Sunday, July 25, 2010

Megalopolitan Maniac

The final chapter of Miller’s Black Spring is entitled “Megalopolitan Maniac.” The entire novel is a collection of stand-alone compositions such as this one, and not a united narrative, although there is some thematic continuity. "Megalopolitan" is a portrait of Humanity within the modern (1920s/30s) mega-city, no doubt modeled on the New York City of Miller’s personal experience. In this work, Miller “collapses the city not into the self, but into the universe,” write Michael C. Jaye and Ann Chalmers Watts in Literature & the American Urban Experience (1981). “The city as self, the city as cosmos: thus Henry Miller draws the far limits of urban conceptualization” (p.98).

Miller uses surreal imagery to describe a grey, modern mass of lonely automatons in a mad rush through a loud, cold and mechanical metropolis, bent on mindless self-destruction. They are directed en masse by the radio of a false god who leads them toward the wrong mountaintop paradise – and only the individual, Henry Miller, is able to think beyond the throng. “Even as everything tumbled around him,” writes Jay Martin about Miller's perspective in Black Spring, “he proclaimed that he himself was the man of the future” (Always Merry And Bright, p.295). Miller's final words in "Megalopolitan Maniac" certainly support this view:

“Tomorrow you may bring about the destruction of your world. Tomorrow you may sing in Paradise above the smoking ruins of your world-cities. But tonight I would like to think of one man, a lone individual, a man without name or country, a man whom I respect because he has absolutely nothing in common with you—MYSELF. Tonight I shall meditate upon that which I am.”

Although the term megalopolitan seems to flow from the same spring as such Miller originals as cosmodemonic, it is actually drawn from the term megalopolis, dating from ancient Greece, and from a city of the same name. A megalopolitan is a person living in a densely-populated urban metropolis. The term was employed by Oswald Spengler, in his book, The Decline of the West (1918/1922). Miller read and was influenced by Spengler [1], whose works told of a cycle of human civilization, driven to decline by materialization, loneliness and “soulless”[ness]—themes echoed in Miller’s “maniac.” Spengler defined the low-point of this cycle as the “Winter." Miller, in “MM,” perhaps not accidentally uses this same word: “So beautiful the winter of life, with the sun rotting away and the angels flying heavenward with firecrackers up their ass!”

(NOTE: I am only suggesting that Spengler was at the back of Miller’s mind while writing this piece; I have not gone deeply enough into this subject to support my claim with any authority.)

Miller would touch on similar themes in his other works from that period. In Tropic of Capricorn, he writes of the “incalculably barren, cold, mechanical night of New York” and the “solitude of the million-footed mob” that “dance[s] without joy” to the “love on the radio.” These ideas and even specific words (i.e. radio) on these Capricorn pages (119-122) very much reflect the writing in “Megalopolitan Maniac,” in which the mechanical society marches itself to destruction to the melody of a “Song of Love.” “In the moment all is clear to me,” writes Miller in Capricorn, “clear that in this logic there is no redemption, the city itself being the highest form of madness and each and every part, organic or inorganic, an expression of this same madness” (121).

“Megalopolitan Maniac” was originally published in the first edition of Black Spring in 1936 (Shifreen & Jackson, A12a). Miller also painted a watercolour entitled “Megalopolitan Maniac,” which was published in the 1944 edition of The Angel Is My Watermark.

“Never more loneliness than in the teeming crowd, the lonely man of the city surrounded by his inventions, the lost seeker drowning in the common identity.” ["Megalopolitan Maniac"].
[1] See, for example, Nexus: International Henry Miller Journal: Vol. 3, p.72 and, Vol. 1, p.149+.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

that soft yellow used for the hyperlinks such as black spring in the first sentence appears as near-invisible and impossible to see unless highlighted...against a white background such as in google may want to fix that

10:37 pm  
Blogger Eric D. Lehman said...

Sounds like the beginning of a Nexus article, RC!

10:56 am  
Anonymous Schuval said...

Very interesting and very synchronistic for me... I'm reaching the end of Plexus (again) and this is where Miller discusses his first encounter with Spengler--as Mona dove deeper into Stasia's madness he met his master in joy and awe. I don't think the affect that OS had on Miller can be overemphasized--it was huge, as you show in those examples.

11:07 am  
Anonymous Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

I tried to read Spengler but I barely got to page 50 or so. Henry Miller is a lot easier to get through. So I'll take HM word for what Spengler has to say.

5:24 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi rc, sympathise with your ardent affinity for henry...he is the closest writer to me....your quote from capricorn - '..there is no redemption...', in reference to the his an ominous and prophetic air to me at this moment...yes the prophetic element indeed.

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