Saturday, July 19, 2008

Le Sel de la Semaine, 1969 - Part 2

Here is part two of a 1969 Henry Miller interview on French-Canadian television, which I wrote about previously, after its appearance on YouTube.

A reminder that my French is O.K. but not particularly skilled. I would not make the assumption that everything I’ve translated below is completely accurate.

SUMMARY OF PART TWO
[0:00] Host, Fernand Seguin continues from Part 1 by suggesting that Henry, when first arrived in Paris, had easily found people who would help him. “No, not easily,” interrupts Henry. “Always by accident. The first man had been a Russian in front of a cinema … he was putting up posters. He greeted me and asked if I were American. I said, Yes. And he started to ask me questions. I asked if he would give me some money to eat […] He quickly came down the ladder and said Yes. Just like that.”

[0:45] Henry adds that when he went to Le Dome or other cafés, he often paid his way thanks to young Americans who were coming off the boats with money.

[1:20] Seguin: “The decision to write, for you, was not an easy one.” Miller: “It wasn’t a decision exactly. I was ‘au bout de ma force’ (at the end of my rope?), you could say. I could either write a book or else I was a failure and the world would crumble around me …”

[2:20] Miller’s goal in writing was to “write about my distress […] I wanted to write the history of my distress, my anguish. That’s all.”

[3:12] Miller: “Before going to Paris, I made a plan for all of my autobiographical books. But I had forgotten it there [in New York], so [in Paris] I wrote only what was happening in the moment, day to day." He then repeats himself about the notes, and says something about the last notes not being archived; but I’m not sure.

[4:07] Seguin: “How were your books received in France and abroad?” Miller: “Abroad? In silence. In France, even. But I was graced perhaps by a poor, young woman who sold the books from café to café. She had my books and she introduced them to the tourists. And bit by bit, I started to achieve—" Seguin: “Success?” Miller: “No, not success. Success only came when the soldiers arrived in Paris. American soldiers brought me success. They had discovered my books. And it was, how many years … about ten years after.

[5:10] Seguin goes into a bit of a long thing which Henry doesn’t appear to be following very well (me neither), in which the host explains how most people were buying his books thinking they were getting pornography, yet later discovered something poetic and “cosmic.” But Miller was still branded as a pornographer.

It’s around this time in the clip that we see something not usually seen much on TV these days: the host leans over and lights Henry’s cigarette.

[6:35] Seguin asks what Miller thinks about charges that his books are obscene. Miller: “This question of obscenity and pornography doesn’t interest me. There is a little bit, sure—it depends on the definition. But it’s difficult to write or give a definition that everyone accepts.” He goes on to say that real life has elements of obscenity and pornography, therefore so do his books. “Maybe I’m a bit strong with it,” he states, going on to explain with a grin that perhaps it’s to do with a puritan quality he has. I’m not quite positive this is what he’s saying.

[7:55] Miller says something here (I think) about a clause in his contract with his editor, stating that he is never obligated to defend his books. “I don’t want to be in a courtroom. They can put me in prison, but I will not be interrogated.”

[9:03] Regarding contemporary social attitudes toward literature, Miller says “Public opinion has changed a lot. Especially in America, and later in England, but with us there was practically a revolution. And suddenly everything was permitted. [In my opinion?] too much is permitted today. I don’t judge books by obscenity, but by the aesthetic, the manner of writing. There are bad writers and good writers.”