Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Reading. Miller.

(Somehow I managed to amass a large collection of Henry Miller's lesser-known works. It is time to make my way through them all).

What I remember most about Greece is the light. The pure blinding brightness of it, the intensity of white-washed buildings against rough cliffs, suspended high over the ever-changing blue-green of the ocean. That blue-green color which Joanne Harris referred to as the color of the earth as seen from a great height. White buildings, terra-cotta roofs, brilliant fuschia bougainvilla sprouting like fountains of blossoms. It was August, I remember. In those days I never wore sunscreen, didn't own a pair of sunglasses or a hat. In photographs my eyes are narrowed against the glare, my skin and hair burnished by the sun. There is a photograph of me, from our last night, on a hilltop with the Acropolis in the distance. I look very serious, which I always do when not smiling, and I am fifteen years old.

In The Colossus of Maroussi Henry Miller begins with the words I would never have gone to Greece had it not been for a girl named Betty Ryan who...began to talk of her experiences in roaming about the world. I always listened to her with great attention, not only because her experiences were strange but because when she talked about her wanderings she seemed to paint them: everything she described remained in my head like finished canvases by a master...And then suddenly she was all alone, walking beside a river, and the light was intense and I was following her as best I could in the blinding sun but she got lost and I found myself wandering about in a strange land listening to a language I had never heard before...nobody had ever given me the ambiance of a place so thoroughly as she did Greece. Between the stories of this girl and the letters of Lawrence Durrell (whose mother had moved their family to Corfu in the years before the second World War) Miller finds himself drawn to this world of light such as I had never dreamed of and never hoped to see.

The writing of The Colossus of Maroussi is everything I love most about Henry Miller, the wanderer, the American abroad, the man who talks to everyone he meets in order to learn something new about himself by understanding someone else, an understanding that crosses all language barriers, all cultures and beliefs. He writes about the experience of meeting the friend of a friend, Katsimbalis, how this new acquaintance was made for the monologue...I like the monologue even more than the duet, says Miller, It's like watching a man write a book expressly for you: he writes it, reads it aloud, acts it, revises it, savours it, enjoys it, enjoys your enjoyment of it, and then tears it up and throws it to the winds. And I feel more and more that Miller himself is the master of the monologue, that his writing is written expressly for me, each word savoured and enjoyed by the writer. After many years in France he finds, in Greece, a different kind of people, a new language, and most of all, the unwavering light that I see so clearly, dazzlingly, when I read his words and then close my eyes.

Miller, Henry. The Colossus of Maroussi. New Directions, 1941. pp 3, 4, 28.

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