Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Final Words: Miller Interview - October 1979

Eight months before his death, Henry Miller sat down for a conversation with writer Barbara Kraft. An edited version of this personal interview was published in the Spring 1981 issue of the Michigan Quarterly Review, which claims that this is "the last long interview with Miller before his death in 1980." It's a great exchange; intelligent and natural. There's a real sense that he is offering his final, parting words about what he learned in his nearly 89 years on earth, about Life, Love, Existence and himself.

A scan of the original article is available through the online archives of the Michigan Quarterly Review.
A classical pianist and music writer, Kraft was also a former reporter for Time and other magazines (see bio at KCRW, where she has recently produced a radio documentary).
At left: Photo of Kraft as found in the Michigan Quarterly article.
She had been working for a Los Angeles radio station in 1977, when she broadcast "An Open Letter to Henry Miller" in honour of his 85th birthday. The Michigan Quarterly article states that a "friendship ensued" following this encounter [p.45]. This is later verified in Miller's letters to friends in 1979: to Irv Stettner on June 3: “Barbara Kraft here last night. Made me the most wonderful filet mignon I had ever anywhere! (I have sixteen voluntary cooks on my list now. Barbara is the best. And a damn good woman" [1]; and to Lawrence Durrell on August 9, he writes that Kraft is a "wonderful friend" [2].

“Did a ‘Conversation’ with Barbara Kraft for National Public Radio,” wrote Miller to Irving Stettner on October 8, 1979 [3]. The interview was recorded at Miller's house in the Pacific Pallisades, then edited down to five minutes in length. On his December 26, 1979--the last birthday he would celebrate--the interview was broadcast on National Public Radio (NPR)'s Morning Edition program (NPR Stock No. ME-810907.09/12-C) [4]. The transcript of this edited interview is what appears under the title "A Conversation with Henry Miller," published in the Michigan Quarterly Review, Volume XX, Issue: 2, Spring 1981, pp. 45-58.

I am including a partial breakdown of this interview below, but, for an excerpt, I want to draw attention to some fascinating self-observations by Miller about his mind-set while writing Tropic Of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn.

First, I've never before read that the men in his immediate social circle had an influence on his use of language with regards to women, which some consider misogynistic: "Women like me in general, given a chance. No, there's never been any denigration of women by me. Though in the Tropics I must confess I was in a milieu and living with chaps who had a very low opinion of women. There was only one thing and that was sex. There wasn't anything else, don't you know" [p.47].

And then there's this bit about a vision of Madame Blavasky helping him transition from the man of rage who arrived in Paris to the man of peaceful surrender who left it: "The word surrender is a very common word in my mouth. I don't know just when that came about, perhaps when I had a vision of Madame Blavatsky once when I was in Paris. I was at my typewriter and I was still full of rage against the world, that's how I was typing my Tropic of Cancer, and suddenly I felt there was a presence in the room and I looked to the right and I saw her face momentarily and I knew her face well from the photographs, though there was no connection between seeing the photo and what happened to me. I underwent a great psychological change. At that moment I said to myself, 'Henry give up this struggle, this raging against people. It's getting you nowhere. Surrender!' And I was at peace with myself and I had no quarrels with anyone. I forgave my mother and my father for all their stupidities. It was a marvelous feeling."[p.48-49].

Page 45: Intro; defense against being a "writer of smut";
Page 46: Photo of Kraft with Miller;
Page 47: Sex and love--eros versus agape; his relationship with Women;
Page 48: Qualities of women: innocence, spirituality, beauty; submitting to love;
Page 49: The peace of finding surrender; spirituality; end of the world;
Page 50: Angry at the state of Humanity--lower than animals; we have devolved from Gods;
Page 51: Total acceptance of the Self; Truth in writing: "exaggeration in Art is very justifiable";
Page 52: Change yourself, not the world; wasted years in anger, trying to change the attitudes of others; the four paradises of his life;
Page 53: Writing in Paris; avoiding Politics; Emma Goldman;
Page 54: First attempts at writing; inspired by Goldman, and meeting her; "I believe in Life 100% and in people no percent";
Page 55: Life as disorder; Literature, and not caring for its ancient kind; Nobel Prize committee;
Page 56: Issac Bashevis Singer; Kerouac, Ginsberg and modern poetry; William Carlos Williams;
Page 57: Sartre; Dante's Inferno; Blaise Cendrars;
Page 58: Anecdote about Cendrars dying.

Read the full interview at the Michigan Quarterly Review.

In 1993, Kraft wrote an essay called "The Last Days of Henry Miller." It was published in the Hudson Review (Autumn 1993, p. 477). This piece was also re-printed in the debut issue of Ping Pong: Journal of the Henry Miller Library (1994).
[1] Miller, Henry, and Irving Stettner. From Your Capricorn Friend; p. 59.
[2] Miller, Henry, and Lawrence Durrell. The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80. Ian McNiven, ed.; p. 507.
[3] Miller, Henry, and Irving Stettner. From Your Capricorn Friend; p. 93.
[4] Shifreen & Jackson. Bibliography of Primary Sources, Vol. 1; item E12, p. 921.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Miller's Sacred Rosicrucian Book of 1939

There are a lot of arcane literary treasures at the Internet Archive ( A search for “Henry Miller” turns up a few curiosities: scans of a few books directly from Miller’s personal library. One such book is The Rosicrucian cosmo-conception, or, Mystic Christianity : an elementary treatise upon man's past evolution, present constitution and future development by Max Heindel (1911). Meant as study guide for the Rosicrucian Fellowship which Heindel founded in 1909, one particular used copy made its way from Cambridge, U.K. and into the hands of Henry Miller in Paris, who was entering a phase of mystic enlightenment. On March 5, 1939, Henry wrote an inscription inside the covers: “Sacred property of Henry Miller ... who has just discovered that he has been a Rosicrucian all his life ... Paris 3/5/39."

Defining Rosicrucianism is no easy task for me. Beyond conventional social philosophy, it seems to draw from a wide range of esoteric knowledge and theory, including mysticism, the occult and spirituality (with a particularly Christian bias, it seems; check out this Q+A directly from the Rosicrucians). It stems from a secret order of the Fraternity of the Rosy Cross (founded by Christian Rosenkreuz), which Christopher McIntosh calls a “deliberately created mythology” (p.137). McIntosh, in his book The Rosicrucians (1998) attempts to summarize the movement’s teachings as Gnostic in nature: “By ‘Gnostic’ I mean, in essence, the view that the human spirit is trapped, as it were, under water, living a kind of half-life, ignorant of the fact that the sunlight and air of the true spirit is overhead. If knowledge (or gnosis) can make people aware of this, they will make the effort to swim upward and be reunited with their real element” (p.xviii). After this, Rosicurian ideals and the Rosicurian movements appear to diverge onto many open paths of interpretation.

It seems fairly apparent (although I have no quote to back this up) that the term Rosicrucian and itssymbol of the Rosy (or Rose) Cross is, to some degree, an inspiration for the title of Miller’s autobiographical trilogy, The Rosy Crucifixion (no doubt there is also meaning to be found in his use of the concept of crucifixion). But his book titles and his relationship with Rosicrucianism aren't my focus here (see Chapter Three of Thomas Nesbit’s Henry Miller And Religion for that). Instead, I’m focusing on this Max Heindel book as an object, and finding context for Miller’s enthusiastic written approval of it in 1939.

On a Sunday in Paris, January 1939, Henry wrote to Lawrence Durrell [1]: “In reading the proofs of Capricorn I am more and more struck by the metaphysical implications with which the book is sewn.” He goes on to explain that “every time I pick up a mystical book I am struck again, shuttled back, as it were, to some fundamental truthful realm of my self which has been so much denied in life.” From this newly-excited revelation came his idea for a book called Draco and the Ecliptic, which was only a title with a vague but lofty feeling attached to it, one that felt it would be a “significant” document “for the world to come.” Henry seems to have felt The Answer sitting on the tip of his tongue.

And then this, near the end of the letter: “To-night I pick up a book and take it with me to a café to read. A thin book, in French, on the Rosicrucians. The cardinal idea is so stark and simple, so thoroughly in accord with my own belief as to the way of life, that I am amazed how men can miss it. It is the doctrine of the heart, to be brief” This last phrase is interesting because Miller had just finished an article that would soon be published in The Modern Mystic magazine as The Wisdom of the Heart (April1939) [2]. Read it and you will understand Henry’s state of mind in 1939: the wisdom of life is to accept of all elements of it, both good and bad (as inspired in part by the subject of this article, E. Graham Howe).
The Zen nature of this wisdom makes sense. Just a couple weeks after declaring himself a Rosicurian on March 5,1939, Henry made the following written declaration to Durrell: “I am a Zen addict through and through” (Durrell-Miller Letters, p. 122). It seems that Miller was willing to declare himself in allegiance with any philosophy that offered an alternative spiritual vision to the American ethic he left behind and the crass vacuum the world was about to enter for the next five years.

The thin, French book described by Miller in the letter above is not the same as the subject of this post. Max Heindel’s The Rosicrucian cosmo-conception, or, Mystic Christianity is a hefty, 602-page English-language tome, published in 1911. I'm assuming that his French introduction to the subject led directly to the Heindel book.

Behind the front cover of the book are two “ex-libris” label plates of former owners of this book: John Parry and CK Ogden. To me, it seems that Parry’s centred label and signature on the page opposite implies that he was the first owner. This is a guess, but it may have belonged to R. St. John Parry (1858-1935), who was a Fellow and eventual Vice-Master of Trinity College at Cambridge University. If this is the same man (maybe it's not), he was the editor of a couple of books of Christian study, which gives him reason to own this Rosicurian book by Max Heindel and his “International Association of Christian Mystics.”

The Cambridge connection of this particular Parry places him in logical proximity to the other former book owner, CK Ogden. Charles Kay Ogden (1889-1957) [I assume this is the correct CK Ogden!--please note all of my assumptions] was the founder of Cambridge Magazine in 1912. He also owned a few bookshops in Cambridge, from which I assume the Heindel book made its way into Miller’s hands. Lawrence Durrell and Alfred Perles were both in England in 1939, as was Graham Howe, the subject of Wisdom of the Heart; who knows who sent this book to Henry? It may have just been purchased in Cambridge by an unknown person and sold off to a bookstore across the pond in Paris. I have found no direct connection between Miller and Ogden (or Parry).
One of the many diagrams to be found in The Rosicrucian cosmo-conception.

Miller’s copy of Heindel’s The Rosicrucian cosmo-conception, or, Mystic Christianity currently rests in the Henry Miller Papers (Collection Number 110), Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA. The book scan, as mentioned above, is made available via Internet Archive. Henry’s “sacred property” note is apparently located on a “free endleaf,” but I haven’t been able to find it using their Flip Book feature or through downloading a PDF copy. The Archive also mentions that there are “notes and marginalia by Henry Miller,” but I haven’t found those either--although I haven’t skimmed through all 602 pages.

Other scanned books from Henry’s collection include These are Amiel's journal: the Journal intime of Henri-Frédéric Amiel by Henri-Frédéric Amiel (1890s); George Alfred Henty: the story of an active life by George Manville Fenn (1907); The world's illusion, Vol. 1& 2 by Jakob Wassermann (1920); and Aaron’s Rod by D.H. Lawrence (1922), signed by Lawrence’s widow, Frieda.
Finally, here's an advertisement in Mechanix Illustrated in 1939, in which the Californian Rosicrucians claim to teach "latent inner powers" to combat "mental poisoning."
[1] MacNiven, Ian S. (ed.). 1989. The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80. London: Faber & Faber, p. 112-113.
[2] Item C73 in the Bibliography of Primary Sources by Shifreen & Jackson.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Latest 'Miller Walks' Posts

There's been a rush of activity over at the Miller Walks website lately; really fascinating stuff that I feel compelled to draw attention to, just in case you've yet to make that site part of your Miller diet.

June's Origins: New Documents
Kreg Wallace has uncovered new documentation that situates June and her pre-emigration family in Brody,Ukraine.

Cancer and Syphilis in the Metro
The influence onMiller of Paris posters depicting warnings about cancer and syphilis is considered.

Madison Kirby, a.k.a. Peckover
The story of the real person on which the character Peckover is based in Tropic Of Cancer.

Using an old postcard to identify the Clichy residence of Miller.
Profile of a small cafe at which Miller once fraternized with a prostitute named Germaine during his first year in Paris.
During a recent stop-over in New York, Kreg took photos of various Miller locations: the PepperPot, the Speakeasy on Perry Street, and June's Roman Tavern.
Songs of Blue and Gold, a novel by Deborah Lawrenson, "was inspired by the life and complexities of Lawrence Durrell." Miller apparently appears in a few tiny fragments here as a fictionalized character named Don Webber.