Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Reading. Miller.

(A continuation of yesterday's topic).

It is just about a year now, since I returned to Henry Miller and discovered a different writer than the one I remember from the one of Tropic of Cancer. I had returned to him because I had been reading the poetry of Lawrence Ferlinghetti (I've said this before) and had felt my heart constrict as I read his note on the inside cover of A Coney Island of the Mind, the title of which he tells us comes from Miller's Into the Night Life, which he chose because he thought of his poems, taken together, as being a kind of Coney Island of the mind, a kind of circus of the soul. Because I could not find Into the Night Life at the bookstore and had to order it, I instead read Stand Still Like the Hummingbird while waiting for it to arrive. I read it curled into the warmth of a lavender-scented bath and thought of the chain of events that had brought me back to him.

The essays collected together in Stand Still Like the Hummingbird span some twenty-five years, although not in chronological order. Still, Miller realizes that it is apparent, nevertheless, that though one may shed his skin again and again one never loses his identity. (Something that came to me with absolute clarity when I found a letter R. wrote to me some ten years ago and realized that any person might say the same things about me now, I hope). I had not realized until I began reading that Miller is one of the most American of American writers, that even while living abroad he saw himself completely as an American writer. Of these essays here he writes that the tenor...though strongly critical of our way of life, is nevertheless strictly kosher. America is seen through the eyes of an American, not a Hottentot. And Europe, which is often favorably contrasted with America, is a Europe which only an American might have eyes for...Un-American? It won't fit, I'm afraid. I'm even more American than you, only against the grain.

(The hummingbird, of course, beats its wings furiously in order to suspend itself in space, even though it appears to be standing still).

I write now because I enjoy it; it gives me pleasure. I'm an addict, a happy addict. I no longer have any illusions about the importance of words...Words, like waste matter, eventually drift down the drain. Acts live on...You fling your body around - here, there, everywhere - but you remain the same. You might as well have stood still. (Like the hummingbird). Miller continues on - If what must happen, what must be learned, doesn't occur in this life, it will the next time around, or the third or the fourth time. We have all time on our hands. What we need to discover is eternity. The only life is the eternal life.

Sometimes you find something that so clearly echoes what you are thinking somewhere in the back of your mind that it sends a shiver up your spine.

Miller, Henry. Stand Still Like the Hummingbird. New Directions, 1962. pp vii, viii, 82.

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