Henry Miller

By Kuba Kaliński (transl. Nena Argent, Kuba Kalinski)
Henry Miller Tropic of Cancer
Henry Miller
Biographical note
Henry Miller was born in 1891 in Manhattan and died in 1980 in California. In his youth he belonged, briefly, to the Socialist Party. He began university studies only to give them up after the first semester. He had five wives. In the late ‘20’s, Miller moved to Paris to live the life of a starving writer. In Paris, he met Anaïs Nin and Lawrence Durrell. He returned to the United States in 1940. Due to moral censorship, his books were banned from publication in the United States right up until 1961. After “The Tropic of Cancer” was released, he was placed on trial several times for obscenity. The trials were finally won in 1964; the book was considered a literary work thirty years after having been written. Near the end of his life, Miller dedicated most of his time to organizing dinners for his writer and painter friends, and (at eighty years of age) corresponding with a twenty year old girl, Brenda Venus, from a Playboy spread – sending her over 4000 letters.

Subjective Viewpoint: Between Two Tropics of Desire

  1. I’m not a friend of the people who don’t like Henry Miller.
  2. There are authors who pose questions and authors who provide solutions. Miller belongs to the second species. The solution: love and fuck. Maybe in the opposite order.
  3. Writing about Henry Miller is a real challenge – how does one write about someone perceived only in a positive light? We don’t describe our beloved, we love them. But then a wiseass comes up with the question. “Why do you love Clara, Joey? For her smile, for her silken skin or for her soul?” The only reasonable way of responding is by following the way of Zen masters: spontaneously kicking the inquisitive wiseasses butt and returning to love Clara as before – for everything; for herself.
  4. In the future, people may have difficulty understanding why it was that until Henry Miller and Freud erotic themes in literature where marginalized or hidden. A double moral standard persists. A 17 year old has to click a button that says “I’m 18” to see what his parents did to give him life. We call it care and security.
  5. Sexuality and eroticism gained an economic importance in the twentieth century due to the development of photography. Since a woman’s body can be photographed, and thereby compared with bodies of other women, it becomes “a comparative object of desire”. The body itself, as with beauty and pleasure, is thus converted into a kind of material possession, a form of currency to be spent and earned in the social game.
  6. When asked about meaning of the title Miller answered: “It was because to me cancer symbolizes the disease of civilization, the endpoint of the wrong path, the necessity to change course radically, to start completely over from scratch.”
  7. I tend not to utilize expressions like “literary value”. I use them only when I don’t know exactly what I mean, but want to denote its loftiness. Meanwhile, I came across a quote from another great writer who wrote that “The Tropic of Cancer” was deficient in a “greater literary value”. Miller’s work ridicules not only this type of statements but the expression itself. Assigning a “high literary value” is just a more verbose form of the feminine exclamation, “Ahh!” Women are so practical.
  8. Confrontational feminists have branded Miller’s work as the epitome of sexual neurosis, fear and contempt for women. Using the same weapon, one could ask these woman’s libbers about their neurosis and fears provoked by the uncertainty of their own sexual attractiveness. Beautiful women tend to be feminists only when it’s fashionable.
  9. I was thinking about Henry Miller’s “shadow”. Does he have one? What’s his intellectual weakness? It’s naive to think that after rejecting an implicitly hypocritical, conservative culture – one that restrains human freedoms – we would suddenly become better and happier people. It’s a common naivety shared by romantic anarchists, partisans of unlimited sexual freedom and unrestricted access to drugs. Can you imagine a world motivated primarily by sexual pleasure? After phrasing it this way, I realized there’s already an answer. Within the hominidae genera, there’s a species still in existence that accomplishes exactly this postulation. Individuals primarily spend their time engaging in acts of sexual intimacy and reciprocally teasing their genitalia – which can grew to the immense proportions; of which the female genitals are particularly impressive since an engorged clitoris and vulva can equal the dimensions of the hand. This species is the bonobo.
  10. If Miller’s novels correspond to sexual arousal, Houellebecq’s novels correspond to male post-ejaculatory depression.
Henry Miller - Memories from Paris
Memories from Paris
Henry Miller - Nexus
Henry Miller - Sexus
Henry Miller - Tropic of Cancer
Tropic of Cancer
Henry Miller - Tropic of Capricorn
Tropic of Capricorn

Henry Miller - quotes & fragments


In the subway I test my eyesight reading the ads at the farther end of the car. I cross-examine my body to ascertain if I am exempt from any of the ailments which civilized man is her to. Is my breath foul? Does my heart knock? Have I a fallen instep? Are my joints swollen with rheumatism? No sinus trouble? No pyorrhea? How about constipation? Or that tired feeling after lunch? No migraine, no acidosis, no intestinal catarrh, no lumbago, no floating bladder, no corns or bunions, no varicose veins? As far as I know I’m sound as a button, and yet … Well, the truth is I lack something, something vital … I’m lovesick. Sick to death. A touch of dandruff and I’d succumb like a poisoned rat.

We got into a cab and, as it wheeled around, Mara impulsively climbed over me and straddled me. We went into a blind fuck, with the cab lurching and careening, out teeth knocking, tongue bitten, and the juice pouring from her like hot soup. As we passed an open plaza on the other side or the river, just at daybreak, I caught the astonished glance of a cop as we sped by. “It’s dawn, Mara,” I said, trying gently to disengage myself. “Wait, wait”, she begged, panting and clutching at me furiously, and with that she went into a prolonged orgasm in which I thought she would rub my cock off. Finally she slid off and slumped back into her corner, her dress still up over her knees. I leaned over to embrace her again and as I did so I ran my hand up her wet cunt. She clung to me like a leech, wiggling her slippery ass through my fingers. I had all four fingers up her crotch, stirring up the liquid moss which was tingling with electrical spasms. She had two or three orgasms and then sank exhausted, smiling up at me weakly like a trapped doe. After a time she got out her mirror and began powdering her face.

Tropic of Cancer

It is now the fall of my second year in Paris. I was sent here for a reason I have not yet been able to fathom. I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I am. Everything that was literature has fallen from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God. This then? This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty … what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing. I will sing while you croak, I will dance over your dirty corpse … To sing you must first open your mouth. You must have a pair of lungs, and a little knowledge of music. It is not necessary to have an accordion, or a guitar. The essential thing is to want to sing. This then is a song. I am singing.