Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Annotated Nexus - Page 14

14.0 On this page, Henry follows June and Jean from one Greenwich Village cafe to the next, seething with jealousy, bitter at the lesbian aspect of their relationship and at the Greenwich Village social circles in which they mingle.

14.1 Woof woof! Woof!
See Nexus - Pg 1, Item 1.1. Henry follows June around like a dog, continuing the idea that he is subservient to her (especially since she is continuing an affair behind his back--as well as in his face--without much regard for how he might feel about it).

14.2 The Iron Cauldron
This seems to me a pretty obvious allusion to The Pepper Pot, one of the Greenwich Village clubs at which June (Mona) worked in the 1920s.

14.3 "the two tables nearest the windows were Mona's"
Assuming that this is The Pepper Pot, this implies that Mona (June) was working the top floor at this point (as opposed to the basement bar -- "The Catacomb"). Henry observes Mona at work, greeting customers, etc. Stasia (Jean) sometimes sits at a table until business slows down and Mona can join her for "an animated conversation." Henry burns with curiosity as to the subject of their conversation.

14.4 bottle fly

14.5 "Answer me that and I will write the history of Russia for you in one sitting."
Of course, the history of Russia is an epic one. The shortest contemporary one I found is 336 pages. This also refers to the fact that Mona and Stasia have Russian backgrounds; the implication being that the burden is equal to that of dischipering the two women combined.

14.5 Sheridan Square
Sheridan Square (also known as Christopher Street?) is located at the heart of Greenwich Village, bordered by West 4th St., Washington Place, and Barrow St. [ref]. Today it is the centre of the 'gay village' and has been the scene of the Stonewall riots and famed jazz club Cafe Society. [a bit of history here, and here it is on a map].

Miller also references this square on page 134.

14.6 "Minnie Douchebag's hangout"
This hangout is said by Miller to be at "one corner of the square," "always lit up like an old-fashioned saloon." Miller states that Mona and Stasia always "wind up" here, which is why he has followed them here.

"Minnie Douchebag" was referenced previously in Plexus. On page 197 of that book, Mona and Ulric discuss the increasing seediness of Greenwich Village. A restaurant is mentioned "on Sheridan Square," which Mona says is "Minnie Douchebag's hangout." She goes on to describe Minnie as "that crazy fairy who sings and plays the piano ... and wears women's clothes." Ulric recognizes the description and elaborates: "A real zany, by God. I thought at one point he'd climb the chandeliers. What a vile, stinking tongue he has too!"

If you're interested in Miller's low opinion of this quarter of Greenwich Village, read pages 197-198 of Plexus. Much of it conveys a distaste for the homosexuals who had come to dominate the area (Miller uses the derogatory "homo" to describe them; this piece is essential for anyone wishing to write a thesis about the subject of homosexuality in Miller's writings).

Interestingly, my internet quest for "Minnie Douchebag" references only turned up this one on In its analysis of American swear words, it credits Miller's Plexus with introducing us to the word "douchebag" as an insult. This same article says that the Oxford English Dictionary cites Tropic Of Cancer for introducing the term "douche-bag" in print (in refernce to the object and not as an insult).

As for the identity of the real Minnie Douchebag, I can't say, but the most popular gay club on this square in the 1920s seems to have been called Stewart's Cafeteria [ref], if anyone cares to look into it.

14.7 "dear creatures"/ "dearies"
Earlier in the page, Miller refers to Mona and Stasia as "dear creatures," in a sarcastic way. He is disgusted with them; with their lesbianism, or at least their pose of lesbianism [the extent of which has never really been confirmed]. He continues to use this sarcastic term to describe the people in the club who give them "solicitous" attention upon arrival and "understood them so well and ever rallied to their support."

14.8 a Bertillon expert
Alphonse Bertillion (1853-1914) had devised a means of identifying criminals based on their physical traits [here are his methods]. While riding the subway home after spying at Minnie's, Miller is "amus[ed]" by the fact that a Bertillon expert would have trouble identifying "which was boy and which girl." This is a reference to the transgendered attire of the clientele at Minnie's restaurant.

And so, as Miller is on the subway, away from Mona and Stasia, he is most preoccupied, it seems, with his contempt for the nature of homosexuality and the betrayal of classic gender roles. This shows a conservative streak in Miller and/or is simply his anger over the social condition that is immediately threatening his marriage.

<--- previous Page 13 Next pages 15 & 16 --->

The Sheridan Square photo is from Iseult on Flickr.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi RC!

Great post you’ve got here!

If I may put my oar in, there is another but more humoristic (and somewhat charming) description of Mona’s Greenwich Village, on pages 309 to 311 of “Plexus” again. Here, Miller follows June as «her course becomes truly erratic.» He refers to «those houses which one only notices in dream, (where) there lives a pale, timid creature, usually of dubious sex, who belongs to the world of du Maurier, Chekhov or Alain-Fournier. The name may be Alma, Frederika, Ursula, Malvina, a name consonant with auburn tresses, the pre-Raphaelite figure, the Gaelic eyes. A creature who rarely stirs from the house, and then only in the wee hours of the morning.», p. 310-311.
I can’t help seeing a connection here with names like `Stasia and Thelma…

Moreover, I think Henry seems to understand and even accept June’s dubious inclinations and behavior in the Village (he has no choice anyway). What he objects to is the uselessness of such a world: « It is in a world like this that Mona is at home and thoroughly herself. Every few paces she runs into someone she knows. These encounters resemble to a remarkable degree the collisions of ants in the throes of work. Conversation is conducted through antennae which are manipulated frenetically. Has some devasting upheaval just occurred which vitally concerns the entire anthill? The running up and down stairs, the salutations, the handshaking, the rubbing of noses, the phantom gesticulations, the pourparlers, the gurgitations and regurgitations, the aerial transmissions, the dressing and undressing, the whispering, the warnings, the threats, the entreaties, the masquerades – all goes on in insect fashion and with a speed such as only insects seem capable of mustering. Even when snow-bound the Village is in constant commotion and effervescence. Yet nothing of the slightest importance ever ensues. In the morning there are headaches, that is all. », p.310.

It seems that Miller never escaped from the orderliness nor the plainness of his middle-class («petit-bourgeois») German ancestors. He remained a true descendant of people who honestly didn’t believe in marginal behavior or erratic conduct. In Germany, Berliners were the exception of course (they still are), and June presumably would have adored the Berlin of the `20s. Henry probably would have abhorred it as much as he hated Greenwich Village.

Miller is seen nowadays as a perennial bohemian and as the most individualistic of all the American writers. Individualistic indeed and he’s the greatest of them all, I guess; but bohemian, circumstantially, against the grain, I would say. I think James D. (who wrote that fine essay on Henry’s Christmas visit to his parents with Mona & Stasia) might agree with me.

Sorry for being so verbose tonight.
It’s 3:25 A.M. in Montreal, and I’m going to bed.

3:29 am  
Blogger RC said...

Hi Pierre. Thanks so much for your embellishments and elaborations.

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Anonymous General Contractor Louisville said...

Wow, this passage really delves into the complexities of jealousy and societal norms in Greenwich Village. It's fascinating how Miller weaves together themes of gender identity and sexual orientation within the characters' interactions. Reading this made me reflect on how societal perceptions can influence personal relationships, adding layers of tension and intrigue to the narrative. The vivid descriptions of locations like Sheridan Square and Minnie Douchebag's hangout transport the reader into the heart of 1920s New York City, enhancing the immersive experience of the story.

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