December 26, 2009
His books were banned in America for decades, sparked a groundbreaking “obscenity as literature” debate, and were a seminal part of the sexual revolution. “This is not a book,” HENRY MILLER (1891-1980) wrote in Tropic of Cancer. “This is libel, slander, defamation of character… This is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God…” His Paris and American novels echo each other; refracting narrative, autobiography and philosophy in surrealist digressions, libidinous tsunamis and graphic sexcapades. Miller was not as yet a published author at age 33. “I was approaching my thirty-third year, the age of Christ crucified… a failure in every sense of the word,” he wrote in Sexus. The facetious arrogance of that comparison, that his life could be unspooled and measured alongside Christ’s, gave writers hope that their own failures weren’t terminal. His views are still au courant: “I have never been able to look upon America as young and vital but rather as prematurely old, as a fruit which rotted before it had a chance to ripen.” He wrote in blue streaks (a direct influence on many, including Kerouac), and one such passage changed my life. The protagonist, a fictive Miller, hates his job at The Cosmodemonic Cocksucking Corporation (a thinly disguised Western Union, where Miller worked for a time). He looks up at the tall cool buildings of Manhattan, furious at these citadels of commerce, rides an elevator to the top of one and demands a job from a random corporate president. The very next day I had a job interview, channeled Miller’s cojones, and got the job. Thanks, Hank.
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