I have been thinking a great deal about the sex writing pornographer Henry Miller.
This is how he was unfairly categorized when Tropic of Cancer was published 85 year ago in Paris and banned in the U.S. until 1961. He was labeled a misogynist, a “woman hater,” and a brute.
But this is not the Henry Miller on my mind today as I sit in the chair in my shed and read one of his many books that have nothing do with sex. The Air-Conditioned Nightmare chronicles Miller’s travels across America after he returned from Paris in 1939. It was published in 1945 and is closing in on its 75th anniversary. It is a marvelous book—poignant, telling, and still relevant, in fact I would argue more relevant today than ever.
The Henry Miller I am thinking about today (and writing about at MEDIUM) is the literary, artistic anarchist. The writer who not only bucked convention and the literary form and norm of the day, but burned it to the ground. This is why I like Henry, why he is important in the contemporary literary landscape of rules and formula, and why I hope you will read my piece at The Writing Cooperative at the website MEDIUM.
For now, I’ll sit back in the shed chair and re-read the chapter “A Night with Jupiter” because it is so wonderful.
3 thoughts on “On Henry Miller”
Ah, Henry . . . iconoclast, roué, writer. You remind me that I haven’t read him in a very long time. Your fine essay helps crystallize a clearer picture of his importance.
It’s a challenge to get beyond the salacious with Miller. We must face the fact that we’re all suckers for prurience. And, like many I suppose, my earliest encounters with him were titillating — photos (in Playboy, I believe) of him as an elderly rake playing ping pong with a naked woman less than half his age; and, of course, the ºTropics.”
As a high school sophomore in 1965, I had no idea who Miller was. All that changed, thanks to my English teacher. He and his wife invited me to dinner one evening. While the meal preparations were underway in the kitchen, my teacher (all of twenty-three or so) urged me to join him in an upstairs room where he read to me select, scandalous passages from “Cancer.” He did so, it always struck me, in the spirit of boys sharing forbidden fruit, much more for laughs than stirring the libido.
That was my introduction to Miller. Years later, I got around to reading his infamous works, but they didn’t interest me as much as another of his novels which I think encapsulates the finer qualities you evince: “The Colossus of Maroussi.”
You’ve got me thinking about ol’ Henry again, and for that I’m grateful.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, he and I need to get reacquainted.
Great story to share. Although, I must admit a little strange how your English teacher introduced you to Henry. Not sure that would happen today. Right?
I also just read Miller’s essay “Reflections on Writing” — it may be the best piece on the mysterious craft of writing I’ve ever read. I strongly recommend. He captures very well what Norman Mailer once called “the spooky art.”
You’re right about my intro to Miller. There were other interactions with teachers that friends and I had which would probably raise an eyebrow or two today. A different era altogether.
But it got me interested in Henry.