Introduction: "I want to make a detour...."
I want to make a detour of those lofty arid mountain ranges where one dies of thirst and cold, that "extra-temporal" history, that absolute of time and space where there exists neither man, beast, nor vegetation, where one goes crazy with loneliness, with language that is mere words, where everything is unhooked, ungeared, out of joint with the times. I want a world of men and women, of trees that do not talk (because there is too much talk in the world as it is!), of rivers that carry you to places, not rivers that are legends, but rivers that put you in touch with other men and women, with architecture, religion, plants, animals--rivers have boats on them and in which men drown, drown not in myth and legend and books and dust of the past, but in time and space and history.
Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer
Few products of the self-styled "Revolution of the Word" of the 1920s and 1930s have proved more disturbing to our sense of what is or ought to be valued art than Tropic of Cancer (1934), Black Spring (1936), and Tropic of Capricorn (1939). Other modernist novels, more radical and more conventional, move in and out of critical and public view, but for half a century Henry Miller's expatriate narratives have visibly marked the contentious boundary between "good" and "bad" art, "serious literature" and "popular fiction," "aesthetic creation" and "pornographic exploitation." Since he first appeared in the "twilight of the expatriates" as "the spokesman, par excellence, for the Left Bank," Miller has inspired the fervid efforts of advocates and adversaries seeking to establish his centrality to modern American literature and life, or to expunge him from literary and even popular imagination. In neither direction have these partisan efforts succeeded. Miller's work continues to sell, influence contemporary fiction, and provoke violent debate whenever raised. Instead of settling the "Miller question," the debate over Miller's place in American letters has complicated and raised the stakes of an "answer." Feminists, from Kate Millet to Catharine MacKinnon, have joined in improbable alliance with Miller's partisans in impugning the methods and motives of those who would hold Miller at a tasteful distance from the literary tradition. Attempts to strike a more dispassionate critical balance between the claims of Miller's friends and foes have proved inadequate, mixing hot and cold to produce the kind of lukewarm "assessment" that gives academic criticism the reputation of irrelevance: no one can read very far into Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring or Tropic of Capricorn without realizing that an "open mind" is the most inappropriate of responses. Miller emerged with a generation of writers who cultivated controversy as a sign of success in challenging established literary canons; almost alone he has remained controversial, in good conscience neither acceptable nor dismissible. Through five decades of criticism the refrain runs, "This fellow can write: but[....]"Continue reading Tropic of Cancer
rri (Dec '04)
There is nothing that keeps wicked men, at any one moment, out of hell, but the meer pleasure of GOD.
By the meer pleasure of God, I mean his sovereign pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hinder'd by no manner of difficulty, any more than if nothing else but God's mere will had in the least degree, or in any respect whatsoever, any hand in the preservation of wicked men one moment.rri (Jul '41)