Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Final Words: Miller Interview - October 1979

Eight months before his death, Henry Miller sat down for a conversation with writer Barbara Kraft. An edited version of this personal interview was published in the Spring 1981 issue of the Michigan Quarterly Review, which claims that this is "the last long interview with Miller before his death in 1980." It's a great exchange; intelligent and natural. There's a real sense that he is offering his final, parting words about what he learned in his nearly 89 years on earth, about Life, Love, Existence and himself.

A scan of the original article is available through the online archives of the Michigan Quarterly Review.
A classical pianist and music writer, Kraft was also a former reporter for Time and other magazines (see bio at KCRW, where she has recently produced a radio documentary).
At left: Photo of Kraft as found in the Michigan Quarterly article.
She had been working for a Los Angeles radio station in 1977, when she broadcast "An Open Letter to Henry Miller" in honour of his 85th birthday. The Michigan Quarterly article states that a "friendship ensued" following this encounter [p.45]. This is later verified in Miller's letters to friends in 1979: to Irv Stettner on June 3: “Barbara Kraft here last night. Made me the most wonderful filet mignon I had ever anywhere! (I have sixteen voluntary cooks on my list now. Barbara is the best. And a damn good woman" [1]; and to Lawrence Durrell on August 9, he writes that Kraft is a "wonderful friend" [2].

“Did a ‘Conversation’ with Barbara Kraft for National Public Radio,” wrote Miller to Irving Stettner on October 8, 1979 [3]. The interview was recorded at Miller's house in the Pacific Pallisades, then edited down to five minutes in length. On his December 26, 1979--the last birthday he would celebrate--the interview was broadcast on National Public Radio (NPR)'s Morning Edition program (NPR Stock No. ME-810907.09/12-C) [4]. The transcript of this edited interview is what appears under the title "A Conversation with Henry Miller," published in the Michigan Quarterly Review, Volume XX, Issue: 2, Spring 1981, pp. 45-58.

I am including a partial breakdown of this interview below, but, for an excerpt, I want to draw attention to some fascinating self-observations by Miller about his mind-set while writing Tropic Of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn.

First, I've never before read that the men in his immediate social circle had an influence on his use of language with regards to women, which some consider misogynistic: "Women like me in general, given a chance. No, there's never been any denigration of women by me. Though in the Tropics I must confess I was in a milieu and living with chaps who had a very low opinion of women. There was only one thing and that was sex. There wasn't anything else, don't you know" [p.47].

And then there's this bit about a vision of Madame Blavasky helping him transition from the man of rage who arrived in Paris to the man of peaceful surrender who left it: "The word surrender is a very common word in my mouth. I don't know just when that came about, perhaps when I had a vision of Madame Blavatsky once when I was in Paris. I was at my typewriter and I was still full of rage against the world, that's how I was typing my Tropic of Cancer, and suddenly I felt there was a presence in the room and I looked to the right and I saw her face momentarily and I knew her face well from the photographs, though there was no connection between seeing the photo and what happened to me. I underwent a great psychological change. At that moment I said to myself, 'Henry give up this struggle, this raging against people. It's getting you nowhere. Surrender!' And I was at peace with myself and I had no quarrels with anyone. I forgave my mother and my father for all their stupidities. It was a marvelous feeling."[p.48-49].

Page 45: Intro; defense against being a "writer of smut";
Page 46: Photo of Kraft with Miller;
Page 47: Sex and love--eros versus agape; his relationship with Women;
Page 48: Qualities of women: innocence, spirituality, beauty; submitting to love;
Page 49: The peace of finding surrender; spirituality; end of the world;
Page 50: Angry at the state of Humanity--lower than animals; we have devolved from Gods;
Page 51: Total acceptance of the Self; Truth in writing: "exaggeration in Art is very justifiable";
Page 52: Change yourself, not the world; wasted years in anger, trying to change the attitudes of others; the four paradises of his life;
Page 53: Writing in Paris; avoiding Politics; Emma Goldman;
Page 54: First attempts at writing; inspired by Goldman, and meeting her; "I believe in Life 100% and in people no percent";
Page 55: Life as disorder; Literature, and not caring for its ancient kind; Nobel Prize committee;
Page 56: Issac Bashevis Singer; Kerouac, Ginsberg and modern poetry; William Carlos Williams;
Page 57: Sartre; Dante's Inferno; Blaise Cendrars;
Page 58: Anecdote about Cendrars dying.

Read the full interview at the Michigan Quarterly Review.

In 1993, Kraft wrote an essay called "The Last Days of Henry Miller." It was published in the Hudson Review (Autumn 1993, p. 477). This piece was also re-printed in the debut issue of Ping Pong: Journal of the Henry Miller Library (1994).
[1] Miller, Henry, and Irving Stettner. From Your Capricorn Friend; p. 59.
[2] Miller, Henry, and Lawrence Durrell. The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80. Ian McNiven, ed.; p. 507.
[3] Miller, Henry, and Irving Stettner. From Your Capricorn Friend; p. 93.
[4] Shifreen & Jackson. Bibliography of Primary Sources, Vol. 1; item E12, p. 921.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone know what this is:

Never seen that before, I think...


9:18 am  
Blogger R.W.Hedges said...

What a great blog sight. I have been coming here over the past few years and found numerous great articles. I take it you have seen the Dinner with Henry video on UBUWEB? I had to sit down and have a glass of wine and dinner so as to imagine exactly how it would be sat opposite Miller. Unfortunately i was drinking Californian which Miller despised over his Minervois. Any way i picked up 'My Life and times' recently. A first edition. What falls out of the Sleeve when i get it home? A letter 'To Phillip Broadley (English Script writer; Dangerman and the Saint)...Why dont you write your old friend..I'm pooped right now....Good times are here again, Henry Miller' Shit, i quivered home and passed the Sea scape in a trance. I felt like a 7 year old at Christmas. The book was a brilliant read. Very Funny (thats what i love about Miller, is he ripps into us all) and as i sat goggle eyed i spotted a note in the book 'To Margaret McCall (Broadleys wife who wrote a book about Lawrence Durrell and apparently had an affair with him) all the best,Henry Miller' A triangle i have. I haver already taken it up to Hampstead Heath and drank a few Chileans and read it to fellow Miller friends. I shall not sell it, i think, unless someone offers me 2000 pounds then i will sell it and know that Miller would have wanted it this way. Ha, whats paper compared to a trip to the Villa Suerat or Prosperos Cell in Corfu!
Henry Baum is a friend of mine. I should like to pay for him to come out to greece on the Durrell Miller trail someday. An English man and an American having all those Retzinas and Olives. Yes thats what i'll do with the 3000 pounds.
Thanks for a great blog friend.
I have composed a song in homage to Miller for my next album (recording out in Portugal in Jan)
It is called black spring and i hope it is the best Miller musical homage to date since the ones i heard already are really shit.
Will be in contact, Thanks again Rw Hedges (Roy, Red herod, Redger, Rozzy wozzy etc.)

10:13 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too recently got My Life and Times but sadly no letters in it, sigh. ;)

Tony, Uk

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Blogger EvgeniyK said...

Was so impressed on this interview and especially by Miller's explanation of his point of view on human duality that took a duty to translate it into Russian for my friends.

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