Essays in Anthropology: Variations on a Theme

Similarly, snow can only make things cold because it is its nature to be cold. Experience shows that if I am cold and thirsty, my desires for warmth and drink.

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All encounters are configurate, not isolate. In this sense, and in this sense only, books are as much a part of life as trees, stars or dung. I have no reverence for them per se. Nor do I put authors in any special, privileged category. They are like other men, no better, no worse. They exploit the powers given them, just as any other order of human being.

If I defend them now and then — as a class — it is because I believe that, in our society at least, they have never achieved the status and the consideration they merit. The great ones, especially, have almost always been treated as scapegoats. The principal aim underlying this work is to render homage where homage is due, a task which I know beforehand is impossible of accomplishment.

Henry Miller Interviews - Episode 3: Henry's Thoughts on Women

Were I to do it properly, I would have to get down on my knees and thank each blade of grass for rearing its head. The critic, in his pompous conceit and arrogance, distorts the true picture beyond all recognition. The author, however truthful he may think himself to be, inevitably disguises the picture. The psychologist, with his single-track view of things, only deepens the blur.

As Contributor

As author, I do not think myself an exception to the rule. My conscious effort, however, has been — perhaps to a fault— in the opposite direction.


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I am on the side of revelation, if not always on the side of beauty, truth, wisdom, harmony and ever-evolving perfection. Naturally I cannot write about all the books, or even all the significant ones, which I have read in the course of my life. But I do intend to go on writing about books and authors until I have exhausted the importance for me of this domain of reality.

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To have undertaken the thankless task of listing all the books I can recall ever reading gives me extreme pleasure and satisfaction. I know of no author who has been mad enough to attempt this. Perhaps my list will give rise to more confusion — but its purpose is not that. Those who know how to read a man know how to read his books. Learn how to read Carl Sagan and Alan Turing through their reading lists.

In the preface, reflecting upon the experience of putting his list together, Miller echoes previous considerations of non-reading as an intellectual choice on par with reading itself :. For pornography depersonalizes, creating an abstract paradise Steven Marcus called Pornotopia, in which the only emotion is lust and the only event orgasm and the only inhabitants animated phalluses and vulvae. In Miller's books there are real people, with guns in their handbags, need for money, a habit of writing poetry on the wall while the act proceeds, an appetite for big meals afterward and very frequently a temporary resistance to love.

Paris Review - Henry Miller, The Art of Fiction No. 28

In French, yes; with Miller, whose origins are German, there are sometimes temptations to submit to Goetbean transports which get in the wat of pure amour. Miller himself is always present, naked but a thinking man who reads and writes books, capable of prodigious engorgements but never viewing himself as a synechdoche—part for the whole.


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  5. Heavily erotic, yes, but pornographic, never. Many women dislike his books, especially the militant Donna Giovannas, like vengeful Brigid Brophy, who goes so far in her essay on Miller as to cast doubt on his basic sexual endowment. They are right, I think, because, though Miller respects ladies like Ana's Nin, he cannot help making woman the sexual instrument come before woman the human entity.

    He is very ingenuous in saying that he has never thought of women, as just that: he always looked for something else as well.

    His autobiographical books — which means all his books—deliver a little too much contempt for women—the classic postcoital tristitia, which the boorish or the puritanical transfer to the object of spent desire, a vestigial Victorian horror that women should actually like sex quite as much as men, if not more. Still, at 80 he goes on loving women; and the number of his wives, though not up to patriarchal standards, compares well with an average film star's. His present wife is Japanese; and he is very fond of her, as of her Japanese friends, some of whom live with her, them, him.

    To call Miller a glorifier of the phallus and a chronicler of phallic events is not enough. There is more to his long autobiography than sex. The rest of the United States doesn't exist for me, except as idea, or history, or literature. He becomes a wordy bore only when he finds it necessary to prophesy; that great American disease we can call vatism is in him as it is in Dahlberg and even Mailer. When Miller starts talking about Love, not amour, feel like giving him a few francs to go to a brothel. But, of course, there is no need to do this.

    We come sooner rather than later to lechery as juicy as roast pork and Kartoffellelosze. If we require elevation from Miller, then we can best get it in his Hellenic phase. Now he appears to be one of America's glories—fulfilled, with 50 books behind him, his 80th birthday last Sunday, Boxing Day, two of his works filmed stupidly confused with skinflicks , and the Playboy tribute of this picture book, Miller talking his life instead of writing it he has written it already.

    The old man is shown apparently trying to eat the bosom of the Israeli actress Ziva Rodann. He sits at a table and looks up in a kind of puzzled but gratified wonder as a pair of fine impertinent breasts moon down on him. But there are photographs of Miller serious, with hat and spectacles on, and Lawrence Durrell horsing about with a false moustache, and wives and friends and Paris.

    Finally, there is Miller talking about himself and giving us all hope. Miller has spent a long industrious life grinding slow and exceeding fine, also coarse. With whom shall we compare him—Lawrence? He is not as important as any of these because he has not created a world that is recognizably his own. He has not really created at all.

    Henry Miller and a Sunday in Big Sur

    He lacks archi tectonic skill, a making or shaping drive. He has had only, one real subject—himself—and he has not been prepared, or endowed with the ability, to convert himself into a great fictional myth. Called a novelist by some, he has the novelist's ear and eye but not the novelist's power to create great separable artifacts.