Born in the Yorksville section of Manhattan, New York, NY, December 26th of American parents of German ancestry. Moved to Brooklyn in first year.
Lived in the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, known as the 14th Ward.
Moved to “the street of early sorrows” (Decatur Street) in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn.
1907: Met first love, Cora Seward, at Eastern District High School, Brooklyn.
Entered City College of New York and left after two months — rebelled against educational methods. Took job with Atlas Portland Cement Company, financial district, New York. Began period of rigorous athletic discipline that lasted seven years.
Began affair with first mistress, Pauline Chouteau of Phoebus, Virginia, a woman old enough to be my mother.
Traveled through the West. Worked as a ranch hand in effort to break away from city life. Met Emma Goldman, the celebrated anarchist, in San Diego — a turning point in my life.
Back in New York, worked with father in his tailor shop; tried to turn business over to the employees. Met Frank Harris, my first contract with a great writer.
Married Beatrice Sylvas Wickens of Brooklyn, a pianist.
Daughter born, named Barbara Sylvas, now known as Barbara Sandford.
After working several months as a messenger, became employment manager of the messenger department, Western Union in New York.
Wrote first book, “Clipped Wings,” during three weeks’ vacation from Western Union duties.
Fell in love with June Edith Smith while she worked in a Broadway dance palace.
Left Western Union, determined never to take a job again, but to devote entire energy to writing. Divorced first wife and married June Smith.
Began writing career in earnest, accompanied by great poverty. Sold prose-poems, “Mezzotints,” from door to door.
Opened a speak-easy in Greenwich Village with wife June while working Park Department, Queens, compiled notes for complete autobiographical cycle of novels in 24 hours. Exhibited water colors in June Mansfield’s roman Tavern, Greenwich Village.
Toured Europe for one year with June on money given to her by an admirer.
1929: Returned to New York where the novel “This Gentile World” was completed.
Returned to Europe alone, taking ms. of another novel which was lost by Edward Titus, editor of “This Quarter, Paris.” Left New York with ten dollars loaned by Emil Schnellock; intended to go to Spain but after staying in London a while when to Paris and remained there.
Met Anais Nin, the writer, in Louveciennes. Began writing “Tropic of Cancer” while walking the streets and sleeping where possible. Worked as proof-reader on the Paris edition of the Chicago Tribune. Taught English at Lycee Carnot (Dijon) during the winter.
Took apartment with Alfred Perles in Clichy and visited Luxembourg with him. The Black Spring period; great fertility, great joy. Began book on Lawrence which was never finished. June returned to Europe, but after a brief stay asked for a divorce and left.
Moved to #18 Villa Seurat on the same day that “Tropic of Cancer” was published — was published — a decisive moment. The original ms., rewritten three times, was three times as long as the published work. Divorced from June in Mexico City by proxy.
“Aller Retour New York” published in October. Met Conrad McCormand, the astrologer. Began the Hamlet correspondence with Michael Fraenkel in November. First edition of Alf Letter appeared in September.
Visited New York again — January to April. Practiced psychoanalysis. Began correspondence with Count Keyserling after reading his Travel Diary, Black Spring published in June.
Momentous meeting with Lawrence Durrell. Scenario published with illustration by Abe Rattner. Began publication of The Booster with Alfred Perles. Went to London during the winter for a few weeks to visit Perles. Met W.T. Symons, T.S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas.
Began writing for French revue, Volontes, in January, the publication month of “Money and How It Gets That Way.” Second edition of Alf appeared in June; Max and the White Phagocytes published in September.
“Tropic of Capricorn” published in February, and the Hamlet letters with Michael Fraenkel later in year. Left Villa Seurat in June for sabbatical year’s vacation. end of a very important period of close association with Anais Nin, Alfred Perles, Michael Fraenkel, Hans Reichel, Abe Rattner, David Edgar, Conrad Moricand, Georges Pelorson, Henri Fluchere, et. al. Toured southern France.
Left for Athens on July 14, arriving at Durrell’s home in Corfu, Greece, in August. Back and forth to Athens several times, visited some of the islands, toured the Pelopponnessus. High water mark in life’s adventures thus far. Met George C. Katsimbalis (the Colossus); George Seferiades, the poet, Ghika, the painter, et. al. Source of regular income stopped with death of Paris publisher (Jack Kahane, the Obelisk Press), the day after war was declared.
Returned to New York in February where I met Sherwood Anderson and John Dos Passos. Stayed with John and Flo Dudley at Caresse Crosby’s home in Bowling Green, VA during the summer. Wrote “The Colossus of Maroussi,” “The World of Sex,” “Quiet Days in Clichy,” and began “The Rosy Crucifixion.”
Made tour of USA accompanied part of the way by Abraham Rattner, the painter, from October 20, 1940 until October 9, 1941. Met Dr. Marion Souchon, Weeks Hall, Swami Prabhavananda, Alfred Stieglitz, Ferdinand Leger and John Marin. Father died while I was in Mississippi and I returned to New York. Left for California in June 1942. Continued with “The Rosy Crucifixion” (finished half of it) and with “The Air-Conditioned Nightmare” (finished about two-thirds).
Made two to three hundred water colors. Exhibited at Beverly Glen (The Green House), American Contemporary Gallery, Hollywood, with success.
Exhibited water colors at Santa Barbara Museum of Art and in London. Seventeen or more titles edited for publication in England and America. Year of fulfillment and realization. First “successful” year from material standpoint in whole life. was called to Brooklyn in October due to illness of mother. Visited Herbert F. West at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, and exhibited at Yale.
Married Janina M. Lepska in Denver, Colorado, December 18, 1944. Moved to Big Sur, my first real home in America. Emil White arrived in May from Alaska to offer his services. Met Jean Page Wharton, who had a great influence on my thinking.
Finished “Sexus at Keith Evans’ cabin, Partington Ridge. Started translation, which was never finished, of Season in Hell. Daughter Valentine born November 19. Bezalel Schatz, Israeli painter, arrived December 26.
Moved to shack at Anderson Creek in January. Began work on Into the Night Life book with Schatz. Also began book about Rimbaud: The Time of the Assassins. Met Leon Shamroy who eventually bought over 30 of my water colors. Received news from Paris that 40,000 dollars had accumulated to my credit and which I neglected to collect. Jean Wharton offered us her home on Partington Ridge, to pay for whenever we could.
Took possession of Wharton’s house on Ridge in February. Began writing “Plexus,” Into the Nightlife completed.
1948: Wrote “The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder.” Son Tony born August 28.
1949: Finished “Plexus.” Began writing “The Books in My Life.”
Separated from wife Janina Lepska; the children went to live with her in Los Angeles. Finished “The Books in my Life.”
Eve McClure arrived April 1 to live with me. Began writing “Nexus.” Divorced Janina Lepska. Left for tour of Europe with Eve on December 29. Arrived in Paris for New Year’s Eve.
Big year – best since Clichy. Invited to stay at home of Maurice Nadeau, former editor of “Combat” and chief organizer of the Defense of Henry Miller. Visited Rabelais’ house outside Chinon, then to Wells, England to see Perles and wife. Took in Shakespeare’s house at Stratford-on-Avon, with Schatzes. Flying visit to John Cowper Powys in Corwyn, Wales. Back to Paris. Returned to Big Sur at the end of August. Married Eve McClure in Carmel Highlands, chez Ephraim Doner, in December.
Alfred Perles arrived in November to write “My Friend Henry Miller.” Traveling exhibition of water colors in Japan. Began writing “Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch.”
Barbara Sandford, daughter by first marriage, came to see me; hadn’t seen her since 1925. Perles left for London in May. Had visit from Buddhadeva Bose of Calcutta, Bengali poet. Wrote Reunion in Barcelona.
Left for Brooklyn in January with Eve to take care of my mother who was dying. While there met Ben Grauer of NBC and made recording Henry Miller Recalls and Reflects. Returned to Big Sur. Collection of short pieces translated and published in Hebrew – Hatzoth Vahtzi (Half Past Midnight). Finished “Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch” book.
Rewrote “Quiet Days in Clichy” upon recovery of manuscript, which had been lost for 15 years. Exhibition of water colors at Gallery One, London. Completely rewrote The World of Sex for publication by Olympia Press Paris. Exhibition of water colors in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Began writing Lime Twigs and Treachery but abandoned it to resume work on “Nexus.” Elected member of National Institute of Arts and Sciences.
Continued work on “Nexus.”
Finished “Nexus” in early April. Left for Europe with Eve and children on April 14. Rented studio on Rue Campagne-Premiere, Paris, for two months. Visited Danish publisher on trip to Copenhagen with children; Gerald Robitaille acted as “governess.” First meeting with Antonio Bibalo, composer of opera “The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder. ” Returned to Big Sur n the middle of August. Wrote the three letters contained in “Art and Outrage” (Perles-Durrell).
Wrote “To Paint is to Love Again.” Left for Europe April 4 to attend Cannes Film Festival as one of the judges. Spent a few days in Paris, then to Hamburg to visit Ledig-Rowohlt in Reinbek. There met Renate Gerhardt for the first time. After traveling in France and Italy, returned to Big Sur. Returned again to Europe.
At Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek, wrote preface to new edition of Elie Faure’s “History of Art” (Gallimard) and several minor pieces, including one in (crazy) German called “Ein Ungebumbelte Fuchselbizz” for a little review called Rhinozeros. Also did drawings and water colors for editor of the review, Rudolf Dienst. Made a number of water colors and played much ping pong (which is also, not coincidentally, the name of the Library’s literary magazine) at Rowohlt Verlag. With Ledig and others visited Molln (Til Eulenspiegel’s birthplace) and the Luneberg Heide, Bremen and other places. Over Christmas holidays wrote first draft of Just Wild About Harry, chez Renate Gerhardt.
Toured Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Visited Marino Marini, the famous sculptor, who did my head in bronze. Returned to Pacific Palisades from London in November. In this year Grove Press published Tropic of Cancer.
Began volume two of “Nexus” while in Pacific Palisades. Took trip to London to visit Perles and made tape with him for Canadian B.C. (television). Visited Ireland with him and his wife for a month. Then on to Paris to visit old and new friends. Went to Berlin where I made ten copper plate etchings and more water colors at home of Renate Gerhardt. Returned to New York at end of May.
Received final decree of divorce from Eve in June. Back to Pacific Palisades in July. Left for Edinburgh middle of July to attend Writers’ conference. Met Durrell there and his friend Dr. Raymond Mills. Made tape with Durrell for B.B.C. Radio, Geoffrey Bridson interviewing. Left with Durrell for Paris where we made readings for recordings from our books (for La Voix de l’Auteur). The two “Tropics” were published in Italian (from Switzerland) and Cancer in Finnish, immediately suppressed. Also “Cancer” in Hebrew, in two thin paperback volumes. “Capricorn” published by Grove Press. Returned to Pacific Palisades end of November.
“Cancer” published in England by John Calder – great success. Wrote five or six prefaces for other authors’ books: Jack Bilbo, H.E. Bates, George Dibbern and so on. Also text for Anne Poor’s drawings of Greece, published by Viking Press. “Capricorn” published by Viking Press. “Capricorn” issued in paperback by Grove Press and A Private Correspondence, with Lawrence Durrell, (Dutton) and Black Spring (Grove Press).
Began making silk screens with nuns at Immaculate Heart College, Hollywood. Made 115 water colors from March to end of July. Moved to Ocampo Drive in Pacific Palisades in February. Contracted for film of “Tropic of Cancer” with Joe Levine. “Just Wild About Harry” published by New Directions, New York.
“Henry Miller on Writing” published by New Directions, New York.
Water color exhibition at Westwood Art Association, Los Angeles. Death of Eve, my third wife. Production of the opera The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder in Hamburg, Germany, in April. Great success. Selected Prose published by MacGibbon and Kee (2 vols.), London. Letters to Anais Nin published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York.
Order and Chaos Chez Hans Reichel published by Loujon Press, Las Vegas, Nevada.
The opera “The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder” produced in Marseilles, France, in French. The “Henry Miller Odyssey” film begun by Robert Snyder. Began study of Japanese with Michiyo Watanabe. Married Hoki Tokuda on September 10 in Beverly Hills. Honeymoon trip to Paris in September with Hoki. Water color show at Daniel Gervis Gallery in Paris. Returned from Europe to Pacific Palisades. Water color show in Uppsala Sweden. Opera, “The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder” produced in Trieste, Italy, in Italian, in December.
Lawrence Durrell visited in Pacific Palisades in March. Water color show toured Japan. Collector’s Quest, a correspondence with J. Rives Childs, published by University Press of Virginia. Began “My Life and Times by Henry Miller,” a visual history, with Bradley Smith. New edition of “To Paint is to Love Again” published by Grossman, New York. This edition includes Semblance of a Devoted Past.
Premiere of “The Henry Miller Odyssey” at Royce Hall, U.C.L.A. took trip to Europe in June to observe progress on “Tropic of Cancer” film.
“Tropic of Cancer” film opened in U.S. “Quiet Days in Clichy” film opened in U.S. Two colored lithographs of my water colors printed and distributed by S. Kubo, Japan. “Insomnia or the Devil at Large” published by Loujon Press, Las Vegas, Nevada. “Entretiens de Paris,” with Georges Belmont, (radio and television interviews) published in Paris. Received book of Year Award in Naples for “Come il Colibri (Stand Still Like the Hummingbird).” First and only prize I ever received for my literary work.
“Just Wild About Harry” to be produced in Paris. Publication of “My Life and Times by Henry Miller” by Playboy Press.
Henry’s self-written biography, as included in “My Life and Times” published in 1971, stopped here.
Miller died in the summer of 1980.
Henry Miller, The Art of Fiction
In 1934, Henry Miller, then aged forty-two and living in Paris, published his first book. In 1961 the book was finally published in his native land, where it promptly became a best-seller and a cause célèbre. By now the waters have been so muddied by controversy about censorship, pornography, and obscenity that one is likely to talk about anything but the book itself.
But this is nothing new. Like D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller has long been a byword and a legend. Championed by critics and artists, venerated by pilgrims, emulated by beatniks, he is above everything else a culture hero—or villain, to those who see him as a menace to law and order. He might even be described as a folk hero: hobo, prophet, and exile, the Brooklyn boy who went to Paris when everyone else was going home, the starving bohemian enduring the plight of the creative artist in America, and in latter years the sage of Big Sur.
His life is all written out in a series of picaresque narratives in the first-person historical present: his early Brooklyn years in Black Spring, his struggles to find himself during the twenties in Tropic of Capricorn and the three volumes of the Rosy Crucifixion, his adventures in Paris during the thirties in Tropic of Cancer.
In 1939 he went to Greece to visit Lawrence Durrell; his sojourn there provides the narrative basis of The Colossus of Maroussi. Cut off by the war and forced to return to America, he made the yearlong odyssey recorded in The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. Then in 1944 he settled on a magnificent empty stretch of California coast, leading the life described in Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch. Now that his name has made Big Sur a center for pilgrimage, he has been driven out and is once again on the move.
At seventy Henry Miller looks rather like a Buddhist monk who has swallowed a canary. He immediately impresses one as a warm and humorous human being. Despite his bald head with its halo of white hair, there is nothing old about him. His figure, surprisingly slight, is that of a young man; all his gestures and movements are young.
His voice is quite magically captivating, a mellow, resonant but quiet bass with great range and variety of modulation; he cannot be as unconscious as he seems of its musical spell. He speaks a modified Brooklynese frequently punctuated by such rhetorical pauses as “Don’t you see?” and “You know?” and trailing off with a series of diminishing reflective noises, “Yas, yas . . . hmm . . . hmm . . . yas . . . hm . . . hm.” To get the full flavor and honesty of the man, one must hear the recordings of that voice.
The interview was conducted in September 1961, in London.
INTERVIEWER: First of all, would you explain how you go about the actual business of writing? Do you sharpen pencils like Hemingway, or anything like that to get the motor started?
HENRY MILLER: No, not generally, no, nothing of that sort. I generally go to work right after breakfast. I sit right down to the machine. If I find I’m not able to write, I quit. But no, there are no preparatory stages as a rule.
INTERVIEWER: Are there certain times of day, certain days when you work better than others?
MILLER: I prefer the morning now, and just for two or three hours. In the beginning I used to work after midnight until dawn, but that was in the very beginning. Even after I got to Paris I found it was much better working in the morning. But then I used to work long hours. I’d work in the morning, take a nap after lunch, get up and write again, sometimes write until midnight. In the last ten or fifteen years, I’ve found that it isn’t necessary to work that much. It’s bad, in fact. You drain the reservoir.
INTERVIEWER: Would you say you write rapidly? Perlès said in My Friend Henry Miller that you were one of the fastest typists he knew.
MILLER: Yes, many people say that. I must make a great clatter when I write. I suppose I do write rapidly. But then that varies. I can write rapidly for a while, then there come stages where I’m stuck, and I might spend an hour on a page. But that’s rather rare, because when I find I’m being bogged down, I will skip a difficult part and go on, you see, and come back to it fresh another day.
INTERVIEWER: How long would you say it took you to write one of your earlier books once you got going?
MILLER: I couldn’t answer that. I could never predict how long a book would take: even now when I set out to do something I couldn’t say. And it’s somewhat false to take the dates the author says he began and ended a book. It doesn’t mean that he was writing the book constantly during that time. Take Sexus, or take the whole Rosy Crucifixion. I think I began that in 1940, and here I’m still on it. Well, it would be absurd to say that I’ve been working on it all this time. I haven’t even thought about it for years at a time. So how can you talk about it?
INTERVIEWER: Well, I know that you rewrote Tropic of Cancer several times, and that work probably gave you more trouble than any other, but of course it was the beginning. Then too, I’m wondering if writing doesn’t come easier for you now?
MILLER: I think these questions are meaningless. What does it matter how long it takes to write a book? If you were to ask that of Simenon, he’d tell you very definitely. I think it takes him from four to seven weeks. He knows that he can count on it. His books have a certain length usually. Then too, he’s one of those rare exceptions, a man who when he says, “Now I’m going to start and write this book,” gives himself to it completely. He barricades himself, he has nothing else to think about or do. Well, my life has never been that way. I’ve got everything else under the sun to do while writing.
INTERVIEWER: Do you edit or change much?
MILLER: That too varies a great deal. I never do any correcting or revising while in the process of writing. Let’s say I write a thing out any old way, and then, after it’s cooled off—I let it rest for a while, a month or two maybe—I see it with a fresh eye. Then I have a wonderful time of it. I just go to work on it with the ax. But not always. Sometimes it comes out almost like I wanted it.
INTERVIEWER: How do you go about revising?
MILLER: When I’m revising, I use a pen and ink to make changes, cross out, insert. The manuscript looks wonderful afterwards, like a Balzac. Then I retype, and in the process of retyping I make more changes. I prefer to retype everything myself, because even when I think I’ve made all the changes I want, the mere mechanical business of touching the keys sharpens my thoughts, and I find myself revising while doing the finished thing.
INTERVIEWER: You mean there is something going on between you and the machine?
MILLER: Yes, in a way the machine acts as a stimulus; it’s a cooperative thing.
INTERVIEWER: In The Books in My Life, you say that most writers and painters work in an uncomfortable position. Do you think this helps?
MILLER: I do. Somehow I’ve come to believe that the last thing a writer or any artist thinks about is to make himself comfortable while he’s working. Perhaps the discomfort is a bit of an aid or stimulus. Men who can afford to work under better conditions often choose to work under miserable conditions.
INTERVIEWER: Aren’t these discomforts sometimes psychological? You take the case of Dostoyevsky . . .
MILLER: Well, I don’t know. I know Dostoyevsky was always in a miserable state, but you can’t say he deliberately chose psychological discomforts. No, I doubt that strongly. I don’t think anyone chooses these things, unless unconsciously. I do think many writers have what you might call a demonic nature. They are always in trouble, you know, and not only while they’re writing or because they’re writing, but in every aspect of their lives, with marriage, love, business, money, everything. It’s all tied together, all part and parcel of the same thing. It’s an aspect of the creative personality. Not all creative personalities are this way, but some are.
INTERVIEWER: You speak in one of your books of “the dictation,” of being almost possessed, of having this stuff spilling out of you. How does this process work?
MILLER: Well, it happens only at rare intervals, this dictation. Someone takes over and you just copy out what is being said. It occurred most strongly with the work on D. H. Lawrence, a work I never finished—and that was because I had to do too much thinking. You see, I think it’s bad to think. A writer shouldn’t think much. But this was a work which required thought. I’m not very good at thinking. I work from some deep down place; and when I write, well, I don’t know just exactly what’s going to happen. I know what I want to write about, but I’m not concerned too much with how to say it. But in that book I was grappling with ideas; it had to have some form and meaning, and whatnot. I’d been on it, I suppose, a good two years. I was saturated with it, and I got obsessed and couldn’t drop it. I couldn’t even sleep. Well, as I say, the dictation took over most strongly with that book. It occurred with Capricorn too, and with parts of other books. I think the passages stand out. I don’t know whether others notice or not.
INTERVIEWER: Are these the passages you call cadenzas?
MILLER: Yes, I have used that expression. The passages I refer to are tumultuous, the words fall over one another. I could go on indefinitely. Of course I think that is the way one should write all the time. You see here the whole difference, the great difference, between Western and Eastern thinking and behavior and discipline. If, say, a Zen artist is going to do something, he’s had a long preparation of discipline and meditation, deep quiet thought about it, and then no thought, silence, emptiness, and so on—it might be for months, it might be for years. Then, when he begins, it’s like lightning, just what he wants—it’s perfect. Well, this is the way I think all art should be done. But who does it? We lead lives that are contrary to our profession.
INTERVIEWER: Is there a particular conditioning that the writer can go through, like the Zen swordsman?
MILLER: Why, of course, but who does it? Whether he means to do it or not, however, every artist does discipline himself and condition himself in one way or another. Each man has his own way. After all, most writing is done away from the typewriter, away from the desk. I’d say it occurs in the quiet, silent moments, while you’re walking or shaving or playing a game or whatever, or even talking to someone you’re not vitally interested in. You’re working, your mind is working, on this problem in the back of your head. So, when you get to the machine it’s a mere matter of transfer.[...]
Interviewed by George Wickes
— The Paris Review
Lawrence Durrell, Henry Miller
Correspondance 1935 - 1980
En août 1935, Lawrence Durrell, jeune poète diplomate, a vingt-trois ans et vit à Corfou lorsqu’un livre conseillé par un ami le bouleverse. Il écrit à son auteur alors âgé de quarante-trois ans, qui a récemment quitté l’Amérique pour venir vivre à Paris et se consacrer à son œuvre, une lettre d’admiration, qui sera la première d’une longue correspondance entre ces deux colosses de la littérature: _ «C’est un bouquin qui fixe sur le papier le sang et les tripes de notre époque. (...) J’adore voir déboulonner les canons de l’émotion oblique et de la belle émotion littéraire, j’adore vous voir mettre du fumier sous les caprices et les mièvreries de vos contemporains, d’Eliot à Joyce. (...) Je salue en Tropique du cancer le manuel de ma génération.»
Lorsque très vite Durrell envoie à Miller son premier manuscrit, Le Cahier noir, l’Américain saisit sa qualité et va se battre pour le publier, aide et corrige le jeune homme avec énergie et générosité. Il sent que tout deux veulent, chacun à sa manière, «procéder au curetage de la matrice avec chaque ligne».
En mai 1980, âgé de quatre vingt-neuf ans, Henry Miller écrit de Californie, où il vit depuis quarante ans, sa dernière lettre à «Larry» Durrell, installé depuis 1957 dans le Gard. Une équipe de télévision est venue, écrit-il, «m’interviewer dans mon rôle de moribond, pour ainsi dire, car j’en suis proche, même si je suis encore assez vivant pour vous écrire». Miller ajoute: «Tenez encore pendant vingt ans». Il meurt un mois plus tard. Durrell tiendra dix ans.
La maison d’édition Buchet-Chastel, principale éditrice de l’œuvre d’Henry Miller en France, avait publié en 1963, un volume de correspondance entre Lawrence Durrell et Henry Miller. Traduite par Frédéric-Jacques Temple qui était l’ami des deux écrivains et reste un grand spécialiste de leurs œvres, elle le réédite aujourd’hui, augmenté de nombreux échanges inédits écrits entre 1959 et 1980 et de certains passages, supprimés dans quelques lettres de la première édition qui couvrait la période 1935-1959.
Issu d’une famille anglo-irlandaise, Lawrence Durrell est né en Inde, en 1912. C’est à l’âge de douze ans qu’il découvre l’Angleterre où, après des études médiocres, il gagne sa vie comme pianiste de jazz dans une boîte de nuit. À partir de 1935, il s’installe à Corfou et dorénavant il vivra presque exclusivement à l’étranger. Voyageur impénitent selon les uns ou exilé volontaire selon les autres, il est successivement diplomate à Athènes, au Caire, à Alexandrie, à Rhodes, directeur du British Council en Argentine, attaché de presse à la Légation britannique de Belgrade, professeur à Chypre. Dans son univers essentiellement méditerranéen, les îles, les côtes, la mer, le soleil et les vignes sont les composantes fondamentales d’une œuvre où résonnent, inlassables, les échos d’un vrai bonheur de vivre. Comme pour Miller, la littérature est, pour Durrell, le moyen de faire entrer la vérité dans le monde et dans la vie. Il annonce d’ailleurs très tôt le programme qui ne s’accomplira que vingt ans plus tard, avec le Quatuor d’Alexandrie; il veut créer son univers héraldique: «J’en maçonne lentement les fondations. JE DÉTRUIS LENTEMENT MAIS TRES SOIGNEUSEMENT ET SANS PENSÉE CONSCIENTE LE TEMPS.»"
Ses premières lettres sont de grands textes d’apprentissage. L’une d’elles sur Hamlet est écrite à l’encre rouge. Miller y devient un Hamlet qui a réussi: un Américain qui fait entrer le monde en lui, le passe à l’acide et l’incinère pour mieux tout faire renaître. C’est bien vu. Miller donne d’emblée à Durrell un conseil qu’il ne cessera de répéter: «Si vous en avez le courage, allez jusqu’au bout, si amer soit-il de votre œuvre. Si vous tenez le coup et je crois que vous le pouvez, n’écrivez que ce qui vous fait envie. Il n’y a rien d’autre à faire, sauf si vous tenez à la célébrité. Comme de toute façon on vous pissera dessus, commencez donc par dire ce que vous avez à dire».
Précoces furent, chez Miller, sa révolte et sa volonté d’accéder au bonheur, de trouver l’Éden. Il naît à New York, le 26 décembre 1891, de parents d’origine allemande, fils d’un modeste tailleur, enfant de Brooklyn, et plus particulièrement de la rue dont il fait son domaine: «Dès le commencement, j’ai dû m’entraîner à ne jamais avoir de désirs trop violents... Je n’avais besoin de personne, parce que je voulais être libre, libre d’agir et de donner, au gré de mes seuls caprices. Qu’on attendît, qu’on exigeât de moi quelque chose, aussitôt je renâclais. En d’autres mots, j’étais pourri, pourri au départ. Comme si ma mère, au lieu de lait, m’avait nourri de poison, et que ce dernier, bien qu’elle m’eût sevré de bonne heure, fût demeuré dans l’organisme. Il n’était jusqu’au sevrage qui ne m’eût laissé indifférent; la plupart des enfants se rebellent alors ou feignent de se rebeller ; moi je m’en fichais. Je n’étais pas sorti des langes que déjà j’étais philosophe. J’étais contre la vie, par principe. Le principe de futilité. Ce n’était que lutte autour de moi. Personnellement je ne faisais pas le moindre effort...» (Tropique du Capricorne) «Je cherche tous les moyens d’expression possibles et imaginables et c’est comme un bégaiement divin».
L’obscénité qu’il manie avec une rare violence est d’abord une arme dirigée contre l’hypocrisie de la morale puritaine. Mais elle apparaît aussi, dans une perspective érotique propre à l’auteur comme un instrument de libération du moi qui dépasse très largement l’émancipation sociale. Mystique et sensualiste tout à la fois, Miller aspire à une transformation totale de l’homme, une dimension supérieure où, ayant touché au paroxysme de la joie et de la douleur, pleinement réalisé, il puisse déclarer: «Ma vie n’a été qu’une longue crucifixion en rose» (Nexus)
Pourtant, lorsqu’en 1949, Miller publie Sexus, premier tome de la description absolue de sa jeunesse, la Crucifixion en rose, Durrell déteste le livre: «Ces petites scènes sottes et dépourvues de sens, de raison d’être, d’humour, ces petites explosions enfantines d’obscénité, quel dommage de voir ainsi un grand artiste manquer de sens critique au point de ne pas contrôler ses forces» (...). Le 29 septembre, Miller y répond par une de ses plus belles lettres. Des longueurs, des vulgarités? «Je porte en moi la matière de ce livre depuis 1927. Pensez-vous que je puisse faire une fausse couche après une gestation aussi longue? (...) Si j’ai mal écrit, j’ai écrit dans la ligne de la vérité. Si j’ai fait preuve de mauvais goût, c’était le mauvais goût de la vie quotidienne (...). J’ai tenté de cerner en moi une pauvreté et une stérilité que peu d’hommes ont connues.»
Une lettre du 1er avril 1958 éclairera l’authenticité du projet de Miller; malgré son tas de défauts, ses livres ouvrent une porte neuve, celle de l’individu brutalement libéré par sa mise à nu, et devenant maître en son pauvre royaume...
— Fondation La Poste
The Reality of Henry Miller
It is a wonderful thing that some of Henry Miller’s work at last is coming out in a popular edition in the United States. Henry Miller is a really popular writer, a writer of and for real people, who, in other countries, is read, not just by highbrows, or just by the wider public which reads novels, but by common people, by the people who, in the United States, read comic books. As the Southern mountain woman said of her hero son, dead in Korea, “Mister, he was sure a great reader, always settin’ in the corner with a piece of cold bread and one of them funny books.” In Czech and Japanese, this is the bulk of Miller’s public. In the United States he has been kept away from a popular public and his great novels have been banned; therefore only highbrows who could import them from France have read him.
I once crossed the Atlantic — eighteen days in a Compagnie Générale Transatlantique freighter — with a cabin mate, a French African Negro, who was only partially literate, but who was able to talk for hours on the comparative merits of Black Spring and the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. When he found out I came from California and knew Miller, he started treating me as if I were an archangel newly descended, and never tired of questions about le Beeg Sur and les camarades de M’sieu Millaire. He had a mental picture of poor Henry living on a mountain-top, surrounded by devoted handmaids and a bevy of zoot-suited existentialist jitterbugs.
This picture, I have discovered, is quite commonly believed in by people who should have better sense. Miners in the Pyrenees, camel drivers in Tlemcen, gondoliers in Venice, and certainly every poule in Paris, when they hear you’re from California, ask, first thing, in one voice, “Do you know M’sieu Millaire?” This doesn’t mean he isn’t read by the intellectuals, the cultured people over there. He is. In fact, I should say he has become part of the standard repertory of reading matter everywhere but in England and the United States. If you have read Balzac, or Baudelaire, or Goethe, you are also expected to have read Miller. He is certainly one of the most widely read American writers, along with Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Fenimore Cooper, William Faulkner and Erskine Caldwell.
This is the way it should be. Nothing was sadder than the “proletarian novelist” of a few years back, the product of a sociology course and a subscription to a butcher-paper weekly, eked out with a terrified visit to a beer parlor on the other side of the tracks and a hasty scurry past a picket line. Nobody read him but other Greenwich Village aesthetes like himself. The people Henry Miller writes about read him. They read him because he gives them something they cannot find elsewhere in print. It may not be precisely the real world, but it is nearer to it than most other writing, and it is certainly nearer than most so-called realistic writing.
Once the written work was the privilege of priests and priestly scribes. Although thousands of years have passed, vestiges of that special privilege and caste artificiality still cling to it. It has been said that literature is a class phenomenon. Can you remember when you first started to read? Doubtless you thought that some day you would find in books the truth, the answer to the very puzzling life you were discovering around you. But you never did. If you were alert, you discovered that books were conventions, as unlike life as a game of chess. The written word is a sieve. Only so much of reality gets through as fits the size and shape of the screen, and in some ways that is never enough. This is only partly due to the necessary conventions of speech, writing, communication generally. Partly it is due to the structure of language. With us, in our Western European civilization, this takes the form of Indo-European grammar crystallized in what we call Aristotelian logic. But most of the real difficulty of communication comes from social convention, from a vast conspiracy to agree to accept the world as something it really isn’t at all. Even the realistic novels of a writer like Zola are not much closer to the real thing than the documents written in Egyptian hieroglyphics. They are just a different, most complex distortion.
Literature is a social defense mechanism. Remember again when you were a child. You thought that some day you would grow up and find a world of real adults — the people who really made things run — and understood how and why things ran. People like the Martian aristocrats in science fiction. Your father and mother were pretty silly, and the other grownups were even worse — but somewhere, some day, you’d find the real grownups and possibly even be admitted to their ranks. Then, as the years went on, you learned, through more or less bitter experience, that there aren’t, and never have been, any such people, anywhere. Life is just a mess, full of tall children, grown stupider, less alert and resilient, and nobody knows what makes it go — as a whole, or any part of it. But nobody ever tells.
Henry Miller tells. Andersen told about the little boy and the Emperor’s new clothes. Miller is the little boy himself. He tells about the Emperor, about the pimples on his behind, and the warts on his private parts, and the dirt between his toes. Other writers in the past have done this, of course, and they are the great ones, the real classics. But they have done it within the conventions of literature. They have used the forms of the Great Lie to expose the truth. Some of this literature is comic, with a terrifying laughter — Cervantes’s Don Quixote, Jonson’s Volpone, Machiavelli’s Mandragola, Shakespeare’s King Lear. Some of it is tragic, in the ordinary sense, like the Iliad, or Thucydides’ history, or Macbeth. In the last analysis it is all tragic, even Rabelais, because life itself is tragic. With very few exceptions, however, it is all conventional. It disguises itself in the garments of harmless artistic literature. It sneaks in and betrays the complacent and deluded. A great work of art is a kind of Trojan Horse. There are those who believe that this is all there is to the art of poetry — sugar-coating the pills of prussic acid with which the poet doses the Enemy.
It is hard to tell sometimes when Miller is being ironic and when he is being naïve. He is the master of a deadpan style, just as he has a public personality that alternates between quiet gentleness — “like a dentist,” he describes it — and a sort of deadpan buffoonery. This has led some critics to consider him a naïve writer, a “modern primitive,” like the painter Rousseau. In a sense this is true.
Miller is a very unliterary writer. He writes as if he had just invented the alphabet. When he writes about a book, he writes as if he were the first and only man who had ever read it — and, furthermore, as if it weren’t a book but a piece of the living meat whacked off Balzac or Rimbaud or whoever. Rousseau was one of the finest painters of modern times. But he was absolutely impervious to the ordinary devices of his craft. This was not because he was not exposed to other artists. He spent hours every week in the Louvre, and he was, from the 1880s to the eve of the First World War, the intimate of all the best painters and writers, the leading intellectuals of Paris. It didn’t make any difference. He just went his way, being Henri Rousseau, a very great artist. But when he talked or wrote, he spouted terrible nonsense. He wasn’t just a crank, but quite off his rocker in an amiable sort of way. This is not true of Miller.
In some mysterious way, Miller has preserved an innocence of the practice of Literature-with-a-capital-L which is almost unique in history. Likewise he has preserved an innocence of heart. But he is not unsophisticated. In the first place, he writes a muscular, active prose in which something is always going on and which is always under control. True, he often rambles and gets windy, but only because he likes to ramble and hear his head roar. When he wants to tell you something straight from the shoulder, he makes you reel.
Now the writer most like Miller in some ways, the eighteenth-century naïf, Restif de la Bretonne, is certainly direct from the innocent heart, but he can be as tedious as a year’s mail of a Lonely Hearts Club, with the same terrible verisimilitude of a “Mature woman, broadminded, likes books and music” writing to “Bachelor, fifty-two, steady job, interested in finer things.” And, in addition, Restif is full of arrant nonsense, every variety of crackpot notion. If you want the common man of the eighteenth century, with his heart laid bare, you will find him in Restif. But you will also find thousands of pages of sheer boredom, and hundreds of pages of quite loony and obviously invented pornography. Miller too is likely at times to go off the deep end about the lost continent of Mu or astrology or the “occult,” but it is for a different reason. If the whole shebang is a lie anyway, certainly the amusing lies, the lies of the charlatans who have never been able to get the guillotine in their hands, are better than the official lie, the deadly one. Since Hiroshima, this attitude needs little apology. Some of our best people prefer alchemy to physics today.
There aren’t many people like Miller in all literature. The only ones I can think of are Petronius, Casanova, and Restif. They all tried to be absolutely honest. Their books give an overwhelming feeling of being true, the real thing, completely uncooked. They are all intensely masculine writers. They are all great comic writers. They all convey, in every case very powerfully, a constant sense of the utter tragedy of life. I can think of no more chilling, scalp-raising passages in literature than the tolling of the bell from the very beginning of Casanova’s Memoirs: the comments and asides of the aged man writing of his splendid youth, an old, sick, friendless pauper in a drafty castle in the backwoods of Bohemia. And last, and most important, they were all what the English call “spivs.” Courtier of Nero or Parisian typesetter, they were absolutely uninvolved; they just didn’t give a damn whether school kept or not.
The French like to compare Miller with Sade. But nowadays they like to compare everybody with Sade. It is the currently fashionable form of Babbitt-baiting over there. The comparison is frivolous. Sade is unbelievably tedious; Diderot stood on his head, a bigot without power, an unemployed Robespierre. In the eighteenth century the French writers most like Miller are the “primitive” Restif, and Mirabeau when, in some of his personal writings, he really works up a lather.
Miller has often been compared with Céline, but I don’t think the comparison is apposite. Céline is a man with a thesis; furthermore, he is a litterateur. In Journey to the End of the Night, he set out to write the epic of a Robinson Crusoe of the modern soul, the utterly alienated man. He did it, very successfully. Céline and his friends stumble through the fog, over the muddy ruts with the body of Robinson, in a dénouement as monumental as the Nibelungenlied. But it is all a work of art. I have been in the neighborhoods Céline describes. They simply aren’t that awful. I am sure, on internal evidence of the story itself, that his family wasn’t that bad. And, like Malraux and some others, he is obsessed with certain marginal sexual activities which he drags in all the time, willy-nilly.
Céline makes a sociological judgment on Robinson. Miller is Robinson, and, on the whole, he finds it a bearable role, even enjoyable in its way. The modern French writers who most resemble Miller are Carco, without the formulas, Mac Orlan, if he weren’t so slick, Artaud, if he weren’t crazy, and Blaise Cendrars. Cendrars is a good European and Miller is only an amateur European, but Europe has been going on so long that the insights of the amateur are often much more enlightening.
Henry Miller is often spoken of as a religious writer. To some this just seems silly, because Miller is not especially profound. People expect religion to come to them vested in miracle, mystery, and authority, as Dostoevski said. The founders of the major religions are pretty well hidden from us by the accumulation of centuries of interpretation, the dirt of history — the lie you prefer to believe. Perhaps originally they weren’t so mysterious and miraculous and authoritarian. Mohammed lived in the light of history. We can form a pretty close idea of what he was like, and he wasn’t very prepossessing in some ways. He was just naïvely direct. With the simple-mindedness of a camel driver he cut through the welter of metaphysics and mystification in the Near East of his time. Blake dressed his message up in sonorous and mysterious language; but the message itself is simple enough. D. H. Lawrence likewise. You could write it all on a postage stamp: “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin. Your official reality is a lie. We must love one another or die.” I suppose any writer who transcends conventional literature is religious insofar as he does transcend it. That is why you can never actually base an educational system on the “Hundred Best Books.” A hundred of the truest insights into life as it is would destroy any educational system and its society along with it.
Certainly Miller is almost completely untouched by what is called religion in England and America and northern Europe. He is completely pagan. This is why his book on Greece, The Colossus of Maroussi, is a book of self-discovery as well as a very true interpretation of Greece. It is thoroughly classic. Although he never mentions Homer and dismisses the Parthenon, he did discover the life of Greece: the common, real life of peasants and fishermen, going on, just as it has gone on ever since the Doric invasions. A world of uncompromised people, of people if not like Miller himself, at least like the man he knew he wanted to be.
His absolute freedom from the Christian or Jewish anguish of conscience, the sense of guilt, implication, and compromise, makes Miller humane, maybe even humanistic, but it effectively keeps him from being humanitarian. He might cry over a pet dog who had been run over, or even punch the guilty driver in the nose. He might have assassinated Hitler if he had had the chance. He would never join the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or the Friends Service Committee. He is not involved in the guilt, and so in no way is he involved in the penance. This comes out in everything he writes, and it offends lots of people. Others may go to bullfights and write novels preaching the brotherhood of man. Miller just doesn’t go to the bullfight in the first place. So, although he often raves, he never preaches. People have been taught to expect preaching, practically unadulterated, in even the slick fiction of the women’s magazines, and they are offended now if they don’t find it.
Fifty percent of the people in this country don’t vote. They simply don’t want to be implicated in organized society. With, in most cases, a kind of animal instinct, they know that they cannot really do anything about it, that the participation offered them is a hoax. And even if it weren’t, they know that if they don’t participate, they aren’t implicated, at least not voluntarily. It is for these people, the submerged fifty percent, that Miller speaks. As the newspapers never tire of pointing out, this is a very American attitude. Miller says, “I am a patriot — of the Fourteenth Ward of Brooklyn, where I was raised.” For him life has never lost that simplicity and immediacy. Politics is the deal in the saloon back room. Law is the cop on the beat, shaking down whores and helping himself to apples. Religion is Father Maguire and Rabbi Goldstein, and their actual congregations. Civilization is the Telegraph Company in Tropic of Capricorn. All this is a quite different story to the art critics and the literary critics and those strange people the newspapers call “pundits” and “solons.”
I am sure the editors of our butcher-paper liberal magazines have never sat in the back room of a sawdust saloon and listened to the politicians divide up the take from the brothels that line the boundary streets of their wards. If they did, they would be outraged and want to bring pressure to bear in the State Capitol. With Miller, that is just the way things are, and what of it?
So there isn’t any social message in Miller, except an absolute one. When you get through reading the realistic novels of James Farrell or Nelson Algren, you have a nasty suspicion that the message of the author is: “More playgrounds and properly guided social activities will reduce crime and vice.” There is nothing especially frightful about Miller’s Brooklyn; like Farrell’s South Side, it is just life in the lower middle class and upper working class section of a big American city. It certainly isn’t what queasy reviewers call it, “the slums.” It’s just the life the reviewers themselves led before they became reviewers. What outrages them is that Miller accepts it, just as do the people who still live there. Accepting it, how he can write about it? He can bring back the whole pre-World War I America — the bunny hug, tunes from The Pink Lady, Battling Nelson, Dempsey the Nonpareil, Pop Anson and Pearl White, a little boy rushing the growler with a bucket of suds and a sack of six-inch pretzels in the smoky twilight of a Brooklyn Sunday evening.
I think that is what Miller found in Paris. Not the city of Art, Letters, and Fashion — but prewar Brooklyn. It is certainly what I like best about Paris, and it is what I get out of Miller’s writing about Paris. He is best about Paris where it is still most like 1910 Brooklyn. He doesn’t write about the Latin Quarter, but about the dim-lit streets and dusty little squares which lie between the Latin Quarter and the Jardin des Plantes, where men sit drinking beer in their shirt sleeves in front of dirty little bars in another smoky Sunday twilight. He is better about the jumble of streets between Montrouge and Montparnasse with its polyglot and polychrome population of the very poor, than he is about Montparnasse itself and its artists’ life. He practically ignores Montmartre; apparently he concludes that only suckers go there. But he writes very convincingly about that most Brooklyn-like of all the quarters of Paris, the district near the Military Academy on the Place du Champs de Mars, now filling up with Algerians and Negroes, where the subway becomes an elevated, tall tenements mingle with small bankrupt factories and people sit on the doorsteps fanning themselves in the Brooklyn-like summer heat, and sleep and couple on the summer roofs.
So his intellectuals in Paris are assimilated to Brooklyn. They may talk about Nietzsche and Dostoevski, but they talk like hall-room boys, rooming together, working at odd jobs, picking up girls in dance halls and parks. “Batching” is the word. Over the most impassioned arguments and the bawdiest conversations lingers an odor of unwashed socks. The light is the light of Welsbach mantles on detachable cuffs and unmade beds. Of course that is the way they really talked, still do for that matter.
There is a rank, old-fashioned masculinity about this world which shocks the tender-minded and self-deluded. It is far removed from the Momism of the contemporary young American male. This is why Miller is accused of writing about all women as though they were whores, never treating them as “real persons,” as equals. This is why he is said to lack any sense of familial love. On the whole, I think this is true. Most of the sexual encounters in the Tropics and The Rosy Crucifixion are comic accidents, as impersonal as a pratfall. The woman never emerges at all. He characteristically writes of his wives as bad boys talk of their schoolteachers. When he takes his sexual relations seriously, the woman disappears in a sort of marshy cyclone. She becomes an erotic giantess, a perambulating orgy. Although Miller writes a lot about his kinship with D. H. Lawrence, he has very little of Lawrence’s abiding sense of the erotic couple, of man and woman as the two equal parts of a polarity which takes up all of life. This again is Brooklyn, pre-suffragette Brooklyn. And I must admit that it is true, at least for almost everybody. A real wedding of equals, a truly sacramental marriage in which every bit of both personalities, and all the world with them, is transmuted and glorified, may exist; in fact, some people may have a sort of talent for it; but it certainly isn’t very common. And the Great Lie, the social hoax in which we live, has taken the vision of this transcendent state and turned it into its cheapest hoax and its most powerful lie. I don’t see why Miller should be blamed if he has never found it. Hardly anybody ever does, and those who do usually lose it in some sordid fashion. This, of course, is the point, the message, if you want a message, of all his encounters in parks and telephone booths and brothels. Better this than the lie. Better the flesh than the World and the Devil. And this is why these passages are not pornographic, but comic like King Lear and tragic like Don Quixote.
At least once, Miller makes up for this lack. The tale of the Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company in Tropic of Capricorn is a perfect portrait of our insane and evil society. It says the same thing others have said, writing on primitive accumulation or on the condition of the working class, and it says it far more convincingly. This is human self-alienation at its uttermost, and not just theoretically, or even realistically. It is an orgy of human self-alienation, a cesspool of it, and Miller rubs your nose in it. Unless you are a prig and a rascal, when you get through, you know, once and for all, what is the matter. And through it all, like Beatrice, if Beatrice had guided Dante through the Inferno, moves the figure of Valeska, who had Negro blood and who kills herself at the end — one of the most real women in fiction, if you want to call it fiction.
Once Miller used to have pinned on his bedroom door a scrap of paper. Written on it was “S’agapo” — the Greek for “I love you.” In The Alcoholic Veteran he says, “The human heart cannot be broken.”
— Bureau of Public Secrets
A Rosier Crucifixion:
The Erotic World of Henry Miller
Henry Miller has just been laughed at for rhapsodizing about Walt Whitman. He’s sore. A woman enters the apartment. Henry drags her into the bathroom. He fastens his “lips to her red mouth.”
“Please, please,” she begged, trying to squirm out of my embrace. “You’ll disgrace me.” I knew I had to let her go. I worked fast and furiously. “I’ll let you go,” I said, “just one more kiss.” With that I backed her against the door and, without even bothering to lift her dress, I stabbed her again and again, shooting a heavy load all over her black silk front.
I closed my copy of Miller’s The Rosy Crucifixion restored my tray table to its upright position, and avoided eye contact with the gaunt elderly woman in the aisle seat as I squeezed past her legs. I locked the door of the tiny bathroom and leaned against the dispenser of toilet seat covers. I slipped my hand inside my jeans. My eyes shot open as the tremors began, and I saw, in the milky glass above the sink, that I had become Miller’s description of the woman at the moment of climax: “a wild, tortured look as if her face were under a mirror pounded by a hammer.” Once the sensation returned me to myself, I met my still-widened eyes and understood with discomfiting clarity the delight Henry took in forcing this bestial transformation upon his sex partners.
In a recent New York Times review of Renegade, a new Miller hagiography by Frederick Turner, Jeanette Winterson argues that the book’s main shortcoming is one shared by nearly all Miller criticism: a failure to grapple with the question “Why do men revel in the degradation of women?” While I find such a purely political treatment of Miller’s content to be a willful denial of his complexity, I was interested in Winterson’s query because it reminded me of my contorted, twenty-four-year-old face in the airplane bathroom. I had to wonder why I revel in representations of men degrading women in ways I find appalling in real life. Indeed, the aggressive, one-sided encounters I experienced in high school and college were my initiation into a new kind of pain.
During this period, there was no possibility I would receive pleasure from the interaction—aside from very short-lived excitement. Boys would push my head to their waists and ejaculate within seconds or thrust inside me nine or ten times, groan, and collapse. Always, ejaculation would occur just as I was becoming most open and aroused, feeling another person’s entire self caught up entirely in me. And then he was gone, looking away with an expression of bewildered defeat. I was alone with a monstrous need set loose in my chest, striking my rib cage with each inhale, keeping me from sleep. I felt as desperate as the woman Henry “disgraces” in the bathroom, who later clings to him and begs him not to leave.
Even with my first few boyfriends, my orgasm was often a halfhearted encore. I’d try to show them how to touch me, moving their hands and whispering, “Softer. Softer.” Mostly, they seemed to have no erotic interest in the mechanics of my pleasure. But then, neither did I. I could only come by imagining men roughly taking their pleasure with reluctant partners, scenes I’d gained from watching online porn when my sexuality was too demanding to ignore but too unformed to be selective.
Miller is one of a handful of writers whose sex scenes include realistic depictions of female orgasms—realistic in part because his characters appropriate masculine desire as a stand-in for their own needs. This is particularly true of The Rosy Crucifixion, in which women “in heat” beg Henry to fuck them with variations of the chant, “You want it! You want it!” While Miller is richly attentive to the physics of female lust, there is something hateful in his attention. He describes his wife June (whom he calls Mara) “struggling frantically to bring on an orgasm” for so long that Henry loses all sensation in his penis.
It looked disgustingly like a cheap gadget from the five and ten store, like a bright-colored piece of fishing tackle minus the bait. And on this bright and slippery gadget Mara twisted like an eel. She wasn’t any longer a woman in heat; she wasn’t even a woman; she was just a mass of undefinable contours wriggling and squirming like a piece of fresh bait seen upside down though a convex mirror in a rough sea.
Henry “shooting a heavy load” on a stranger’s dress is naturally sexier than this prolonged, desperate striving. Henry needed something and he got it, giving no thought to the implications of that need or its means of fulfillment.
Female pleasure is more complicated than male pleasure. It generally takes longer for women to come; there are more ways of achieving orgasm, or failing to; numerous emotional and psychological factors enhance or inhibit a woman’s pleasure. Perhaps this is why I often imagine scenarios of coercive sex or enact poses of degradation. Deprived of the capacity to respond to the often convoluted demands of my will, I can experience sex as pure sensation, immune to striving and analysis. It’s sexy to be freed—even through a trick of the imagination—of the complications of my own needs and the elusive but constant fear that they will not be met.
Because Miller is aware of this fear, his accounts of sexual recklessness are much more than misogynistic bravado. Soon after he gets married for the first time, Henry runs into an ex-girlfriend. They go back to her apartment and fuck silently for fear of waking her son, Georgie, who is dying of tuberculosis in the next room. Henry has the sense that she is crying throughout the sex, “like a toilet box that won’t stop running.”
And though she had begged me in a frightened whisper not to come, that she couldn’t wash because of the noise, because of Georgie in the next room, though I knew that she was the sort who gets caught just by looking at her, and that if she were caught it would go hard with her, still, and perhaps more because of the silent weeping, more because I wanted to put an end to the gurgling, I came again and again … There was something fiendishly detached about it, almost as if I were a pyromaniac sitting in a comfortable chair in my own house which I had set fire to with my own hand, knowing that I would not budge until the very chair I sat in would begin to sizzle and roast my ass.
During the act of intercourse, Henry is erotically compelled by his own “fiendish detachment.” But what he later recalls most acutely of the experience is not pleasure but the frightening image of Maude’s face when they said good-bye: “a face looming out of darkness, the upper part of the head caught as if in a trap door.” While the thought of submitting to brutish lust may at times turn me on as a concept or a pose, I know that for a woman to endure such an experience in life is most often a deadening lesson in sexual intimacy. Many of my friends can only have orgasms with a vibrator or not at all, even with boyfriends or husbands who long to satisfy them. When I was talking with one of these friends recently about the bad sex we had in college, the word disconnected came up again and again. To avoid the pain of wanting pleasure from someone unable or unwilling to provide it, a woman may silence her sexual feelings so thoroughly that they go into permanent hiding.
When I used to watch porn as a teenager, I would always put one hand over the worn, fake-tanned faces of the girls. I didn’t want to see the way their eyes floated, detached, in the midst of the fucking, as if a personality that belonged to someone else had gotten lost inside them and was searching for a way out. I told myself that as long as I didn’t pay for this brutality to women, I wasn’t hurting anyone by getting off on it. But then I stumbled on a scene in which a middle-aged man kept pressuring a teenage girl to have anal sex. She eventually relented, staring at the ground in front of her face and asking no one in particular, “It’s probably better than giving it up in the shelter, right?”
The Rosy Crucifixion is valuable as either literature or erotica. I agree with Miller’s assessment that The Colossus of Maroussi is his best book largely because “it expresses joy, it gives joy.”
Which is not to say that I now fantasize about men in sequined boxers feeding me vegan cupcakes at the foot of a rainbow. I still find nothing sexier than a man’s selfish, reckless pleasure. But I now understand this to be an innate desire, one that is simply fun so long as my partner also cares about my satisfaction. Inviting rough sex with my boyfriend is worlds away from enduring unexpected aggression from an acquaintance.
Still, when I’m not engaged in sexual activity, it makes me sad to think that my arousal is based in crude animality. On the most basic level, there is little difference between my fantasy life and a lion’s mating rituals: male finds desirable female; subdues; ejaculates. Yet I want sex to be a shared delight so strong it releases me from the strictures of everyday living. So the urge to dramatize poses of degradation is what Miller calls “a sultry, passionate rebellion” against the fact that one’s needs do not result in what one wants. I will always want sex to be more than the physical act of intercourse it will always insist on being.
Miller puts it this way in Tropic of Cancer:
Going back in my memory over the women I’ve known. It’s like a chain which I’ve forged out of my own misery. Each one bound to the other. A fear of living separate, of staying born. The door of the womb always on the latch. Dread and longing. Deep in the blood the pull of paradise. The beyond. Always the beyond.
— The Paris Review
Henry Miller, Brooklyn Hater
Henry Miller was one of those rare writers who actively and energetically hated New York, calling it late in life “that old shithole, New York, where I was born.” A famously restless product of what was then the 14th Ward, Miller returned—ruefully—to the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn in his novel “Tropic of Capricorn.” “I saw a street called Myrtle Avenue,” Miller wrote, “which runs from Borough Hall to Fresh Pond Road, and down this street no saint ever walked (else it would have crumbled), down this street no miracle ever passed, nor any poet, nor any species of human genius, nor did any flower ever grow there, nor did the sun strike it squarely, nor did the rain ever wash it… Dear reader, you must see Myrtle Avenue before you die, if only to realize how far into the future Dante saw.” That Myrtle Avenue cuts at least partly through the borough of Queens is small consolation, for it is clear that Brooklyn is the target of Miller’s loathing.
This prejudice has not deterred the proprietors of the Henry Miller Memorial Library, in his beloved coastal hamlet of Big Sur, California. Starting Sunday, they will stage a weeklong festival, Big Sur Brooklyn Bridge, in Williamsburg, a neighborhood that was full of beer-brewing German immigrants when Miller was born and which has become a haven for beer-swilling artists today, some of whom may be spotted reading a Miller paperback on a lazy Tuesday afternoon. The celebration will feature music by Philip Glass, a show by the Upright Citizens Brigade, and treats by the Big Sur Bakery, to whose deliciousness I can honestly attest, even if its relevance to Miller’s legacy is not entirely clear.
Henry Miller was born in 1891 and spent the first nine years of his life at 662 Driggs Avenue, on the same block occupied today by Margo Patisserie Café and Puccio Marble and Onyx, later spending time in Bushwick, Park Slope, and Brooklyn Heights. Given Brooklyn’s status in contemporary culture, the most fitting commemoration to Miller’s sojourn in Williamsburg is a listing on the Douglas Elliman Web site that grandly advertises a two-thousand-six-hundred-dollar rental in “the historical townhouse that Henry Miller grew up in,” reminding hopeful young scribes, “This inspiring space is the perfect place to spend your summer.” Not far from there, a one-block row of townhouses called Fillmore Place, which abuts Driggs Avenue, was turned into a historic district in 2009 by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The designation report notes that in “Tropic of Capricorn,” Miller called it “the most enchanting street I have ever seen in all my life. It was the ideal street—for a boy, a lover, a maniac, a drunkard, a crook, a lecher, a thug, an astronomer, a musician, a poet, a tailor, a shoemaker, a politician.” Yet this doesn’t exactly seem like a compliment, with the quick descent from “lover” to “thug.” Miller’s Brooklyn is nearly identical, in terms of setting and cast of characters, to Betty Smith’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” which is also set in Williamsburg, and which opens with a description of the borough as “serene.” The discrepancy between the two authors’ visions of the place suggests that parallel universes really do exist.
Considering that two of Miller’s most famous works are named for geographical markers—that is, the two tropics—it is not surprising that places play such a prominent role in his highly personal fictions. Foremost is Paris, where he journeyed in 1930 without any apparent prospects; he wrote in a letter to an old Brooklyn friend, “I start tomorrow on the Paris book: First person, uncensored, formless—fuck everything!” That’s a more concise summary of the project than anyone has managed since. Miller’s libidinal escapades, with all their self-indulgence, misery, and yearning, would become “Tropic of Cancer,” a chronicle of Parisian destitution populated by a modern “Bohème” of prostitutes, journalists, expatriates, and artists.
Paris’s carnivalesque, discordant quality—the rectilinear grandeur of the Jardin du Luxembourg pitted against the lurid, crooked byways of Montmartre—had been the subject of the poems of Baudelaire, the prints of Toulouse-Lautrec. Miller’s genius was to approach Paris with a combination of American enthusiasm and acquired French profligacy, with just a touch of German nihilism: “This Paris, to which I alone had the key, hardly lends itself to a tour, even with the best of intentions; it is a Paris that has to be lived, that has to be experienced each day in a thousand different forms of torture, a Paris that grows inside you like a cancer, and grows and grows until you are eaten away by it.”
He could not have kept this up for long, not even with Anaïs Nin famously at his side, playing the role of lover, editor, and patron. With Europe plunging into a second World War, Miller returned to the United States in 1940, eventually settling as far as he could from sooty Brooklyn, in the redwood cliffs of Big Sur, where he would spend most of the rest of his life. He achieved fame in the early nineteen-sixties, becoming a sexually liberated symbol of the counterculture after the publisher Grove Press challenged obscenity laws and brought his works to an American audience.
But by this time, Miller was in a heaven of his own. He wrote rhapsodically in “Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch” that the rugged Pacific coast was “the first real home I have ever known… It is all so inviting, so spectacular.” In fact, it is hard to believe that this is the same Miller who watches his friend Van Norden “grinding away” at a prostitute in “Tropic of Cancer.” But it is—Miller’s entire career was composed of cycles of self-annihilation and self-reinvention. Having been the sybarite, he decided to become a sort of Eastern sage of the great West, reflecting that “The most difficult thing to adjust to, apparently, is peace and contentment.” That modifier, “apparently,” says it all—ironic remove coupled with just the slightest admission that this struggle is really his own. Brooklyn does not fit neatly into this narrative of regeneration, which is why I suspect Miller loathed the place. It was a reminder of his quotidian ethnic roots, lacking the kind of mythology it has in the popular culture today—and certainly it wasn’t nearly as romantic as the Latin Quarter or the Central Coast. Though Miller does call his childhood “glorious” in “Big Sur” (and spares the occasional kind word for Brooklyn elsewhere), he situates his formative years in “that squalid section of Brooklyn known as Williamsburg,” adding, with what I think can fairly be called contempt, “I try to relate those squalid streets and shabby houses to the vast expanse of sea and mountains of this region.” Miller, who yearned for the extremes of experience, was the product of a humdrum household in what was then an utterly unexceptional sibling of Manhattan. Confronted with the horror of the ordinary, Miller railed against the place he came from, calling himself twice, in “Capricorn,” “just a Brooklyn boy,” as if to underscore with heavy irony his revulsion at his own origins.
This is not the Brooklyn of pigeon-racing boys depicted by Alfred Kazin in “A Walker in the City,” where Brownsville is an Old World village “at the end of the world.” Nor is it John Cheever’s cosmopolitan Manhattan “filled with a river light”—not to mention plenty of lust and gin. Miller does not lack passion for New York, but he does lack romance.
Witness the 1975 documentary in which he makes the “shithole” quip about his native city before proceeding to lambaste it as “a place where I knew nothing but starvation, humiliation, despair, frustration, every god damn thing—nothing but misery. Every bloody street I looked down I see nothing but misery, nothing but monsters… Later, when I began to explore it, why, it’s a different city, a little more horrible, gets worse all the time. Today I think it’s the ugliest, filthiest, shittiest city in the world. When I was a kid, there was hardly anything that we have today: no telephones, no automobiles, no nothing—really. It was rather quaint, there was even color in the buildings. But as time went on, it got more horrible to me.”
The frustrations—selfish, perhaps—of a young man who wants more than his circumstances can offer him is acutely felt here, as in “Capricorn,” where he reminisces about “such streets as Maujer, Conselyea, Humboldt… These streets belonged to a neighborhood which was not far removed from our neighborhood but which was different, more glamorous, more mysterious.” It has to be said that Miller cruelly slights other residents of Brooklyn, including Jews and African-Americans, not to mention—as always—women. But the primary motivation for his hatred of Brooklyn is a feeling of having to make do with less.
That deprivation would later lead to excess, to a negation of the old in favor the new—until he finally settled down in Big Sur to cultivate a calmer, more contemplative existence. And now Big Sur is returning to New York. It was once fashionable to flee Brooklyn. Now, it is fashionable to flock there. You can imagine what ol’ Henry would have thought of that.
— The New Yorker
Henry Miller had complicated feelings about Jews, but his works wouldn’t have reached American audiences without them
This fall marks the half-century anniversary of the first Grove Press paperback of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, the edition through which that notorious dirty book, first published in Paris in 1934, finally reached hundreds of thousands of American readers rather than handfuls.
Just about everybody who has ever written about Miller’s life and work has felt it necessary to wrestle with the complexities of his feelings about Jews. The most recent example is Evan Hughes’ account in Literary Brooklyn, which dutifully describes the “obvious, if increasingly complicated, anti-Semitism” of Miller in his teen years; the anti-Jewish fervor of his early novel Moloch; and the “suspect pro-Semitism” of the Rosy Crucifixion trilogy. As the Brooklyn-born son of first-generation German-American Catholics, Miller grew up in a time and place where resentment of the Jews who were overrunning the borough was typical if not ubiquitous. In his career as a writer and in his letters to friends and colleagues, Miller committed to paper plenty of awful anti-Semitic slurs. But he also doted on his Jewish wife (whom he referred to, at times, as “the Jewish cunt”), had dozens of Jewish friends (some of whom he loathed), fantasized about having unknown Jewish ancestors, and adored Yiddish literature—not only the lionized Isaac Bashevis Singer but also figures much less widely known in English, like the humorist Moyshe Nadir.
More than enough ink has been spilled, then, on the vexed question of how Miller felt about Jews, both in general and specifically—not least by the man himself, who addressed the canard of his anti-Semitism regularly not only in books but also in his correspondence. (“The big point, after my death,” he remarked to one colleague in 1971, “will be—how to explain my extraordinary predilection for the Jews!” And an assurance to Erica Jong in 1974: “You must know I am not” anti-Semitic. She affirmed as much in her meditation on Miller as an influence and friend, The Devil at Large.)
Perhaps a better way to commemorate the anniversary of Cancer’s paperback release would be to consider the less-frequently treated question of what American Jews have thought of Miller. Especially because, as it turns out, if you happen to have a battered paperback of Cancer on your bookshelf—and you do, right?—there’s a better than even chance it was one Jew or another who made that possible.
The 1961 Grove publication of Miller’s previously banned novel—in paperback, no less, a format in which it would be expected to sell in pharmacies and grocery stores, in racks in bus stations, and anywhere else cheap books could be found—was probably the single ballsiest move in modern American publishing. The law wasn’t dead-set against “dirty books” by then; Grove’s publication, led by owner Barney Rosset, of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover had been vindicated by the courts only a year or so earlier. But nobody knew how the law of obscenity would react to Cancer, which went far beyond Lawrence’s explicit love-making to exuberant, filthy pensées on art, death, and the distinguishing features of Parisian prostitutes.
At its outset, the book devotes a famous passage to describing what Miller’s narrator wants to do to a woman he calls Tania (based on Bertha Schrank) and whom he has already described, on the book’s third page, as “the loveliest Jew.” “O Tania,” he cries, “where now is that warm cunt of yours, those fat, heavy garters, those soft, bulging thighs? There is a bone in my prick six inches long. I will ream out every wrinkle in your cunt, Tania, big with seed.”
It was that sort of thing that set U.S. law enforcement into motion upon Grove’s publication of Cancer. In many U.S. cities, the paperback never made it onto shelves. The attorney general of Rhode Island told local wholesalers to return shipments to the publisher, and they all did; the same thing happened in towns like Amarillo, Texas, and Norfolk, Va. In suburban Chicago, a police chief decided he didn’t want stores in his town, Mount Prospect, to sell Miller’s book, and he got nearby suburbs—Des Plaines, Arlington Heights, Lincolnwood, Niles, Skokie—to pull all the copies from the shelves, too. The lawsuits began.
Grove had promised financial and legal support to anyone arrested for selling or distributing Cancer, and the ACLU—defending an alleged dirty book for the first time in its history—helped out, too. In the ensuing months the book was the subject of more than 60 individual trials across the country. Judges weighed in on the question of whether the First Amendment protected Miller’s writing.
Many Jews spoke up in Miller’s defense, putting their careers on the line in supporting the book.
In Chicago, for instance, the Tropic of Cancer case was heard by Judge Samuel B. Epstein. A friend of notorious Mayor Richard J. Daley, Epstein was part of a family that perfectly symbolized the career trajectories of American Jews in successive generations. His father, Ephraim, had been educated at the Slobodka yeshiva and immigrated to Chicago to lead the Orthodox Congregation Anshei Kneseth; one of the judge’s sons, David, was a screenwriter blacklisted during the McCarthy purges.
Epstein might have been thinking of David, or he might have been thinking of his father’s landsleit who had not escaped Europe—Eichmann’s trial had been broadcast here just half a year earlier—when he noted in his decision that “recent history has proven the evil of an attempt at controlling the utterances and thoughts of our population.” Whatever his inspiration, Epstein ruled in favor of Americans’ right to buy and read Miller’s novel. The First Amendment lawyer Edward De Grazia has called Epstein’s decision “one of the best examples” of how some lawyers and judges transformed a few statements from a 1957 Supreme Court obscenity decision, Roth v. United States, into a sturdy First Amendment defense of dirty books that would protect not only Lawrence and Miller but also William Burroughs, the pornographic classic Fanny Hill, and eventually books like Portnoy’s Complaint, too.
Lots of other Jews had spoken up in favor of Miller’s novel: Richard Ellman and Harry Levin were among the literary scholars who testified to Cancer’s merits, and a number of the high-profile lawyers who tried the cases were Jewish ACLU members and stalwart free-speech advocates, including Elmer Gertz and Ephraim London. Grove’s chief counsel, who coordinated all the lawyers’ activities and tried a few of the appeals himself, was Norman Mailer’s cousin and literary agent, Charles “Cy” Rembar (né Zaremba), who would detail the controversies in his own popular book The End of Obscenity. Rosset, who had started the whole mess, funded Grove with money inherited from his father, a Jewish financier, and his edition of Cancer included a preface—referring to Miller as “the greatest living writer”—by Karl Shapiro, the Pulitzer prize-winning poet who just a few years earlier had published a rather unsubtly titled collection of verse, Poems of a Jew.
Bradley R. Smith, a Hollywood Boulevard bookseller who was arrested for selling Cancer (and who would go on to a career as a prominent Holocaust denier) went so far as to say that he received support, after his arrest, from “Jews from every walk of life.” Smith was defended by the great Los Angeles First Amendment advocate Stanley Fleishman, true, but his generalization is misleading—in the way anti-Semites’ generalizations tend to be. At Smith’s trial, one of the most celebrated and recognized Jews in America, Leon Uris, testified against Tropic of Cancer. “I don’t think [Miller] is a writer, and I don’t think this is a book,” the author of Exodus said on the stand. “I think it is the ramblings of a pervert. … We have a right to defend ourselves against this type of garbage the same way we would any other ordinary criminal or any pervert walking the streets of Los Angeles.”
It’s not difficult to understand why Uris, who insisted on a vision of Jews as manly conquerors and paragons of Judeo-Christian virtue, would object to Miller, who represents Jews—like everybody else—as carnal, dishonest, and debased, if also, like everyone else, possessing the potential for transcendence. The widespread support of Miller’s novel suggests, encouragingly, that at least among Jews in the literary and legal professions, it was not Uris’ but Miller’s perspective—which understood Jews to be human, fallible, neither better or worse than anybody else—that was the majority view.
With nearly half a century of fully legal Miller behind us, not everyone would agree with Shapiro that Miller was a modern “prophet.” But he was unquestionably prescient at least in knowing to whom he could appeal for sympathy. He remarked in Cancer itself, decades before any of his American trials would prove him right, that “the first people to turn to when you’re down and out are the Jews.”
— Tablet Magazine
El tiempo de los asesinos
Esta obra, breve en extensión, de Henry Miller, pero de una intensidad luminosa y apasionada acerca de la vida y obra del poeta maldito Rimbaud es, quizá. más que un texto biográfico al uso, una catarsis verbal del novelista americano, una interpretación casi freudiana de aquellos soles negros en que el autor del «Barco ebrio» convirtió sus días, y, evidentemente, analítica y lúcida como pocas. Parte Miller de los primeros recuerdos en Brooklyn cuando alguien cercano le propone una lectura del poeta. En aquel momento rechaza penetrar en el conocimiento de la poesía rimbaudiana. Hubieron de pasar muchos años, ciertamente, para que Miller se tomara la molestia o el trabajo de abrir un texto del poeta. Pero cuando lo hace, el deslumbramiento es total: la luz poética de Rimbaud, su palabra visionaria lo conmueve de tal manera que el presente ensayo nace de la necesidad que siente, en esa primera aproximación, de traducir él mismo Una temporada en el infierno. A raíz de las dificultades que Miller va encontrando en traducir el lenguaje fulgurante, la imaginería simbólica de Rimbaud, intenta otra vía de conocimiento del poeta, y se pone a la tarea de escribir una supuesta biografía del mismo que, en última instancia, es eso y algo más; es decir, nos encontramos aquí con casi todos los datos más o menos utilizados por otros biógrafos, además de algunas interpretaciones y observaciones personales del propio Miller que arrojan como una luz nueva sobre la vida y, también, sobre las pulsiones más íntimas, y últimas, de Rimbaud, bien se trate en los paralelismos que encuentra con su personal historia, o, en cualquier caso, la rememoración en la que se instala al leer la correspondencia que el poeta, o el aventurero, o el desarraigado adolescente y soñador, mantiene con su madre o hermana, etc., desde los diferentes exilios que recorre como una estrella fugaz, como un astro errante, habiendo dejado atrás, pero «Adelante ¡siempre adelante!», la palabra poética incendiada en unos textos ahora lejanos como Una temporada en el infierno y las Iluminaciones: la palabra y la vida en pavesas rotas, en fiebres y enfermedades sin cuento, en contrabandos más o menos insólitos, en tráfico de armas, etc. Algo bien conocido de todos. Sin embargo, Miller introduce en esta aproximación al poeta su propia andadura, y así, cuando Rimbaud intenta llevar la literatura a la vida, Miller, por el contrario, parece que se propone llevar la vida a la literatura. Estas son las actitudes vitalmente paralelas, las ideas y sentimientos recurrentes, los distintos planos textuales que, como una rueda dentada, Miller incrusta, interpenetra una y otra vez entre lo vivido por él y la interpretación que hace de los pasos, del recorrido poético y existencial de su biografiado.
El tiempo de los asesinos es, pues, una obra reveladora de la personalidad de Rimbaud y, asimismo, escrutadora y reveladora del propio Miller. Pues no sólo nos habla del poeta de Charleville, de su vida como un símbolo de la pureza nunca perdida, de quien, en un momento dado, renuncia al éxito poético, a los amigos, a su tierra francesa, y se lanza de corazón al más duro de los desarraigos (¿de los desarreglos?): al exilio en tierras calcinadas por la miseria y el olvido, a la aventura más desastrosa, a Africa, Abisinia ..., persiguiendo una liberación que no conseguirá jamás, soñando con hacer una fortuna que, finalmente, consigue, aunque de nada le sirva ya, pues la carcoma del cáncer lo empujará a una voraz, prematura e inevitable muerte. También este libro nos informa de la zozobra de Miller, de su terrible miseria hasta los treinta y seis años, época en la que aún no había conseguido publicar nada, de su odio -similar al de Rimbaud-, por su país y sus gentes, de sus ansias de libertad, de sus escapadas a otros lugares con el hambre de días y una fe ciega en la "libertad libre" y su capacidad creadora. Y, al igual que el nombre de Rimbaud es como un santo y seña, un grial de luz, una deslumbrante metáfora cabalista para la poesía -pues su influencia alcanza a casi todos los poetas franceses modernos (y no únicamente franceses)-, de la misma manera que Miller ha podido representar una poderosa influencia en novelistas posteriores a él, tanto americanos como de otras latitudes: tal es la fuerza, la pujanza poética o narradora en ambos autores. Su comunión más feliz en la vida y en la obra.
Y, ciertamente, Miller no exagera cuando afirma que hasta ahora nadie como Rimbaud ha logrado ir más allá, ni en osadía ni en inventiva, pues son voces como la suya las que consiguen hacer verdad el aserto la poesía es indestructible que Miller subraya más de una vez a lo largo de su estudio.
Otro rasgo que tienen en común (Miller y Rimbaud) es su predilección por la lengua, por la música, incluso anteponiendo esto a la literatura misma. Y de esta manera, Miller nos lleva en El tiempo de los asesinos por ese laberinto real y ensoñado de aquel «místico salvaje», como le llamara Claudel, y lo hace paso a paso, en ocasiones, y en otras, rompiendo los estadios temporales y saltando adelante o atrás caleidoscópicamente, para ofrecernos -así-, sus personales y parecidas actitudes a las del poeta: sus reflexiones sobre la vida y la literatura, su arrebato existencial, y, finalmente pero no lo último su ambición creadora.
— Henry Miller - personal collection
— Henry Miller Online