henry miller, untitled
Have just now seen a half hour video of Henry Miller talking at dinner in his last year. It took me way back to the time of my life I was reading Henry Miller in awe, the way I later read Tolstoy and Patrick White. Henry Miller wrote a long list of books besides the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn that just about anyone who has heard of him knows him by, in other words, misinterpretation. In his book Big Sur he tells about living remotely at the time at Big Sur in California, people looking him up because they took him for an important figure in the sexual revolution because he wrote the Tropics and they had the word fuck in them, censored in America until a supreme court decision in the time of the Warren Court. Miller was a writer, not a sexologist, and for the rest of his life was taken for a sexologist because he was the first American writer to use the word fuck. Big deal. It was as stupid then as it is now to be freaked over one of the oldest words in the language. Everybody who has ever spoken the English language knows the word. It's just that the working class uses it freely, thus making it unacceptable to the middle and ruling classes as they don't want to do anything that gives appearance of working class.
This film of Henry Miller talking over dinner I found at UBUWEB, it's ubu.com. They have a long list of hundreds of video interviews or talks by so many people I recognize the names of only a few. I'm going back there to see what I can find. If the others are half as good as this one, I'll be having a good time and spending a lot of time. They have Viking Eggeling, a Zurich Dadaist from Norway, French poets Rene Char and Henri Michaux. This could turn out to be a terrifically interesting site. It looks mostly French. French writing in the 20th Century is some of the best. For the modern French poets, Arthur Rimbaud was the great French poet as Walt Whitman was the great American poet. Rimbaud wrote his entire works in two years, two books of poetry that were not received at all in the world of poetry at the time. He quit writing when he was 19. Died not many years later of a disease caught in Africa. Later became the greatest French poet that ever was and ever will be. Like vanGogh, who never sold anything while he was living, died not even heard of. Now his paintings have values in excess of a million dollars. The Miller conversation reminded me somewhat of MY DINNER WITH ANDRE, sitting at the table eating, commenting on the food, talking about artists and writers.
One of the many places I connect with Miller was when he was talking about how he is a composite of the influences of people he has known, writings he's read, as much as by experiences. I flashed on people I've known over the years I've learned from and held high with respect. I think part of what I learned from Henry Miller was to value friends. Miller valued people he knew along the way, neighbors, more than he valued famous people he knew. Writers' biographies tend to be lists of famous people they knew and consorted with. Miller had friends nobody ever heard of. He taught me to value character in people I know. He taught me that going your own way in Amerika is possible. He was one of the writers in my first years of reading who taught me how to read. Today in the coffee shop, a teenage boy to my left had a paperback copy of Jack Kerouac's On The Road, and a teenage girl to my right had a copy of Animal Farm. It seemed odd in a county where I've only known people to watch tv, at one time, on either side of me was a teenager reading a book I'd read. I spoke to the girl briefly, asked how she's liking it. She'd read it in Jr hi and decided to read it again. "It's about dictatorships." I decided not to go there. I felt compelled to say if you'll pay attention to the news you'll see it happening here, but I couldn't do it. I was curious about the boy reading Kerouac half a century later when it's history he's reading. But I wasn't sure he'd know what I meant.
It's not a kids-these-days thing, but I look at myself at that age and remember how totally inarticulate I was and how terrifically uninformed I was, thinking I knew it all and everybody else was dumb. The arrogance of youth. I chose not to enter that zone. Just looking at myself inhibited entering their beginning minds. They are at the beginnings of their perhaps intellectual development, and I am near the end of my path, which started out where they are reading now. I thought about mentioning to the girl about police state, but I didn't know that stuff then, and don't know that I'd have welcomed an old white-haired turd telling me about police state, and beatnik times with the boy. They don't care any more than I would have then. Though, then I would not have been in a coffee shop even if we'd had them. It did grab my attention that in the last years of my trail through life somebody was on either side of me reading a book I had read in the early years of my own inner development. It did catch my attention, especially because you don't see people with books here. Even among the new people from Away. To see two people of the post-literate generation reading books I read at their age just twisted my mind until it couldn't twist any more. It wasn't a times are changing vision. It was more like, What are the chances of that? Like taking dice and rolling a 5 three times in a row. It's an I-don't-get-it response that doesn't even question. There's no legitimate question that can be asked. How did it happen? Who the hell knows?
I came home and found this video of Henry Miller, a writer from the next step in my reading development. It was in that time I read the Tropics. A friend had given me a paperback copy of the Tropic of Capricorn, which I read like I'd read any other book. Parents had no interested in books or anything I was reading. I was told, "If you have time to read a book, you have time to wash the car," mow the grass, whatever came up to fill in the blank to complete a wise crack. So I had to read in private when they couldn't see me, like after they'd gone to bed. Otherwise I'd be assigned a chore. It was not permitted in the house to threaten to be smarter than daddy. Daddy didn't read, so the young rooster reading was a threat. I might learn something he didn't know. I wanted to read because up until age 4 when daddy came home from the war I'd been read to every night before sleep. I loved mommy reading to me. Daddy came home and mommy couldn't read to me any more. I had to wait til I was in the last year of high school before I could start reading on my own, when I took the garage for my quarters. Television went on all the time. We watched all the westerns, because that's what daddy liked. By the time I got away from them, I hated westerns and still do. John Wayne makes me puke. Had to watch tv with daddy; that's the family thing to do. This is the origin of why I have never had a tv since leaving them. Today's experience took me all the way back to 12th grade reading On The Road, the new paperback, 1960, cool new beatnik drug behavior, by the cool new Jack Kerouac. I didn't understand a word I read, but felt like I was being cool reading something cool. When you're totally not cool, any kind of disguise will do.