An hour with "the happiest man alive"
April 6, 2008 12:24 PM   Subscribe

Henry Miller Bathroom Monologues, part 2, part 3, and follow on - Miller takes us on a tour of the art in his bathroom. And a few years later, we have Dinner with Henry, 1979 .

"I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. "
Henry Miller Personal Collection
Here's to Henry Miller
Links to Henry Miller
posted by madamjujujive (13 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
After a relentless winter, it's finally (if perhaps temporarily) spring in Michigan, with a couple of days where finally, all the ice is more or less melted and a 60-degreeish sunny breezy afternoon makes one flop in front of an open window thinking gratefully, "It just don't get any better than this."

But with this post, it just did. Ab-so-lute-ly riveting and delightful storytelling. Christ, I wish he had written like this.
posted by FelliniBlank at 1:26 PM on April 6, 2008

This is great. Thanks, madamjuju.
posted by homunculus at 1:30 PM on April 6, 2008

More praise: a brilliant, brilliant set of links. Life affirming stuff. Thanks.
posted by jimbaud at 1:56 PM on April 6, 2008

Excellent, I absolutely love this. I'm in the middle of reading Tropic of Cancer and Miller's writing is blowing me away... stuff like this:

"It was this morning, on our way to the Post Office, that we gave the book its final imprimatur. We have evolved a new cosmogony of literature, Boris and I. It is to be a new Bible - The Last Book. All those who have anything to say will say it here - anonymously. We will exhaust the age. After us not another book - not for a generation, at least. heretofore we had been digging in the dark, with nothing but instinct to guide us. Now we shall have a vessel in which to pour the vital fluid, a bomb which, when we throw it, will set off the world. We shall put into it enough to give the writers of tomorrow their plots, their dramas, their poems, their myths, their sciences. The world will be able to feed on it for a thousand years to come. It is colossal in its pretentiousness. The though of it almost shatters us.

For a hundred years or more the world, our world, has been dying. And not one man, in these last hundred years or so, has been crazy enough to put a bomb up the asshole of creation and set it off. The world is rotting away, dying piecemeal. But it needs the coup de grace, it needs to be blown to smithereens. Not one of us is intact, and yet we have in us all the continents and the seas between the continents and the birds of the air. We are going to put it down - the evolution of this world which has died but which has not been buried. We are swimming on the face of time and all else has drowned, is drowning, or will drown. It will be enormous, the Book. there will be oceans of space in which to move about, to perambulate to sing, to dance, to climb, to bathe, to leap somersaults to whine, to rape, to murder. A cathedral, a veritable cathedral, in the building of which everybody will assist who has lost his identity. There will be masses for the dead, prayers, confessions, hymns, a moaning and a chattering, a sort of murderous insouciance; there will be rose windows and gargoyles and acolytes and pallbearers. You can bring your horses in and gallop through the aisles. You can butt your head against the walls-they won't give. You can pray in any language you choose, or you can curl up outside and go to sleep. It will last a thousand years, at least, this cathedral, and there will be no replica, for the builders will be dead and the formula too. We will have postcards made and organize tours. We will build a town around it and set up a free commune. We have no need for genius - genius is dead. We have need for strong hands, for spirits who are willing to give up the ghost and put on flesh..."

I had to transcribe that because Miller's perspective has completely changed mine, that passage in particular.. there is something about it that makes you feel free and justified in doing anything you might want to do.
posted by pwally at 2:30 PM on April 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

This, and the rain outside, is tempting me to stay home all day.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:47 PM on April 6, 2008

Thanks MJJJ! I'm not a big fan of his writing, but that was very enjoyable. great voice.
posted by vronsky at 3:42 PM on April 6, 2008

Ah, dear old Henry! Haven't really thought about him in a long time, but he sure was one of my high school heros. I burned through Sexus, Plexus and Nexus, and reveled in his "fuck work, I'm outta here, off to Paris!" ethic.

Thanks for the post, mjj.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:43 PM on April 6, 2008

Burned through Sexus, as well, though it was mostly flipping pages to get to the sex parts. Also, I was 13 years old and living in a country where there was no dirty magazines. Only actually read him properly many years later.

And this is the first time seeing video of him, or even hearing him read. Wonderful. Thanks for the post.
posted by troubles at 4:13 PM on April 6, 2008

Yeh, a high school hero here, as well. I've read just about everything he wrote, and I actually prefer his nonfiction to the fiction.

In particular, Stand Still Like the Hummingbird, Big Sur & the Oranges of Heironymous Bosch, and The Books in My Life, the latter of which was a springboard for much of my reading.

The nonfiction comes across like (what I have seen so far of) the videos posted here, and also like the passage posted above by pwally - plenty of rants & musings on the human condition.

Oh, I forgot The Airconditioned Nightmare - a travelogue of America.

He also endorsed America's greatest writer*, Kenneth Patchen, who was responsible for the Roivas part of my username. Patchen: Man of Anger & Light is one of my favourite essays.

* (imho)
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:22 PM on April 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

Ah, dear old Henry! Haven't really thought about him in a long time, but he sure was one of my high school heros.

Same here, into early university years. I haven't revisited any of his work in the past few years (other than his luminous Colossus Of Maroussi Greek travelogue), even though I make it a habit of rereading some of my favorite books every few years to see what new things I can get out of them as I get older.

Miller was another of those writers whose work had such a profound influence on shaping the way I look at the world, but who were such unpleasant people in so many ways. It took me a hell of a long time to learn to be able to separate my love for their writing from my disappointment with the persons they chose to be. Part of growing up, I guess, and learning that hero worship is always corrosive.

Now I'm waiting for dejah420 or digaman (who between them have met almost all of the 20th century writers whose work I've most loved, I think) to join the thread and reveal that they met HM, too. Hoping, in fact.

Thank, mjjj.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:41 PM on April 6, 2008

Let me clarify that with Henry, it was his (perhaps arguable) misogynism and racism that put me off. The whole Happy Rock thing? I'm down with that, oh yes I am, and always have been.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:45 PM on April 6, 2008

This is the first time I've seen the actual Henry Miller - my absolute favorite writer, period - in motion. I can't tell you how happy this made me. Thank you so much.
posted by ghastlyfop at 7:41 PM on April 6, 2008

Kenneth Rexroth on Henry Miller:

"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. . . .

"Miller is a very unliterary writer. He writes as if he had just invented the alphabet. . . . 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."

(Kenneth Rexroth, "The Reality of Henry Miller", 1955)
posted by Bureau of Public Secrets at 9:16 AM on April 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

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