Friday, April 17, 2009

The Santa Fe Social Pages

About half-way through Henry Miller’s American road-trip, which was to become The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, he stayed over in New Mexico for a short stay. It was April 1941. Only a few weeks earlier, Henry had returned to the South, after having interrupted his adventure and flown to New York due to the death of his father. He hoped for a “pleasant and picturesque” stay in New Mexico [1], as his 1932 Buick sedan rolled him towards his new destination.

On April 12, 1941, Henry wrote to Anais Nin from Sante Fe, NM. He had recently been in Santa Rosa, where he mailed her a letter and bought a new pair of shoes, as his old pair was practically coming apart off his feet. He arrived in Sante Fe in the morning, anxious to receive more money through Western Union, since he only had $5 left. “Can't say yet what I think of Santa Fe. It's 7200 ft. high and makes you very nervous. I'm jumpy. The last 300 miles were quite grueling.” [2]

On April 19th, he writes Anais from Albuquerque, where he is thinking of staying on for a week. “Can work in peace here,” he states. “This place in itself is nil. They tell me Taos is fine” [4]

“On the license plates in New Mexico it reads: ‘The Land of Enchantment’. And that it is, by God!” writes Miller in Air-Conditioned Nightmare [p.239]. Once he hits Tucumcari, the desert terrain disorients him: “there is nothing but enchantment, sorcery, illusionismus, phantasmagoria.” He goes on to describe the general area shared by Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona as “the land of the Indian par excellence. Everything is hypnagogic, chthonian and super-celestial.” In New Mexico, Henry has found that he “cough[ed] like hell” due to the dust in the atmosphere [3].

1941 New Mexico license plate. Source: Plate Depot
Beyond these things, Miller has left very little behind about his fleeting experience in New Mexico. But his stay was enough to make the Santa Fe social pages. Under the “Village Gossip” column of the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper, for April 26, 1941, there is mention that Miller is “coming back” to Santa Fe (his original arrival was April 12th). This is possible. But, by April 30th, he was posting letters to Anais from Arizona [4].
The Santa Fe New Mexican column mentions that Miller has recently come from Europe and Greece, and quotes him as saying “the present way of life, which is America’s, is doomed as surely as that of Europe.” The quote would appear in The Colossus of Maroussi [p.236] when it is first published in October 1941 [5]. The paper could not have the book yet, but offers this clue as to its source: “Mr. Miller has four columns in the special section called ‘American Writing’ in the April 21 issue of the ‘New Republic.’ It is entitled ‘A Peroration to a Book on Greece.’ Mr. Miller points to the wonderful effect a visit to Greece had upon him.” [this essay appeared in New Republic just as the column says, and is listed under Shifreen & Jackson as C87].

While in Santa Fe, Henry apparently made the acquaintance of newspaper writer Brian Boru Dunne, if his gossip column in 1945 is any indication. “Miller … is an interesting writer, who visited Santa Fe about three years ago, after he got out of Crete and Greece” (Santa Fe New Mexican, March 16, 1945, p.6). “He told me how he dodged the chief of police in Crete, fearing he would be asked about passports he did not possess. Later, Miller discovered the chief of police had been requested by Mother England to show him about. Miller might have saved $100 to $200 in taxi fares if he had not been so suspicious, Miller wrote eloquently in ‘Colossus of Maroussi,’ about his visit to Greece.” Dunne implies that Miller told him this story himself. It would not have been hard for Miller to have found Brian Boru Dunne in Sante Fe. He appears to have worn a hat like a dandy, and pursued every female in Sante Fe, giving them gold watches he bought in bulk for cheap: “BB Dunne gained fame as the town's society reporter and all-round eccentric” [6].

At left: The header graphic used for Brain Boru Dunne's social column.
Dunne mentions Miller’s new book, “The Murderer,” whose title he finds “disagreeable.” Maybe he would have appreciated it more if he named it correctly: Murder The Murderer, a 70-page book published in October 1944, and subtitled “An Excursus on War from ‘The Air-Conditioned Nightmare’” (not then released). Dunne goes on to complain: “Unfortunately for this Villager, Miller forgot to send a copy—merely sent a publisher’s blurb with two big-lettered words, ‘Cash’ and ‘Charge.’ It would require a plumber’s income to buy all the books brought to the attention of this columnist. Miller is now living in Big Sur, Calif., and he asks: ‘What do you know about the magazine Circle?’ Frankly, this is one magazine I have missed.” Throughout 1944, Miller’s essays and artwork had appeared in a new magazine called Circle.

“Miller is a super-sensitive writer,” continues Dunne. “[He] could not sleep in a room at a hotel in Lourdes as he wondered: 'Who has occupied this room, and which of the 500 diseases left germs in that wallpaper?'” Miller, accordingly dressed, and shoes in hand, tiptoed down to lobby. Slept on two chairs and 'beat it' out of Lourdes.”

The Air-Conditioned Nightmare was first published in December 1945. Miller, “a Santa Fe visitor some time ago,” once again appears in the Santa Fe New Mexican gossip page ("Paso Por Aqui"), on February 1, 1946. Instead of giving Nightmare a proper review, the anonymous author chose to quote a negative “slating” the book had received from the New York Times, by Bernard De Voto: “Miller’s dissatisfaction with America [would be] understandable in the Twenties, but ‘in 1946 it looks less like young innocence and youthful idealism than arrested development.’”
The Santa Fe is quoting De Voto’s “Mr. Miller's Chthonian Nightmare,” New York Times, January 27, 1946.
REFERENCES
_______________________________________
[1] Miller, Henry, and Anais Nin. 1965. Letters to Anais Nin. Ed. Gunther Stuhlmann: p.246; [2] ibid: p. 247; [3] Miller, Henry, and Anais Nin. 1987. A Literate Passion. Ed. Gunther Stuhlmann: p.326; [4] Letters to Anais Nin (1965), p.256; [5] Shifreen & Jackson. Bibliography of Primary Sources, Vol. 1: Item A26a; [6] La Farge, John Pen. Turn Left at the Sleeping Dog: p.109-110.

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