Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Kerouac Lets Miller's Dinner Get Cold

“[Jack] Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, among others, admired Miller greatly, no doubt recognizing in spiral form’s figure-like flights like jazzy improvisation that marked their own compositions,” writes literary professor and author, James Decker [1]. Miller’s free use of language and subject matter helped inspire that beat generation, and Jack Kerouac was no exception. In the summer of 1960, an opportune moment for the two iconic writers to meet was thwarted by the deteriorating mental state that Kerouac tried to medicate with alcohol and would soon after lead to a Big Sur personal breakdown.

Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) was propped up as the “king of the beat generation” whether he liked it or not; such was the impact of his On The Road (1957) and the mystique of the scene of the beatnik elite with whom he associated. By 1960, The Dharma Bums, Dr. Sax and The Subterraneans had been published, the latter being prepared for release as a major Hollywood film. His celebrity was at its peak, everyone wanted to know him, and alcohol helped him deal with the attention and the increasing feeling that everyone was trying to use him (he would eventually die of cirrhosis of the liver at age 47).

The Dharma Bums (1958) impressed Henry Miller, who had been sent a review copy at his home in Big Sur. Miller was moved to write the publisher, Viking Press, and express how he was “intoxicated” “from the moment I began reading.” “No man can write with that delicious freedom and abandonment who has not practiced severe discipline …. Kerouac could and probably will exert tremendous influence upon our contemporary writers young and old … we’re had all kinds of bums heretofore but never a Dharma bum, like this Kerouac” [2] Henry forwarded the book to Lawrence Durrell, pleading for him not to dismiss it (as he did the Beats), adding: “I say it’s good, very good, surpassingly good. The writing especially. He’s a poet. His prose is poetry. Or, shall I say, the kind of poetry I can recognize” [3] Kerouac was thrilled with the news of Miller’s letter: “a real breakthrough for us,” he wrote to Allen Ginsberg [4]. In the following months, Henry kept sending mail to Kerouac, who reported in a letter to a friend that Miller “writes to me every week” [5].

Later in 1959, Miller was commissioned by Avon to write the preface to the paperback edition of Kerouac’s The Subterraneans. In it, Miller praised Kerouac’s voice as being representative of a movement against self-destructive nature of the Atomic Age: “Let the poets speak. They may be 'beat,' but they’re not riding the atom-powered Juggernaut. Believe me, there’s nothing clean, nothing healthy, nothing promising about this age of wonders—except the telling. And the Kerouacs will probably have the last word.”

Jack Kerouac (left) with Lawrence Ferlinghetti in a 1959 photograph taken by Kirby Ferlinghetti (Bancroft Library. University of California, Berkeley).

In 1960, Lawrence Ferlinghetti (b. 1919) was a Beat poet, publisher, and founder of San Francisco’s City Lights bookstore. He was also the new owner of a cabin in Big Sur, which he offered as a retreat for Kerouac, who was “at the end of [his] nerves” [6] about the impeding opening of the MGM film version of The Subterraneans and the resultant publicity machine. As well, he fled west to “basically to get out of New York and to get out of drinking so much,” recounts Ferlinghetti [7]. “Talking to admirers over Jack Daniels all night won’t lead to writing a new novel,” wrote Kerouac [7] before his departure; yet that's exactly what happened upon arrival.

Kerouac arrived in San Francisco by train on or around July 22, 1960 [6]; “really happy for the first time in three years,” wrote Kerouac in his 1962 novel, Big Sur (p.5). Plans had been made a week before for he and Ferlinghetti to have dinner with Henry Miller upon Jack’s arrival: “Miller was going to drive up the coast from where he lived on Partington Ridge, to Carmel Highlands, to the house of a friend named Effron Doner. We were going to drive down the coast and meet there for supper,” remembers Ferlinghetti [8]. But Kerouac snuck into San Francisco without first notifying his sponor, and was found in the early-afternoon drinking next door to City Lights Books at Versuvio’s bar.

A contemporary view of the interior of Vesuvio's (image from Vesuvios' website).

As time passed, and Kerouac drank and socialized with “old buddies,” Ferlinghetti did the math and realized they had to leave for the three-hour drive if they were going to make it in time for dinner. Kerouac kept putting off the departure, beginning a series of courtesy phone calls to Miller with apologies and assurances like, ‘‘I’ll tell you what, we’re leaving now, we’ll be there by eight o’clock, for sure.’ “[H]is voice on the phone just like on his records,” wrote Kerouac of Miller in Big Sur, “nasal, Brooklyn, goodguy voice” [9]. At 10 PM, Kerouac made his final appeal to Henry, of which he would write, “we’re all drunk at ten calling long distance and poor Henry just said, ‘Well I’m sorry I dont get to meet you Jack but I’m an old man and at ten o’clock it’s time for me to go to bed, you’d never make it here until after midnight now.” [9].

Ferlinghetti “gave up on the whole scene” and drove back home without Kerouac, to his cabin at Bixby Canyon in Big Sur. Kerouac would later feel “awful guilt” about standing Miller up, “because he’s gone to the trouble of writing the preface to one of my books” [9]. But, he admits that what he was really thinking at the time was, “Ah the hell with it he was only getting in on the act like all these guys write prefaces so that you dont even get to read the author first,” a perspective of thought that Kerouac defines as a “remorseful paranoia” and “an example of how really psychotically suspicious and loco I was getting” [9]. Kerouac remained at the bar until late, took a taxi into Big Sur, stumbled through the Pacific darkness with a lantern to find Ferlinghetti’s cabin, and was found sleeping in a nearby meadow the next morning [7].

Kerouac would write of the rest of his stay in Big Sur in his novel of the same name (1962), in which the natural utopia surrounding him is just a backdrop for his alcoholic binging and a nervous breakdown, in what the Literary Kicks website calls his "most depressing (but fascinating) novel." In 1961, Kerouac wrote of plans to return to the coast and “See Henry Miller this time” but, as far as anyone knows, a meeting between the two writers never happened.
The Vesuvio bar still exists and seems to sustain itself, in part, on the ghost of Kerouac's drunken night here . At its intersection stands a since-christened Jack Kerouac Alley.

Eric Lehman reviews The Dharma Bums and Big Sur at Empty Mirror Books, and has written a travel essay about Big Sur, which includes references to both Kerouac and Miller.


[1] Decker, James M. Henry Miller and Narrative Form: Constructing the self, rejecting modernity. New York: Taylor & Francis Inc, 2005; p. 155.
[2] Charters, Ann (ed.). Kerouac: Selected Letters 1957-1959. New York: Viking Press, 1999; p. 157.
[3] MacNiven, Ian S. (ed.). The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80. London: Faber & Faber, 1989; p. 331: Letter, Oct. 30, 1958.
[4] Charters, Ann (ed.). Kerouac: Selected Letters 1957-1959; p. 158, letter of October 15, 1958.
[5] Charters, Ann (ed.). Kerouac: Selected Letters 1957-1959; p. 177, letter to Philip Whelan, January 10, 1959.
[6] Charters, Ann (ed.). Kerouac: Selected Letters 1957-1959; p. 260, letter to Ferlinghetti, July 8, 1960.
[7] Ferlinghetti, Lawrence. “How Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac Never Met” in, Anctill, Pierre, et al. (eds.). Un Homme Grand: Jack Kerouac at the Crossroads of Many Culures. Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1990; p. 70-71. All of the unsourced assertions made in the telling of Kerouac missing the meeting with Miller come from this account.
[8] Ferlinghetti (ibid); in the memoir, Big Sur (1962)—written closer to the actual events than Ferlinghetti’s memoir—Kerouac states that Henry's friend lived in Santa Cruz (p. 185).

[9] Kerouac, Jack. Big Sur. New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1962; p. 158.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Annotated Nexus - Pages 49, 50

49.0 In the basement apartment, Dr. Kronski prepares to give Stasia a physical examination, but his assumption that this is all some set-up for sexual mischief is apparent. Mona’s concern, for the sexually predatory nature of Kronski’s words, is justified when Stasia cries “Rape!” from behind closed doors.

49.1 hermaphrodite
Before Stasia’s examination, Dr. Kronski (9.2) rather rudely jokes that he may discover that she’s a hermaphrodite. See 17.2 for Miller’s previous description of Stasia being both male and female.

49.2 rudimentary tail
Along with the statement above, Kronski jokes that he may detect basic evidence of the existence of a tail on Stasia. As with any human, he would find her tailbone (coccyx), perhaps even an elongated one, which some evolutionists believe is a vestigial organ: a useless remnant of our biological past. Kronski is not being scientific, of course; his exaggeration is a dehumanizing insult, implying that Stasia is a freak of nature, probably meant as a judgment of her sexual orientation or nature. One can’t be sure of this reflects the opinions of Kronski (Emil Conason) or are simply those of Miller, embedded in Kronski’s characterization.

49.3 examination
The whole point of this physical exam was due to a challenge initiated from Stasia in 48.6, for Kronski to “explore [her] anatomy” (instead of her submitting to a psychological exam). I don’t quite understand her motivation, so I don’t really get the surprise and offense that propels the psychodrama of this whole scene. Are the women (and Henry) playing childish games with Kronski (i.e. is he being baited and misled), or is Kronski a straight-up rapist? (p.50)

49.4 “if were a fancy house”
I have only one edition of Nexus (Grove Press, 1987) from which to compare Kronski’s line “You’d be better off if were a fancy house.” My knowledge of technical grammar rules is not perfect, but it seems to me that there’s a typo here: it should be, I think, this were a fancy house.” This is Kronski’s sneering response to Mona’s criticism that he’s acting as if he were in a bordel, and not a doctor’s office. A fancy house is just another term for brothel or whore-house; according to Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, it was used from the late 19th-century to the 1930s. By saying that Mona would be “better off,” Kronski is calling her a whore, although he states that Stasia is even more suited to the role.

49.5 long room
As Kronski continues his examination from behind closed doors, Mona nervously paces in the apartment with Henry. I mention this here merely to help construct the dimensions of their Henry Street apartment (see note 9.15). As a basement apartment, it would be long, as it would extend the length of the house above them.

50.0 Henry and Mona catch Kronski in the act of trying to forcefully mount Stasia. Defending himself against criticism that he’s a bastard and sadist, Kronski threatens that, if he were mean, he would have them all locked up in a mental asylum for this farce of moral turpitude. Embarrassed, Stasia snaps at Mona, whom she feels is treating her like a child.

50.1 landlady
The landlady at Henry Street is first mentioned here on page 50, although she will re-appear on several pages of Nexus: 173, 182, 186, 191, 195, 223-225, 274, and 305. Her name is Mrs. Skolsky (p.195), and she will be examined later for the more significant references. Here, Henry is simply worried that the commotion of Mona and Stasia screaming at Kronski will prompt the appearance of the landlady with a clever.

50.2 “too normal”
Kronski doesn’t understand why he is being verbally and physically assaulted by Mona and Stasia for his apparent sexual assault. He doesn’t understand "the fuss," stating that her exam proved her to be “normal.” In fact, he admits, he was “excited” by the fact that she was “too normal.” This phrase is up for interpretation, but my guess is that he thought he was being used to test for her heterosexual tendencies and found, he believed (we don’t know what happened behind those doors) that those sexual impulses for men were more than normal, they were actively enthusiastic. Explaining his excitement, Kronski shouts, “What’s wrong with that?” Again, Stasia either encouraged him behind closed doors, or he is rationalizing his sexual assault with a false, deluded “she was asking for it” defense. We’ll see, with Stasia’s bizarre reaction to follow on page 51, how it’s quite possible that she presented Kronski with a schizophrenic scenario.

50.3 “I chimed in”
Henry comes to Kronski’s defense by agreeing, “Yeah, what’s wrong with that?” I’m not sure what to make of Henry’s reaction. Either Henry is playing his part in this somewhat surreal psychodrama (as is Stasia, apparently), or else, presented with an apparent rape-in-progress, is indifferent because he’s in agreement with the “she was asking for it”-type, jerk mentality. Again, page 51 will seriously put sympathy for Stasia into question, as she may just be playing games (or maybe she's crazy). It’s worth noting as well that Kronksi tells Henry that, by doing this, he was doing him “a good turn,” implying that his actions were motivated by a request for a favour from Henry.

50.4 belfry
This is, of course, a reference to the “bats in the belfry” metaphor for insanity: the top part of a church steeple (head) is occupied by bats (disprution). “It’s her belfry that needs looking into,” says Kronski regarding Stasia. He offers to look into her belfry, but is not sure what it would prove.

50.5 moral turpitude
Kronski then threatens to have all three of them locked up in an instant, for moral turpitude. This American legal concept is still being used to deny foreign travel or immigration entrance to the U.S., described as “conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty, or good morals,” such as behaviour deemed to involve “inherent baseness or vileness, shameful wickedness, depravity….” Kronski claims they wouldn’t have a “leg to stand on” in defense, but states that his lack of meanness and their friendship prevents him from taking this course of action.

<--- previous page 48 . next page 51 --->

Monday, April 14, 2008

Henry Miller In Rock

Rock music is partly characterized by rebellion, so it’s no surprise that a literary rebel like Henry Miller makes an occasional appearance in that world (although not very often—why not?). The following is a listing of Miller references in rock lyrics, titles, artwork, and interviews, by musicians who have been inspired by Miller.

The Beatles
In a recent article in The Times (U.K.), Barry Miles has suggested that it’s possible that Paul McCartney had Henry Miller or Hubert Selby “at the back of his mind” when he wrote the line “the dirty story of a dirty man” in The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer.” Miles attributes this to the fact that a young McCartney had worked at his London bookshop, Indica Books, where they “had imported American paperback copies of a number of popular titles that were not yet published in Britain: these included Henry Miller's Sexus and Hubert Selby's Last Exit to Brooklyn.” Of course, the lyrics don’t hold up that this is Miller, as it mentions that this “dirty man” has a “clinging wife” and a son “working at the Daily Mail.” John Lennon, apparently, was a Miller fan. A biographer writes that, when Lennon was at art school, he and one-time Beatle Stu Sutcliffe (who died at age 21) used to “sit for hours at Ye Cracke discussing Henry Miller and Kerouac and the ‘beat’ poets, Corso and Ferlinghetti …” [1] “We used to go to Paris,/ and everybody would buy Henry Miller books,” wrote Lennon in a poem called “On Censorship And Henry Miller,” which is posted as a Miller tribute on Valentine Miller’s website (although I couldn’t identify the source or context for this poem). In the end, it would be ludicrous of me to suggest that Miller really had much influence at all on The Beatles, especially since they didn’t honour him as one of the collage of famous people on the cover of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP (yet they chose comedian Max Miller—the nerve!)
[1] Norman, Phillip. Shout!: The Beatles in Their Generation. New York: Fireside, 1981, p. 63.

Bob Dylan
Although Dylan never wrote any songs about Henry, he was inspired by him and wrote about him in a couple of his free-form poems. See my full posting about Miller and Dylan.

Henry Rollins
As with Dylan, I’m not sure of any songs directly about Miller, but punk rocker Henry Rollins is a huge fan who speaks and writes about Henry a lot. See my posting about Miller and Rollins.

Country Joe and the Fish
“Hungry Miller & the Hungry World” (instrumental) is just one of the songs composed by Country Joe and the Fish, for the soundtrack to the 1970 film adaptation of Quiet Days in Clichy. The title track song opens with the lyrics, “Come on people and listen to me, I'll tell you the story of Carl and Joey, The girls they fucked and the women they laid, This is the story of the love they made.” The sequel to this song contains all of the expletives one might find in a few Miller novels (and which the filmmakers exploit with glee), along with French accordion and a chorus of “Oh quiet days in Clichy, Oh quiet days in Clichy.” Add a song about Henry waiting for “Mara,” and you have a group of songs more explicitly about Henry Miller than anywhere else. On the DVD edition of the Quiet Days In Clichy film, there is an interview with Country Joe about the writing of these songs. You can buy the songs right now on iTunes, if you like (if you're already registered with them).

Country Joe records may not be flying off the shelves these days, but you can be sure that rockers Wilco still draw the adoration of thousands of fans. How else to explain how a band can get away with putting out a book? The Wilco Book (2004) helped explosed Wilco fans to Henry Miller with its inclusion of Miller’s art essay, The Angel is My Watermark, along with some of his paintings. Front man Jeff Tweedy told RES magazine about his reason to include it; how it reminds him that they, as artists, are just “making shit up,” shifting the “burden of importance” onto the critics. The Wilco band biography, Wilco: Learning How To Die (Greg Kot, 2004), mentions that Tweedy carried Tropic Of Cancer around with him for eight years. Tweedy approached their album Summerteeth (1999) like a Miller “autobiographical novel” [p. 137], quoting Miller from his Books in My Life, where he states that he is not interested in the “flimsy truth of facts” but instead the “truth of emotion, reflection and understanding, truth digested and assimilated” [Books, p.169; Wilco, p. 138]. In 2004, the Wilco album A Ghost is Born contained a song called “Hummingbird.” Miller is alluded to in the title (for his essay collection, Stand Still Like The Hummingbird), and in the lyrics, which drop lines like “His goal in life was to be an echo,” and “Remember to remember me.”

...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
Jason Reece is a member of the Austin band named above (Trail of Dead for short). In interviews, he sometimes talks up Miller, as he did in this 2001 NME Q+A: “When he wrote, he wrote from the gut, he was very visceral. He acted on impulse, but also analysed things, delved in to the truth of the matter. He wanted to feel life.” The following year, Henry’s mug ended up on the back of (and right on the disk of) Trail Of Dead’s album Source Tags & Codes.
The drawing of Miller, by James Olsen (© Interscope Records), that appears on Trail Of Dead's Source Tags & Codes (2002) album.
A verse from Jewel’s “Morning Song” (from 1995’s Pieces Of You) goes, “You can be Henry Miller and I'll be Anais Nin, Except this time it'll be even better, We'll stay together in the end, Come on darlin', let's go back to bed.” Can’t find anything with Jewel talking about Henry, but clearly she knew something about his biography.

In a Newsday interview with Rafer Guzman from September 13, 2007, Interpol vocalist and guitarist Paul Banks had the following to say: “[Henry Miller] is my absolute favorite. There's a kindred spiritship to it. It's not about his craft or anything. I just identify with his tone."

Mission Of Burma
Post-punk outfit Mission Of Burma named their song “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver” from a Henry Miller essay. The tune appeared on their 1981 EP, Signals, Calls & Marches, and was later covered by bands such as Catherine Wheel and Moby. Bassist/singer Clint Conley admitted in a Jim DeRogatis interview that he “cribbed it from Henry Miller." In Miller’s “When I Reach for My Revolver,” (published in Stand Still Like The Hummingbird), he begins by stating that he had cribbed it himself from John Dudley, who had once “chalked up over my door: “"When I hear the word Culture, that's when I reach for my revolver"." Both Mission of Burma’s Conley and (I assume) Miller did not realize until later that the quote was popularized by (if not originated with) Nazi swine Hermann Göring.

There are a few more minor references, i.e. a Montreal band called Villa Borghese, and a woman named Danielle Lubené with a song called "My Henry Miller." Feel free to add any other references to Miller in Rock in the Comments section. There is also a posting about references to Henry Miller in the Popular Culture, which is still accepting new discoveries.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Synagogue Of Maroussi

Did Henry Miller write most of his memoir of Greece, The Colossus Of Maroussi (1941), inside a New York City synagogue in 1940? In a biographical locations list drafted when he was around 77 years old, Henry identified a “Synagogue – off Lex. Ave. (52nd ?) NY where I wrote some most of Colossus.” A decade earlier, however, when he wrote about the writing of Colossus in a preface for The Henry Miller Reader (1959), he wrote: “This book I remember writing in New York, shortly after my return from Europe. Most of it was written in a furnished room overlooking a synagogue” [p.55]. He may or may not have written inside the synagogue, but, for whatever reason, he clearly felt it was a significant enough presence during the writing of his Greek memoir, to mention it twice.

Miller’s golden era in Paris ended when the threat of the Nazi invasion of France caused him to flee to Greece. This Greek sabbatical ended up being a profound personal experience. Again, the War intervened and Henry was forced out of Greece. By February 1940, he was just scraping by during a New York City winter, back in the hometown he’d sought to escape in 1933. Initially, he took a room and lived unhappily [1] in the Royalton Hotel [2].

Caresse Crosby (born Mary Phelps Jacob, 1891-1970) was a writer, editor, and co-founder of Black Sun Press. As a literary socialite in Paris in the 1920s and ‘30s, she naturally befriended Henry when he arrived on the Paris scene in 1933 [3]. Crosby owned several homes [4], including one in Bowling Green, Virginia, and an apartment she kept in midtown Manhattan. In February 1940, Anais Nin visited Caresse in the apartment at 137 East 54th Street, at Lexington; both women were living in New York at the time. Anais told Caresse that the apartment was exactly something Henry would like; not long afterwards, Caresse informed Anais that there was “a bachelor apartment for rent in the same house. It was just what he wanted, a large room to work in, peaceful and secluded, because the windows gave on a back yard” [5].

Henry’s furnished apartment at 137 East 54th Street became the scene of much proactive writing, starting in March 1940. Here, “overlooking a synagogue,” Miller wrote, amongst other things, the short novels The World Of Sex and Quiet Days in Clichy, as well as the essay “Reflections on Writing” [6]. By May 1940, he was also 80 pages into The Colossus Of Maroussi, which he would complete that summer at Crosby’s manor at Bowling Green, VA.

Above: The Central Synagogue on Lexington Ave.

The apartment was located at East 54th and Lexington; near the south-east corner, as far as I can tell. There is barely an internet presence for this address, even with a reverse address search. It may have been a small building that has since been torn down to make way for the apartment building at 135 E. 54th, which was constructed in 1949 [7] or possibly the big, modern glass buildings that today appear to domainate that corner.

Henry was keeping his 54th Street address a secret. In a March 4th letter to his publisher James Laughlin, he only stated that he was “near" the Gotham Book Mart, which is where he was having all of his mail directed [8]. Gotham was located at 41 West 47th Street, and was only about 10-11 blocks away from Henry’s temporary residence at Lexington.

Much closer, just north up the Lexington block from East 54th, was New York’s oldest synagogue in continuous use [9]. Central Synagogue was—and still is—located at 652 Lexington Avenue (at 55th), where it has stood since 1872. By using the amazing street-level view of New York on Google Maps, you can really get a sense of how close the synagogue is to Henry’s apartment by taking a virtual walk. I can't be sure that Henry had a direct view from his apartment. In Jay Martin’s Always Merry And Bright, he states that Henry’s writing window overlooked a courtyard (p.369), and Anais Nin, quoted above [5], states that Henry’s window faced a back yard; in my mind, a back courtyard would face south, away from the synagogue. And of course, Henry himself wrote that his room overlooked the synagogue. I can’t quite figure out the logistics. Perhaps it was not in his view as he wrote.

This is a view of Lexington and the synagogue from the street-level Google Map.

What, then, is the significance of mentioning this synagogue in relation to writing Colossus Of Maroussi? Was Henry simply trying to embellish a degree of spiritual romanticism to the experience of writing it by making a connection with its proximity—architecture as muse? For someone who found New York so depressing, the sight of something “exotic,” something reflecting the “spiritual” and representing the “Other” may have offered Henry some mental refuge just by looking at it. His appreciation for synagogues is apparent on page 60 of the hardcover edition of My Life And Times (1971) is an undated, handwritten list of places in the world “where mysterious things happened to me”; in the third column, Henry references four synagogues, at Prague, Toledo [?], Seville and “Loop – Chicago” (the latter being the location of a stained-glass mural created by his artist friend Abraham Rattner).

There are only two minor references to anything Judaic in Colossus (pages 202 + 219), so the synagogue had little if any direct influence on the content of his book. Unfortunately, I have nothing more to support the claim that he wrote inside the synagogue, although the interior [seen below] is quite large and has upper-floor galleries in which I suppose Henry could have easily sat inconspicuously with a notebook. “The whole book came effortlessly,” wrote Miller, “often with tears streaming down my face—tears of joy and tears of sorrow” [10].

This interior view of Central Synagogue was found on the NYC Architecture website.

Although Miller completed enough of Colossus Of Maroussi by the end of June to submit it for consideration to James Laughlin of New Directions (who passed on it in writing on July 3rd, 1940 [11]), Henry continued to expand on it. It was completed in August 1940, while Henry was staying at Craesse Crosby’s estate in Bowling Green, Virginia [12]. Colossus was first published by Colt Press (San Francisco) in October 1941 [13].

The Central Synagogue was badly damaged in a fire in 1998, but has been restored and continues to thrive at Lexington and 55th.



[1] Nin, Anais. The Journal of Anais Nin: Volume Three 1939-1944. (1979). London: Quartet Books, p.33: “Henry was staying in a hotel room, and was unhappy.” [2] Martin, Jay. Always Merry And Bright: The Life of Henry Miller. (1980) New York: Penguin Books, p. 367: “He made his way by cab over to the Royalton Hotel … and settled down … in a little, worn room …” [3] Marin, Jay. “Biography And Humanity” Humanitas Communitas, No. 3. (Winter 1999), pp. 18-19. Online:
[4] Phelps Family History in America. “Mary Phelps Jacob, Inventor of the Modern Brassiere.” Online:
[5] Nin, Anais. The Journal of Anais Nin: Volume Three 1939-1944. (1979). London: Quartet Books, p.34.
[6] Sex: Always Merry And Bright, p. 370; Clichy: Robert Ferguson’s Henry Miller: A Life, p 272, and Always Merry, p. 369; Reflections: Always Merry, p. 369. [7] Wired New York. “Manhattan Condos – 135 E. 54th St.” Online:
[8] Wickes, George, ed. Henry Miller And James Laughlin: Selected Letters. (1996) New York: Norton, p. 33.
[9] Rubinstein, Peter J. (Introduction) “The Restoration of Central Synagogue.” PDF document online: [10] Miller, Henry. Preface: “Epidarus And Mycenae.” The Henry Miller Reader. (1959). New Directions, p. 55. [11] Miller/Laughlin: Selected Letters, p. 37. [12] HM: A Life, p. 272. [13] Shifreen, Lawrence J., and Roger Jackson. Henry Miller: A Bibliography of Primary Sources, vol. 1. (1993) Jackson and Shifreen, p. 132 (Item A25a).

Monday, April 07, 2008

New York Locations List

Last year, I found an Ebay item for sale, written in Henry Miller’s hand. It was several pages of a list of various (mostly) New York locations from Henry’s life, provided to the producers of the documentary, The Henry Miller Odyssey. Presumably, the list was provided to Robert Snyder and company to help locate buildings and intersections for filming.

Digital photographs of these ten pages accompanied the Ebay listing, but these images were small [see below]. I have done my best to transcribe these barely-legible documents. Words within square brackets [like this] mean I’m not certain they’re correct. Dashes inside these brackets [like ---s] means I can't makes out the word or letters. Round brackets (like this) are Henry’s. The information isn’t really earth-shattering, but aids in confirming biographical facts. Henry also adds the occasional interesting comment, like his reference to a synagogue at Lexington and 52nd where he wrote most of The Colossus Of Maroussi. This list also helped me last year as I tried to establish the dance hall in which Henry met June.

The first two pages of Henry's location list for The Henry Miller Odyssey. These pages were not numbered. The referenced page numbers are mine alone, based on the order as I found them.

The original Ebay listing for this sale is long gone, but I think the lot was sold to an American bookseller, who likely sold it to for a profit to a private buyer.

Page 1:
Born corner 85th St + York Ave, NY over saloon -- top floor.
P.S. 85 – Evergreen + Covert, Bklyn
P.S. (?) – Driggs Ave. + North 5th [St].
First school (torn down) on North 1st bet. Driggs + Bedford Aves.
* Police Station – Bedford Ave + [No. 1st] St.
[Grand St.] – Raynolds’ Bakery
Vossler’s Drug Store

Page 2:
Corse Payton’s Theatre (melodramas) Lee Ave. Bklyn
Synagogue – off Lex. Ave. (52nd ?) NY where I wrote some most of Colossus
Caresse Crosby’s place in Virginia – more of Colossus
Some of the eating joints (old ones) in the Village
Fredericksburg, Va. (college) where Schnellock taught
Harlem – the great dance place!
Arcadia Dance Hall (June) [?]
the one opposite – [?] with Fletcher Henderson’s Band [?]

Page 3:
[Grand] Street from Driggs to the [F-----]
[S---] Street – U.S. [Street] (Navy Yard)
[N----] of [---] Avenue.
East Side – Manhattan
W.U. Office – [Park Pl.] NY
“ “ -- [ Hat---- Bldg]
[Walla----] Market Bldg
Fulton (fish) “ NY
[Al Burger’s] district
Had [------] – [B----]
([Scarlett Street])
Montague Library – Bklyn
The Ferry [-----ty] – [Hamilton] Ave (?)

These are the pages I have called Page 3, 4 and 5.

Page 4:
[---] [----] Saloon – 2nd Ave. about [28th]
([------] [------])
Houston St. Burlesk, 2nd Ave + Houston NY
The [---] + [----] Bowery [NY] The daily walk to [51st St] [NY]
The [st--fs] at Bklyn Bridge
Wall St. – Atlas Portland Cement, 30 Broad St NY
The Wolcott Hotel )
The [Preston] ) NY
The Broztell )
Tailor Shop – 5 W [31st] [or 32nd] NY
2nd or 3rd floor, opp. Hotel Wolcott

Page 5:
The old Madison Square [Garden] (fights, wrestling, 6 day [B----])
[Ta-----y] Hall + Burlesk
Tom Sharkey’s Saloon [14th] St NY
Union Square – [14th] St NY [-------] – [Ed-cat----]
Henry St. Settlement NY
Neighborhood Play House NY
[Te------mitz’s] [Roumanian?] [Restaurant]
Café Royale Chess Club – 2nd Ave NY

Page 6:
[St-------] Square – [Polish restaurant?] NY
Dance Halls – B’way NY
Place where Pauline + I lived (?)
[Fulton] St. Theatre [oppo. end]
[Theatre] at [----otte] [----] + B’way – [standing up] – 50 ¢
[Delancey] St + adjoining [o----] [from] [--------y] to 5th Ave + [30th St] [---ly]
[----] [Island] [------ -----], [most] beautiful spot [in world]
[Sw-----t--d] Lake NJ, [Fallsburgh], NY (vacations)

Page 7:
[244] at 6th Ave NY ([---------])
662 Driggs Ave ([----------])
8th Ave. (?)
[Flatbush] (?) (C---- St + ------ ---- (--)
1063 Decatur St (Street of Early Sorrows)
91 Remsen St ([where I begin writing] [in earnest]), [P---] Hall
The Henry Street [basemt] – (---? L---- came)]
[S-----] [Street]

Pages 6, 7, 8

Page 8:
9th St. [-----] [----] (?) + [ Hoboken?] [First place with] B------
Palace Theatre NY [B------g]
The Roseland – Dance Hall
Presbyterian Church – [Boys’ ------] [Hamburg} St – B’klyn
[T-----] [V----] [ B-----d] + [G------] [Brooklyn]
Walk from Decactur + [B-------d] to Devoe St, Bklyn
Glendale – [Lambs----] [----y] [dogs]
85th St NY near East River [------] with [c-------]

Page 9:
Perry St. – speakeasy
[Trommer’s] Beer Garden
[Cl-------] Cemetery
[Bushwick] Ave Promenade
[Push] to [---se] (The [Walk])
Greenwich Village
Riverside Drive
[Ma-----eth], L. I. [got ----- ------]
Blue Point, L. I.
Places in New Jersey
Others – [outskirts NY]
Sheepshead Bay + [Bensonhurst] (more)

Page 10:
[G. D.] High School
Corse Payton Theatre
The [Fountain] – [Radford] Ave
Fillmore Place
North 2nd St
187 Devoe St + neighborhood
Novelty, The Bum, The Gayety, The Follies -- ) Theatres

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Henry Miller's Angelic Clown

“Like the clown we go through the motions, forever simulating, forever postponing the grand event. We die struggling to get born. We never were, never are. We are always in the process of becoming…”
--- Henry Miller, “Epilogue.” The Smile At The Foot Of The Ladder

Miller’s novella The Smile At The Foot Of The Ladder is one of his least discussed and appreciated books. It’s the story of a clown named Auguste, whose one-dimensional fame causes an existential crisis of identity and a Siddhartha-like quest for spiritual meaning. A contemporary (and unfavourable) Time Magazine review from 1948 adds: “Auguste's search for his true identity is a dangerous quest and it ends fatally, but not before he has discovered that ‘perhaps he was all right just as he was . . . The mistake he had made was to go beyond his proper bounds.’”

I presume that the lack of attention for Smile comes from the fact that most of Miller’s cannon is autobiographical in nature, whereas the tale of August the clown is a fictional, third-person narrative, and therefore, in theory, not really reflective of what Miller is all about. In theory. Karl Orend’s most recent publication changes all of that. Smile At The Foot Of The Ladder may not contain a writer character named Henry, but the clown named Auguste is reflective of the spiritual and philosophical core of Henry Miller. “More than any other text Henry Miller wrote,” writes Orend, The Smile At The Foot Of The Ladder gives us a concise and allegorical vision of the point towards which all his writing was aimed—Apocatastasis and the attainment of Samadhi. The intent of all Henry Miller’s work was the elimination of duality and schizophrenia he felt within himself and in society.” Published in 1948, Smile provided “a spiritual ladder or bridge” between his Colossus Of Maroussi (1941) and Big Sur And The Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch (1957).
At left: The cover for the 1953 Correa edition of Smile, with a photo of Miller touched up as a clown.

Karl Orend’s book, Henry Miller’s Angelic Clown: Reflection on The Smile At The Foot Of The Ladder (2007, Alyscamps Press) is a thorough analysis of Miller’s 1948 short novel. Most importantly, it positions Smile as a work that is more of, by and about Henry Miller than has ever been considered before. It establishes a clear context for its creation and meaning by identifying what was going on in the heart and mind of Miller in the late 1940s, when he composed it while living at Big Sur. We are reminded of Miller’s long-standing identification with the circus and with clowns, whom Miller felt were religious in nature, Christ-like figures that are crucified by the public (Auguste is essentially a misunderstood prophet). Orend’s book also goes deep into the inner spiritual life of Miller, identifying the elements of Hinduism and Buddhism—of which Miller was interested—within the narrative. “[W]e have not only an allegorical revelation of the Buddhist/Hindu way of life,” writes Orend, “but also a clear refutation of the essential doctrines of modern Christianity.”

The Smile At The Foot Of The Ladder originally came about as a commission by Fernand Léger, who had requested that Miller write text to accompany his images of circus clowns. The end result was “too psychological” for Leger, and subsequently rejected. Orend also makes clear the inspiration that Wallace Fowlie had on Miller during the 1940s, and specifically, how Fowlie’s own writings about clowns had a direct impact on the inspiration of Miller’s subject matter (Fowlie’s A Clown’s Grail, and Clowns And Angels). To Miller in 1944, Fowlie wrote: “You are the only man I know of, writing today, who understands the singular, mystical relationship between the clown, voyou, and the angel in man…” (qtd. by Orend). Miller indeed understood: “Clowns and angels are so divinely suited to each other.”
Although Miller kept Leger’s drawings out of view while he wrote, lest they distract him, Orend shows how certain artists were also an inspiration for Smile, such the ladder of Miró, the angels of Chagall, the circuses of Seurat, and especially Rouault’s clown paintings [Rouault's "The Clown" (1907) is seen above]. The influences in literature, culture and philosophy that lead Miller to write Smile are many; Orend identifies them all and allows us to see Miller’s inner workings. Once again, Orend finds fresh ground for Miller study and introduces us to Henry from a different angle.

Henry Miller’s Angelic Clown: Reflection on The Smile At The Foot Of The Ladder is a very limited edition publication, and commands a collector’s price of $175. Order queries may be placed at the website for the Nexus Henry Miller Journal.