Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Oh, Henry

I'm reading Henry Miller's Black Spring. This guy was a writer, but impossible to classify. His work isn't fiction, nor memoir (although some of it is memoirish), nor criticism, nor political analysis, although it contains elements of all those things. It's more like stream-of-consciousness improvisation, kind of like jazz in print.

Miller is always intense. I don't know where he got the energy, but reading him tends to wear a person out. He knew things very early that the rest of us only figured out much later. For example, he knew that America was a menace to the rest of the world way back in the twenties and thirties, and also was aware that the nineteenth and twentieth century were eras of civilizational decline. Here he is commenting on the meaning of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe:

"A remarkable book, coming at the culmination of our marvelous Faustian culture. Men like Rousseau, Beethoven, Napoleon, Goethe on the horizon. The whole civilized world staying up nights to read it in ninety-seven different tongues. A picture of reality in the eighteenth century. Henceforward, no more desert isles. Henceforward, wherever one happens to be born is a desert isle. Every man his own civilized desert, the island of self on which he is shipwrecked: happiness, relative or absolute, is out of the question. Henceforward everyone is running away from himself to find an imaginary desert isle, to live out this dream of Robinson Crusoe. Follow the classic flights of Melville, Rimbaud, Gauguin, Jack London, Henry James, D.H. Lawrence...thousands of them. None of them found happiness. Rimbaud found cancer. Gauguin found syphilis. Lawrence found the white plague. The plague -- that's it! Be it cancer, syphilis, tuberculosis, or what not. The plague! The plague of modern progress: colonization trade, free Bibles, war, disease, artificial limbs, factories, slaves, insanity, neuroses, psychoses, cancer, syphilis, tuberculosis, anemia, strikes, lockouts, starvation, nullity, vacuity, restlessness, striving, despair, ennui, suicide, bankruptcy, arterio-sclerosis, megalomania, schizophrenia, hernia, cocaine, prussic acid, stink bombs, tear gas, mad dogs, auto-suggestion, auto-intoxication, psychotherapy, hydrotherapy, electric massages, vacuum cleaners, pemmican, grape nuts, hemmorhoids, gangrene. No desert isles. No Paradise. Not even relative happiness. Men running away from themselves so frantically that they look for salvation under the ice floes or in tropical swamps, or else they climb the Himalayas or asphysicate themselves in the stratosphere...

"What fascinated the men of the eighteenth century was the vision of the end. They had enough. They wanted to retrace their steps, climb back into the womb again."

1 comment:

Joe said...

Thanks Dave. Cool! Our happiness is conditional.