Saturday, June 07, 2014

On the death of Henry Miller

Well, Henry Miller died June 7, 1980, at 4 pm Pacific Palisades time. It would be too much to hope that flags would be lowered to mark this loss. At best, America has taken her writers for granted; at worst, she has ignored them or maligned them. Henry Miller is certainly a case in point.

There are few books by Henry Miller which have not been banned in America, as well as many other countries around the world. Among these are the Tropic of Cancer, the Tropic of Capricorn, and his trilogy, The Rosy Crucifixion. Why have these books been banned? Supposedly due to their explicit sexual content. But sex scenes are brief in Miller, and are certainly the least important elements of his books. No, his books are dangerous, like Catcher in the Rye or Huckleberry Finn, because they are full of life, full of living ideas. And as a self-admitted anarchist, Miller is especially threatening to those our love our status quo institutions.

Henry Miller has been accused, and justly so, of writing exclusively about himself. Even his study of Rimbaud, Time of the Assassins, is really about Henry Miller. He agreed with Thoreau, who said he'd write about anything else if he knew as much about it as he did about himself. If there were any justice, Henry Miller would be remembered for his epic autobiographies rather than as the author of “dirty” books.

If you asked me where to start reading Henry Miller, I'd suggest his little book Quiet Days in Clichey, then — if you like that — the Tropics and Black Spring. After that, you'll probably want to read everything he's written.

His books, for me, have been a thrilling adventure. I shall miss him, though I never met him. His death is a great loss to the world of letters. Even so, his books remain for us to enjoy. As he said, “The dream lives on after the body is buried.” With Walt Whitman, he is waiting for us to join him on the tour of life.

Originally published in 1980, shortly after Miller's death.

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