Sunday, March 29, 2009

Nexus: The Int'l Henry Miller Journal - Vol. 6

The sixth edition of Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal has now been released for 2009. The journal is published annually, and compiles a wide-range of material devoted to the subject of Henry Miller. The current volume is 270 pages.


Page 3What India Means To Me (by Henry Miller)

This five-page homage to India and its people was originally published in January 1949, in the English section of a Bombay-based magazine called Kaiser-I-Hind. Miller had written it only a year after India had won its independence from English colonial domination. Miller blames the morally and spiritually “bankrupt” West for the physical and social strife afflicted upon a now “mummified” India; but Miller anticipates a re-emergence of the nation, which he characterizes as spiritually enlightened, where the human spirit blossoms to its fullest (even when “clad in rags”). [Annotated by Karl Orend]

Page 11The Edge of the Miraculous – First Reflections on Henry Miller and Art (By Karl Orend)

Besides his output as an author, Henry Miller also produced over 3,000 watercolour paintings in his lifetime, some of which have been exhibited internationally. In this essay, Karl Orend traces the origin of Miller’s relationship with the visual and musical arts, and considers how they influenced his written work. Through his interactions with Art and artists themselves, he learned how to observe life with greater attention to detail, recognizing life itself as a “form of great art” (Art in everyday life)---something gleaned from Elie Faure’s History of Art. The flow of his writing style reflected the free, creative flow of the music and painting that inspired him. He learned to paint with words, and to make those words interact with the reader (as does great Art). While the act of writing tired him later in life, painting offered relaxation, freedom, and a reward equivalent to love.

Page 39 - Dear Henry, Dear Father – An Epistolary Exchange Between Heinrich and Henry Miller, 1937 (by Karl Orend)

In 1937, while Miller continued his struggle as a full-time writer in Paris, his father, Heinrich, also struggled with failures in the tailoring business in New York. Here, Orend presents a summary of a letter written from father to son, requesting a discrete, monthly financial contribution to help with his support of the family. But Heinrich Miller does not fully realize the extent to which Henry has been suffering in Paris. Using quotes and explanations, Orend summarizes Henry’s responding letter, in which he blames the “too dreamy” paternal bloodline for its sad lack of success, and itemizes the reasons why his literary career has left him in near-poverty and forces him to shamelessly accept all charity---even to steal from friends. This is a rare and intimate glimpse into the relationship of Henry Miller and his father.

Page 44Fucking Your Way to Paradise: An Introduction to Anarchism in the Life and Work of Henry Miller (by Karl Orend)

As he has done with the subject of Art in this issue, Karl Orend takes the theme of Anarchism and traces its origins and influences on the life and work of Henry Miller. Influenced in his anti-war stance by his grandfather Valentin Nieting, an anarchist sympathizer, young Henry Miller had a turning point in 1912, upon attending a lecture by Emma Goldman, and purchasing books there by Nietzsche and Max Stirner. Miller would come to embrace an individualist anarchism, which would later find contradiction with his desire for community and compassion. But the “danger” that revolutionary anarchism presents was almost always present in Miller’s written work; he wanted to contribute to the destruction of the State so that a brotherhood of individuals could arise—a perspective of Miller’s that is often minimized and lost in the smokescreen of the sex found in some of his writing. Orend does well to establish what “anarchist” meant back in the early 20th century. He also shows that Miller stuck tenaciously to his individualist anarchist ideals for nearly his entire life.

Page 78Personal Landscapes: The Influence of The Story of My Heart on The Colossus of Maroussi (By Eric Lehman)

In Miller’s Colossus Of Maroussi, the Greek landscape is described with a grand and pronounced lyrical style, which seems uncharacteristic when one considers the city-centered novels that preceded it. In this essay, Lehman suggests that this change was influenced by Miller’s reading of Richard Jeffries’ The Story of My Heart, which viewed the English countryside for its social and spiritual symbolism, and not merely as geography. Through Story (which he read before writing Maroussi), Miller found a kindred spirit in Jeffries, whom he wrote about in his Books In My Life. Several key links are made between the two books, including the portrayal of natural landscape as having a transformative effect on human character and soul.

Page 90Henry Miller Decades Later (by RichardBold Kostelanetz)

Artist Richard Kostelanetz was an undergrad at Brown University in 1961, when he wrote a B.A. honors thesis on Henry Miller. Decades later, in 2009, passages from this thesis finally see publication within the pages of Nexus. Kostelanetz looks at Miller’s prose of self-liberation, and its pre-occupation with human filth. He also examines Miller as voracious reader and literary critic. A number of critical points are also made: his occasional use of "sad clichés," and the weakness of his portrayal of the sexual experience. In conclusion, Miller is placed on the level of “major writer” in the hierarchy of American literature---one level beneath the greats.

Page 115Writing the Underground (by Maria Bloshteyn)

Miller’s texts and characters have been repeatedly linked to Dosteovsky’s Notes From Underground, although Miller never made any explicit connection between his work and that particular novel (although he greatly admired the Russian author). However, Bloshteyn--author of the recent The Making of a Counter-Culture Icon: Henry Miller’s Dostoevsky--finds several compelling links between the unnamed narrator of Notes From Underground and Miller’s Paris-based novels. Besides outward similarities of age and life situation between Miller’s “Henry Miller” character and the ‘Underground Man’ of Underground, these two anti-heroes share similar perspectives on contemporary culture and its dominant paradigms. Bloshteyn goes further to find influence of this novel on the works of Anais Nin and Lawrence Durrell.

Page 165Hoki Enacts the Death of Mishima (by Harry Kiakis)

Harry Kiaskis once again provides Nexus Journal readers with a glimpse into the daily life of Henry Miller, as recorded in his personal journal notes, this time circa 1971. Here, we find Henry’s wife Hoki about to open a private Japanese club on Crenshaw Blvd, and acting out the public suicide of Yushio Mishima; and we get Henry’s reactions to the cost of his Insomnia book and his first screening of the documentary The Henry Miller Odyssey. Other brief details and quotes pertain to his son Tony, Christmas cards, and Henry getting a kick out of a brand new tape recorder.

Page 169Henry Miller’s Passionate Reading of Images (by Branko Aleksić)

Aleksić maps the theme of ‘art in cinema’ throughout the writing career of Miller. Miller is placed within the new cinematic art movement in Europe in the 1930s, and shown to have been influenced by it in his adoption of Surrealism in the 1930s, as found in his screenplay Scenario (a Film with Sound). Filmmaker Luis Buñuel figures prominently in this influence. [essay translated by Karl Orend]

Page 184Henry Miller’s Tropic Novels: Weather, Sickness and Benjamin’s Flăneur (by Heather Marcelle Crickenberger)

Referencing Walter Benjamin’s study of Baudelaire as flănuer, Crickenberger finds that Henry Miller fits the profile of an active urban observer; an intellectual parasite on an idle stroll at his own pace, particularly through the streets of Paris in the novels Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. Miller’s narrative is filled with “placeness,” in which the flănuer feels at home—in fact, the external world merges with the monologue he presents us with, and the urban landscape comes to reflect his mental state. Miller’s flănuerie is a form of spiritual practice.

Page 209Transgressing the Law of Literature (by Katy Masuga)

Masuga considers the limitations of language, and how Miller’s fluid and abstract prose helps to orient readers to an awareness of allusions rather than deceiving them into believing that words can render accurate images of the world. Miller accepts that writing begins where life ends, because the writer is removed from whatever compelled him to write. This dilution of expression is further eroded by attempts to capture objects with specific words—in reality, meanings are fluid. Miller captures the layers and textures of possible meanings . His constant play between the unification and destruction of language “announces the possibility of instability within language itself.”

Page 240Melancholic ‘Jabberwhorl Cronstadt’ & the Epileptoid Beast (by Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti)

In this essay, Ranson-Polizzotti interprets the character ‘Jabberwhorl Cronstadt’ (from Black Spring) as a veiled description of author Lewis Carol. Although the character is thought to be based on Miller’s friend Walter Lowenfels, clues are presented from Millers’ text to suggest that Miller consciously meant to reference Lewis Carol (including, but not limited to, his use of “nonsense” prose and the name “Jabberwhorl,” which is similar to Carol’s “Jabberwocky.”)

Page 249M: The Studio for Henry Miller (by Roger Jackson)

Jackson provides us with an overview of M: The Studio for Henry Miller, which acted as a studio and bookshop for the works of Miller. The studio was founded and run by Kathryn Winslow in Chicago between 1948-1958. Miller contributed his works and was appreciative, but, as the quotes from letters reveal in this essay, Miller was also embarrassed to promote a studio named after him; Winslow, it seems, was disappointed by his reaction to her generous efforts on his behalf. The piece contains ten photographs of the exterior and interior of the studio as it existed in the 1950s. It was torn down in 1958.

Page 260Review Essay: Obelisk and Olympia (by Jeff Bursey)

Bursey reviews the books, Obelisk: A History of Jack Kahane and the Obelisk Press (Neil Pearson, 2008) and The Paris Olympia Press (Patrick Kearney, 2008).

The current volume is available for US $20 (or $24 internaitionally) via the Nexus website.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Cosmodemonic Offices

“After working several months as a messenger,” wrote Henry Miller [1], “I entered the Western Union as personnel manager in 1920 and left afterward the end of 1924” [2]. Portions Sexus and Tropic Of Capricorn are devoted to Miller’s job for the communications giant he would maliciously dub The Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company. After a few months of working as a “special messenger”/employee spy, Miller was given a position as employment manager (Capricorn 19).

But, which office did Henry Miller work out of? This was a question that Kreg at Miller Walks proposed to me, along with several clues and leads. In our first collaboration of sorts, I have taken these leads and tried to piece together some answers as best I could.
In the 1920s, Western Union was a monster of telecommunications, with thousands of offices throughout the United States and abroad. In New York, by 1920, they had both an uptown and downtown headquarters, a few employment offices, a large operating room beneath Wall Street, plus many cutomer outlets in Manhattan [2a]. To the best of my knowledge, here are Miller’s affiliations with the various branches:

* 195 Broadway, headquarters: Miller demands to see management here, after being denied a messenger job the day before; he will later be transferred here to keep him out of trouble.
* 186 Fifth Ave, Western Union Telegraph Building: Miller is hired here.
* 33 Park Place: the main employment office where he works the first couple of years; this is actually where he first applied as a messenger, but was rejected.
* 175 Fifth Ave, WU employment office in the Flatiron building;
* Unknown loft building where he would sleep at his desk and roller-skate.

In Tropic of Capricorn, Miller describes how he was rejected for a messenger position during a visit to the “employment bureau of the telegraph company” (16) [see 33 Park Place]. “Rankled” by the snub, Henry got up early the next morning and, bypassing the employment office, went directly to the “main offices” (17) to see the president of the company: “…up to the twenty-fifth floor or wherever it was that the president and the vice-presidents had their cubicles.” (17)

The Western Union office building at 195 Broadway was 26-stories high [3]. Between 1913-15, it had been expanded from the previous 230-foot WU head office (b.1875) at Broadway and Dey, which had been damaged in fire [4]. This upgraded Western Union headquarters (shared by AT&T) stood in Lower Manhattan at Broadway and Fulton [take a look at the exterior and beautiful interior of the building as it stands today, at the 195Braodway website].

The company president was Newcomb Carlton. I can’t confirm that his office was on the 25th floor as Henry said, but that would make sense. The Vice-President was JC Willever. In Miller’s Molloch, Willever is called ‘Twilliger,’ and described as “That jackass on the thirteenth floor” (36). Miller got only as far as speaking with Willever’s secretary, who could not easily brush off Henry. As a result of his perseverance, Miller was sent to see the general manager “in another building uptown” (Capricorn 18). This reference to “uptown” also helps locate this office as the downtown (Lower Manhattan) location.

Completed in 1884, the Western Union Telegraph Building (186 Fifth Ave) operated from West 23rd Street and Fifth Avenue, SW corner—uptown from 195 Broadway. Here, Miller was offered to work as a “special messenger”; an apprenticeship of sorts: “I was to float from office to office and observe the way affairs were conducted by all and sundry” (Capricorn 19). He was to discretely meet the general manager at his home from time to time to report on “the conditions in the hundred and one branches of the Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company in New York City” (19). One such office may have been in the Flatiron building across the street—but I’ll get to that soon.
View some current photographs of the Western Union Telegraph Building (slated to become condos) at NYC Architetcture and Flickr (1, 2).
Above: This Western Union stone carving is found on the fascade of the
Western Union Telegraph Building at 186 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

After three months of his probationary “special” assignment, Miller was given an office and a title of employment manager. “I was sitting at Sunset Place hiring and firing like a demon. It was a slaughterhouse, so help me God” (Capr 19). The name “Sunset Place” comes up a few pages earlier in Capricorn: the day he first applied for a messenger job and was denied: “…the employment office—at Sunset Place, they called it” (Capr 18). As far as I can tell, there was never a place called “Sunset Park” in Manhattan, although there is/was such a place in Brooklyn and Palisades Park, New Jersey. I believe Sunset Place is code for “Park Place,” which was just a few blocks north of the WU downtown headquarters.

In a 1919 New York Times article, I found a reference to “Western Union emploi office, 33 Park Place” [NY Times, Mar 22, 1919]. But I’ve been hard-pressed to find any other references to this address as a Western Union office. However, In Jay Martin’s Always Merry And Bright, he quotes from a letter that a prospective job applicant wrote after meeting with Henry in 1921: “When I was up to the main office at 33 Park Place…” (59).

And consider this. Below is the header of a Western Union telegram blank with Henry’s name and title on it: “Henry V. Miller, Employment Manager, Messenger Department.” The location—33 Park Place—clearly designates the location of his office.

Above: Miller's name and work address on a Western Union telegram blank.

In Miller’s Moloch, he identifies Western Union as “The Great American Telegraph Company,” and describes the building this way: “its messenger employment department [was housed] in a low ramshackle building in the downtown section of the city. On the top floor was a wardrobe depot; on the floor below a tailor shop, where the discarded uniforms of the messengers were renovated, cleaned, and pressed”“The ground floor of this building was sectioned off into the employment office proper, facing the street, and a dressing room which occupied the rear of the premises. Along the side wall of this rear room tiny cubicles were partitioned off so as to permit the newly appointed messengers to dress and undress” (17-18).

“The employment office itself was exposed to the public eye. Two enormous plate-glass windows permitted the curious passerby a full sweep of the drama that was constantly being enacted within” (17-18). Later, in Sexus, Miller will describe this location as “the old messenger bureau with the dressing rooms in the rear” where he was able to get away with “shenanigans” (271).

Above: A view of the south-west corner of Church and Park Place in 1919, with the NW corner visible across the street. I believe that 33 Park Place was at or very close to this intersection, on the north side. Photo: New York Digital Gallery.

Miller describes this "downtown" building as “low” and “ramshackle.” This certainly does not seem to apply to the 10-storey, brand new Western Union Telegraph Building, the 26-storey headquarters at 195 Broadway, nor the grandiose Flatiron building uptown. I have been unable to find many details or photos of 33 Park Place in the 1920s. Below is a photograph of a building at the NW corner of Church and Park Place in 1934. Perhaps this is the buidling? Maybe it's the tiny buidling barely seen to its left? Perhaps the original 33 Park Place had been replaced by 1934? I have no conrecte answers.

Above: NW corner of Park Place and Church (1934). Photo: New York Digital Gallery.

The final piece of evidence that Miller worked at 33 Park Place is found on the New York locations list [5] that Henry had drafted for Robert Snyder’s documentary, The Henry Miller Odyssey: Both “Park Place NY” and “Flatiron bldg” are identified as his “WU offices”.


In Sexus, due to some shenanigans, Miller tells of a forced transfer to “the main office” with “Twilliger” about fifteen floors above him (the height confirms this is the downtown office). The office space was small and sweaty, and so loud that he had to see the company doctor more than once due to the strain that the necessary shouting caused on his throat. This appears to have lasted “a few months” (271).


On page 272 of Sexus, Miller writes that he was then moved “uptown from the main office.” As a landmark, Miller happens to mention the clock on the Metropolitan Tower, which he sees out his window. The Metropolitan Life Tower is located at Madison Square, a two-minute walk from the Flatiron building, at the opposite southern corner of Madison Square Park.

Above: The Flatiron building (left) and Western Union Telegraph Building (right). Photo: Ardalan on Picasa.

The 22-storey wedge-shaped Flatiron building—located at the tri-section of Fifth, Broadway and 23rd—was just across the street from the Western Union Telegraph Building at 175 Fifth Avenue. The Flatiron would come to tower over the ten-storey WUTB when it was completed in 1902. Although I’ve barely found any reference to a Western Union employment office here in the 1920s, Catch 22 author Joseph Heller does confirm that one existed here in the 1940s, when he was a messenger boy: “I believe it was on street level in the Flatiron building itself that a large, central Western Union office was situated, with a locker room providing space and facilities for forty or fifty of us to change into our work clothes" (Heller, Now And Then (1998), p. 122).

This reference to a street-level employment office supports Miller’s description that he gave to his children, as recounted in Big Sur and the Orange of Hieronymous Bosch: “I gave them as good a description as I could of the streets and sights I loathe. I didn't start with Fifty-ninth Street either, but from the Flatiron Building at Twenty-third Street and Broadway. To be exact, I started from the Western Union office there, from the ground floor, where I once had my headquarters, my last headquarters" (81).

But, in fact, Miller was transferred once again, “this time to the top of an old loft building in the twine and paper-box district. My desk stood in the center of an enormous deserted floor …” (Sexus, 365). Near the end of this career as an office worker, Henry would sometimes sleep at his desk and roller-skate in the expanse of the loft. I have no idea where this location may have been (any New York readers know where the "twine and paper-box district" was?).

From there, Miller eventually fled the life of office drudgery forever, “determined never to take a job again" [6].


[1] Miller's own biographical chronology, available at the Henry Miller Memorial Library wesbite; [2] Unpublished letter by Miller to Huntington Cairns, 1939--in Erica Jong's Devil At Large, p.74; [2a] Addresses referenced in George P Oslin, The Story of Telecommunications (1999); pp. 244, 254, 264, 300; [3] O'Shea, Michael Vincent. The World Book, 1918; p. 4208; [4] New York Times, Nov 19, 1911: "OLD WESTERN UNION BUILDING SOON TO GO"--see also NYC Architecture; [5] I had saved images of this handwritten list from Ebay about two years ago; [6] Miller's biographical chronology for 1924, found on the inside flap of the hardcover edition of My Life & Times.