Monday, July 30, 2007

The Annotated Nexus - Pages 35, 36

35.0, 36.0 The end of the John Stymer anecdote that began on page 21. Stymer finishes with thoughts on Christ and the idea that criminality, sin, evil and death are all human inventions. His speech has prevented Miller from sleeping until dawn. These deep thoughts linger with Henry until a few months later, when he hears that Stymer has died.

35.1 The advent of Christ was of the greatest importance to Dostoevski.
The Dostoevski name-dropping ends with a reference, I think, to the many Christ-like figures that appear in D's work. See Prince Myshkin in The Idiot, and the Grand Inquisitor passage from The Brothers Karamazov. Stymer points out that Dostoevski was only able to conceive of god by giving him man-like qualities.

35.2 "He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone."
Stymer attributes this old chestnut to Christ, while elaborating that this doesn't mean all men are sinners, just that they are tainted with their own guilt over their self-created concept of sin. This quote actually appears to be incorrect. John 8:7 says "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." I'm not exactly sure who they want to throw stones at, but the bible is on the internet, so you can look it up yourself.

Stymer essentially goes on to say that we must convert the world's sinful, criminal energy into a healty, positive lifeforce if we are to collectively overcome Death.

35.3 I'm ordering a new suit, just the same."
Henry is finally allowed to nod off around dawn. When he awakens, Stymer is gone but had just behind $5 and a note telling him to forget what he talked about the night before--it's not important. The money is to go to a suit promised in 22.4.

35.4 [The] mind as something apart.
Stymer's ideas stay with Henry for weeks. This was apparently the first time he'd conceived of the mind as something apart from the whole being or spirit.

36.1 He had died of a hemmorage of the brain.
A few months later, while contating Stymer for a fitting for his new suit, Miller learns that he has died: "He had mentally masturbated himself to death." This conclusion seems almost too perfect; I wonder if this real person actually did die of a brain hemmorage. I just don't have the resources to search for 1918 New York death records for a man whose real name was probably not Stymer or could have been Dyker (see this previous note).

Chapter 2 ends mid-page, and Chapter 3 begins. I will pick up there next.
<--- Previous Pages 31-34 Next pages 37,38 --->

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Henry Miller Remembers Williamsburg

"Though my memory of this early Paradise could scarcely begin before the age of 5, and though I quit the neighborhood at the age of 9, these few early years are ineradically engraved on my mind. I returned a few times after I had grown up and always, no matter how great the deterioratiohn, the streets and houses fascinated me."
--- Henry Miller in 'A Boyhood View Of the Nineties,' NY Times, Oct. 17, 1971.

On October 17, 1971, The New York Times published a memoir by Henry Miller, in which he reflected on his childhood in Williamsburg. It's a nostalgic itemization of places in his old boyhood universe. Some of this material is elaborated upon in Miller books such as Black Spring and The Book Of Friends. For the purpose of this posting, however, I've simply mapped out what is spoken of in this particualr article, plus added a few supplemental details where available. Some of this has already been touched on in my posting on 662 Driggs Avenue.

Williamsburg, Brooklyn - 2007. Each numbered circle represents a place referenced by Miller in the NY York Times article. Unless an actual address is listed, please note that the placement of the numbers on the map is an approxiation.

1. 662 Driggs Avenue. Miller's boyhood home. Henry's grandfather had planted an elm tree in the back yard, soon after acquiring the home. Henry's cousin, Henry Heller (born 1901) was born at 662 Driggs and still lived there at the time of this article's publication. A the end of the article, Heller confirms that the elm tree is no longer there.

2. Metropolitan Avenue. This was once called North Second Street. "I remember particularly the feeling of alien land about the neighborhood flanking Metropolitan Avenue. It has all the strange qualities to me of a foreign country. And, strangely enough, years later, when I took up quarters in Paris , in the poor districts especially, I often ran across streets which reminded me of that strange territory surrounding Metropolitan Avenue."

3. Dr. Kinney, veternarian. House opposite the Millers. I could not find a a Kinney or Kenny living on Driggs Avenue in 1897-98.

4. Mrs. Omelio, cat lover. Kept 20-30 cats on the rooftop next door to Dr. Kinney. The spelling is different, but a Charles and Loretta Mealio lived at 653 Driggs Avenue while Henry was there.

5. Fillmore Place. "Diagonally opposite us was Fillmore Place, just one block long, which was my favorite street and which I can still see vividly if I close my eyes."

This map from 1907 contains Fillmore Place, Driggs Ave. (identifed by its old name, Fifth Street), the 50th Precinct Police Station (at left), and the Unique Theatre (at left). Source: New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

6. Saloon. Located at the Driggs Avenue end of Fillmore Place. "I remember the saloon because as a child I was often sent to get a pitcher of beer at the side entrance; we called this 'rushing the growler.'"

7. Kindergarten. Located at the other end of Fillmore Place. According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, on October 16, 1896, this kindergarten was established on the ground floor of a store at the corner of Fillmore Place and Roebling after its original location at the North Second armory was considered unsafe.

8. Tin factory. On North First Street, between Driggs and Bedford. Miller mentions that it burned to the ground one winter's night. I coulnd't find any news items for this event. From Black Spring (p.5 ): "I remember, with a vividness as if it were etched in acid, the grim, soot-covered walls and chimneys of the tin factory opposite us ..."; (p.13): "...the gaunt tree against the tin factory..."

9. Police station. At the corner of Bedford and North First was the police station to which 6 or 7 year old Henry was dragged by Florence Martin ("the young lady whom my mother had asked to take care of me"): "the crime I had committed was to use dirty language in her presence." New Yorkers: Is this still there?

10. Professor Martin (aka "Doc Martin" in Black Spring): Rat exterminator who lived a few doors down from the Millers. Also the husband of Florence, who'd taken Henry to the police. There is a Louis Martin listed in the Brooklyn City Directory for 1987-98, at 680 Driggs.

11. Mr. Ramsay, gospel minister (aka "old man Ramsay" in Black Spring), "of whom I had an unholy fear." Miller says that Ramsay lived in the same house as Martin.

12. Primary School. Located on North First Street. Miller attended this school for a year or so, and never forgot or forgave the "elderly spinster, Miss Petty," the principal, for striking him with a rattan stick.

13. Candy store. Located a few doors from Henry's house, in a short row of run-down shanties, was a candy store run by the Meinken sisters: "very meek, very kind, very generous. In the store window, which was very low, there were all kinds of things besides candies--tin soliders, for example, which I would look at hungrily day after day." The Brooklyn directories show a Sophia Meinken (widow of John), in the candy business at 666 Driggs Avenue.

14. Grand Street: "a rather exciting street to us kids because it was full of stores of all kinds."

15. Reynolds Bakery. On Grand Street; an institution, writes Miller. The woman who ran it was the first woman he looked upon as a queen or aristocrat: "she stood out above all the women I knew." Behind the shop, which opened on North First and always held the "aroma of fresh baked bread, crullers and doughnuts," Henry and his friends would play shinny.

16. Daly's Fish Market. At the other end of Grand Street. Miller mostly remembers the hairy, swarthy Mr. Daly, who used to always seem to be opening oysters.

17. The Unique Theatre (also known as "The Bum"; see my posting on Burlesque). The most exiting place on Grand.

18. Vossler's drugstore, located at the corner of Grand and Bedford: "I remember distinctly the octagonal tiles for flooring and the smell of chemicals, as well as the beautiful glass jars with colorful salts in them." The spelling in this article is wrong; it was called Vosseler, run by Adolph Vosseler at 179 Grand Street. A second drugstore called Vosseler Brothers was run out of 578 Driggs Avenue at the same time.

Miller mentions a few other places in this article that are further afield than the few blocks around his house that I've focused on. Most interestingly is Dr. Wells' Presbyterian Church at Driggs and South Third (about three blocks further south than #14) at which Miller first saw a motion picture film.

Although I found this article at the library, you can order your own copy online at the New York Times Archive. I found the 1897-98 Brooklyn Directories at the Brooklyn Genealogy website. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle may be searched (to 1902) online through the Brooklyn Public Library. The map I used is a hybrid satellite and street map from Google Maps.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Miller And Burroughs

Henry Miller is often considered a grandfather of Beat literature. Anyone reading William S Burroughs will likely make the assumption that Miller had in some way influenced works such as Naked Lunch. This possible connection has been recently explored in great detail over at, a dynamic and comprehensive site dedicated to Burroughs. Henry Miller And William Burroughs: An Overview manages to cobble together a surprising amount of related detail to form a portrait of two men who, if not bound by any true personal contact (or interest, for that matter), were connected in spirit, like literary ancestors on the same genealogical tree.

"If you place Tropic of Cancer and Naked Lunch side by side, the books do seem to exhibit a secret rapport, like the telepathy of twins. Both are “pornographic,” non-linear, autobiographical, and bristling with black humor. The hunger that is the driving force in Tropic of Cancer parallels the addiction in Naked Lunch: Miller is always looking for a meal, Burroughs is always desperate for a shot."

Burroughs always denied being influenced by Miller; doesn't even seem to have read him, or, if he did, had little effect. Miller admired the "ferocity" of Burrough's writing, but had trouble relating to it or getting through an entire book. The two authors met only once, at the Edinburgh Writers Conference in 1962.

Burroughs: "I met him at the Edinburgh Literary Conference in 1962 at a large party full of literary people all drinking sherry in the middle of the floor and he said, 'So you’re Burroughs.' I didn’t feel quite up to 'Yes, maître,' and to say 'So you’re Miller' didn’t seem quite right, so I said, “A long-time admirer” and we smiled. The next time I met him he did not remember who I was but finally said, 'So you’re Burroughs.'" (quoted in the essay, from an interview with Victor Bockris).

The essay is a fascinating read which also touches on things like the physical inaccesibility of Miller's work to Beat authors such as Jack Kerouac. Also presented on the website is a copy of the brief letter typed by Burroughs in support of Miller's Nobel Prize campaign, in which he called Miller a "uniquely qualified candidate" of "great intrinsic merit."

This RealityStudio essay is followed by a letter from Ian MacFadyen, in which he offers an in-depth exploration of the similarities in the language and themes of Miller and Burroughs.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Je m'appelle Henri Miller

"Henry ... spoke with an atrocious American accent ... but he never mangled the French language; it almost seemed as though the language--the living thing--knew that he loved it and willingly lent itself to his distortions without losing its expressiveness." --- Alfred Perles on Henry Miller (from My Friend, Henry Miller, p. 94)

Henry Miller could never shake the Brooklyn in him, even though he fully immersed himself in French thought and culture in the 1930s. His Americanism was always evident when he spoke French. The French language was something Miller initially taught himself from books before moving to Paris. Once in France, he picked up on it more and more, to a point where his friend Alfred Perles described his French tongue as "very eloquent" ([1] 94). "He read it quite fluently" ([1] (27) and "had a good ear for the finer points of grammar" ([1] 75).

Here's how Henry Miller learned to speak French.

"I never read a French book and I never had a French idea," describes Miller of himself in his youth ([2] 286). As a child, he read nothing about France or the French until he was sixteen. His friend, Stanley Borowski, loaned him a copy of Balzac's The Wild Ass's Skin. His father promptly seized the edition "because anything by a Frenchman, by Balzac particularly, was immoral" ([3] 339).

"France didn’t begin to penetrate my consciousness," wrote Miller ([3] 339), until he was almost 26 years old (circa 1917). At that time, a musician friend gave him "a handwritten folio containing the translation he himself had made of a book called Batouala" ([3] 340). *

In 1927, when June brought up the idea of moving to Paris, one of Henry's concerns was that neither of them knew a word of French ([4] 100). He never went on this trip with June, but Jean Kronski did. Jean use Henry for practice as she taught herself French, giving him his first exposre to learning the language. But Henry must not have been paying attention because, when he did accompany June to France the following year (1928), he has written that he didn't speak a word of French: "Not a word! I knew how to say yes, no, and thank you, but that was all" ([5] 92). Alternately, in Quiet Days in Clichy, he writes that he knew "only ten words of French then" ([6] 114).

After returning to New York from Europe, Miller shows an increased interest in French literature and its language. He teaches himself to understand French by reading novels in French and translating them as he goes. One of his very first attmepts to read French ([7] 154)was with the book Moravagine by Blaise Cendrars, of whom he will become a great fan. "How can I convince the sceptic that I was ravished by Cendrars’ Moravagine despite the fact that I had to consult the dictionary for almost every other word?" ([3] 347). He would continue this means of self-education while in Paris in the 1930s, with books like Celine's Voyage au but de la Nuit ([8] 29). When he returned to Paris in 1930, his conversational French was still "lame" ([3] 337). Brassai describes Miller's French upon arrival as "very rough" ([8] 29).

Thankfully, Miller soon "hardly found it necessary to speak French" because he fell in with a group of English-speaking expats ([8] 67). When he was stuck , he could count on Alfred Perles, and later Frank Dobo, to help translate for him ([8] 30). "[Perles] taught me French--the little I know," wrote Miller in What Are We Going To Do About Alf? in 1935 (qtd in [8] 10). But this is a humble assessment, as Miller's French had become proficient by 1935.

The first prolonged conversation Miller had in French was with a man at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, where he had gone to see Charlemagne's chess pieces ([3] 337-8). Henry met Anais Nin in 1931. In May 1932, he sent her a few letters written in French ([9] 55). Yet, a year later, he didn't feel confident enough to write in French to literary agent Frank Dobo-- "it is impossible for me to write in French" ([8] 31).

One day Henry was in Avignon, and found himself in a French conversation about Proust with a group of students. "There were no more limitations of language. What I couldn’t explain verbally I acted out. Sometimes I found myself saying the most complicated thing sin the most asinine way. But they understood" ([3] 345-6). Alfred Perles had observed this method: "When a proper word failed him he coined his own word, a French word that wasn't French but which everybody understood. He always managed to say whatever he had to say, even if he had to do it with a grunt, an exasperated gesture of the hand, or a physical exertion of his neck muscles" ([1] 94).

Miller went to Dijon for a short time to teach English in 1931. He was left without his English supports and forced to understand French completely on his own. When Henry returned to Paris, Perles noted a French improvement of "several hundred per cent," as well as a new lexicon of coloquial expressions ([1] 67).

Through Anais Nin, Miller eventually took formal lessons from a M. Lantelme, an elderly former secretary to Nin's father (Anais herself took lessons from him in 1937). Brassai: "Henry thought that [Lantelme] embodied the spirit and character of the French provinces" ([8] 29).

By the time Miller left Paris in 1939, he was entirely capable of communicating in French. It wasn't a pretty French--"atrocious American accent," as Perles repeats several times in his book--but you can hear it for yourself in Miller's French television interview.
* Bouala, written by René Maran, was not published until 1921 (and that was in French). This means Miller's timeline is probably off. Although he doesn't name the musician friend "from Blue Earth, Minnesota," it was very likely Harolde Ross.
[1] My Friend, Henry Miller (Alfred Perles; Belmont L92-546, 1962 [1956]).
[2] Tropic of Capricorn (Henry Miller; Grove Wiedenfeld, 1987 [1961]).
[3] Remember To Remember (Henry Miller; ND Paperback Sixth Printing [1941, 1961]).
[4] Nexus (Henry Miller; Grove Press, 1987 [1960, 1965]).
[5] My Life And Times (Henry Miller; Playboy Press, softcover [abridged], 1973).
[6] Quiet Days in Clichy (Henry Miller; Grove Press, 1987 [1956, 1965]).
[7] Wisdom of the Heart (Henry Miller; New Direction paperback 94 [1941, 1960].
[8] Henry Miller: The Paris Years (Brassai; Arcade Publishing, 1995).
[9] A Literate Passion (Henry Miller, Anais Nin; Harcourt Brace, 1987).

Monday, July 02, 2007

Neiman's Phantom Radio And Missing Shoebox

Gilbert and Margaret Neiman gave Henry Miller somewhere to stay during the early 1940s. In 1945, the Neimans lived near Henry by Anderson Creek. Gilbert was a full-blown alcoholic by this point as evidenced in Miller's Big Sur And The Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch. This posting is directly inspired by, and borrows from, a recent posting in These Things Too, a blog maintained by Stan Denski. The article, titled Henry Miller, Man Ray and Me (June 16, 2007) is partly a portrait of Neiman as an alcoholic (as a former student, Denski has a first-person perspective), but also provides a revelation: someone, somewhere, has posession of a shoebox of letters from Miller to Neiman which only three or four people have ever seen, including Denski.
Miller paints a portrait of Gilbert Neiman as both a "kind, gentle, considerate soul" (p.330) with a brilliant, scholarly mind, as well as a "bad drinker" (p.70)--"grotesque"(p.71)--so far into the drink that he was hearing voices and music in his head.
Biographically, Miller describes Neiman at his home in Beverly Glen, when he first met him. Neiman had been hard at work on There's a Tyrnat in Every Country (1947), writing in his garage from midnight to dawn, bothering neighbours with his music. During the day, he would sometimes baste himself in olive oil and catch some sun while listening to loud classical music.
Around 1945, Neiman, his wife Margaret, and their young daughter moved into the former home of the artist Jean Varda at Big Sur; a large house 100 yeards away from Henry's. Soon after moving here, Neiman's Tyrant book was published, and he began work on another book called The Underworld. He spent his days writing, beginning "cold sober and finish[ing] quite otherwise" (p.71). At some point, Neiman began to grow tense at night as he thought he heard music coming from Henry's house; the same song by Varese every night. As a poor sleeper, Neiman came to resent the disruption. The problem with his claim, however, was that Henry owned neither a radio nor a record player.

On pages 73-75, Miller writes of the incident in which Gilbert barged into his home at 2 AM, placed his hands on Miller's throat, and demanded to know where the radio was. Miller tried to make him see that the music was in his head. When that failed, he brought him outside and convinced the drunken Neiman that God had planted a radio buried beneath a rock in Anderson Creek.
"In the beginning, everyone who goes to live at Anderson Creek hears things . [....] Particularly those who live near the canyon creek, which is the source of these eerie, disturbing sounds" (p. 70).
Read the full scene at Henry Miller, Man Ray and Me.
In his These Thing Too blog, Stan Denski recounts a personal story, in which he was in the unique position to have read un-published, private letters from Henry Miller to Gilvert Neiman. Denski:
"When I went into [Al Charley's] office I noticed some bandages on his hands. He told me he’d gone over to visit Gilbert’s widow. She let him in and they went out to the back of the house where she’d built a fire and was burning some of Gilbert’s things. His hands were bandaged because he’d burnt them reaching into the fire to pull out a shoe box. He showed me the box, it was burnt on the bottom and around the edges of the lid. Then he opened it.I’ve never had any experience that is anything like the experience of going through the papers that were inside the scorched box. I wish my memory were better. I wish I’d just made an inventory. Gilbert had been good friends with the artist Man Ray and there was a stack of cards that Man Ray had sent Gilbert over the years to mark special occasions, Christmas, birthdays, etc. These cards were a thick cardboard onto which was stitched with thread an original black & white photograph. The backs were covered with notes in Man Ray’s hand. The photos were all unique and I do not believe they have ever been published anywhere.
"Then there were the letters. There were letters from Hemingway. Letters from Allen Ginsberg’s father filled with worry over his strange son. Letters from various people I was not well read enough to recognize. And one large stack of letters from Henry Miller tied together with a piece of twine.I sat there and read letter after letter. In one, Miller was describing some pornography he’d seen recently; it was hilarious and explicit. There was one that sticks out from all the others. In it, Miller was replying to a letter Gilbert had sent in which he was worried about being drafted. Gilbert was asking Henry's advice, he was thinking about posing as a homosexual or dope addict to get out of the military if he was called up.Miller’s letter was handwritten and his advice to Gilbert was to not do any of those things. Instead, and he wrote this in enormous letters at an angle taking up the better part of the page, 'Be a DOPE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Nobody wants a dope!!!' He went on to describe how Gilbert should be the most positive, helpful, energetic, friendly, eager completely bumbling incompetent moron possible!"
Denski was forbidden from making copies of the letters. Not long afterwards, Charley was killed in a car accident. To this day, Denski has no idea where these letters are, despite his efforts to track them down.
Equally as interesting in this post is the comment left by the Neiman's daughter, Ariane. Besides providing details that make Gilbert seem a particulary despicable human being, she states: "I have the letters Henry wrote to my mother. She also burned a bunch, for reasons undisclosed, at least for now. As for insight into Henry M...does his verbal abuse of a shy girl, whose mother (Margaret Nieman, model for Man Ray and longtime friend of Henry & Lepska) had the effrontery to consider him only a friend count?"

If anyone knows about these shoebox letters and photos, please visit the These Things Too website and let Stan and Ariane know. Following that, maybe the rest of us will know.

The Denski post link, once again: Henry Miller, Man Ray and Me.
Neiman references in Big Sur and the Oranges: pp. 70-75, 119, 330.