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.


Anonymous Eric said...

I prefer Miller's treatise to Pound's. It says more insightful things about money, despite being tongue-in-cheek. And hilariously, I felt that Miller knew more ABOUT money than Pound. Probably since he spend most of his life without it.

Though I guess that goes without being said, as I am not over on the Ezra Pound blog, if such a thing exists.

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Kreg said...

I'm guessing Miller wrote this pamphlet at the same time he was working on Tropic of Capricorn, where we find the lines...

"To walk in money through the night crowd, protected by money, lulled by money, dulled by money, the crowd itself a money, the breath money, no least single object anywhere that is not money, money, money everywhere and still not enough, and then no money or a little money or less money or more money, but money, always money, and if you have money or you don’t have money it is the money that counts and money makes money, but what makes money make money?"

Would be interesting to know if these lines from Capricorn appear in the money pamphlet too. I seem to recall the Miller character reciting these lines in the Henry & June movie.

11:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know if it is my early 21th century perspective that is to blame but out of all of Henry Millers writings (I have read and re-read all novels and collections, as well as most letter collections plus a whole bunch of bios) the money pamphlet did virtually nothing to me. I did not think it was particularly funny (I do get how it is supposed to be funny but it just did not move me) nor did I think it was very innovative or anything at all remarkable. I may exaggerate a bit but this is my lasting impression (perhaps I should re-read it?).

The post about the pamhlet was amusing to read as always, do keep up the blog!!!


Tony, London

8:08 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

Speaking of the "Henry & June" movie, there's also a 1970 film "Tropic of Cancer" with Rip Torn as Miller.

12:32 PM  
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