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+.

Friday, July 09, 2010

The Annotated Nexus - Page 63

62.0 Dazed by recent events, Miller is no longer surprised when a psychiatric ambulance comes looking for Stasia. 63.0 Henry and the women see the lesbian-themed play The Captive, which leads to an argument about Mona’s letter to Stasia, which Henry has stolen. Mona tries to smooth things over by offering to have a date night with Henry, but he is offended that she wants to bring the Count Bruga puppet along.

62.1 coke dream
Chapter 5 begins (end of page 62) with Miller referring to the events of the past 63 pages as being like a “coke dream.” This “coke” obviously refers to cocaine. As someone who’s never touched the stuff, I always thought of it as a stimulant with a paranoia side-effect, but not as a hallucinogenic, as is implied here by Miller. The U.S. Government sets me straight – “heavy use” can produce hallucinations. My impression is that, back in Miller’s day, people thought of cocaine and opium (a true hallucinogenic) as being in the same group. In fact, Wyndham Lewis suggests as much in his magazine, The Enemy (1927-1929) in which he refers to “the opium-dream or the coke-dream...” [1]. Miller uses this term as well in Time of the Assassins, when describing how most people dismiss the utopian theories of geniuses (p.72).

62.2 reading of entrails
In his list of things that have occurred, Miller mentions the reading of entrails. The divining of the future from entrails is an ancient practice called haruspicy. But to go into detail about this would be irrelevant; Miller is really using an analogy for the conversations that the Henry Street trio have had at the “gut table” in their apartment (see 58.1). Incidentally, Palace of Entrails was one of Miller’s original titles for Tropic of Cancer.

62.3 bouts with Osiecki
Another item on the list. Osiecki, the neurotic Canadian friend, has appeared in Nexus a few times (9.9, 43.7, 60.4), but not in a combative way, as described here. Miller instead seems to be reaching back to Plexus to include the numerous dramas and incidents with Osiecki.

62.4 the “masters” at the public library
Another in the review list. Although Miller doesn’t speak of libraries in Nexus, it’s a well-established fact that Miller enjoyed the Montague Street Public Library in Brooklyn. In Sexus, Miller talks of it (116, 302) and in Plexus, he talks of the Montague Library (11) and the 42nd Street Library (61-62). Perhaps, in this Nexus reference, Miller is suggesting that his thoughts on Dostoevski, painters, etc., ["masters"], all written of at the beginning of Nexus, came from undocumented library visits over the Nexus time period.

62.5 the wall paintings
The list continues. On the previous page, Miller had referenced (61.1+2) the disturbing paintings made by Stasia, which cover the walls of their basement apartment.

62.6 my other self
This list item refers to “dialogues in the dark with my other self.” Here, Miller seems to be referencing the recent dark period in which he thought he could kill himself with prescription drugs and cold temperatures (pp. 42-43). The other self in that case was the disembodied “mind machine” (38, 42). I've added this marker here because the subject of "two Henry Millers" is something I'd like to explore in the future.

62.7 someone had telephoned to come and get her
An ambulance shows up to Miller’s apartment with instructions to bring a female resident to the mental hospital. Miller assumes that Curley (60.13) made the call, to help Henry get Stasia out of his life. Stasia is not home however; Henry tells them it was a mistake.

63.1 two Dutch sisters who owned the building
Briefly, Miller mentions that the owners of the building would “drop in to see if all was well.” He describes them as Dutch sisters who are always “unkempt and bedraggled.” Later, on pages 154-155, the sisters will offer comfort to Henry after an argument with Mona. They will also admit that they can hear every crisis that takes place in the apartment, which suggests they lived directly above the Millers on the main floor. In Nexus, Miller portrays them as frumpy but very sweet and kind.

Identifying these Dutch sisters would help us identify the actual address of the Henry Street apartment. For some reason, th specific address has never been available, even though it’s said to have been “one door down” from the corner of Henry Street and Love Lane. [2]

A complication, however, is that, in Crazy Cock, when Miller writes about these same sisters, he says they were Danish. In that book, he describes them further: “[t]hey would bring down liverwurst sandwiches and beer, and when they got better acquainted, they finally produced long, black cigars which they smoked leisurely and with deep contentment” (78). Also in Crazy Cock, Miller states that the landlady sisters posed for one of Jean Kronski’s paintings (78). [more CC refs of the sisters at 86, 104, 193].

The 1925 Brooklyn census index is available online, although it appears to be a work-in-progress and does not yet include the entire population of Brooklyn. It may be searched by gender and birthplace of the residents. I searched with that criteria only and found two pairs of women of ‘older sisters’ age living in what seems to be the same address or block--one pair from Denmark, one from Holland. But no addresses are listed and there’s no way any of this proves anything, so I haven’t included my finds here.

63.2 The Captive … I went to see the play on my own
Henry sees this play at the Empire Theater. The play had been mentioned previously by Mona on 59.2. Complete details at this posting.

63.3 A week later they went to see it
Mona and Stasia see the play a week after Henry, which I have guessed is either late November or early-to-mid December 1926. See this posting.

63.4 violets
Mona and Stasia return from the play with some violets. See this posting about the significance.

63.5 “Just a Kiss in the Dark”
When Stasia and Mona return from The Captive with their violets, they are also cheerfully singing the song, ‘Just a Kiss in the Dark.’ This song was written by composer Victor Herbert (1859-1924) for the operetta, Orange Blossoms, with lyrics by B. G. DeSylva. Listen to a period recording of the song.
I recall the mad delight / Of a lovely dance / And a stroll into a night / Trembling with romance / There he told me of my charms / How could I resist? Suddenly within his arms / I was held and kissed! / Oh, that Kiss in the dark / Was to him just a lark / But to me ’twas a thrill supreme! / Just a kiss in the dark / But it kindled the spark / The awak’ning of love’s young dream!

63.6 I produced the letter filched from the little casket
In the middle of the heated argument between Henry, Mona and Stasia, about the lesbian themes apparent in The Captive, Henry produces a love note from Mona to Stasia, which he’d filched from Anastasia’s personal belongings at 61.3. The resulting outrage gets them hoofed from the restaurant.

63.7 the lip rouge, the green eyelids, the white powdered cheeks
A bit later, Mona insists that Henry take her out some time without Stasia. Henry assumes this is her way to “make amends” for the argument at the Greek restaurant. When the evening comes, Henry begins “ragging” on her appearance. Mona, a.k.a. June Mansfield, had a notriously high-impact make-up style. Later in Nexus, Henry will be more specific about his criticisms: “And try to look natural for once, will you? No makeup … no drag” (78). In Crazy Cock, Miller describes Mona to a florist as the young woman with “the green face” (82).

“She wears the mask of death and her ghastly beauty makes them stare,” wrote Wambly Bald of June, whom he’d met in Paris [3]. Before Anais Nin met June, she’d already heard from Henry about her “heavily painted eyes” [4]: “all the time her eyes are carefully made-up, like the eyes on Egyptian frescoes” [4]. When Nin finally meets June, she notes her “startling white face, burning dark eyes, a face so alive I thought it would consume itself before my eyes” [4].

63.10 the cape
And then, beyond the make-up, there’s the cape that Mona (June) liked to wear. In Nexus, the cape is long: it “trails the ground,” but, earlier, in Sexus, it’s described as “a little velvet cape” (411). [In Crazy Cock, he mentions that it has pockets (97).] Could be a collection of capes.

63.11 the puppet … Count Bruga
When June hugs Count Bruga against her chest as they are heading for the door, Henry snaps: "Not that” … “Goddamn it, no!” I wrote about this “leering, degenerate-looking” puppet in 2006. It will return later in Nexus (78). Here, Henry’s reaction frustrates Mona, who removes her cape and sits down “to think it over.”
<--- previous pages 61-62 . next page 64 --->

[1] Lewis, Wyndham. The Enemy: A Review of Art & Literature, Vol. 2-3. Taylor & Francis, 1994; p.42; [2] From Mary Dearborn's Intro to Miller's Crazy Cock, p.xx; [3] Foster, Barbara M. Three in love: ménages à trois from ancient to modern times. Harper San Francisco, 1997; p. 210; [4] Nin, Anais. The Diary of Anais Nin: 1931-1934. Harvest, p. 16-20.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Menu From The Pepper Pot, 1929

"I don't know where [June] is living now--she told me to mail my letters c/o The Pepper Pot--which I did, but still no answer."
Henry Miller, June 18, 1930 (Letters To Emil, p.58)
Three years ago, I wrote about The Pepper Pot, the Greenwich Village restaurant and club at which June Mansfield worked (at least) from 1925-1927. In Miller's novels, the Pot is usually referred to as The Iron Cauldron. In my old posting, I highlight the fact that June often worked in the basement of the Pot. Jay Martin had described this as 'The Catacomb."

Thanks to a tip from "Jean" in Denmark, I was recently led to a blog on which someone has posted a vintage menu of The Pepper Pot from 1929. Besides the curiosity of the menu items, it offers a real ephemeral smorgasbord: illustrations of the activities and physical layout of the restaurant. The image that caught my attention most was that of a sign leading to "The Samovar: Lower level of the Pepper Pot" [image at left]. As is evident in my old Pepper Pot posting, I was confused as to the number of floors to be found at the Pepper Pot. Thanks to this menu, I am somewhat clearer on the way this place stacked up, although the wording confuses me--was the Samovar a sub-basement, or a "lower level" above the basement? Therefore, I'm not sure whether June worked the "dining only" basement room or the Samovar room.

According to the menu itself, which includes a history of The Pepper Pot, "The basement of the building, which is the Original Pepper Pot, is for eating only. One flight up are two dance floors, side by side, but on different levels. Beyond these and still lower, is the Samovar floor, the oldest restaurant in New York City. Two hundred years ago it was an old Cow Barn. The old posts and beams are still there. On the third floor is the Bridge Room, for the accomodation of private parties, fraternity affairs, private luncheons and dinners, etc."

A detail from the illustrations of the 1929 menu for The Pepper Pot. The fact that the sign here says that "dining and dancing [is] upstairs," suggests this may be a view of the Samovar.

In another section of the menu, it mentions that "the little building to the right of the barn [Samovar] was the farmhouse."

The cover of the menu confirms the address at 146 West Fourth Street, and shows a sketched detail of the unique table candles used at The Pepper Pot. Its cover illustrations of paint brushes, pens, photographers, etc. acknowledges its relevance to its Greenwich arts clientele. For $1.50, you could order a "Bohemian plate."

View the large, hi-res menus at Jack Stanley's History in the Raw blog.

"At the Pepper Pot, meet the people you used to know, the people you do know, the people you'd ike to know."