Saturday, February 28, 2009

Miller's Lucky Talisman

On the dust-jacket of the 1961 edition of Sunday After The War, is a black and white portrait of Henry Miller (below), photographed by Larry Colwell. One detail about this photo has always intrigued me: no, not the weird pockets that droop like sagging breasts—it’s that low-hanging object on a chain around his neck. I wondered if that garish piece of folk art had a story and meaning behind it.

Henry Miller met the Palestine-born Jewish painter Bezalel Schatz in December 1945, at a birthday party held in Henry’s honour in Big Sur [1]. Schatz, known to all as Lilak, proposed an art-book collaboration idea to Henry, which would become the lofty limited edition publication, Into The Nightlife [1]. Henry and Lilak became great friends. When, in 1952, Henry married Eve McClure (ref.)--the sister of Lilak’s wife Louise--they also became brothers-in-law, although at a distance: Lilak had moved to Israel several months earlier, after nearly 15 years in the U.S. [7].

It seems to me that Lilak sent Henry his lucky talisman directly from Israel in 1951 or early 1952 [2]. “I received this gift at a very low ebb in my life and [from] that moment I received it my ‘luck,’ so to speak, turned. I attribute this good fortune more to the spirit in which my friend sent it than to any magic inherent in the words,” wrote Miller to Elmer Gertz in 1962 [3].

The talisman in question was a rectangular, thin, silver tablet on which was written archaic Hebrew text. The words had been translated by numerous Jewish friends, but always with slight variation [4]. Henry understood it to be a “well-known Hebrew prayer which the rabbi recites on special occasion in the synagogue” [4]. Although Henry never wrote its meaning down, he remembered it as such:

God bless you and protect you. May the radiance of His vision illuminate your countenance. And may He instruct you in his ways.

I am absolutely not an authority on this subject, but a bit of research suggests to me that this is a variation on a prayer spoken on Purim, that goes:

May the Lord bless thee and guard thee. May the Lord let His countenance shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee. May the Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

Henry was also under the impression that this silver amulet was 400-500 years old [5]. “[It’s been] so worn down by contact with the skin of everyone who’s worn it or touched it that the characters are almost effaced” [6].

He was also led to believe that it had been crafted by the Jews of Yemen. The Yemenite Jews were a subject of interest for Miller in 1950-51. When Lilak was still in Big Sur, he and Henry “had long talks about these wonderful artistic Jews [of Yemen]. He [Lilak] has painted a few—years ago” [7]. Schatz had indeed made portraits of Yemenite Jews, back in 1937, before he left the then-Palestine for the U.S. that same year [8]. One such etching from 1937, below, is entitled “Yanny Yemenite,” posted on the website for Beit Chevarim synagogue.

In 1950, Henry was also hearing about the Yemenite Jews from J. Rives Childs, who had recently been on an “ambassadorial mission” in Yemen and had sent information and souvenir spoons from Yemen as a gift for Henry’s daughter, Valentine [9]. In Books In My Life (1952, p. 254), Miller referenced “the wonderful Yemenite Jews who have in Yemen (Arabia) one of the most interesting capitals in the world — San'a.” Henry had been impressed with photographs of San’a found in a 1947 issue of National Geographic (but which he’d only seen in June 1950) [10].

The Jews of Yemen are thought to have migrated to that Arabic region in the time of King Solomon, to acquire gold and silver for the Temple of Jerusalem. They established a unique Jewish culture of their own over the following centuries. Shortly after the establishment of Israel in 1948--and the resulting heightened hostilities between Jews and Arabs--the Jewish population in the Muslim republic of Yemen suffered an anti-Jewish backlash. The resulting exodus in 1949-1950 (under the nickname Operation Magic Carpet) brought 50,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel, virtually emptying the population from Yemen. (all of these references from Wikipedia and the Jewish Virtual Library). It seems likely that these world events brought the Yemenite Jews to Miller’s attention.

The Yemenite Jews had a reputation as silver-smiths (ref: – see several examples of their work at the Anahita Gallery), and brought this trade with them to Israel. “There are thousands of these talismen floating about in Israel and elsewhere,” wrote Henry in 1962 [4].

When Henry reunited in Spain with his friend Alfred Perles in 1952, one of the first things Alf noticed was Henry’s talisman: “He could have been taken for a mildly eccentric tramp” [11]. Perles observed that Henry was quite serious about the medallion’s “miraculous qualities. He claimed he hadn’t had a day of bad luck since acquiring it. ‘I never take it off,’ he said. ‘Not even in bed,’ Eve confirmed with a wry smile. ‘I’m full of black and blue marks.’ ‘That’s a by-product of passion.’ Anne laughed. ‘That talisman also probably makes for virility.’ Henry laughed” [12]. (Miller would later write that Perles’ account should be “taken with a grain of salt” [3]).

Nearly a decade later, Henry was still wearing the Yemenite talisman. “I’ve worn it for a very long time,” he explained to his friend, Brassai, in 1960, when it had become exposed after he undid his shirt buttons on a hot day. “Rightly or wrongly, I think it will bring me luck” [6].

In preparation for understanding his client for the legal defence of Tropic Of Cancer in 1962, lawyer Elmer Gertz read Perles’ book and was intrigued by the account of Miller’s talisman. A query about it to the publisher of the Henry Miller Literary Society resulted in a direct response from Miller himself, on January 3, 1962—from which much of the information in this posting comes. By this date, Henry no longer wore the talisman, “because I am tired of answering the foolish questions people put to me” [4]. Instead, Henry carried it in his pocket [4]. And a good thing, too, because the legal proceedings begun in 1962 had the good fortune to lead to the veil of obscenity finally being lifted from the novel once and for all in 1964 [13].

[1] Miller, Henry. My Bike And Other Friends; p.19; [2] Gertz, Elmer, and Henry Miller. Years of Trial and Triumph; p.3. Miller writes, “this brother-in-law who sent it to me…” (emphasis added). Schatz relocated to Israel in 1951. This timeline seems consistent with the fact that Miller describes the talisman heralding an era of better fortune than the one he was leaving—his marriage to Lepska ended in 1951-52, and his marriage to Eve was to occur in 1952, which at the time he would have considered good fortune; [3] Gertz, Elmer, and Henry Miller. Years of Trial and Triumph; p.3; [4] ibid, p.2; [5] In Brassai’s 1960 account of a conversation with Miller in 1960, he quotes Miller as saying “400 years” (Henry Miller, Happy Rock; p. 83)—in the Gertz book, Miller is quoted as saying “500 years” (p. 2); [6] Brassai. Henry Miller, Happy Rock; p. 82; [7] Childs, J. Rives. Collector’s Quest; p.22—letter from HM to Childs, May 10, 1950; [8] Biography at the Schatz House in Jerusalem, online; [9] Childs, J. Rives. Collector’s Quest; p.48; [10] ibid, p.29; [11] Perles, Alfred. My Friend Henry Miller (paperback, 1962); p.161; [12] ibid, p.163; [13] Elmer Gertz Collection, Southern Illinois University.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Henry Miller Memorial Library - New Blog

Emil White was a friend and assistant to Henry Miller during much of the author’s years lived in Big Sur, California. White lived in a cabin, four miles from Miller’s home. In 1981, a year after Miller’s death, White converted his home into the Henry Miller Memorial Library. This year, the Library will celebrate its 28th birthday. Although it’s not really a library, and could not be defined as a Miller museum per se, it does house some important archival material related to Miller’s life, it does sell Miller books, and it does function as a creative space that honours and celebrates the life and work of Miller. The HMML website goes further to explain what it is and isn’t, and provides some history and photographs.

Magnus Toren has been Executive Director of the Library since 1993/94. Toren discusses the Library and its mandate on a Net Squared online video. On this video, he also talks a bit about the HMML website, which has been active since 1995. Outside of the Wikipedia entry on Miller, the HMML is that first thing one finds when searching on-line for Henry Miller. On January 17 this year, the website created a new feature: a Henry Miller Memorial Library blog (see the first post, “The Henry Miller Library: Where Nothing Happens?” for a mission statement).

Magnus Toren talks about the HMML in an online video.
The blog is captained by Keely Richter, an Archivist at the HMML. Essentially, it appears that Keely will vicariously allow us all to live and work at the HMML through weekly, intimate postings about the daily activities at the “intimate little grove” in Big Sur. Although not usually about Miller in a direct way, Miller is omnipresent on various levels. In her most recent post (Feb 7), she is reminded how much she loves Miller, and discusses the HMML’s current project of scanning the original Miller-Emil Schnellock letter archive for posterity [an image of an original letter fragment is included].

The HMML holds the Henry Miller / Emil Schnellock Archive, a collection of letters (and other items) between Miller and his boyhood friend Schnellock from New York, between 1922 and 1934. This priceless correspondence was the first thing to be relocated for protection against the recent wildlife in Big Sur (which the HMML survived unscathed). In this 2000 article in the Monterey County Weekly, Magnus Toren describes his experience in Big Sur, and details are provided about the Schnellock Archive.

The HMML holds “the world’s most complete collection of English language Miller editions, including almost every published version of Tropic of Cancer (over 120 in all),” through a donation by William Ashley.

Archive of materials relating to the life of the Library’s founder, Emil White.

Books, pamphlets, letters, photos, magazines etc., relating to Big Sur.

The Henry Miller Memorial Library publishes its own literary journal, called Ping•Pong (Miller was an enthusiast of the game, ping pong). The journal does not print works by Miller, but instead those of cotemporary authors who reflect the same kind of vitality as Miller—and, as such, “not everything published in Ping•Pong will be pretty”: “[If Miller were] alive and writing today, these would be his peers and contemporaries.”

The Henry Miller Memorial Library also hosts live musical events (Neil Young, Patti Smith and Phillip Glass have all performed here), an international short film screening series (this year from June 11 – August 30), writing workshops (next one in March), and local art exhibits and lectures.

For more images from both inside and outside the Henry Miller Memorial Library, see CuriousYellow's Flickr photo set.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Anais Nin Blog: The Miller Influence Myth

Last week, I'd added a link (in the sidebar at right) for the new Anais Nin blog, hosted by Sky Blue Press. But I've been meaning to draw more prominent attention to it. Today's Nin posting seems like a good start. Titled "Anais Nin Myth of the Day," the article presents the following:

Myth #2: “Anaïs Nin was a success because of Henry Miller. He taught her to write and she used him. If it wasn’t for him she would’ve been completely unknown.”

An excellent, tangible example is then given to support the fact that Miller had some editorial and critical influence on Nin's writing. An original draft page from Nin's "Djuna" (from Winter of Artifice) is presented, onto which Miller has made several handwritten notes. Beneath this is a scanned page from the published book, from which one can assess that Miller's suggestions have been incorproated.

"However," states the blog, "to indicate that Miller was responsible for Nin’s success is as flawed as saying she was responsible for his. They influenced each other. Miller’s Scenario, for example, is what many consider a poor rendering of Nin’s House of Incest, which was evidently, according to most critics and Nin herself, misunderstood by Miller." A case is made that Nin was open to Miller's suggestions, while Miller was closed to hers.

An interesting post. The blog itself should offer many more fresh angles on Miller, from a sympathetic representation of Anais Nin's perspective.

Sky Blue Press is the publisher of A Cafe In Space, the ultimate resource for all things relating to Anais Nin. Henry Miller and their shared circle of friends also make appearances within the Cafe pages. For example, Volume 2 includes Karl Orend's "Parallel Lives of Tenderness and Passion—A glimpse of Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller"; Volume 3 has Katrin Burtschell's "Anais Nin, Henry Miller, and Japan—An endless fascination"; Volume 4 includes the article "Rupert Pole and John Ferrone: The Making of Henry and June, the Book—Correspondence 1985-1986"; and this month's Volume 6 will feature Allison P. Palumbo's "Writing the In (in) Between—The expressions of écriture féminine in Henry Miller’s Tropics trilogy."

Also: the new Henry Miller Library blog (details being posted soon).
Banner art: At left, a frame grab of Nin and Miller from Robert Snyder's Henry Miller Odyssey documentary; at right, Nin's eyes, as doctored on a flyer for a UCLA event held last year in her honour.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Annotated Nexus - Page 59

59.0 Stasia explains to Henry why she thinks she’s pregnant. Henry then tends to her in a caring way, as she reads aloud from Rimbaud. It’s a rare but pleasant moment between the two. The next morning, Dr. Kronski’s tests prove that Stasia is not in fact pregnant.

59.1 yellow puss appeared
To prove she’s pregnant, Stasia removes a naked breast from her blouse and squeezes out what she says is milk (she provides confirmation by saying she’s tasted it). Miller describes it as “yellow puss.”

The yellowish, milky liquid that leaks from a woman’s nipple is called colostrum. But we are later told that Stasia’s pregnancy result is negative. According to the Breast Fit website, a non-pregnant woman may lactate because: a) of frequent rubbing, sucking or chaffing of nipples; or, b) the presence of a non-cancerous pituitary tumour inside the breast gland.

59.2 The Captive
When Henry asks if they’ve notified police (Stasia is pregnant as the result of a rape), they change the subject by telling him that they’re planning on seeing a French play called The Captive: “Everybody’s talking about it.” This Edouard Bourdet play was indeed performed in New York during the time frame of Nexus. This play will be referenced at greater length on page 63—I’ll go into it more when we get there.

59.3 The Drunken Boat
Henry helps Stasia clip her toenails because it’s bothering him how she’s doing it. He then offers to comb her hair. As he does so, she reads from Rimbaud’s The Drunken Boat. Henry listens with “evident pleasure.” Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) wrote his poem The Drunken Boat (Le bateau ivre) in 1871.

Although Miller listened to Rimbaud’s words as read by Stasia (Jean Kronski) in 1926 [1], he would not actually read Rimbaud for himself for another seven years. As explained in his study of Rimbaud, The Time of the Assassins (1946), the first Rimbaud that Miller read was The Drunken Boat. “I suddenly remembered that it was of Le Bateau Ivre that Thelma [Jean Kronski/Stasia] had raved so much” (p.3). Stasia is said to have modelled herself after Rimbaud (see footnote [1]).

59.4 Carré’s Season In Hell
Seeing that Henry is impressed with Drunken Boat, Stasia hauls out a copy of the Rimbaud biography, Season In Hell by Carré. The idea of Rimbaud began to make its imprint: “Had events not conspired to thwart it, I would have become a devotee of Rimbaud then and there” (Assassins, p.3).

Jean-Marie Carré (1887-1958) wrote a biography of Rimbaud in 1926, in French, by the title of La Vie aventureuse de Jean-Arthur Rimbaud. (see listings at AbeBooks). This fact complicates Henry’s timeline. The book would not be translated into English as Season In Hell until 1931—five years after the event portrayed here. Fair enough; he is just referencing the book in English for readers of Nexus. However, this would mean that Stasia could only have had Carré’s 1926 French biography; Miller did not understand much French at this point. It also means that Stasia would have translated from French as she read to him—something that is possible; however, Miller will later state on page 100 that neither June nor Jean knew French (although Jean would use Henry for French practice months later in 1927).

“An absorbing book about Rimbaud was lying about the house,” remembers Miller on page one of Time of the Assassins, “but I never once glanced at it. The reason was that I loathed the woman who owned it…”

59.5 Kronski’s arrival next day
Dr. Kronki comes by the next day with negative pregnancy results. Kronski has already been referenced numerous times in Nexus, starting at 9.2, and prominently on pages 48, 49,50, 51 and 52.

<--- Previous pages 55-58 . Next page 60 --->

[1] Based on time indicators within the text of Nexus, which I’ve been identifying over the course of this annotation, the date for page 59 is approximately October-November 1926. On the first page of Time of the Assassins (Miller’s study on Rimbaud), Miller says he first heard of Rimbaud in 1927. Close enough. But in that book, he never mentions this reading by Jean Kronski. Instead, he just says that he’d heard Rimbaud’s name discussed all the time, but forced himself to ignore it because he hated Jean (called “Thelma”) and everything he associated with her. Jean/Thelma “identified herself with him, was imitating him as best she could, not only in her behavior but in the kind of verse she wrote” (Asassins, p. 2).

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Soliloquies Of Lust: Miller And Desire

A 1997 thesis paper called Soliloquies Of Lust: Henry Miller and the Transmutation of Desire, is available in full through the National Archive of Canada. The paper's author is Patrice Baillargeon, a graduate student from the University of Western Ontario, in London, Ontario. Baillargeon explores "the premises that have led to the emergence of his estranged sensualist's cynical voice" (iii). The critique notes that Miller's "compulsive longing for uniqueness often verges on discursive schizophrenia" (2): sexual and spiritual narratives co-exist and clash. "But this separation is perhaps a false one: although his exhuberant production is generally considered his most important, there is much that would suggest that Miller's entire literary output should be read a s single corpus" (4).

Beyond the introduction, the paper is broken down into three sections: "Men," "Heroes," and "Goddesses." With "Men," the author seeks to examine "a few of the cultural conditions behind Miller's devising of his self-seeking Men" (8); "By looking at, successively, some of Val's acknowledged models, ideological stances, and sociopathic associates, this chapter will search for the conditions of his self-professed lonliness" (9). This includes an exploration of his refusal to avoid emotional failure, and to find connnection with the failings of his contemporaries. The characters of Dr. Kronski and Van Norden receive particular analysis.

Next, an attempt is made to "challenge some of the socially disruptive views conveyed by the storyteller's first-person revelations," (8) "by interrogating the instances of narratolical transformation endured by his (often anti-) Heroes" (8). The chapter aims to "shed some light on the methods used by Miller in order to transpose his mutational envies in a dialogic key that can be called his own" (29). This includes an analysis of his use of sexual language and of nostalgia.

Finally, "Goddess" looks at the ways in which "Henry Miller's 'I narrator' idealizes Woman's Lust and turns the sexual interests of his lovers into mere reflections of his own phallic preccupations" (47). In doing so, Baillargeon hopes to "illustrate the extent of one man's dependence upon his female lovers' projections of the Self" (8). This, of course, includes a study of Miller's June/Mona/Mara character.

Scattered throughout the thesis are also references to Miller's "mask of indifference" (54) and "indiscriminate reliance on non-commital principals," (64) both personal and political.

Soliloquies of Lust also provides several paragraph-long quotes from various essays and academic papers about Miller. These include: Giles Mayne's Eroticism in Georges Bataille and Henry Miller, James Dale Brown's Henry Miller; Kingsley Widmer's "Twisting American Comedy: Henry Miller and Nathanial West, among Others"; Alan Trachtenberg's "'History on the Side': Henry Miller's American Dream"; William Gordon's Writer And Critic; Walker Winslow's "Henry Miller: Bigotry's Whipping Boy"; David Stephan Callone's "Euphoria in Paris: Henry Miller Meets D.H. Lawrence"; John Parkin's Henry Miller, The Modern Rabelais; Henry Lewis' Henry Miller: The Major Writings; William Gordon's The Mind And Art of Henry Miller; and, Alan Friedman's "The Pitching of Love's Mansion in the Tropics of Henry Miller."