Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Times Reviews 'Big Sur,' 1958

A feature on Lawrence Durrell, written by Peter Porter, appeared in this week's print edition of The Times Literary Supplement (and since been made available on-line). Porter writes that Durrell was "indebted to Miller’s libertarian philosophy." Expanding on this passing reference to Miller, The Times has also included a critical exploration of books about Miller, written by Karl Orend. In this piece entitled "New Bibles," Orend reviews recent analytical works about Miller and ties them into an essay about the interconnection between his writing style and his"religious quest."

Among the books considered: Thomas Nesbit's Henry Miller And Religion, James M Decker's Henry Miller And Narrative Form, and Maria Bloshteyn's The Making of a Counter-Culture Icon: Henry Miller's Dostoevsky.

To compliment this Miller article, The Times offers, in both print and on-line, a book review from their archives: Alan Ross takes on Big Sur And The Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch in 1958.

Excerpt from The Times Literary Supplement of May 2, 1958:
Mr. Henry Miller, approaching the calm sunset of his enterprising, varied, robust working life, shows himself increasingly an American, less and less a man of Europe. His most reviving, fruitful dreams, it is true, are always of Paris, but for fifteen years now Mr. Miller’s home has been in the paradisal Californian outpost of Big Sur, on the coast south of Monterey, and it seems that the traveller is home, in both spirit and body, for good. In his new book Mr. Miller describes at some length his primitive backwoods life, his poverty, his physical riches, his thoughts, his guests, his unhappy and happy marriages, his children.

Two sections in this typically formless, often waffling, garrulous but marvellously human, book are of especial interest. First, that in which, after his penultimate wife had made off, Mr. Miller attempted single-handed to bring up two small children. Secondly, the final anecdote concerning a friend of his Paris days, who, having been financed and brought over from Europe as an act of mercy by Mr. Miller, turns out as exacting, sponging, evil, cunning and ungrateful a guest as can be found in contemporary literature. Mr. Miller has always been a remarkable creator of character. Conrad Moricand is probably his master-piece.

"[Henry Miller] .... has always desperately needed an editor (much more than a censor) to refer to."

"Boring as much of Mr. Miller’s writing often is – the cosmological gush, the schoolboyish salaciousness, the coarse contemptuousness with which all his sexual encounters arc wearyingly described – it never lacks intellectual passion, a great curiosity and zest for life, an absorbing interest and feeling for his fellow men."
Read the full 1958 Times review here.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Naming Tropic Of Cancer

Astrological symbolism played only a part in the naming of Henry Miller’s classic book titles, Tropic Of Cancer and Tropic Of Capricorn. Miller was born on December 26th, making him a Capricorn (Dec.22 – Jan. 19), but this appears to have not have been a direct inspiration as much as it was meant to be a complimentary title for its predecessor. Tropic of Cancer was partly a reference to the Zodiac, but also a symbol of a cancerous decay of society, the sideways movement of the crab, and the polar opposites of the equatorial zones. Tropic Of Cancer was in fact not his first choice of title.

“Last book, a novel, will be published anonymously,” announced Miller is his thumbnail autobiography in Peter Neagoe’s Americans Abroad directory in 1932. The previous summer, 1931, he had conceived this book-to-end-all-books along with Michael Fraenkel, who had been letting Henry stay with him at 18 Villa Seurat*. Miller expert Karl Orend explains how these two admirers of Oswald Spengler planned to drop a cultural bomb: “They intended their book to usher in the end of the current civilization, which had been rushing headlong towards disaster over the previous decades. It was all foreseen in Spengler, and his birth and death cycles of culture and civilization. The end was nigh, and they would write an apocalyptic satire to condemn the age, which had become dominated by spritual suicide and inhumanity. It would be called The Last Book. The last book of the Bible is Revelation, vision of the Apocalypse, to which the title referred” [1].

A few weeks after Miller left the Villa Seurat address, he announced to Emil Schnellock his intention to write this “first person, uncensored, formless” Paris book [2]. A year later, on August 29, 1932, Schnellock received the first 100 pages of this “Last Book” (see the manuscript envelope below). In a self-referential passage within these pages (existent in the final version), Miller typed “We have evolved a new cosmogony of literature, Boris [Fraenkel] and I. It is to be a new Bible—The Last Book. All those who have anything to say will say it here—anonymously. We will exhaust the age. After us not another book—not for a generation, at least” (Tropic of Cancer, p.26).

A few months earlier, in March 1932, Henry was still calling this work The Last Book, as is evidenced by an ironic note he made for himself: “Make the Last Book the first of a series—a life job, like Proust’s” [3]. But in his mind, this title was still tentative (as he explicitly states in a letter to Emil in April 1932) [4]. By April 1933, Henry has settled on Tropic Of Cancer as a title, but Emil was still making reference to The Last Book in his letters. Henry wrote back that he doesn’t “know anymore what that means. Perhaps Tropic Of Cancer […] Since then there are a few last books” [5].

Read further analysis of The Last Book concept in the essay, “Narrative Detours.”

A month before Schnellock received his 100 pages of The Last Book, Miller was already deciding on a new title. On July 30,1932, he wrote to Anais Nin for advice: “I think I have discovered a title for the book. How do you like either of these—“Tropic of Cancer” or “I Sing The Equator” [6]. I have not seen Nin’s response, but in hindsight it seems obvious.

Around the same time that Henry sought title advice from Anais, he’d submitted an early draft to a literary agent, William Bradley. The manuscript was called The Tropic Of Cancer. Bradley makes reference to it as such in a handwritten memo dated August 8, 1932 (a facsimile of which is printed the hardcover My Life And Times [1970], p.152) [7]. While living with Alfred Perles in Clichyin 1933, Miller sketched out a tree of philosophical ideas for an unfinished book called Palace of Entrails. At the top of the tree is the equation “CANCER = House of Birth + Death” (facsimile, My Life And Times, p. 75).

In Miller’s short story, "Via Dieppe-Newhaven" (1938), he recounts his efforts to explain the title and symbollic concept of Tropic of Cancer to a British immigartion agent: “‘The Tropic of Cancer,’ I said slowly and solemnly, ‘is not a medical book’[…] ‘The title,’ I answered, ‘is a symbolic title. The Tropic of Cancer is a name given in text-books to a temperate zone lying above the Equator. Below the equator you have the Tropic of Capricorn, which is the south temperate zone. The book, of course, has nothing to do with the climatic conditions either, unless it be a sort of mental climate. Cancer is a name which has always intrigued me: you’ll find it in zodiacal lore too. Etymologically, it comes from chancre, meaning crab. In Chinese symbolism it is a sign of great importance. The crab is the only living creature which can walk backwards and forwards and sideways with equal facility. Of course my book doesn’t treat all of this explicitly. It’s a novel, or rather an autobiographical document” [8].

This reasoning seems pretty consistent with subsequent explanations. To Anais Nin he wrote: “Cancer also means for me the disease of civilization, the extreme point of realization along the wrong path—hence the necessity to change one’s course and begin all over again” [9]. This falls in line with his Cancer = House of Birth + Death equation (death and renewal). In an interview with Ben Grauer in 1956, Miller further explained that Tropic Of Cancer was “a symbolic title I had chosen for a number of reasons, primarily because the cancer is the crab, and the crab has the power, or the ability to walk backwards, forwards, sideways, any direction do you see. I liked that symbol, you know? […] Able to go any direction at will, do you see.”

There are only a few references to cancer in Tropic of Cancer. It’s used metaphorically as a consuming social disease and is applied to the world (a cancer eating itself away,” p.2), to himself and the character Tania (She’s got it now, the cancer and delirium..,” p. 59), and Paris, which “grows inside you like a cancer, and grows and grows until you are eaten away”. Interestingly, in unpublished excerpts of Tropic Of Cancer, Miller makes associations between cancer and his wife June (as Mona): her nail polish has a “sweet, cancerous stench” and, more directly, “You are evil in the way that microbes are evil, like cancer, leprosy, or the coming of puberty” [10].

I have read somewhere that Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn were pet names that Henry had for June’s breasts, but I can’t remember the source of this assertion, and can’t verify whether it’s true or not.

“Opposite Cancer in the Zodiac (extremes of the Equinox—turning points) is Capricorn, the house in which I was born, which is religious and represents in death” [9]. “I had no thought of the next title, but when I came to the next one I thought, well, why not make it Tropic of Capricorn? You see. I was going to try to have one for just the equator. Well, finally I had made Black Spring. That had another great significance to me. But there was always the astrological implication too. Sure” [11].
* I have not read Franekel’s essay "The Genesis of Tropic Of Cancer," but I’m guessing that it elaborates further on the original premise of this collaboration.

[1] Orend, Karl. On The 70th Anniversary of Tropic of Cancer. Paris & Austin: Alyscamps Press, 2004; p.11. [2] Miller, Henry. Letters to Emil. George Wickes, ed. NY: New Directions, 1989; p. 80 (letter dated August 24, 1931); [3] Miller, Henry. A Literate Passion: Letters of Anais Nin & Henry Miller, 1932-1953. Gunther Stuhlmann, Ed. NY: Harcourt Brace& Co, 1987, p. 37.
[4] Miller, Henry. Letters to Emil. George Wickes, ed. NY: New Directions, 1989; p. 93.
[5] Miller, Henry. Letters to Emil. George Wickes, ed. NY: New Directions, 1989; p. 119 (letter dated April1933). [6] Miller, Henry. A Literate Passion: Letters of Anais Nin & Henry Miller, 1932-1953. Gunther Stuhlmann, Ed. NY: Harcourt Brace& Co, 1987, p. 80. [7] On page 51 of the same book is a reproduction of what appears to be the handwritten cover page from Bradley’s manuscript. On it, Miller has written Tropic of Capricorn, but scratched out Capricorn and written “Cancer” above it. [8] Miller, Henry. “Via Dieppe-Newhaven.” The Cosmological Eye. NY: New Directions, (1963), p. 214-215. [9] Miller, Henry. Letters To Anais Nin. Gunther Stuhlmann, ed. NY: Putnum, 1965, p.147. [10] Miller, Henry. From Tropic of Cancer: Previously unpublished sections. Roger Jackson, 1999; pp. 41 + 96. [11] Miller, Henry. Henry Miller Recalls And Reflects (LP). With Ben Grauer. April1956. Listen on-line:

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Crashing The Party

This marks my 250th posting on this blog; an event that happens to coincide with its three-year anniversary week (August 12 is the actual date). I was working on a post about why Miller chose the titles Tropic Of Cancer and Tropic Of Capricorn, thinking that this would be a substantial enough subject to mark my anniversary. Instead, this 250th post is written on a borrowed computer so I can say that I come to you with empty pockets.

I got the Blue Screen of Death. My computer crashed. I've been wasting all day trying to fix this, but it's something I can't do in 24 hours. I'm desperately hoping that everything will be recovered (about 75% of the personal Miller archive on my computer had been backed-up), but this means more delays with this blog.

Thanks to everyone who has visited or commented on my blog over the past 3 years, and to those who have sent me emails and have proven to be loyal readers. You've helped make this personal project all the more rewarding and interesting. Supreme accolades go out to those who've kindly supported my efforts by sharing their expertise, materials, and encouragement.

And here's a toast to technology, which I must love and hate for both enabling and crashing my party.

I'll be back as soon as possible.

UPDATE: August 24,2008. This computer issue is becoming a real headache, but I've been able to use another computer in the meantime. Thanks for everyone's supportive comments.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Miller In Dude Magazine

It makes sense that Henry Miller’s name appeared often in American ‘girlie magazines’ of the 1950s and ‘60s. In between nude pictorials and masculine essays would sometimes appear an excerpt from a Miller book, an analysis of his work, or simply references to his Tropic Of Cancer, which was still banned in the U.S.

Quite a while ago, I wrote about Miller in girlie magazines, but the ultimate resource has always been Roger Jackson’s Henry Miller And The Nudies: A Bibliography For Readers And Collectors (1996). In March 2007, Jackson updated the index (unpublished) for this book, making extensive reference to Miller essays, articles and references found in the pages of girlie magazine from Ace to Wildcat Spectacular. One such magazine was called The Dude. While at a vintage paper sale a couple of years ago, I happened to find a stack of Dude magazines, two of which had Miller’s name listed on the cover. I bought them, and feature them in this posting.

The Dude magazine began publication in 1956 by Mystery Publishing Co. in New York City. This “magazine devoted to pleasure” was published by Maurice Murray; James H. Holmes was Editor-in-Chief.

The third issue of Dude (Vol. 1, No. 3) contained an excerpt from The Colossus Of Maroussi, under the heading “These Women I Remember.” The preface by the editors begins: “Few men of our time have achieved as penetrating an insight into sensuality as Henry Miller, best known for the notoriously Rabelaisian chronicles of his life, ‘Tropic Of Cancer’ and ‘Tropic Of Capricorn.’ These books are only available in America ‘under the counter’—although recognized in Europe as ranking among the true masterpieces of modern literature.”

The featured excerpt from Maroussi opens with “The Greek woman, even when she is cultured, is first and foremost a woman, [sic] She sheds a distinct fragrance: she warms and thrills you…..” This passage exists on pages 108-112 of the New Directions Maroussi (NDP75), and is a reverent description of Greek women, with a few examples of the types of girls and women he encountered in Greece in 1939.

“Erotica” by W. Roderick Morey (reference to Miller—details unknown to me).

“Dirty Dog Inn” by Spence Norris (reference to Miller—details unknown to me).

MAY 1962
“In Your Hat” by Nat Lehrman (reference to Miller—details unknown to me).

“The Last Forbidden Classic: My Life & Loves,” by William Gresham
(reference to Miller—details unknown to me).

“To Catch A Word” by Art Kaplan (reference to Miller—details unknown to me).

“The Price of Free Love” by James Collier (reference to Miller—details unknown to me).

Dude cover, November 1963

“Are You Another Henry Miller?” by Harvey McCall. This is one of the issues I’d picked up at the paper show. I was hoping for an insightful essay, but instead found a two-page fill-in-the-blank gimmick (I remember doing stuff like this in grade-school). "He hopes she would accept his ____________ and _____________. With a final glance at the mirror, he straightened his ____________, and then went whistling out the door."
What do you need to become another Henry Miller?: “A naughty vocabulary, a wild imagination and a large talent.”

MAY 1964
“In Utter Nakedness” by Juliette Powell (reference to Miller—details unknown to me).

JULY 1964
“The Man Who Invented Fanny Hill” by Clement Haney
(reference to Miller—details unknown to me).

“The Rape of Junius Figleaf” by H.S. Kahn
(reference to Miller—details unknown to me).

MAY 1966
“The Man Who Made Candy” by James S. Brooks (reference to Miller—details unknown to me).

Sunday, August 10, 2008

American Express In Paris

After a lengthy absence, the Walking Paris With Henry Miller website is back with a posting that situates the American Express building as a beacon in Henry's Paris. Read the post here.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Annotated Nexus - Page 51

51.0 After an apparently humiliating and forceful sexual advance by Dr. Kronski, Stasia stands purposely naked in front of the group. Set off by the doctor’s criticism of her “exhibition,” Stasia creates a scene by frantically fucking herself with a candle, declaring that she and Mona do things like this for lesbian shows they put on to raise rent money.

51.1 “Or haven’t you told them how we raise the rent money?”
Stasia, addressing Mona, is referring to the public display she is making by being naked and calling for a candle with which to masturbate with. The “we” implies herself and Mona, whom she turns to as she says this. “And it’s gratis this time. Usually I get paid for making an ass of myself, don’t I?” Mona tearfully begs her to stop.

Throughout Miller’s writings on Mona, he makes reference to her (his wife June) raising cash through various shades of prostitution. In some cases, there are only references to “admirers,” who appear to be willing to spend money on June simply for her attention and company.

In this scene, Mona only asks Stasia to stop talking; she never refutes her assertion. Later, on page 142, Miller makes reference to money coming from “suckers” willing to pay for Mona’s “blood.” One of them pays just to have “one of them” urinate on a sandwich.

51.2 worth fifty dollars
When Stasia finally grabs a large candle from the bureau and stuffs it into her vagina “roll[ing] her pelvis frantically,” she declares that this performance is probably worth fifty bucks.

According to this inflation calculator, $50 in 1927 would be $581 in 2007—excessively high. From the perspective of the late 1950s, when Miller wrote this, $50 would be $377. If a private masturbation performance were done today by a high-end prostitute for $200, that would equal approximately $17 in 1927. Perhaps Stasia was exaggerating; perhaps Miller was trying to make sure that the reader understood she meant a lot of money (since $17 in 1959, when Nexus was published, would sound like $10) instead of meaning she worked for peanuts.

51.3 what’s his name … pervert
Stasia says that “what’s his name” would probably pay more for the candle performance. It’s not clear to me if this particular person is referred to elsewhere in Nexus. In contemplating this, Stasia adds that he’d want to “suck [her] off” too, but that she doesn’t like that, at least not “by a pervert.” Mona screams for Stasia to stop. The candle finally falls to the floor.

51.4 “I’m crazy”
As Stasia dresses, she says that she has no moral sense and is crazy, therefore she’s the one who should take the brunt of being “injured or humiliated” and not Mona—“your dear wife.” Nexus had begun with references to Stasia being in a mental hospital—See 8.26, page 9, and page 10.

51.5 my guardians
Stasia pulls an envelope out of a drawer: there’s a check inside “sent to me by my guardians. Enough to pay next month’s rent.” This is an interesting detail for trying to sort out who exactly Stasia (Jean Kronski) was. One hypothesis is that she’d been adopted (see The Many Names of Jean Kronski); this little detail certainly backs this up, as adoptive or foster parents seems to be the only way she can mean “guardians” in this context.

Stasia then proceeds to tear up the check, rhetorically saying “we don’t want that kind of money, do we”—meaning, I presume, ‘clean’ money or charity.

51.6 “pretending that we’re Lesbians”
It’s not the guardians’ money they want, says Stasia, making a point—“We know how to make our own way…giving exhibitions…pretending that we’re Lesbians.” A long-standing question has been, Were June and Jean really in a sexual lesbian relationship? Her statement seems to imply that they’d at least engaged sexually for the sake of performance, but Stasia adds: “pretending that we’re make-believe Lesbians. Pretending, pretending, …I’m sick of it. Why don’t we pretend that we’re just human beings?”

Does “pretending that we’re make-believe” mean that their role-playing was obviously fake, that no real contact was made, that their sexual interaction in those exhibitions was less than convincing? And does her desire to just be a human being and not a pretend-Lesbian mean that her lesbian leanings have been a façade all along, or does it mean that she just wants to be herself--lesbian, bisexual or whatever--without playing the role of lesbian-as-heterosexual-male-object?

Just a general reminder: all scenes and lines of dialogue are written by Miller, and should not necessarily be considered objective, accurate or even factual.

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