Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Henry Miller: the self-fulfilling prophet.





'These novels will give way, by and by, to diaries or autobiographies, captivating books, if only a man knew how to choose among what he calls experiences and how to record truth truly.'
Emerson

'a man may be so much one with god that whatever he does he cannot sin. i am part of the freedom of nature and i satisfy all my natural desires. the free man is perfectly right to do whatever gives him pleasure. better that the whole world be destroyed and perish utterly than that a free man should abstain from a single act to which nature moves him.'
 Brethren of the Free Spiri, 13th Century


The immune response is a psychic mechanism as well as a physiological one. when i first encountered miller I felt an instant aversion to his writing, an immediate dislike of the man. What was significant, and revealing, was that this response was a confirmation...i had expected to react in this way before ever reading him. This is a clue to how the psychic immune system functions....ie it operates unconsciously,,,which means that we can forget it exists.

So my own strange initial disinclination was perhaps not that strange after all. Although in our heart of hearts, which is to say our most lucid minds, we all know that the present state of affairs, societally speaking, is corrupt, ugly, murderous and beyond redemption, it is still an order – it still serves that indispensable function of organising the mass of humanity into some sort of unified action and common belief. That this action is nearly completely destructive and this belief is reduced to the belief in money and work is somewhat beside the point. Stability is the keyword, and stability is something upon which we all depend.

But there is also the need for change; and this need is becoming irresistible. This is why Miller is no longer banned. The stability Miller was born into was already obviously sick; it has now become terminal. The danger now is not change but stability itself. The status quo has been set for self-destruct.

Miller lived through two world wars, the cold war and vietnam, dying happy at the age of 88. He saw more than enough of the cruelty and stupidity of his fellow men (the banality of evil is also, we need to remember, the evil of banality). His liberation lay in no longer expecting anything more from them. The world as it was was enough for him – more than enough. He had no fight to pick with anyone, he was a pacifist through and through, but an active one. He became an expert at psychic ju-jitsu. The impositions and obstacles put in his way become simply more grist for the mill. He creates, from the 'flotsam and jetsam of his own dispersed ego', one giant rambling epic where the tragedy is always at the service of comedy...the world around him becomes a madcap mise-en-scene where the players caricature themselves....the whole story becomes a legend in which Miller at once buries himself and is resurrected.

And this is why Miller is so important,,,,that we have stories a many that deal with death and resurrection we have no doubt,,,our culture is founded upon this myth - it is the largely unrecognised coda of western civilisation,,,what miller did was to make the myth his own,,,,he impregnates its dessicated body with his own blood and sperm, he becomes his own saviour, he fulfils his own prophecy,,,no intercessor required. just as the buddha met on the road had to be killed, so all the holy cows,,,and this is where the trouble with the censors followed naturally....this is where the 'devil-at-large' became too much for civilised sexual morality....

but of course the devil is logically as much of god as anything else: the devil representing the earth, the body, the passions, and a total lack of hypocrisy....the devil is matter itself, the material world, which is not in opposition to the spiritual but its complementary pole. it is in the current, the vital current between the depths and the heights - between the unconscious and conscious - that life is measured....matter seeks sublimation just as the spirit seeks condensation,

This is why morality is always a tragicomic exercise in irony, always producing exactly that which it condemns. morality does not recognise any authority but itself, which is to say – reason. of course laws and lawyers for that matter are most positively reasonable in themselves, but the more we have of them the less reasonable the results.

reason alone is inadequate, reason cannot accommodate the unique...reason seeks general truths - laws, religious or secular. Reason categorizes, labels, sorts...but life always expresses itself uniquely....the truth is only ever 'true' when we experience it for ourselves, intimately.


carl jung relates a story of how he found his faith for the first time. he was a student, a young boy of perhaps 10 or 12....he kept wanting to imagine a particular scene, something he realised was blasphemous, and this temptation finally overcame him to his great distress; unable to resist anymore he imagined a giant turd falling upon and crushing a cathedral - god shitting on the church, and through this wonderfully symbolic image jung experienced an epiphany...by acceding to the unconscious desire he found not sin and guilt but a liberating realisation, namely that god wants us to rebel in this way, that we must do this if we are to experience the divine directly and not merely give it lip service. this incident revealed to jung that his father, a protestant minister, did not believe, did not have faith,,,,that he didn't 'get it'. jung's father goes to his deathbed never truly believing that which he has spent his life trying to convince other people of.....

miller is not trying to convince us of anything, he is just giving himself, generously, and for his own delectation as well as ours...which is the whole point. Miller enjoys himself, immensely, even when he suffers....for he sees the reasons why his suffering was necessary, what it gave him, what it released him from....

i think kerouac, and the beats generally, owe a debt to miller....that they are of a new tradition that he - i believe - began. this is writing not as stylised architectural prose, but is rather a sort of visionary orbit around the mystery of the self, which, like jazz, is free from limitation.
the essential ingredient is inspiration....there is a compulsion, a natural rhythm and force to this rare form of writing...and its peaks reach the status of prophecy.



miller owes a debt himself to whitman and blake and nietzsche and many others, but millers innovation was to bring such genius into the realm of the novel.



As someone once said, what Miller did that no one else had done was to become the hero of his own writing. There is something strange and amazing about this. What Miller records is simultaneous discovery/creation of his own myth, which is simply to say his own liberation.



This is related I think to Joseph Campbell's idea of 'creative mythology' and also to the idea that life is like a detective story where you try and solve the mystery of your own absence...Miller, through the creative mythologisation of himself, solves 'the mystery of his absence'....he realises who he is, and this is what makes miller a religious figure.

It is this realisation which is primary, the writing is what gets the writer there, his path that in following makes of him the path (pathos = suffering).

As he says himself- 'I become more and more indifferent to my fate as a writer and more and more certain of my destiny as man.'

More Millerbits:



'nobody knows what it is to sit on his ass and be content, that happens only in the films where everything is faked, even the fires of hell. the whole continent is sound asleep and in that sleep a grand nightmare is taking place'




'unless the nightmare is strong enough to wake you up you go right on retreating, and you either end up on a bench or you end up as vice-president. its all one and the same, a bloody fucking mess a farce a fiasco from start to finish. i know it as i was in it, because i woke up. and when i woke up i walked out on it. i walked out by the same door that i had walked in – without so much as a by your leave, sir!
things take place instantaneously, but there's a long process to be gone through first. what you get when something happens is only the explosion, and the second before that spark. but everything happens according to law – and with full consent and collaboration of the cosmos. Before i could get up and explode the bomb had to be properly prepared, properly primed. after putting things in order for the bastards up above i had to be taken down from my high horse, had to be kicked around like a football, had to be stepped on, squelched, humiliated, fettered, manacled, made impotent as a jellyfish.'




'i am the germ of a new insanity, a freak dressed in intelligible language, a sob that is buried like a splinter in the quick of the soul'






'the learning we received only tended to obscure our vision. from the day we went to school we were made obtuse, we were wrapped in a fog of words and abstractions.'




'my understanding of the meaning of a book is that the book itself disappears from sight, that it is chewed alive, digested and incorporated into the system as flesh and blood which in turn creates new spirit and reshapes the world'






'men are lonely and out of communication with each other because all their inventions speak only of death. death is the automaton that rules the world of activity. death is silent becaue it has no mouth. death has never expressed anything. death is wonderful too – after life. only one like myself who has opened his mouth and spoken, only one who has said Yes, Yes, Yes and again Yes! can open his arms wide to death and know no fear. death as a reward yes! death as a result of fulfilment, yes! death as a crown and shield, yes! but not death from the roots, isolating men making them bitter and fearful and lonely, giving them fruitless energy, filling them with a will which can only say no! the first word a man writes when he has found himself, his own rhythm, which is the life rhythm is Yes! everything he writes thereafter is Yes, yes, Yes – yes in a thousand million ways. no dynamo no matter how huge – not even a dynamo of a hundred million dead souls- can combat a single man saying Yes!'



'If you're trying to improve your mind, stop it! there's no improving the mind. look at your heart and gizzard – the brain is in the heart'






'if i am against the condition of the world it is not because i am a moralist – it is because i want to laugh more'






.'.the man who is ridiculed because his solutions, which are truly profound, seem too simple for the world. no man wants to be an artist – he is driven to it because the world refuses to see his proper leadership.'






'this dissatisfaction which drives one on from one word to another, one creation to another, is simply a protest against the futility of postponement.'



'the truly great writer does not want to write: he wants the world to be a place in which he can live the life of the imagination. the first quivering word he puts to paper is the word of the wounded angel: pain. the process of putting down words is equivalent to giving oneself a narcotic.'






'it was revealed to me that i could say what i wanted to say – if i though of nothing else, if i concentrated upon that exclusively – and if i were willing to bear the consequences a pure act always involves'






'the world has not to be put in order: the world is order incarnate. it is for us to put ourselves n unison with this order, to know what is the world order in contradistinction to the wishful-thinking orders which we seek to impose on one another'






'One has to establish the difference of his own peculiar being and in doing so establish his kinship with the whole of humanity, even the very lowest. Acceptance is the key word, but acceptance is precisely the great stumbling block. It has to be total acceptance not conformity.'











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