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May 14, 2013
me+ME:  On Henry Miller (and George Orwell) - 2
(My) ideal is to be free of ideals, free of principles, free of isms and ideologies. I want to take to the ocean of life like a fish takes to the sea.
-- Henry Miller (On Turning Eighty)







Sections

Introduction   
1. On Henry Miller (and George Orwell) - 2
2. More about Henry Miller
About ME/CFS


Introduction:

I am still paying back my walk of over two weeks ago, so I am still not feeling very well. (But it may be improving some.)

And today is part 2 about
Henry Miller. Meanwhile, I have refound a website I did know about him, which is the best I know on the subject:
The above is the main link, that gives access to four more links: Books, Loves, Art and Friends. This has the great benefits of being fairly brief, while having a lot of information and being well designed.

1. On Henry Miller (and George Orwell) - 2

So today I continue yesterday's On Henry Miller (and George Orwell) - 1, that I take as having been read by my readers.

I had concluded there that George Orwell got Miller fairly well, but not very well; quoted the last part of Orwell's "Inside the Whale", an essay Orwell published circa April 1940, that is mostly about Miller; and said he made three mistakes:

  • There was no totalitarianism after the war, in the West
  • Orwell doesn't understand Miller's sense of 'accepting'
  • Miller was not the man of one book
So now to illustrate these mistakes. First about totalitarianism:
Almost certainly we are moving into an age of totalitarian dictatorships - an age in which freedom of thought will be at first a deadly sin and later on a meaningless abstraction. The autonomous individual is going to be stamped out of existence. But this means that literature, in the form in which we know it, must suffer at least a temporary death. (...) Miller seems to me a man out of the common because he saw and proclaimed this fact a long while before his comtemporaries (..)  (p. 576, op. cit.)
I think it is obvious Orwell was mistaken that there was "an age of totalitarian dictatorships" coming ca. 1940 or indeed 1950 - that is, apart from those that existed by 1950, notably the Soviet Union and China, which was bad enough.

But the West was spared, while Orwell thought, probably till the end of his life, in
January 1950, that it very probably would not.

In any case, resistance against totalitarian dictatorships was a dominant motive for Orwell, which made him misjudge Miller, who was essentially an non-political man, as my quotation also illustrates.

In fact, Orwell says himself, quite perceptively:
But at bottom it is always a writer's tendency, his 'purpose', his 'message', that makes him liked or disliked. The proof of this is the extreme difficulty of seeing any literary merit in a book that seriously damages your deepest beliefs. (p. 554, op. cit.)
But this is precisely what Miller's book did.

Here we have arrived at Orwell's second mistake: his not understanding, or his  not accepting, Miller's sense of accepting. There are, in fact, some 4 1/2 pages given by Orwell to the theme of accepting, that simultaneously compare Tropic of Cancer with Joyce's Ulysses and with CÚline's Voyage au bout de la nuit. I want to leave these comparisons out, but can't do so wholly:
The thing has become so unusual as to seem anomalous, buit it is a book by a man who is happy. (..) Miller finds that he is enjoying himself. Exactly the aspects of life that fill CÚline with horror are the ones that appeal to him. So far from protesting, he is accepting. And the very word 'acceptance calls up his real affinity, another American, Walt Whitman. (p. 546, op. cit.)
I doubt the "Exactly", but that is not very relevant. What is relevant is that this is something that is quite unbearable to Orwell, and he has his reasons for that. To start with, there is this:
When you read about Mark Twain's Mississippi raftsmen and pilots, or Bret Harte's  Western gold miners, they seem more remote than the cannibals from the Stone Age. The reason is that they are free human beings.
(...)

Miller's outlook is deeply akin to that of Whitman, and nearly everyone who has read him has remarked upon this. Tropic of Cancer ends with an especially Whitmanesque passage, in which, (..) he simply sits down and watches the Seine flow past, in a sort of mystical acceptance of the-thing-as-it-is. Only, what is accepting? (p. 547, op. cit.)
Firstly, I do not believe these raftsmen, pilots and gold miners of the 19th century were "free human beings", for they had to work hard and long hours for little pay, and secondly, while I grant Miller has a Whitmanesque quality and counts him among those who inspired him, I find it hard to believe "nearly everyone" (..)" has remarked upon this".

Then again, the true point is about acceptiing things. Here is Orwell's opinion:
To say 'I accept' in an age like our own is to say that you accept concentration camps, rubber truncheons, Hitler, Stalin, bombs, aeroplanes, tinned food, machine-guns, putsches, purges, slogans, Bedaux belts, gas masks, submarines, spies, provocateurs, press censorship, secret prisons, aspirins, Hollywood films and political murders. Not only those things, of course, but those things among others. And on the whole this is Henry Miller's attitude.
Well... no, it is not. But it may be a little hard to explain. In fact, there are at least eight possibilities. Here they are set out in a table:

                  

Accepting
Not Accepting
Acting helps
         a           
       e
Actng does not help
         b 
       f
Not Acting helps          c
       g
Not Acting does not help          d
       h
         
Also, "helps" in the above table means: against any, all or some of the "concentratiom camps .. political murders", which in fact is quite a number of possibilities, while there also could have been plausibly introduced two senses of accepting, for certainly Miller's sense was quite different from Orwell's sense.

But these were mere logical remarks, that convince few. So let me say how I think Miller might have answered Orwell:

Of course I don't like "concentration camps, rubber truncheons" and most of the other things you mention: almost no one does, at least for the majority of the things you list. But that is not the question.  The question is what you or I are going to do to stop these things. Now as it happens, the only way to have the ghost of a chance of success is to organize with others, and put your life on the line. I do not want to organize or be organized. I do not want to put my life on the line. And before you send me another list of things you think that I ought to do: It will not make any difference what I am going to do or not. I am neither a leader nor a follower - I am outside society. I don't believe in it. I don't follow it. In my opinion, most members of society are mad, and there is the real problem. Politics will not change it: we need other men. And until there are other men:

(My) ideal is to be free of ideals, free of principles, free of isms and ideologies.
I think that is a fair reply, and indeed one premiss is that there are very few men like Miller.

Finally, the third mistake Orwell made:
But he himself seems to me essentially the man of one book. Sooner or later I should expect him to descend into unintelligibility, or into charlatanism; there are signs of both in his later work. (..) Like certain other authobiographical novelists, he had it in him to do just one thing pefectly, and he did it. Considering what the fiction of the nineteen thirties has been like, that is somethig,
On the place of the dots, Orwell mentions he hasn't seen Tropic of Capricorn yet, but anyway: I think he is mistaken.

What is true, is that Miller is the man of a single theme, himself, but he renders this theme again and again in Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring, Tropic of Capricorn, Sexus, Plexus and Nexus, The World of Sex, Quiet Days in Clichy, and The Colossus of Maroussi and some - quite a few - other books, such as The air-conditioned nightmare, The Books in my life, The Time of the Assassin, and Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch, and more, though the ones I listed  in the first group are the most famous.

In fact, Miller published seventy-eight books, and not only about himself.

2. More about Henry Miller

I suppose I will write more about Miller, though not tomorrow. In fact, I think I did get one main reason why I did not write about him before: He is his own subject. But to conclude this, three more themes, very briefly.

First, Orwell.

I think I was fair to him, though I have to admit that I am sorry that I only mentioned his mistakes, which are mainly due to the key difference between the two writers: Orwell was very much a political man, while Miller was very much a non-political man.

I believe that, in the end, one gets born that way, and there is, therefore, not much one can do about it - though one should realize that it is probable that Orwell died at 46 because he was political man, after some 15 years of making the hard choices, that few people really dare make. Otherwise, he might have become 66 or more.

Second, my parents (and me).

In fact, my parents were political persons, who did make the hard choices very few people really make. I am not such a person, but neither am I like Miller. (It is very difficult to say what I might have been: I fel ill at 28, and have been ill for 35 years now.)

Third, sex.

The main reason most people who read Miller do read him is sex. Then again,  most people can't read properly, and there is much more in him that is interesting and worthwile. But since Miller is a very personal writer, it is also true that one has to like him, and be interested in reading good prose about whatever subjects Miller writes about.

Finally, perhaps the one main reason he seems to be read less these days: Porn is the main subject on the internet, and there you don't even have to fantasize. Then again, he is dead since almost 33 years, but he is still quite alive, in a sense: Right now there is a week - May 12-19 - of partying going on in Big Sur, all around themes of Miller, organized by Henry Miller Memorial Library.



About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979:
1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

2. Malcolm Hooper THE MENTAL HEALTH MOVEMENT:  
PERSECUTION OF PATIENTS?
3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
9.
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)


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