitated by sword in a publicly-staged event in November 1970. Henry was surprised and horrified by the image [here. Note to the squeamish: this is a decapitated head]. Henry was suddenly transported in memory back to 1936, when he saw his own clay head lying damaged on the ground; an image that had always “haunted” him [1-30; following quote: 1-28]. Mishima’s head “bore a striking resemblance to my own which I had seen lying on the floor, but in pieces. Whether real or imaginary, the resemblance between Mishima’s head and my own was frightening.”


Notes And References
[1] Miller, Henry. Reflections on the Death of Mishima; [2] Lewis, Felice Flannery (ed.). Henry Miller: Years of Trial & Triumph, 1962-1964; [3] MacNiven, Ian S. (ed.). The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80; [4] Brassai. Henry Miller, Happy Rock; [5] (Editor?). The Burlington Magazine, V.112, No.812 (Nov. 1970), p.776-778. Snipet of quote found on Google search only; full article accesible for a fee. [link] See also Holiday Apartment Tuscany website; [6] Although Miller states in advance that he's going to Milan to see Marini (see Durrell letter ref, above), and this is repeated by Brassai in [4-103], the following internet sources state otherwise: 1. "He executes a portrait of Henry Miller at Forte dei Marmi, where he also did Henry Moore's" [Foundation Marino Marini]; 2. "Henry Miller, one of the most controversial authors of our time, sat for the original of this bronze bust in I961 at Marini's summer home in Forte dei Marmi." [see Burlington ref above]; 3. "Henry Miller, in 1961 portrait of the villa Marini to the Germinaia Forte dei Marmi" (trans. from Italian) []; [7] The Henry Miller Collection at University of Victoria, BC (online index); [8] From a gallery review on, of an exhibition at the Marino Marini Museum in Pistoia called "Marino Marini and the portrait," which ran from April-Sept. 2004; [9] Hirshhorn Collection record; [10] Henry gave an account of this in the Henry Miller Literary Society newsletter (Sept. 1962)--this is also referenced in [2-80]. A photo with him and Marini was published in the Dec. 1962 issue; [11] The provenance of this art piece is listed on the Hirshhorn Collection website; [12] The quote is from [2-294]. To further this idea that more than one cast was made from this bust, is this internet listing of a Miller bust in auction in 1998. Not only could the "original" not have been auctioned in 1998 because it was owned by the Smithsonian, but the '98 auction's listed dimensions (8 5/8x11x6 3/4 in) are slightly different.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Nexus: The Int'l Henry Miller Journal - Vol. 5

The fifth volume of Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal is now available for 2008. This annual publication is now bigger than ever, at 342 pages.

p.1 - Editors’ Note

p.2 - Henry Miller’s Letters to Herbert Read: 1935-1958 (edited by James Gifford)
Miller’s letters to English poet and critic Herbert Read (1893-1968) are bursting with his characteristic mix of insightful opinion about the state of the world and of Being, along with references to his personal life and work. The meatiest portion covers a period from Summer 1935 to October 1936, and offers new detail about the elements of this life chapter, from opinions on Alfred Perles and his own Black Spring, to his attitude about the English and ruminations on Surrealism, War and Communism. Only Miller’s side of the correspondence is reprinted here; ample footnotes help enlighten our understanding of his comments and fill in the gaps left by Read’s missing voice. A treasure trove of new Miller insight into events from his life (random examples: “I went through three months of hell watching [my mother] die” and a reference to the fact that Miller had only realized that Orwell had reviewed Tropic Of Cancer when Read sent him a clipping of it from the New English Weekly.).

p.36 - Surrealism’s Anglo-American Afterlife: The Herbert Read and Henry Miller Network (by James Gifford)
Gifford explores the personalities and ideas of the English Surrealist movement--to which Read was a senior artist and critic--and how they connected with Miller and his Villa Seurat circle. Attached to these links are people like Lawrence Durrell, David Gascoyne and Dylan Thomas, whose usage and opinions of Surrealism varied throughout the years, and were often at conceptual odds with their contemporaries. The intellectual conflict between Miller and Read over their conceptions of Surrealism is analyzed through their letters and through comparison of Read’s essay "Surrealism" to Miller’s response, "Open Letter To Surrealists Everywhere." Gifford writes: “In accepting Surrealism as a technique and influence while rejecting it as a movement, Miller fueled similar disenchantments among those who admired Surrealist works but could not accommodate its orthodoxy.” This essay gives a real sense of the vibrancy of an artistic movement as it’s happening. We understand its influence on Miller and how this inspiration and counter-reaction manifested itself in his work.

p.65 - On Reading Henry Miller’s The World of Sex (by D. A. Pratt)
Did you realize that there are two versions of The World Of Sex? Pratt identifies and contrasts the original 1940 version and the more widely-read 1957 edition—which Pratt calls the “wrong version.” In comparing the differences, Pratt states: “[w]hile maintaining the narrative flow of the essay when he was answering the urge to revise it, Miller changed virtually every sentence – the changes are extensive. Secondly, he made major deletions – the original version is a much longer work. Therefore, at the very least, if you haven’t read the original version of The World Of Sex, you have a significant amount of ‘new-to-you’ Henry Miller material waiting for you.” Pratt goes on to give a draft history of World and an analysis of the autobiographical work. Finally, it’s a revelation to read the several pages of narrative comparison printed here, in which text from the 1940 version is laid alongside the revised text of the 1957 version. Not only is this a chance to read some rarer excerpts from the original manuscript, but also to consider Miller’s writing technique as we witness him—in a sense--in the act of revision.

p.135 - Sex Dreams, Cancer & Nightmares – Joseph Millard Osman, Anonymous Friends, The Tribune Crowd, & Henry Miller’s Unknown Book (by Karl Orend)
Orend presents a detailed snapshot of Henry Miller in the year 1931, from the miserable, impoverished circumstances of the first half of the year, to his fortunate employment with the Paris edition of the Chicago Tribune during the second half. Added to this overview is Orend’s discovery of an extremely rare and overlooked document found only in the Bibliothèque nationale de France: Miller’s very first published book (on which he is uncredited). The academic treatise entitled Les Ouvres socials fondee a New York pour les enfants infirmees, was ghostwritten in English by Miller for an American student at the Sorbonne named Joseph Millard Osman, who then translated it into French. Not only did Miller benefit in material ways for this work, he also made important social contacts through Osman: Michael Fraenkel and Walter Lowenfels. While exploring Miller’s psychological makeup in 1931, Orend concludes his essay by considering the meanings found in Miller’s dreams over the following two years, which Miller often recorded in a “dream book.”

p.150 - The Unpublished Correspondence of Henry Miller & André Breton, the “Steady Rock”, 1947-50 (by Branko Aleksić; translated and with additional notes by Karl Orend)
André Breton (1896-1966) was a French writer and the father of Surrealism. Here, Aleksić provides a outline of the written correspondence between Miller and Breton, from the collection found at the Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve in Paris. “Among the major themes covered in these letters,” writes Aleksić, “are: preparations by Breton for the 1947 Surrealist Exhibition, preparations by Breton for a Surrealist exhibition in Berlin, Breton’s plans for the Almanach surrealiste du demi-siecle and l’Anthologie de l’humour noir, the Paris scandal of counterfeit Rimbaud writings […] and Miller’s own writing on Rimbaud for Time Of The Assassins. Miller and Breton also corresponded about astrology in the life and work of Rimbaud.” These subjects are then summarized (actual transcripts of the letters are said to be in the works for the next Nexus journal). Exchanges of books and manuscripts between the two writers are also referenced.

p.173 - Wilson’s Dancing Studio (by Randy Chase)
In my Nexus journal debut, the editors have published my blog entry on Wilson’s Dancing Studio, at which Henry met June. This was originally posted on this blog on March 8, 2007 and is still view-able online.

p.178 - His Eyes Were the Color of the Sea – Fragments on the Unknown Henry Miller, in Paris, 1931-1933 (by Karl Orend)
The population of Miller’s social orbit in Paris in the 1930s was a substantial one. Many of these names become familiar when reading the Miller biographies, even gaining iconic status in their own rights, yet have largely remained scattered fragments in the telling of the Miller legend. In this essay, Orend shines the spotlight on a handful of these people who went on to become characters in Miller’s classic Tropic Of Cancer. Brassai and Richard Galen Osborn (who had put Miller up in his apartment and is called ‘Fillmore’ in Cancer) figure most prominently, with Wambly Bald and Samuel Putnam also given significant coverage. Several Richard Osborn quotes are included, from his essay “No.2 rue Auguste Bartholdi.” As always, Orend’s in-depth narrative rewards with associated details not limited to the basic track of the presumed premise. We get a reconstructed portrait of the “unknown” Miller of the early 1930s through this enhanced understanding of his friends and the roles they played in his life.

p.215 - “Between Ideas and Living": A Foucaultian Reading of Henry Miller (by Laraine Rungo)
Using Michel Foucault’s theories on the construction of identity, this academic essay challenges the idea that the “Henry Miller” written about in the Tropics is the same as the author himself. As a result, the notion of “truth” in Miller’s writing is placed into question. Credit is given to Miller for constructing a complex, postmodern game for the reader by testing our human bounds through the use of transgressive language. “In the process,” writes Rungo, “he discovers the limitations that prevented that analysis from being liberating, but finds only the recurring questions which still pervade the literary discourses of our contemporary world.”

p.240 - Henry Visits Daughter Barbara (by Harry Kiakis)
This entry from the diary of Kiakis on May 19, 1968, is as fascinating as the entry that was published in Nexus journal #3. It’s a combination of a realistic sense that you are spending a day with the elderly Miller, and being privy to Miller’s thoughts on contemporary life and his own life. Kiakis had taken care to catalogue significant quotes spoken by Miller that day. Sometimes it’s a memoryl about visiting John Cowper Powys or his negative change of heart about Bern Porter; other times it’s trivia, such as Miller’s weight in 1968 (126 lbs!?). The premise here is that Kiakis had been asked by Gerald Robitaille—Miller’s assistant—to drive Henry to a meeting with his estranged daughter from him first marriage, Barbara. Kiakis is asked to leave for an hour, but upon his return he describes Barbara (in her 40s), both physically and biographically. At the end comes a mind-blowing revelation: Henry’s first wife, Beatrice, had been living in a “tiny guest house” behind Barbara’s home at the time of Henry’s visit. Kiakis, like myself, wonders if Henry knew this, and what kind of diary entry this would have been if Beatrice had made a sudden appearance during the visit.
(includes a photo of Gerald Robitaille and his wife Diane, as well as one of Barbara Miller speaking with her father)

p.247 - Finding the Bad in the Good: Miller’s Greece and Big Sur Made Whole (by Garen Torikian)
Miller’s novels, The Colossus of Maroussi and Big Sur And the Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch are sometimes criticized as being overly sentimental and somehow inconsistent with Miller’s signature style stressing “the wicked, the ugly, the cruel” (Miller, Art And Outrage). This essay, interestingly, corrects this view by accentuating the negative found in both books. These include critical characterizations of Greek insidivuals who seem to be at odds with Miller’s idealism of Greek society, and Big Sur artists who suffer due to lack of resolve or self-esteem in their art.

p.259 - Tropic of Cancer and Sexual Discourse: A "Critical Hole" (by Phillip Mahoney)
“In speaking about Tropic of Cancer,” opens Mahoney in this academic essay, “one must talk about sex and obscenity.” These subjects, indeed, have been the crux of critical analyses of the novel over the decades. This essay examines the nature of this critical discourse, and suggests that, in the very writing of the book, Miller has created a “kind of hole that no amount of discourse can fill” because “it is one that, in the very act of giving itself up to penetration, refuses to be penetrated, to yield a truth with a content.”

p.272 - Henry Miller and Jean Francois Lyotard: The Aesthetics of ‘The Inhuman’ in Tropic of Cancer (by Eric D. Lehman)
This essay explores the aesthetic of the “inhuman” in Miller’s work, and identifies links and differences to French philosopher Jean Francois Lyotard. Lehman compares Lyotard’s postmodern view of artistic purpose, value and effect to Miller’s accomplishment of creating a narrator that does not seek the sublime but instead acts as a witness of the “eternal now.” A related critique is also made of Welch Everman’s essay “The Anti-Aesthetic of Henry Miller” (1992).

p.285 - Emerging from China – Sketches on a Journey in Search of Henry Miller (by Karl Orend)
This autobiography of publisher, scholar and writer Karl Orend uses Henry Miller as a thread in the life of the author, both as a figurative biographical parallel and as a tangible subject—one of which Orend has researched and written extensively. Much of the content of this article appeared recently on this blog as part of an extended interview with Orend.

p.299 - Henry Miller Art Exhibitions in Sweden, 1967-1970-2005 (by Magnus Grehn)
This brief article summarizes the three Miller art exhibits held in Sweden, with a specific interest in a recent gallery showing at the Grödinge Antik & Design in 2005. Includes a few black and white photographs of the latter.

p.304 - Henry Miller Memorial Archives Library (by Keely Richter)
A two-page summary of the efforts being made in Big Sur to establish a permanent Miller archive (including original materials relating to his relationship to Emil Schnellock) at the HM Memorial Library. Those interested in making a tax-deductible contribution to the project may do so by contacting the library directly.

p.307 - Henry Miller Cartoons (by Roger Jackson)
After scouring thousands of periodicals and news resources, Jackson was able to compile fifteen black & white cartoons relating to Henry Miller, all of which are reproduced here for the first time as a collection. Nearly all of them, of course, refer to the scandalous reputation of Miller’s most famous novel, Tropic Of Cancer. Really interesting to see these representations of Miller within the sphere of popular culture. As requested in this piece, if you have or know of any published cartoons relating to Henry Miller or his work, please notify the editors of the Nexus journal, who will surely publish them in a future edition.

p.323 - Miller Notes: Listings of Millerania that has been recently published or discovered.
Volume 5 is available through the Nexus journal website for $20 US (shipping included) or $24 US (international shipping included). Previous issues are also available. Read the contents of each back issue here: Vol.1, Vol.2, Vol.3, Vol.4.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Henry Miller Honeymoon

Today's guest posting comes from Eric Lehman. He sometimes finds himself on the trail of Miller's ghost, as was the case with a certain cistern in Greece several years ago. Very recently, his travels took him to the haunts of Miller's Paris. The footsteps were doubled, however, as he was in the company of his newlywed wife for the occassion of their honeymoon.
On the plane to Paris my new wife, Amy, read Tropic of Cancer. We had rented a small apartment in the Marais for our winter honeymoon, and she decided that the time had come to finally wade into the murky swamp of Miller’s masterpiece. Of course, I planned on rereading it, as well, and on visiting a few choice spots from the novel. I had printed out pages from the blog, “Walking Paris with Henry Miller,” and planned to do at least one of the tours. If I had been there by myself, on a pilgrimage, I might have done more, but this was our honeymoon, after all. I didn’t want to push it.
Paris in the winter had all the stark angles of bare sycamores and gray steeples, but we found it welcoming and friendly. So crucial to Miller during the Depression, food became our main preoccupation, being only a few blocks from the markets of Rue Montorgueil. The waiters at the cafés were polite and engaging, appreciating our juvenile forays into their language. We saw a ballet, a play at the Comedie Francaise, three cemeteries, ten churches, and a dozen museums.

Below left: Lehman at the door of 16 rue Henri Barbusse, where Henry Miller
used to call on Walter Lowenfels ("Cronstadt")

On finishing Tropic a few days in, Amy commented on how “sad” it was, full of hunger and longing. When I read it this time, I couldn’t stop laughing, noticing once again the sly humor and sharp jokes. Like all great literature, it is a tremendous multiplicity, a concoction of vitamins and poison, enriching the soul and wounding the heart. And now, I knew, the parks and cafés of Miller’s Paris would be alive inside my mind, and I could drink from that potent brew by just closing my eyes.

We decided it was the day to follow in Tropic’s footsteps and took the metro to Montparnasse, maps and pages from Miller Walks in hand. After a visit to the top of the Tour Montparnasse and the cemetery, we walked down the Boulevard Raspail to the collection of cafés at the center of the American expatriate culture in Paris. We were hungry, and decided on La Rotonde. Inside we found a feast beyond the hungry imagination of starving writers, and indulged heartily in a salad with goat cheese, prunes, and apricots in phyllo sheets, sea bass seared with candied lemon and wild rice, leeks with beet sauce and an egg, and a galette for dessert. I felt inspired to be in the same café that Miller and so many other writers and thinkers had dined at, and began working eagerly on a short story.

Heading down the Boulevard du Montparnasse after lunch, we saw the Tschann Librarie [at left] where the first copies of Tropic were placed, sans wrapper, in the window. Then, the Closerie des Lilas, where Miller wrote, and which features a brass plate on a table with his name. We walked past the Fontaine de l’Observatoire where Miller suffered a cold night in Tropic of Cancer. After turning onto the Rue Henri Barbusse, we found the house of Walter Lowenfels, the model for that hilarious caricature, Jabberwhorl Cronstadt. I knocked on the door, but no one was at home.

We strolled the edges of the Luxembourg Gardens, watched bocce players, and dove back into the maze of streets. There we found the house of Joseph and Bertha Schrank, known to Miller fans as Sylvester and Tania, which Miller had visited so often early on in the novel. We saw the hotel he shared with the ghost of August Strindberg, and then Otto Zadkine’s house [at right], now a museum bursting with his terrifying cubist sculptures. I had no idea the “Borowski” from Tropic had become famous enough to warrant his own museum, and was astonished by the quality and scope of the art.

We wandered back up the Rue d’Assas, and back along the Boulevard du Montparnasse to Le Select. It was time for deux café crème, and a talk about Anais Nin’s short stories, which Amy and I were also reading. The menu featured the name “Henri Miller” and we drank a rich, dark cup in honor of the two friends. Taking out notebooks, we wrote for two hours. Deciding to visit at least one more café, we walked across the street to La Coupole, which Miller frequented with Lawrence Durrell and Nin. We ordered drinks, and I finished writing the short story I had worked on all day, feeling that double satisfaction of completing a project, and doing it in the presence of a rich literary history.

Above: Le Select cafe. Below: Amy writing inside Le Select, Eric writing inside La Coupole.

Although the day in Montparnasse was the only day we specifically devoted to Miller, our paths seemed providentially intertwined. At a spot on the Pont des Arts, Amy took a photo of me. Later, I found a photo of Miller in nearly the same spot, framed by the Ile de Cite. A spot from the film of Henry and June appeared along the Seine. A Miller quote graced the floor of Shakespeare and Company. On the only day trip out of the city, we traveled to Auvers-sur-Oise to see the grave of Vincent Van Gogh, and the sculpture of the artist in the town park was by who else but Otto Zadkine.

On the last day, as we browsed the booksellers on the Seine, Amy called to me. “Do you have this one by Miller?” She pointed to Max et les Phagocytes, a title I had never seen outside of a bibliography, a book I knew was impossible to get in America. I immediately grabbed it and took it to the proprietor. “Ah, Henri Miller! Tres bien.” He laughed, and said something else in French that probably meant that I was in for a wild ride. I knew it. Miller was in the veins of Paris like a rogue blood cell, and even a pair of honeymooners in love could not escape him.

Lehman on the Pont des Arts.

As I walked those streets of Paris with my wife, I could almost see Henry there, and a thousand others like him, those legendary engineers of our personal mythologies. But they are not myths, these men and women who lived their bittersweet lives just as we do now, aware of their own debts to history and each other. That fact was never clearer to me than that day in Montparnasse, when I shared space, if not time, with an author whose landscapes had once only been literary dreams, but were now a lived reality.

Eric Lehman is a senior lecturer and Director of Composition at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. He writes fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, and essays, which have been published in a number of literary journals. His essay, "Henry Miller and Jean Francois Lyotard: The Aesthetics of 'The Inhuman' in Tropic of Cancer" was published recently in Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal, Volume 5 (2008).

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Money And How It Gets That Way

“Clearly, as the Pope has said, money is not the root of all evil! The evil is in us, in our dissatisfaction with the condition of life we find ourselves in.”
-------- Henry Miller, Money And How It Gets That Way (1938) [3-153]

Henry Miller’s Money And How It Gets That Way was first published in September 1938 in Paris. It had a limited run of 495 copies, sold at a price of 15 francs each. [1] This “little treatise,” as Miller calls it in the Preface, was a 64-page satire of economic theory; or, as Henry would describe it in a letter to Gerhsam Legman in 1939, “a burlesque on the pedagogical style.” [2] Although it’s a bit long and tedious—which is part of the joke—there is still no mistaking Miller’s sarcastic tone, even as he buries the narrative in pedantic detail about the history of coinage or rainfall on the Gold Coast or African dialects. It’s written as essentially a history of money and gold, but veers off on excessively detailed know-it-all tangents, like the most insufferable university lecture imaginable. Having said that, there’s so much trivia in here that some of it is bound to be fascinating in itself, although it may be totally unrelated from the central thesis of the essay (and I wonder how many of these "facts" are true). To make a modern pop culture comparison to the winking tone of this essay, there’s a sort of Stephen Colbert thing happening here when Miller drops a line like “The important thing for every man to learn is that money is not to be despised” [3-155].

Only once in a while does the farce extend to a degree that the unsuspecting might become suspect (“Gold should be kept around the house where it may be seen and felt. If gold is unattainable, then money, money in whatever form” [3-156]). Otherwise, it could pass as an unfocused but earnest attempt to analyze the origins of physical, portable currency in human history and the way in which this currency has become symbolically representative of the value of goods and people. Alfred Perles claimed that “Henry received a letter from the Governor of the Bank of England, to whom he had sent a copy in jest, offering serious comment on his unique approach to the subject” (My Friend Henry Miller by Perles, p. 72).
Miller had written the original text for Money in November 1936. According to Perles, Michael Fraenkel was convinced that Henry knew nothing about the subject of money, and dared him to write something about it. “It was stipulated,” explains Perles, “that the pamphlet be written in the jargon familiar to professional economists and while making no sense should give the impression of coming from an authority on the subject” [4-72]. On November 1, 1936, Miller wrote a Foreword in which he expressed his hope that his treatise would “settle the problem once and for all,” but, if not, “may at least unsettle it” [3-119]. On November 10th, he wrote to James Laughlin, announcing that he’d just finished a “50-page burlesque on Money—and how it gets that way,” “…a broad farce without a bit of sense in it” [5-7]. To Lawrence Durrell, five days later, Henry described it as a “hilarious farce meaning absolutely nothing” [6-26]. Henry tells them both that he is pleased that Jack Kahane of Obelisk Press has promised to publish this as a cheap pamphlet. However, this apparently this never came to pass, and Miller would only print it himself in another two years.

As soon as Fraenkel’s challenge was on, Henry seems to have been immediately inspired by a single name: Ezra Pound. Pound (1885-1972) had already established himself as a modernist poet and radical intellectual by the time Miller first made contact with him in 1934. That year, Henry send Pound a copy of Tropic Of Cancer. Miller received two postcards in return, one of which partly read: “… though you realize the force of money AS destiny, the one question you haven’t asked yourself is: What IS money? who makes it/ how does it get that way?” [7-136]. Henry thought Pound’s correspondence “strange,” and shared them with Anais Nin. “‘Money as destiny,’” wrote Henry to Anais a week later, re-quoting Pound. “I disliked that.” [8-250]. Economics was a frequent theme in Pound’s writing. He issued pamphlets directly on the subject, such as 1933’s ABC Of Economics. A correspondence continued between Miller and Pound over the next year. Miller felt that Pound wanted him to “swing the bat for his crazy Social Credit ideas” in order to stay in his favour, but Miller had no interest in doing so [6-69]. [Ezra Pound seen at right]

In the Foreword to Money, Miller writes about the original questions Pound had put to him, making his inspiration clear. To labour the point, on page three of the original publication it is written: “Dedication to Ezra Pound” [1]. “[When Pound] reads that Money article, which I have dedicated to him as a joke on him,” Miller wrote to Lawrence Durrell on April 5, 1937, “he will likely be furious” [6-69].

Money And How It Gets That Way was finally published as a Booster Broadside (an offshoot of Miller’s collaborative Booster magazine) in September 1938. I haven’t found anything that details Pound’s reactions to reading it, if he ever did. But it's interesting to note that Pound published an essay the following year (1939), called What Is Money For? This is a serious social study of the concept of money; the antithesis of Money And How It Gets That Way. “I can, if you like, go back to paper money issued in China in or about A.D. 840, but we are concerned with the vagaries of the Western World,” [9] writes Pound in the opening paragraph. There’s probably no direct connection here, but I like to read this as a veiled reference to the sort of diversion that Miller had mocked.

The original Booster Broadside edition (notice the "BB" logo at right) from 1938. The 1946 edition (illustrated by Jack Wright) is shown near the top of this posting.

Money And How It Gets That Way was re-printed by Bern Porter in an illustrated edition in 1946. Henry wrote a new Foreword for this edition, but I haven’t seen it and can’t say if it sheds any new light on this story. It is most widely available these days as part of the Miller collection Stand Still Like The Hummingbird (1962) [publishing history]. A copy of the original edition is currently worth $500 (US).
"Suffice it to say in passing that the economist, particularly the specialist in money, would do well to examine the methods employed by leading astrologers who, because of their disinterestedness, often come closer to hitting the bulls' eye than those who make it their business to specialize in accuracy of prediction." --- Henry Miller, Money And How It Gets That Way [3-128].



[1] Shifreen & Jackson. Bibliography of Primary Sources, Vol. I, A18; [2] Decker, Jackson, et al. Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal, Vol 1, No 1, p. 8; [3] Miller, Henry. Stand Still Like The Hummingbird, in which "Money.." is re-printed; [4] Perles, Alfred. My Friend Henry Miller; [5] Wickes, George (ed.) Henry Miller And James Laughlin: Selected Letters; [6] MacNiven, Ian S. (ed.) The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80; [7] Stulmann, Gunther (ed.) Henry Miller: Letters To Anais Nin; [8] Stuhlmann, Gunther (ed.) A Literate Passion; [9] Pound, Ezra. What Is Money For?, p.1. Largely searchable in Selected Prose 1909-1965 on Google Books.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Annotated Nexus - Pages 44, 45

44.0 - 45.0 Henry gives a brief account of the routine that occured whenever Mona and Stasia returned home in the early hours of the morning. Next, he is telling us how he is a magnet for crazy derelicts who use him as their confessor--and how Henry understands the motives for their crimes because a writer is "a fellow criminal, a judge, an executioner."

44.1 Ruy Lopez opening
Henry has become accustomed to the "Ruy Lopez opening" dialogue that followed the early hour return to the apartment by Mona and Stasia. The 'Ruy Lopez' is a popular opening chess move that sets up a wide variety of possibilities. It was named after Ruy López de Segura, a 16th-century Spanish clergyman and chess fiend; an early propotent of this tactic. [see this move executed on YouTube]. As a metaphor for dialogue, it implies that the opening words were always evasive and open, leading to seemingly endless variation. The resulting verbal stalemate always ended with the ladies fishing for cigarettes and eating sweet junkfood.

44.2 Auslanders
Once the candles went out and the conversation ceased, Henry was alone again with his thoughts: "the most delicious, the most extraordinary recollections--of persons, places, conversations." He refers to these thoughts as Auslanders. The German word auslander means "outlander," or "foreigner"; this applies not just to people without German passports, but also, in a xenophobic sense, people who are deemed to exist outside German culture/people [ref]. As Miller's background is German, the use of this word is natural. These thoughts are "all displaced, all visitors from weird realms" and mingle within the inland of his mind. His feelings about them are mixed: as the paragraph begins, these thoughts are like "clots of blood dripping from a clear sky" and "mad bedfellows," but by the end, he has "tender" feelings for these "angels temporarily ostracized." At the end of page 45, Miller clarifies that he only recognized these thoughts as "angels" after they had departed upon his awakening.

44.3 on the bum
This term is probably still widely understood, but has fallen into antiquity as far as I'm concerned, along with film noir words like palooka. "On the bum" means, of course, being in the state of being a bum, of bumming/begging for change, food, etc. (origin: a loafer, sitting on his bum). Miller explains this American slang: "jargon which only derelicts, angels and outcasts employ." Miller seems to continue this juxtaposition of the idea of outcasts being angels, presented in the previous paragraph.

In this case on page 44, it's used in dialogue from just such a "bum" who has immediately latched on as a friend, which appears to happen often to Henry. The man, whom Miller refers to as "one of these nobodies," (then, later, "nomads") procedes to rationalize how it is he came to axe someone to death ("murder, theft, rape, desertion--they were dropped like calling cards," says Miller, explaining the "straightforward admissions" these men always laid on him.) The bum's explanation is profound enough that Miller keeps repeating "Of course!" when asked if he understands the man's motivations and state of mind (see the quote in the summary at the top of this posting, for how it is that Miller can relate; guilt, sin, deception and trauma are as much part of his make-up as the bum or anyone else).

45.1 qui vive
"On the qui vive" means on the alert. This is how Henry feels as he wanders the streets "on an empty belly." The term comes from the challenge that a French sentry guard would put to anyone approaching. The literal translation is "who lives," and the question being asked was essentially "long live who?" This demanded that the intruder identify his political allegiance. Miller's implied allegiance is to the man on the bum; in this state of alertness, "one never fails to recognize a fellow traveler." "What more natural, more understandable, more human and forgivable than these monstrous rampages of the isolated poet?"

<--- previous pages 42-43 . next pages 46-47 --->

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Decatur: The Street Of Early Sorrows

Henry Miller was not quite nine years old when his family moved to their new home at 1063 Decatur Street, in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. It was the start of winter in 1900. Young Henry was not happy about this relocation away from Driggs Avenue in Williamsburg, where he’d spent his first years, and of which he would always write a fond word in his memoirs. Decatur, on the other hand, became the “Street of Early Sorrows,” at which he would suffer for years. It was while living on Decatur that Henry reached puberty, made life-long friends with people like Emil Schnellock, graduated from high school, and got his first job. After Henry moved out, his parents continued living at 1063 Decatur Street. With diminished pride, he would return to his childhood home on Decatur as a grown man and ask for room and board from his parents.

The 1910 census of this neighbourhood reveals that Henry lived here with his parents, his sister Lauretta (who was mentally disabled), and an aunt, Amelia. “The house wherein I passed the most important years of my life had only three rooms,” begins Miller in the “Third Or Fourth Day Of Spring” chapter of Black Spring (p.21). He tells us that his grandfather [Valentin Nieting] died in one of these rooms on Decatur; it happened in 1905 [1-13]. In the alcove room, Henry suffered all of the childhood diseases. Within the four green walls of the third, an aunt gave birth to twins [2-21]. There was a cellar as well, stocked with coal: “a frightening place filled with unknown treasures,” such as wine bottles covered with cobwebs. [3-79].

Henry Miller and his family on the steps of 1063 Decatur Street, probably c. 1905.
(Photo from Dearborn's Happiest Man Alive; credited to Masters and Masterworks/ Robert Snyder).

1063 Decatur Street was situated between the avenues of Bushwick and Evergreen. On Decatur, “[the] flats string out like railroad cars” [2-172]. The Millers were nestled in the familiarity of a German-American community with a German grocery store on the corner (at which young Miller was once “horse-whipped” [3-66]). Miller considered the neighborhood “bourgeois” [4- 31] with their “stiff, starched curtains” [5-82]; “everyone was normal, matter of fact, unspectacular” [6-232]. Down the street, however, in an old farmhouse which had seen better days, were crammed three families (“anomalies” to the neighborhood) with an odd assortment of offspring, which he describes in Plexus (p.229-233). At the corner of Decatur and Bushwick stood a large vacant lot with a high fence on which were plastered an ever-changing array of theatre posters: “sometimes just the title of the play stuck in my crop for years” [7-71].

Out front was a gate [3-66] and a "little grass plot" [8-13]. Inside the house, Henry had a desk at his disposal, but he never used it for writing [5-158]. Out back, there was a “dismal back yard” in which his mother planted chrysanthemums and maintained a lilac bush. [9- 294]. The floral scents must have been a welcome relief for those sitting in the “storm shed” toilet, which was a “sub-zero cubicle” in the winter [10-277].

When he first coined this as “the street of early sorrows” (in Black Spring, several times in the chapter “Third Or Fourth Day of Spring”), Decatur was simply the landscape associated with the displeasures of his life at home. Although he described the years before age 12 as “not too unhappy” [4-37], his mother became increasingly hard to please as good little Henry entered his less obedient (and hormone-crazy) adolescence; this seems to have been a major source of his “sorrow.” But deeper clues may be found in the delirious prose in Black Spring, in which a visit to the street provokes imagery of death and destruction (p.172-179); the home on Decatur was also fodder for a free-form passage in Tropic Of Capricorn, in which Miller recalls his mother throwing water over him for what she spitefully perceived as laziness, as he lay on his “bed of ferroconcrete” on which “I waited and waited to be born.” (p.196). In both passages, Miller displays an acute awareness of the Evergreen Cemetery, which was not far from his home and obvisouly made some impression.

When he first moved to Decatur, Henry felt it held “little appeal” and that the local boys lacked the character of those in the 14th Ward he’d been forced to leave [4-31]. Soon enough, on the streets as at his new school at PS 85, Henry made friends with kids like Jack Lawton, who taught him the “secrets of life” such as the stupidity of elders [9-116]; another Decatur buddy was Otto Kunst [6-229]. With the onset of puberty, Henry took to walking along Bushwick Avenue on Sundays, “hoping to catch a glimpse of the shy young girls we were in love with.” [6-379, with elaboration]. His PS 85 pal Emil Schnellock would sometimes make this walk with him, and would later become one of his greatest life-long friends.

This section of a Brooklyn map from 1907 shows Decatur Street, with #1063 located on the north side. The full version of this map may be found at the NYPL Digital Gallery.

Although Miller says he lived here for “ten years or so” [11-21], he seems to have lived here, off and on, until he was married in 1917. Perhaps by “ten years” he was referring to the initial block of time, from childhood to adulthood, before he temporarily moved in with his lover, Pauline, around 1909.

Throughout his 30’s, Henry more than once found himself begging his parents to allow him to return to Decatur Street, when he hit rough times while trying to live as a writer. One such situation is described in “Reunion In Brooklyn” [3-88], when the speakeasy went under and Henry returned from a failed venture in Florida. Henry wrote throughout the day from atop a sewing table facing the front window. Embarrassed by her son, Louise Miller had Henry hide in a closet when neighbours came round [3-88]. From this address he appears to have written his Florida story, Gliding Into The Everglades [PBA Galleries - Item 35]. He returned again to Deactur when June had took off to Europe without him [5-158]. June had been to the house before, for a Christmas dinner [5-82].

“The thought walking down this street again has always been a nightmare to me,” wrote Miller about his return to his parents’ home after a decade of being in Europe, in “Reunion In Brooklyn” [3-64]. Henry felt “infuriated” that the neighbourhood had not changed with time, except that the grocery store at which he was once whipped was now a funeral parlor [3-66]. This return to his family and childhood home was an emotional one. Ten years earlier, on the eve of his fateful departure for Paris, he’d been filled with joy at the thought of abandoning Decatur Street and all of the feelings associated with it: “Goodbye, Street of Early Sorrows, and may I never set eyes on you again!” [5-316].

I haven't been able to find any contemporary photographs of 1063 Decatur Street. According to Robert Ferguson, the house no longer exists, and, in 1991, a school stood (stands?) there instead [1-10]. Here is a Google satellite map of the street as it appears from a bird's eye view today. If any New Yorkers feel like sending me a ground-level snapshot, I'm sure all readers of this blog would appreciate it.



[1] Ferguson, Robert. Henry Miller: A Life; [2] Miller, Henry. Black Spring; [3] Miller, Henry. Sunday After The War; [4] Miller, Henry. Book Of Friends I; [5] Miller, Henry. Nexus; [6] Miller, Henry. Plexus; [7] Miller, Henry. Joey (Book Of Friends III); [8] Martin, Jay. Henry Miller: Always Merry And Bright; [9] Miller, Henry. Big Sur And The Oranges of Hiermonymus Bosch; [10] Miller, Henry. Books In My Life; [11] Miller, Henry. From Your Capricorn Friend.