Sexus by Henry Miller
As far as I’m concerned the only thing a novel needs is substance. Now put that in your hat and smoke it.
The man of the hour is Henry Miller. And with him comes a dare. Ready? Ok. Try doing what I did. Read both Tropic novels back to back and then lay down on (I hope you have one of these too) your sexy psychologist’s couch and spew your new found soul all over her white blouse and black pearls. Life changing indeed. I adore Miller. But. Obviously. I don’t gallivant in the right circles. There’s no one I can have a meaningful discussion with regarding the novels I read. So I guess, in a way, that means there’s more for me to enjoy?
I love to hear those who have only heard of Miller talk about him because they only know one thing about his work. To me, Miller is the 20th century iconic American writer. His work bleeds (literary) substance. But listen to those who think they know him, they think he’s a pornographer. Because of the groundbreaking lawsuit regarding Tropic of Cancer (1964), not only was Miller’s work categorized as ”literature” but there are many who consider him one of the door openers of the sexual revolution. But I digress. It is time to blog about The Rosy Crucifixion, Part 1.
Was recently traveling through the western part of my home country. While reading Sexus in public places some people asked me about it. Immediately I wondered if it was just the title of the book that motivated them. Or could it have been the intense way I read? I read with pencil between fingers, grasping the open book tightly with all other fingers, marking the beautiful words that flow through me in the small margins of the pages, underlining, writing even more notes in a small leather bound Moleskine that accompanies every book I read, breaking the paperback, studying.
I mean, come on. I grew up in a country that, instead of learning, grasping, understanding what the sex revolution was about, all it’s done is to equate the freedom thereafter with the God-Mis-Given right to attend wet T-Shirt contests as the prequel to procreation and lock-down marriage. Hence, IMHO, women today are as far away from sexual freedom as they were pre-revolution. At the least, the sexual revolution wasn’t about ”sex” and I might dare to add, nor do I think it was about women only. How easily Das Volk is gloriously fooled. Thank goodness there is still Miller, mind you, to provide the substance for understanding. Yet, even today, if a man of 60 or so, sitting comfortably next to me (I’m 45) with an overly expensive paper-cup full of coffee, both of us enjoying the sun in Embarcadero, San Francisco, and he mentions that he remembers Miller but never actually read him, well, go figure…
T-bone: The book is great, thanks for asking. It’s almost as good as Tropic of Capricorn.
60: Oh really. I remember the lawsuit that called Miller a pornographer. Boy, those were the days. I met my second wife in the late sixties. Have you read any Dan Brown?
T-bone: As a matter of fact I have.
60: And? Did you like…(insert name of really bad but very popular novel here)?
T-bone: No. Couldn’t get through the first twenty pages. But I did read Umberto Ecco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. It’s a much better tale regarding the antics of pseudo-historians. I prefer substance in the novels I read.
60: Oh, you’re one of them stuck-up-artsy readers, aren’t you. Bet you don’t even have a good job.
T-bone: Dude, how right you are.
Insert small-talk among strangers at each other’s throat.,
Hopefully one of the things I have unlearned since moving abroad is the assumption that a person has the right to share their life story or, even, start a conversation with you just because you have something in your hand (or anywhere else on your person) that may (or may not) interest them. The small talk drives me up the wall and, as an ex-pat, I do not miss it in the least. Of course, I am not addressing the issue of nice-ness here.
Ironically, when I was thinking about the 60 year old that felt it was his right to (just) talk to me and interrupt my reading/learning, I was reading the following passage. It blew me away.
He was so completely carried away by this idea that everybody should participate in their joy that he went on talking for twenty minutes or more, roaming from one thing to another like a man sitting at the piano and improvising. He hadn’t a doubt in the world that we were all his friends, that we would listen to him in peace until he had had his say. Nothing he said sounded ridiculous, however sentimental his words may have been. He was utterly sincere, utterly genuine, the greatest boon on earth. It wasn’t courage which had made him get up and address us, for obviously the thought of getting to his feet and delivering a long extemporaneous speech was as much of a surprise to him as it was to us. He was for the moment, and without knowing it, of course, on the way to becoming an evangelist, that curious phenomenon of American life which has never been adequately explained. The men who have been touched by a vision, by an unknown voice, by an irresistible inner prompting and there have been thousands upon thousands of them in our country what must have been the sense of isolation in which they dwelled, and for how long, to suddenly rise up, as if out of a deep trance, and create for themselves a new identity, a new image of the world, a new God, a new heaven? We are accustomed to think of ourselves as a great democratic body, linked by common ties of blood and language, united indissolubly by all the modes of communication which the ingenuity of man can possibly devise; we wear the same clothes, eat the same diet, read the same newspapers, alike in everything but name, weight and numbers; we are the most collectivized people in the world, barring certain primitive peoples whom we consider backward in their development. And yet yet despite all the outward evidences of being close-knit, interrelated, neighborly, good-humored, helpful, sympathetic, almost brotherly, we are a lonely people, a morbid, crazed herd thrashing about in zealous frenzy, trying to forget that we are not what we think we are, not really united, not really devoted to one another, not really listening, not really anything, just digits shuffled about by some unseen hand in a calculation which doesn’t concern us. Suddenly now and then someone comes awake, comes undone, as it were, from the meaningless glue in which we are stuck the rigmarole which we call the everyday life and which is not life but a trancelike suspension above the great stream of life and this person who, because he no longer subscribes to the general patterns, seems to us quite mad finds himself invested with strange and almost terrifying powers, finds that he can wean countless thousands from the fold, cut them loose from their moorings, stand them on their heads, fill them with joy, or madness, make them forsake their own kith and kin, renounce their calling, change their character, their physiognomy, their very soul. And what is the nature of this overpowering seduction, this madness, this temporary derangement, as we love to call it? What else if not the hope of finding joy and peace? Every evangelist uses a different language but they are all talking about the same thing. (To stop seeking, to stop struggling, to stop climbing on top of one another, to stop thrashing about in the pursuit of vain and vacillating goals.) In a twinkle of an eye it comes, the great spirit, which equilibrates, which brings serenity and poise, and illumines the visage with a steady, quiet flame that never dies. In their efforts to communicate the secret they become a nuisance to us, true. We shun them because we feel that they look upon us condescendingly; we can’t bear to think that we are not the equal of anyone, however superior he may seem to be. But we are not equals; we are mostly inferior, vastly inferior, inferior particularly to those who are quiet and contained, who are simple in their ways, and unshakable in their beliefs. We resent what is steady and anchored, what is impervious to our blandishments, our logic, our collectivized cud of principles, our antiquated forms of allegiance.
-The above text is from Henry Miller, Sexus, The Rosy Crucifixion, 1, about half-way through chapter 6.
- Henry Miller – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Embarcadero (San Francisco) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia