Tuesday, June 27, 2017

excerpts from henry miller's 'colossus of maroussi' (1941)




'It is the morning of the first day of the great peace, the peace of the heart, which comes with surrender. I never knew the meaning of peace until I arrived at Epidaurus. Like everybody I had used the word all my life without once realising I was using a counterfeit. Peace is not the opposite of war anymore than death is the opposite of life....I am talking of course of the peace which passeth all understanding. There is no other kind. The peace which most of us know is merely a cessation of hostilities, a truce, an interregnum, a lull, a respite, which is negative. The peace of the heart is positive and invincible, demanding no conditions, requiring no protection. It just is. If it is a victory it is a curious one because it is based entirely on surrender, a voluntary surrender to be sure. There is no mystery in my mind as to the nature of the cures which were wrought at this great therapeutic centre of the ancient world. Here the healer himself was healed, first and most important step in the development of the art, which is not medical but religious. Second, the patient was healed before he ever received the cure. The great physicians have always spoken of Nature as being the great healer. That is only partially true. Nature alone can do nothing, Nature can cure only when man recognises his place in the world, which is not in Nature, as with the animal, but in the human kingdom, the link between the natural and the divine.....

The joy of life comes through peace, which is not static but dynamic. No man can really say that he knows what joy is until he has experienced peace...There are people who want to fight to bring about peace - the most deluded souls of all. There will be no peace until murder is eliminated from the heart and mind. Murder is the apex of the broad pyramid whose base is the self. That which stands will have to fall. Everything which man has fought for will have to be relinquished before he can live as a man. Up till now he has been a sick beast and even is divinity stinks. He is master of many worlds and in his own he is a slave. What rules the world is the heart, not the brain, in every realm our conquests bring only death. We have turned our back on the one realm wherein freedom lies. At Epidaurus, in the stillness, in the great peace that came over me, I heard the heart of the world beat. I know what the cure is: it is to give up, to relinquish, to surrender, so that our little hearts may beat in unison with the great heart of the world....

The fight is not against disease: disease is a by-product. The enemy of man is not germs, but man himself, his pride, his prejudice, his stupidity, his arrogance. No class is immune, no system holds a panacea. Each one individually must revolt against a way of life which is not his own. The revolt, to be effective, must be continuous and relentless. It is not enough to overthrow governments, masters, tyrants: one must overthrow his own preconceived idea of right and wrong, good and bad, just and unjust....A billion men seeking peace cannot be enslaved. We have enslaved ourselves, by our own petty, circumscribed view of life. It is glorious to offer one's life for a cause, but dead men accomplish nothing. Life demands that we offer something more - spirit, soul, intelligence, good will.'


*** 


'I have not yet crossed the threshold. I am outside, between the Cyclopean blocks which flank the entrance to the shaft. I am still the man I might have become, assuming every benefit of civilisation to be showered upon me with regal indulgence. I am gathering all of this potential civilised muck into a hard, tiny knot of understanding. I am blown to the maximum, like a great bowl of molten glass hanging from the stem of a glass-blower. Make me into any fantastic shape, use all your art, exhaust your lung power - till I shall only be a thing fabricated, at the best a beautiful cultured soul. I know this. I despise it. I stand outside full-blown, the most beautiful, the most cultured, the most marvelously fabricated soul on earth. I am going to put my foot over the threshold - now. I do so. I hear nothing. I am not even there to hear myself shattering into a billion splintered smithereens. Only Agamemnon is there. The body fell apart when they lifted the mask from his face. But he is there, he fills the still beehive: he spills out into the open, floods the fields, lifts the sky a little higher. The shepherd walks and talks with him by day and by night. Shepherds are crazy folk. So am I. I am done with civilization and its spawn of cultured souls. I gave myself up when I entered the tomb. from now on I am a nomad, a spiritual nobody. Take your fabricated world and put it away in the museums, I don't want it, can't use it. I don't believe any civilised being knows, or ever did know, what took place in this sacred precinct. A civilized man can't possibly know or understand - he is on the other side of the slope whose summit was scaled long before he or his progenitors came into being. They call it Agamemnon's tomb. Well, possibly someone called Agamemnon was here laid to rest. What of it? Am I to stop there, gaping like an idiot? I do not. I refuse to rest on that too-too-solid fact. I take flight here, not as a poet, not as a recreator, fabulist, mythologist, but as pure spirit. I say the whole world, fanning out in every direction from this spot, was once alive in a way that no man has ever dreamed of. I say there were gods who roamed everywhere, men like us in form and substance, but free, electrically free. When they departed this earth they took with them the one secret which we shall never wrest from them until we too have made ourselves free again. We are to know what it is to have life eternal - when we have ceased to murder. Here at this spot, now dedicated to the memory of Agamemnon, some foul and hidden crime blasted the hopes of man. Two worlds lie juxtaposed, the one before, the one after the crime. The crime contains the riddle, as deep as salvation itself....

It scarcely seems credible to me now that what I relate now was the enchanted work of a brief morning. By noon we were already winding down the road to the little inn. On our way we came across the guardian who, though he had arrived too late, insisted on filling me with facts and dates which were utterly without sense. He spoke first in Greek and then, when he discovered that I was an American, in English. When he had finished his learned recital he began talking about Coney island. He had been a molasses thrower on the boardwalk. He might have well said he had been a wasp glued to the ceiling of an abandoned ch√Ęteau for all the interest I showed. Why had he come back? The truth is he hadn't come back. Nobody comes back who has made the transatlantic voyage westward. He is still throwing molasses on the boardwalk. He came back to incarnate as a parrot, to talk this senseless parrot-language to other parrots who pay to listen. This is the language in which it is said that the early greeks believed in gods, the word god no longer having any meaning but used just the same, thrown out like counterfeit money. Men who believe in nothing write learned tomes about gods who never existed. This is part of the cultural rigmarole. If you are very proficient at it you finally get a seat in the academy where you slowly degenerate into a fully-fledged chimpanzee.'

***


'In the museum I cam again upon the colossal Theban statues which have never ceased to haunt me and finally we stood before the mazing statue of Antinous, last of the gods. I could not help but contrast in my mind this most wonderful idealisation of the eternal duality of man, so bold and simple, so thoroughly greek in the best sense, with that literary creation of Balzac's, Seraphita, which is altogether vague and mysterious and, humanly speaking, altogether unconvincing. Nothing could better convey the transition from light to darkness, from the pagan to the Christian conception of life, other than this enigmatic figure of the last god on earth who flung himself into the Nile. By emphasisng the soulful qualities of man Christianity succeeded in disembodying man; as angel the sexes fuse into the sublime spiritual being which man essentially is. The Greeks, on the other hand, gave body to everything, thereby incarnating spirit and eternalising it. In Greece one is ever filled with the sense of eternality which is expressed in the here and now; the moment one returns to the Western world, whether in Europe or America, this feeling of body, of eternality, of incarnated spirit is shattered. We move in clock time amidst the debris of vanished worlds, inventing the instruments of our own destruction, oblivious of fate or destiny, knowing never a moment of peace, possessing not an ounce of faith, a prey to the blackest superstitions, functioning neither in the body or the spirit, active not as individuals but as microbes in the organism of the diseased.'


 
***

It was the soothsayer's wife that opened the for us. She had a serene, dignified countenance which  at once impressed me favourably. She pointed to the next room where her husband sat at a table in his shirtsleeves, his head supported by his elbows. he was apparently engaged in reading a huge, Biblical book. As we entered the room he rose and shook hands cordially. There was nothing theatrical or ostentatious about him; indeed he had more the air of a carpenter pursuing his rabbinical studies than any appearance of being a medium. he hastened to explain that he ws not possessed of any special powers, that he had simply been a student of Kabbala for many years and that he had been instructed in the art of Arabian astrology...the only information he demanded was the date, hour and place of my birth, my first name and my mother's and father's firts names. I should say that before he had put these questions to me he remarked to Katsimbalis [the Colossus] that I was decidedly a Capricorn of the Jupiterian type [which Miller is]...

He began by telling me that I was approaching a new and most important phase of my life, that up to the present I had been wandering in circles, that I had created many enemies (by what I had written) and caused much harm and suffering to others. He said that I not only lived a dual life (I believe he used the word schizophrenic) but a multiple life and that nobody really understood me, not even my closest friends. But soon, he said, all that was to cease. At a certain date, which he gave me, I would find a clear, open path ahead of me; before dying I would bring great joy to the world, to everybody in the world, he emphasised, and my greatest enemy would bow down before me and beg my forgiveness. he said that I would enjoy before my death the greatest honours, the greatest rewards which man can bestow upin man. I would make three trips to the Orient where, among other things, I would meet a man who would understand me as no one had and that this meeting was absolutely indispensable for the both of us. That on my last visit to the orient I would never return, neither would I die, but vanish in the light. I interrupted him here to ask if he meant  by that that I would be immortal, through my works or my deeds, and he answered solemnly and most significantly that he did not, that he meant simply and literally that I would never die. At this I confess I felt startled and I glanced at Katsimbalis, without saying a word, to make sure that I had head correctly.

He went on to tell me that there were signs and indications which he himself could not understand but which he would relate to me exactly as they were given. Not at all surprised by this I begged him to do so, adding that I would understand quite well myself. he was particularly impressed, it seemed, by the fact thta I had all the signs of divinity and at the same time my feet were chained to the earth....Turning to me again he made it clear, both by his speech and by his words, that he considered it a rare privilege to be in the presence of such a one as myself. He confessed that he had never seen indications for such a splendid career as now lay before me. he asked me pertinently if I had not escaped death several times. "In fact," he added, hardly waiting for confirmation, " you have always escaped whenever a situation becomes desperate or unbearable. You always will. You lead a charmed life. I want you to remember my words, when danger confronts you again - however perilous the situation you must never give up, you will be saved. You are like a ship with two rudders: when one gives out the other will function. In addition you are equipped with wings: you can take flight when those about you must perish. You are protected. You have had only one enemy - yourself." And with this he rose, came round to me and seizing my hand raised it to his lips.

...Everything he told me about the past was startingly accurate and for the most part were about things which no one in Greece, not even [Laurence] Durrell or Katsimbalis, could possibly have had any knowledge about....There was one touch, incidentally, which I forgot and which is worth relating, because it struck me as so Armenian. In telling me of the fame and glory, the honours and rewards I would receive, he remarked in a puzzled way - " But I see no money!" At this I laughed outright. Money has been the one thing I have never had, and yet I have led a rich life and in the main a happy one. Why should I need money now - or later? When I have been desperately in need I have always found a friend. I go on the assumption that I have friends everywhere. I shall have more and more as time goes on. If I were to have money I become careless and negligent, believing in a security which doe snot exist, stressing those values which are illusory and empty. I have no misgivings about the future. In the dark days to come money will be less than ever a protection against evil and suffering.


'....I had left Paris before the war knowing that my life there had come to an end. The decision to take a vacation for one year, to abstain from writing during that time, the very choice of Greece which, as i see it now, was the only country which could have satisfied my inner needs, all this was significant. In the last year or two in Paris I had been hinting to my friends that I would one day give up writing altogether, give it up voluntarily - at the moment I felt myself in possession of the greatest power and mastery....a thought had begun to crystallise in me, namely that the life of the artist, his devotion to art, is the highest and last phase in the egotism in man. ...I feel under no compulsion to any particular thing. I feel, on the contrary, a growing liberation, supplemented more and more by a desire to serve the world in the highest possible way. What that way is I have not yet determined, but it seems clear to me that I shall pass from art to life, to exemplify whatever i have mastered through art by my living. I said I felt chastened. It is true that I also felt exalted. But above all I felt a sense of responsibility such as i have never known before. A sense of responsibility towards myself, let me hasten to add....During all the years that I have been writing I have steeled myself to the idea that I would not really be accepted, at least to my own countrymen, until after my death....A good part of my life has, in a way, been lived in the future.With regard to all that vitally concerns me I am really a dead man, only only to the very few who, like myself, could not wait for the world to catch up with them. I do not say that out of pride or vanity, but with humility not untouched with sadness. Sadness is perhaps hardly the right word either, since I neither regret the course I have followed nor desire things to be any different than they are. I know now what the world is like and knowing it I accept it, both the good and the evil. To live creatively, I have discovered, is to live more and more unselfishly, to live more and more into the world, identifying oneself with it and thus influencing it at the core, so to speak. Art, like religion, it now seems to me, is only a preparation, an initiation into the way of life. The goal is liberation, freedom, which means assuming greater responsibility. To continue writing beyond the point of self-realisation seems futile and arresting....It was my belief before meeting the Aremenian [soothsayer], and it still is, that when the honours and rewards are conferred upon me, I shall not be present to receive them, that I shall be living alone and unknown in some remote part of the world carrying on the adventure which began with the effort to realise myself in words. I know that the greatest dangers lie ahead; the real voyage has only begun. As I write these lines it is almost a year since that moment in Athens which I have just described. May I add that since coming to America everything that has happened to me, one fulfillment, one realization after another, has occurred with an almost clock like precision. Indeed I am almost terrified for now, contrary to my life in the past, I have but to desire a thing and my wishes are gratified. I am in the delicate position of one who has to be careful not to wish for something he really does not desire. The effect, I must say, has been to make me desire less and less. The one desire that grows more and more is to give. The very real sense of power and wealth which this entails is also somewhat frightening - because the logic of it seems too utterly simple. It is not until I look about me and realize that the vast majority of my fellow men are desperately trying to hold on to what they possess or to increase their possessions that I begin to understand that the wisdom of giving is not so simple as it seems. Giving and receiving are at bottom one thing, dependent upon whether one lives open or closed. Living openly one becomes a medium, a transmitter; living thus, as a river, one experiences life to the full, flows again with the current of life, and dies in order to live gain as an ocean.'



***



'...To those who think Greece today is of no importance let me say that no greater error could be committed. To-day, as of old Greece is of utmost importance to every man who is seeking to find himself. My experience is not unique. And perhaps I should add that no people in the world are as much in need of what Greece has to offer as the American people. Greece is not merely the antithesis of America, but more, the solution to the ills which plague us. Economically it may seem unimportant, but spiritually Greece is still the mother of nations, the fountainhead of wisdom and inspiration.

...The greatest single impression which Greece made upn me is that it is a man-sized world. Now it is true that France also conveys this impression, and yet there is a difference, a difference which is profound. Greece is the home of the gods; they may have died but their presence still makes itself felt. The gods were of human proportions: they were created out of the human spirit. In France, as elsewhere in the Western world, this link between the human and the divine is broken. The scepticism and paralysis produced by this schism in the very nature of man provides the clue to the inevitable destruction of our present civilisation. If men cease to believe that they will one day become gods then they surely will become worms. Much has been said about a new order of life destined to arise on this American continent. It should be borne in mind, however, that not even a beginning has been envisioned for at least a thousand years to come.The present way of life, which is America's, is doomed as surely as that of Europe. No nation on earth can possibly give birth to a new order of life until a worldview is established. We have learned through bitter mistakes that all the peoples of the world are vitally connected, but we have not made use of that knowledge in an intelligent way. We have seen two world wars and we shall undoubtedly see a third and a fourth, possibly more. There will be no hope of peace until the old order is shattered. The world must become small again, as the old Greek world was - small enough to include everybody. Until the very last man is included there will be no real human society. My intelligence tells me that such a condition of life will be a long time in coming, but my intelligence also tells me that nothing short of that will ever satisfy man. Until he has become fully human, until he learns to conduct himself as a member of the earth, he will continue to create gods who destroy him. The tragedy of Greece lies not in the destruction of a great culture but in the abortion of a great vision. We sat erroneously that the Greeks humanised the gods. It is just the contrary. The gods humanised the Greeks.....They made mythology of a reality which was too great for their human comprehension. We forget, in our enchantment with the myth, that it is born of reality and is fundamentally no different from any other form of creation, except that it has to do with the very quick of life. We too are creating myths, though we are perhaps not aware of it. But in our myths there is no place for the gods. We are building an abstract, dehumanised world out of the ashes of an illusory materialism. We are proving to ourselves that the universe is empty, a task which is justified by our own empty logic. We are determined to conquer and conquer we shall, but the conquest is death.

....The light of Greece opened my eyes, penetrated my pores, expanded my whole being. I came home to the world, having found the true centre and the real meaning of revolution. No warring conflicts between the nations of the earth can disturb this equilibrium. Greece herself may become embroiled, but I refuse categorically to become anything less than the citizen of the world which I silently declared myself to be when I stood in Agamemnon's tomb. From that day forth my life was dedicated to the recovery of the divinity of man. Peace to all men, I say, and life more abundant!'






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