Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Annotated Nexus - Page 48

48.0 “I don’t know why I’m telling you all these things,” says Stasia (Jean Kronski) to Miller one night, as she reminisces freely about the intrigues of her bisexual affairs. From a debate about old-hat psychologists comes a challenge from Stasia to allow Henry’s doctor friend, Kronski, to examine her.

48.1 trees she used to rub herself against in the moonlight
One of the “truthful” reminiscences that Stasia shares with Miller. It’s just a reference though, without any back-story. It’s a repeated story, actually; Henry already knew this about her on Page 16 (16.3).

48.2 Russian girl who tried to make love to her
Stasia mentions that she was put off by a Russian girl who tried to seduce her, because she was too "crude." This is followed by reference to a married woman with whom she had an assumed sexual “affair.” Although Miller often referred to June and Jean as “lesbians,” there is question whether their close relationship was in fact a sexual one. In any case, Stasia (Jean) certainly seems to have been Bisexual, not Lesbian. There are references throughout Nexus that place Stasia in sexual scenarios with both woman and men. In the case of the married woman, Stasia also had sex with her husband because his cheating wife thought it fair to him.

48.3 Barley (poet)
As introduced on the previous page (47.4). Stasia identifies her male poet friend Barley (“an odd sort”) as the inspiration for these reminiscences. “He was always pretending he wanted to lay her,” writes Henry, “but nothing ever happened,” although Stasia admits that he would masturbate her as she wrote poetry. Barley returns to Nexus on Page 57.

48.4 Kraftt-Ebing
“Sounds like a page out of Krafft-Ebing,” remarks Henry to Stasia’s account of her relationship with Barley. Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1840-1902) was a psychiatrist whose reputation for pioneering study into sexual “perversity” was made when he published Psychopathia Sexualis in 1886 (in which the term “masochism” was coined).

48.5 Freud, Forel, Stekel, Weininger, et al.
Henry’s reference to Krafft-Ebing inspires a debate about the merits of he and other experts in the psychiatric field (listed above), all of whom Stasia feels are “old hat.” Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) is, well, Freud. Auguste Forel (1848-1931) was the first Swiss sexologist and an early advocate of gender equality and sexual permissiveness and tolerance. Wilhelm Stekel (1868-1940) was another Swiss sexologist and a devotee (and, later, an exile) of Freud. Otto Weininger (1880-1903) was an Austrian philosopher who published the book Sex And Character in 1903, and then committed suicide (he shot himself in the same house that Beethoven died in).

48.6 Kronski
The Dr. Kronski in Nexus is based on the real Emil Conason. See 9.2, 13.5 and 42.2. Talk of psychiatry prompts Stasia to request that Kronski examine her, as if this is a favour to Henry. Not just psychoanalyze her, but “explore my anatomy.” Kronski enthusiastically arrives at the end of Page 48, calling for some vaseline. “A tight job, if I know my business.”

48.7 polymorph perverse … borrowed from Freud
After Stasia first mentions the idea to be explored by Kronski, Henry retorts that, if a medical examine turns up nothing, she’s at very least “polymorph perverse,” which he clarifies to the reader is borrowed from Freud. Stasia is tickled by this phrase, and would like to use it as a poem title. Freud’s theory of polymorphous perversity was explored in his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), in which he suggests that even infants have innate urges towards physical pleasure, even though this desire in not developed into as a sexual need at this stage.

<--- Previous pages 46, 47 . Next pages 49, 50 --->

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Henry Miller is Under My Bed

A new book released in February 2008 apparently offers some interpretation and biographical information, in part, on Henry Miller. Henry Miller is Under My Bed: People And Places on my Way to Paris (Starhaven, London) is an autobiography of its author, Mary Duncan, a university professor whose academic specialty was children in regions of conflict, such as Belfast, Tehran and Managua. “In 1982, she moved to La Jolla, a seaside community in San Diego,” states the biography on her website. “She met people who introduced her to the worlds of Henry Miller, Simone de Beauvoir, Colette and other writers. And it is in these worlds that she found relief from the stress and uncertainty that emanated from her Belfast research.” “Her fascination with the notorious erotic writer Henry Miller helped propel her to a new life in Paris,” writes Simon Shaw in a review of the book for The Mail on Sunday.

Miller is not someone Duncan knew personally, but existed instead as an inspiration. “Like Henry,” she writes, “I believed in living life as an individual, taking my knocks and having a hell of a time doing it.” Three years ago, she acquired an archive of Miller letters, photographs and audio tapes. This archive is apparently described in Henry Miller is Under my Bed, and has been traveling with her of late, as she makes a promotional tour (currently in the U.S.) in support of her book. states that this collection comes from “Henry Miller's memoirs, My Life and Times, and Insomnia."
Duncan had once had a “surreptitious affair with ’60s guru Max Lerner, much of it at the Playboy Mansion West” (ref. on publisher website), where Lerner had long taken up residency. My Life and Times was published by Playboy Press, so I'm taking a wild guess here that Duncan possibly used some of her old Playboy connections to help acquire her Miller archive (the acquisition process is described here as a "journey"). The cover photograph she uses for her book appears in that Playboy-published autobiography.
During her promotional tour, Duncan has used this archive as a springboard to discuss Miller’s inspirations for writing, and the techniques he employed for Tropic Of Cancer and other books (she had taken this approach at an appearance at Shakespeare & Company in Paris). She plans to eventually publish and/or exhibit this material [ref.].
From 1996 to 2005, Mary Duncan owned a Shakespeare & Company store in Moscow, and likely has many other literary tales to tell on her book tour in support of Henry Miller is Under My Bed, which is on-going. Next week, on Saturday, April 5th, 2008, she will be appearing at the Henry Miller Memorial Library.
Both photos of Mary Duncan (including the one in the banner art) are from Duncan's own website.
(Note: I have not read this book, and have composed this entry based on information from internet sources).

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Dinner With Henry On Film

It’s a classic question: Name a famous person, living or dead, you’d like to have dinner with. I imagine that a number of readers of this blog would say ‘Henry Miller.’ Indeed, he had a reputation for holding court at the dinner table, regaling his fellow eaters with opinions and reminiscences.

Dinner With Henry is a rare, 30-minute documentary about Henry Miller. It is exactly what the title implies: footage of Henry having dinner. With him at the table is the film crew, and actress/model Brenda Venus, to whom Henry was enamoured in the final years of life. Henry—at age 87—spends the majority of his time speaking on a number of subjects, the most persistent of which is Blaise Cendrars. Occasionally, he complains about the food. That is all. It may not be of much interest to a general audience, but is a curious “slice of life” for any Miller fan who likes to imagine being at the table with him.

Brenda Venus wrote about the filming of this dinner, in her 1986 book Dear, Dear Brenda: The Love Letters of Henry Miller. Although her placement of the anecdote implies that it took place at the end of 1977, Miller says on film that he’s in his “88th year,” which would place the filming year as 1979 [1]. As Venus recounts, two filmmakers had requested to film Henry speaking freely about wine. When they arrived at Henry’s home, he was in “an ill temper” explains Venus, who guessed that he’d had a bad sleep. When dinner time arrived, Henry was asked to “speak frankly and spontaneously.” At first, his comments seemed negatively focused on the meal. It’s unclear who prepared the meal, but Henry does not spare anyone’s feelings by calling it “pitiful” and refusing to eat certain things, or complaining about the order of courses. With some coaxing from Brenda, Henry is finally set on track to various personal commentaries. Although he does offer some comparison between French and American wines, he doesn’t offering any real opinion of the wines set before him, which had been the whole point of the film. “I kept encouraging Henry to say something about the various wines he was sipping,” write Venus, “but he pointedly ignored me while regaling the camera with his powers as a raconteur” [all quotes from Venus, pp. 124-125].
The resulting footage was viewed a few days later. Although its purpose had not been met, it was still “so funny” that it would be used in a documentary about Henry. The history of this documentary gets a bit fuzzy after this. The Bibliography Of Primary Sources (Shifreen & Jackson) lists it as “F7,” and states that it was produced in 1980. It is not listed with the Library of Congress or The California State Library, nor is it listed on the Internet Movie Database or any other film database on the net. The global library database, WorldCat, does have listings for it. VHS tape copies exist in the libraries of the following institutions: University Of N Carolina, University of Delaware, Southern Illinois University, and University of California, Santa Cruz.

WorldCat also helps identify the fact that one version was distributed on VHS in 1984, and the second was distributed in 1991. The earlier version is said to have been distributed by the Henry Miller Memorial Library. I was fortunate to have been hooked up with this film by a blog reader—thanks D.! I’ll try to find out if the HM Memorial Library still has copies, or knows how it can be accessed by the public.

Interestingly, one of the filmmakers became the original Indiana Jones, and the other Henry’s “agent.” They were Richard Young and John Chesko.

First, Richard Young. Now, I’m putting a lot of blind faith in a single posting by an anonymous blogger, so please consider this as I present these “facts” about Young. The Californian blogger, JPShuffle (on mentions both Richard Young and John Chesko in a posting in which he writes about his time in Monterey in the 1970s. In fact, he also happens to mention: “I've visited in the home of Henry Miller and been privilidged to listen to his 'after dinner stories.' He was by far, one of the most gracious and unassuming people ever on this planet.” According to JPShuffle, in the 1970s he worked in the film business, “pounding nails” with Richard Young on various film sets. Young, he says, would later go on to play “Fedora” in the film Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. ‘Fedora’ [photo, at left] was the character from whom the young Indy (River Phoenix) literally inherited his fedora; the adventuerous man was the prototype on which Indiana would base his whole image. You can view his listing on IMDB to see if you recognize any of Young’s other films or TV shows (assuming, of course, that this is the same guy who filmed Miller).

Of John Chesko, there is more information available in relation to Henry Miller. In her book, Brenda Venus refers to him as “Little John Chesko.” JPShuffle states on his blog that Chesko was a “prodcution manager” for Industrial Light and Magic (the special effects company started by George Lucas). IMDB shows a John Chesko who was active in production support in the late 70s. JP also mentions that Chesko was a friend of both him and Richard Young.

Henry made a number of friends in the Hollywood film industry, big and small, from huge celebrities to struggling filmmakers and actors. John Chesko appears to have known Henry as early as 1976, as a letter dated February 12, 1976 suggests: “To Whom it may Concern--,” writes Henry, “This is to testify that the bearer, John Chesko, is not a crook but a friend who is trying to help me sell some of my library to the highest bidder. Be good to him!” [PBA Galleries: Item 359]. In 1979, Henry wrote to someone named Jeff Carpenter; the PBA Gallery listing [Item 358] describes the content as Henry “recommending his good friend John Chesko for a job.”

In 1985, five years after Henry’s death, Chesko’s name appeared in the New York Times [2], where he is described as Henry’s “friend and agent at his death in 1980.” The original handwritten manuscript of Tropic Of Cancer went up for auction this year. Chesko is said to have been “entrusted” with the manuscript, and is quoted as saying that Henry has asked him to auction it for him and give the money to his children. Henry’s daughter Valentine inherited the Cancer manuscript after his death, and John Chesko helped to represent her during the arrangements with the Sotheby’s auction house.

Blaise Cendrars is the most frequent subject: biographical info (9:20); visit to Henry at Villa Seurat (12:10); how “electrifying” it was to read Cendrars (17:00); how Cendrars lost his arm in the Great War (18:25); how Henry left the ailing Cendrars in the hospital because he couldn’t stand to see his hero weakened by pain (20:35); “he was more of a man than I am” (20:55); “He had an influence on my psyche, but not my writing” (23:50).

Three other writers are discussed: Proust’s homosexuality--how his character Albertine is based on a man (12:55); how Henry tried to write like Knut Hamsun (24:20); D.H. Lawrence is quoted regarding an idea that Christ wanted to return to Earth as an average human (25:00).

Miller also explains how he wanted the Nobel Prize for the cash reward, to be able to cover the inheritance tax for his children (03:00); he states that French wine is superior to American wine because of a poor American work ethic (06:15); a fan named Molly who had asked to make him dinner (16:15); slams the Scandinavians for being “boring,” then proceeds to tell the story of the Swede who he’d evaded in Paris (because he couldn’t stand him), who them went on to be on the Nobel Prize Committee for Literature (26:25); tells what Lawrence Durrell told him: that the Committee wanted to wait for Miller to become “more respectable” (28:50);

“I don’t think I can ever stop writing, don’t’cha know? I might write crap after a while, but I’ll still be writing, I feel […] I may die with a pen in my hand, though I’d rather die this way: with my arms folded and a seraphic smile.” (29:45)

[1] At 08:40, Miller says “I’m in my 88th year….” I interpret this to mean that he’ll turn 88 at the end of the year (his birthday is Dec 26); after all, we only turn one year old after living a year, at which point we begin living our second year. I may be wrong about this assumption, in which case this was recorded between Dec 26, 1979 and June , 1980 (his death); [2] New York Times, December 20, 1985: "Auctions" by Rita Reif, Section C, Page 32.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Moral Public Enemy No. 1

"So far as American standards are concerned, I would regard Henry Miller as Moral Public Enemy No. 1, doing more damage to the ethic foundations of our Republic than any criminal whose picture appears in the lobby of post offices under the heading: 'Wanted by the Police.' These criminals have warred on society but Henry Miller’s works, with those of his brother pornographic writers, unless curbed by the law, may eventually undermine the moral foundations of our nation because they are aimed at the youths of today who eventually will be the citizens of tomorrow."
--- Justice Michael Musmanno, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Robin (1966)

A Pennsylvania Supreme Court Judge named Michael Musmanno (1897-1968) was not very pleased when, in 1964, the Supreme Court of the United States deemed Henry Miller's Tropic Of Cancer not obscene. This new classification would eventually force the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to overturn the 1961 ban on the sale of the novel in that state.

Earlier in 1961, a Philadelphia bookstore called Robin's Bookstore had refused to remove Tropic Of Cancer from its shelves. The state court began proceedings against the store, which became a case called Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Robin. The bookshop eventually lost their case, but were vindicated after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1964. By 1966, Justice Musmanno had to accept defeat. Tropic Of Cancer would be available in stores and libraries in Pennsylvania. He was so thoroughly disgusted that he insisted that his official dissenting opinion be added to the case: 421 Pa. 70; 218 A.2d 546 (1966). Bypassing the kind of objectivity and restraint one would expect from a Supreme Court Judge, Musmanno drafted a wildly hyperbolic, vitriolic attack on Miller and Tropic Of Cancer; oddly, one that even seems inspired by Miller. This passage would go on to become an oft-cited and analyzed example of an extreme (and inapprorpiate, though entertaining) judicial language.

"Cancer is not a book. It is a cesspool, an open sewer, a pit of putrefaction, a slimy gathering of all that is rotten in the debris of human depravity. And in the center of all this waste and stench, besmearing himself with its foulest defilement, splashes, leaps, crawls and wallows a bifurcated specimen that responds to the name of Henry Miller. One wonders how the human species could have produced so lecherous, blasphemous, disgusting and amoral a human being as Henry Miller. One wonders why he is received in polite society."

The above quote seems to be the sample most people extract from Musmanno's prose-attack. I will be doing much of the same extracting for this post, adding only the more hysterical phrases. To read the complete essay, click on this cached EZBoard link, where someone has kindly posted the entire thing.

And, hey, I'm not too proud to admit it: I didn't really know what "bifurcated" means. It means divided in two directions, i.e. forked. ( You know, like a pair of horns. You know, Miller is The Devil. Of course.

Pictured below: Justice Michael A. Musmanno.

"The decision of the Majority of the Court in this case has dealt a staggering blow to the forces of morality, decency and human dignity in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. If, by this decision, a thousand rattlesnakes had been let loose, they could not do as much damage to the well-being of the people of this state as the unleashing of all the scorpions and vermin of immorality swarming out of that volume of degeneracy called The Tropic of Cancer. Policement, hunters, constables and foresters could easily and quickly kill a thousand rattlesnakes but the lice, lizards, maggots and gangrenous roaches scurrying out from beneath the covers of The Tropic of Cancer will enter into the playground, the study desks, the cloistered confines of children and immature minds to eat away moral resistance and wreak damage and harm which may blight countless lives for years and decades to come."

"To say that Cancer has no social importance is like saying that a gorilla at a lawn party picnic does not contribute to the happiness of the occasion. Cancer is a definite sociological evil. It is not to be described negatively. It is a positive menace to the well-being of the community in which it contaminates the air it displaces. It condemns, outrages and ridicules the most fundamental rules of good society, namely, honesty, morality and obedience to law. It encourages anti-Semitism and racial conflict. It incites to disorder. ... Who is the author of this monstrous work, as described by the witnesses in Court? Henry Miller, who identifies himself in the book as a thief, an adulterer and a 'hopeless lecher.' He is irreverent, profane and blasphemous. He lauds harlots and glorifies a sinful career."

"The defendants argued that under the Roth case only hard-core pornography comes within the ban of obscenity, and this would exclude Cancer. The defendant would have reason to say that Cancer is not hard-core pornography; it is, in fact, rotten-core pornography. No decomposed apple falling apart because of its rotten core could be more nauseating as an edible than Cancer is sickening as food for the ordinary mind. Cancer is dirt for dirt’s sake, or, more appropriately, as Justice Frankfurter put it, dirt for money’s sake. Then the defendants say that Cancer is entitled to immunity under the First Amendment because court decisions have declared that only worthless trash may be proscribed as obscene. To say that Cancer is worthless trash is to pay it a compliment. Cancer is the sweepings of the Augean stables, the stagnant bile of the slimiest mudscow, the putrescent corruption of the most noisome dump pile, the dreggiest filth in the deepest morass of putrefaction."

"Cancer is not a book. It is malignancy itself. It is a cancer on the literary body of America. I wonder that it can remain stationary on the bookshelf. One would expect it to generate self-locomotion just as one sees a moldy, maggoty rock move because of the creepy, crawling creatures underneath it."

"Cancer has no social worth whatever, it has no literary merit and no information value. It is a scabious toad croaking obscene phrases in a pestiferous swamp of filth and degradation."

"Cancer was published by the Grove Press, whose printing presses must by now be corroded with the festering mildew emanating from the accounts of human depravity, abnormal relations and Satanic perversion which have passed over its purulent type."

"I regret that the action of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the oldest Supreme Court in the nation, should result, not in Cancer’s being consigned to the garbage can malodorously yawning to receive it, but, instead, in Cancer’s being authorized unquestioned entry into the Public Library in Philadelphia within ringing distance of Independence Hall where the Liberty Bell rang out joyously the proclamation of the freedom, independence and dignity of man."

Not to worry, World. Musmanno offers us his vision of an alternative Literature:
"I prefer to follow the broad clean highway of decent literature, inspirational books, wholesomely entertaining stories, uplifting essays, enlightening histories and novels that one can read as easily as riding comfortably in a gondola."

Fred R. Shapiro, editor of the Oxford Dictionary of American Legal Quotations, called this rant a "fascinating example of a judge gone berserk." [ref.] Apparently (ref.), he spewed a similar barrage a year later in Commonwealth v. Dell Publications, 233 A.2d 840 (1967). He died in 1968.

Just to be clear, Justice Musmanno was by far not the only judge to feel offended by Tropic Of Cancer. The book Strange Philadelphia (by Lou Harry, pp. 190-195) quotes a number of Philadelphia officials from the early 1960s, on the subject of Miller and Cancer: "A crass example of filth and a cesspool of corruption"; "filthy trash"; "literary smut"; "an insult to sex."

It's probably not suitable gondola reading, either.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Quebec, 1928: Prelude To Paris

“All over the States I have wandered, and into Canada and Mexico.”
Henry Miller in Tropic Of Cancer, p. 266.
Quėbec is the name of both a province and a city (Quebec City). It was founded by Europeans in 1608—this year marks its 400th anniversary. It’s one of the few Canadian cities that has a European feel to it. Henry Miller visited Quebec City with his wife June Mansfield in 1928, just a few months before he visited Europe for the first time.

The most contemporary primary source material relating to this short trip to Quebec seems to be a series of postcards and/or letters Henry sent to Emil Conason (a.k.a Emil Cohen a.k.a “Dr. Kronski”) during the excursion. This correspondence with Conason--retained by Emil’s wife Celia—is referenced in Dearborn’s Happiest Man Alive, and its reference seems apparent in Ferguson's Henry Miller: A Life.

Henry’s narrative account is found on pages 274-279 of Nexus. Henry had never been to Europe yet in April 1928. Until the money came through for the passage to France, June suggested that Henry expose himself to a taste of French culture by visiting Quebec with her. “She had all the dope on Quebec, which she thought I’d like better than Montreal. More French, she said” [p. 274]. After about a week, the plan was set in motion: to save money, Henry would hitchhike there, while June would take a train. They would meet at the train station in Montreal.

It was officially Spring, but it was a cold one. With some cash in his pocket as back-up, Henry made his way to Paterson, New Jersey, where he put him thumb to work for any north-bound traffic. Heading in the direction of the White Mountains, he stayed overnight in a hotel in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. On Day Two, he made it near the border and stayed at a hostel before getting a lift straight to Montreal by noon the next day.

This Google map shows the north-bound destination that Miller took to hitch-hike his way to Montreal, Quebec in 1928.


Henry stood in the cold at the Montreal train station for a few hours, waiting for June’s train to pull in. “It was bitter cold. Almost like Russia, I thought. And rather a gloomy-looking city, all in all” [p. 278]. Once June arrived, they took a cab to their hotel, followed by dinner at an English restaurant. “Frightful,” remembered Henry about his meal, “The food was like mildewed cadavers slightly warmed.” June assured him that he’d like Quebec City much better.

Incidentally, a “Montreal bridge” appears in Miller’s dream-like “Into The Nightlife” chapter of Black Spring. This is likely a reference to his memory of the Victoria Bridge in Montreal. The bridge—set against imagery of blizzards and ice floes—is in Henry’s sight when (in his dream) he is asked at the border if there’s anything he needs to declare. Henry: I want to declare that I am a traitor to the human race.” (Black Spring, p. 154].

The most concrete indicator of the date of Henry and June’s Quebec visit is a postcard referenced by Dearborn on page 114 [see her Notes], sent to Emil Conason on May 4, 1928 (having seen the postcards, Dearborn also states in the narrative that the visit took place in May). When Henry sets out hitchhiking in Nexus [p.275], he mentions that Spring is already there. They are in Quebec for ten days [p. 279], so, using the postcard as an marker, the earliest they left there is May 4th, and the latest is May 14, 1928. The trees are already in bloom in New York when they return [p.279].

“In Quebec the snow was piled high and frozen stiff,” writes Henry about the following day, in Nexus. “Walking the streets was like walking between icebergs. Everywhere we went we seemed to bump into flocks of nuns or priests. Lugubrious-looking creatures with ice in their veins. I didn’t think much of Quebec either. We might as well have gone to the North Pole. What an atmosphere in which to relax!” [p. 278].

I don’t have access to Quebec city newspapers for 1928, but I do for Montreal, which is 150 miles away from Quebec and has comparatively similar weather. I consider it unusual for Montreal or Quebec to have this kind of weather in April and especially May. According to Montreal’s Le Devoir newspaper from the time, the weather in Montreal was unseasonably “frais” (cool, chilly) from April 21 – 30th, with highs averaging 42-degrees Fahrenheit (+5 Celsius), lows around 30F or –1C. From May 1-5, 1928 (again, this is for Montreal, not Quebec), the temperature rose to highs as mild as 66F (+18C), with a few days of “averses” (showers). Hardly the arctic scenario painted by Miller, who claims that it “must have been 20 degrees warmer” in New York than in Quebec. It’s possible that it had warmed up during their visit, and that the cold snap upon his arrival into Quebec made the most lasting impression.

Although Henry disliked the weather, he loved their hotel and the restaurants. According to Ferguson’s Henry Miller: A Life, the couple stayed at the historic Chateau Frontenac in Quebec (Ferguson provides a few quotes by Miller about their vacation, but doesn’t list his source of information, although, in another footnote, it’s evident that he read Celia Conason’s archive).
LEFT: Chateau Frontenac, 1928; from below the hill it stands on. Photo by Willa Cather.

Henry writes about his excitement about the French food, and especially the wines. “‘I know nothing about wine,’” said Henry to the waiter, looking for a suggestion; Mėdoc, Vouvray, Pommard, Nuits Saint-Georges, Clos-Vougeot, Măcon, Moulin-a-Vėnt, Fleurie: Miller was getting a wine education in Prohibition-less Quebec. He and June liberally spent the money they’d saved on his train ticket, living the high-life: “It almost makes me weep.” [1] He was rosy enough to get back outdoors and enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride through the old streets, [2] as well as catch some vaudeville shows and see an awful film or two. [3] After dinner, he and June sometimes played chess on the indoor balcony of their hotel suite, inviting the bellhop to join them; they even attended a church Mass to please him (Nexus, p. 279). [4]
The Chateau Frontenac, 1928. This was probably taken not long after Henry and June checked out. From the Archives of Willa Cather.
“All in all,” writes Miller of the ten day vacation in Quebec, “it was the laziest, peacefulest vacation I ever spent. I was surprised that Mona took it so well” [p. 279]. Although the real French cooking made a positive impression, Henry still felt that Quebec is a “no-man’s land. The Eskimos should take it over” [p. 279]. But the break had made him “itch” to get back to his novel, Moloch [p. 279], and to feel “no doubt” that he would make it to Spain or France by the Fall [5]. They set sail for Europe in July 1928. [6]

Read my earlier posting about Henry's visit to Montreal in 1969.

[1] Ferguson, Robert. Henry Miller: A Life, p. 160. My impression is that this quote was taken from one of the Conason postcards; [2] Miller, Henry. Nexus, p. 279; Ferguson adds in his biography (p. 160) that this was a two-hour ride; [3] Ferguson again, who provides unsourced quotes of Miller, like him describing the films as "the very worst I have seen anywhere, worse thasn ye south."; [4] Of all of the Miller iographies, Jay Martin's Always Merry And Bright presents the longest and most detailed descriptive narrative of this Quebec vacation; [5] Ferguson, p. 160. Here he specifically quotes a letter to the Conason's; [6] Dearborn, Mary. Happiest Man Alive, p. 114.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

"Cancer" in Vonnegut's "Mr. Rosewater"

There is a brief reference to Miller’s Tropic of Cancer in Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s novel, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, or Pearls Before Swine, published in 1965. The novel was Vonnegut’s fifth, and predecessor to his classic Slaughterhouse Five (1969). The title character, Eliot Rosewater, is an eccentric, alcoholic heir to an old money family, living off the annual pension that the charitable Rosewater Foundation generates for him as a member of that clan. Instead of sitting in luxury behind his unearned riches, Eliot Rosewater offers his volunteer services and interacts personally with the common folk of a town called Rosewater, Indiana. A lawyer, meanwhile, schemes to have Eliot’s yearly fortune diverted through him (and therefore making a large commission through the transfer to distant family member) by proving that the odd Mr. Rosewater is insane and unworthy of the income.

The Tropic of Cancer reference happen on pages 111 + 112 of the 1965 Dell paperback edition (and pages 156 + 158 of the Dell 1991 edition). This is Chapter 9, which focuses on Eliot’s second cousin Fred Rosewater, in Rhode Island, to whom the lawyer is trying to have the Rosewater fortune transferred.

While leafing through tabloid papers in the Pisquontuit news shop, Fred Rosewater notices that the daughter of his wife’s friend is sitting on the cold, concrete floor of the shop, reading Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. “At thirteen,” writes Vonnegut, “she was Pisquontuit’s leading dealer in smut. She was a dealer in fireworks, too, for the same reason she was a dealer in smut, which was: Profit.” The girl, named Lila Buntline, had taken Tropic of Cancer from the store’s Lazy Susan rack, along with Naked Lunch by William Burroughs. On an average day, Lila would sell a 75-cent copy of these or Lady Chatterly’s Lover for 10-dollars to one of her rich and foolish schoolmates. She knew more about which book titles were “red hot” than the employees of the news shop, which is how she managed to buy them as a minor. Ironically, a sign hung in the store window, which assured customers that the wares inside had been approved by the Rhode Island Mothers to Save Children from Filth organization, which never happened to find scandalous titles like Tropic Of Cancer because Lila would snatch them up so quickly.

When Fred Rosewater wanders by Lila, she “did not conceal her red-hot books. She went on reading, as though The Tropic of Cancer were Heidi.” Vonnegut then provides a quote from Cancer: “The trunk is open and her things are lying around everywhere just as before. She lies down on the bed with her clothes on. Once, twice, three times, four times … I’m afraid she’ll go mad … in bed, under the blankets, how good to feel her body again! But for how long? Will it last this time? Already I have a presentiment that it won’t.” The Miller references in the novel end here.

The quote comes from page 20 of Tropic of Cancer [1990s Grove Weidenfeld edition]. The woman Henry is writing about is “Mona,” or June Mansfield, who had returned to Paris. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater was published in 1965, just one year after the U.S. Supreme Court declared that Tropic of Cancer was not obscene, and contains both the words “fuck” and “shit” in other chapters. So, it’s interesting that Vonnegut used a sexually suggestive passage that did not contain an expletive. As juxtaposition to a 13-year old reader, that would have worked more potently; perhaps Vonnegut didn’t want to draw that kind of reactionary attention to Tropic of Cancer when it was so recently let off the hook. I thought perhaps that Vonnegut had simply selected the first sexual reference he found in the book. This is certainly wrong, as page 7 contains a paragraph about Irene who has a “valise instead of a cunt.”

I can’t find much interaction in the lives or work of Miller and Vonnegut. In 1973, Henry’s son Tony convinced him to read a Vonnegut book (title unmentioned). Henry “enjoyed it” enough to send a copy of Lawrence Durrell in France, although he expected Durrell would “simply chuck it in the can” upon receiving it. [The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80; p. 461].

Kurt Vonnegut was born in 1922, and died on April 11th last year.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Annotated Nexus - Pages 46, 47

46.0-47.0 Miller completes his thoughts from the previous pages, stating that our human obsession blinds us to the mystery that surrounds us. Chapter 4 begins: Henry is determined to woo Mona with gifts, but he’s broke. He plays mind games with Mona and Stasia, using hunger as his hot potato.

46.1 the rajah stripping himself naked
Rajah is Sanskrit for “king.” There seems to be no particular reason for an Indian reference here, other than the fact that Miller had an interest in Indian culture. Perhaps I’m misreading any deeper meaning. In this context, Henry imagines himself at the door of Death and discovers that nothing is there. This somehow enables him to achieve “restituion […] full and complete”: stripped naked of his ornate exterior, he is left with a swollen ego. The effect, he realizes, is insane, because we still remain humbled “before the same mighty ocean. The ocean of love. There it is – in perpetuum.” In the folly of our human ego, we fail to experience the mystery and profundity of the natural and spiritual world around us. “No wonder the angels in our midst are unrecognizable.”

46.2 “one day it will be pleasant to remember these things”
Miller ends this chapter by providing this quote. This is actually an English interpretation of the Latin quote Et haec olim meminisse iuvabit which he had written on page 43 [see 43.1].

46.3 drive Stasia really mad
Chapter 4 begins with Miller in a corner in the dark of the basement apartment, falling “deeper and deeper into the pit” of hysteria of his snow-bound existence [connecting this with the narrative begun on page 43]. In the wee hours of darkness, Henry is “hatching the most diabolical schemes to drive Stasia really mad..” Back at the beginning of Nexus [see page 10], Stasia was in a mental hospital. If Henry wants Mona back, he needs to get Stasia out of the picture.

46.4 second courtship
Miller’s ‘Plan B’ to driving Stasia insane is courting Mona again with material goods (such as antique earrings). I make this note here for clarity because Miller just says “her,” not “Mona.”

47.1 mind-machine
Miller continues the usage of this term he’s established on page 38 and used throughout Chapter 3. On this page, his automaton “mind-machine” forces him to be preoccupied with trivial and practical issues concerning the wooing of Mona, when he could be putting his brain to better use, such as contemplating whether “the soul is corruptible or incorruptible”“to the mind-machine one problem is as good as another.”

47.2 Akond of Swot
Henry is glad that his quest for gifts for Mona (which he can’t afford) is a positive thing, because it anchors him “in the world” by keeping him motivated; in this case, with the urge to find money. “Yes, it was truly important to remind myself of such things occassionally and not carry on like the Akond of Swot.” This is a misspelling of the name of the Edward Lear poem, The Akond of Swat, which itself is an alternate spelling of the actual Akhoond of Swat (1794-1877), a Muslim saint from the mountains of Swat (in Pakistan). In the poem by Lear (1812-1888), he asks a string of increasingly nonsensical questions about the “Akond” (a fun read, in a style that must have influenced Dr. Seuss). My guess is that Miller didn’t want to descend into the kind of progressive madness that this poem implies.

47.3 had I seen Kronski lately
This is a small-talk question that Mona and Statsia would sometimes pose to Henry upon return to the apartment in the early hours, before the “smoke-screen talk would begin.” We last saw Dr. Kronski on page 42, when he gave Henry some pills.

47.4 Barley, Stasia’s poet friend
Mona and Stasia had run across a male poet named Barley “the other night,” during one of their nocturnal New York jaunts. Henry is told that he will stop by the apartment some time because he’d like to meet him. We will in fact meet Barley on pages 48 and 57.

The painting excerpt in the banner art is from Jackson Pollock's Naked Man With Knife.
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