Monday, June 15, 2009

Of Capricorns

I had the misfortune to be nourished by the dreams and visions of great Americans – the poets and seers. Some other breed of man has won out. This world which is in the making fills me with dread. I have seen it germinate; I can read it like a blue-print. It is not a world I want to live in. It is a world suited for monomaniacs obsessed with the idea of progress – but a false progress, a progress which stinks. It is a world cluttered with useless objects which men and women, in order to be exploited and degraded, are taught to regard as useful. The dreamer whose dreams are non-utilitarian has no place in this world. Whatever does not lend itself to being bought and sold, whether in the realm of things, ideas, principles, dreams or hopes, is debarred. In this world the poet is anathema, the thinker a fool, the artist an escapist, the man of vision a criminal.
(Henry Miller - The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, page 24)

I discovered Henry Miller in a used book store in Brussels. Several of his books were on the promotional rack with other books that are slow to sell, where in America you would see the tag “Closeout.” Dog-eared Sandra Browns, Danielle Steeles and other pieces of would-be literature kept them company. It is interesting to see the value that Belgians attribute to Henry Miller. I found three of his novels: Quiet Days in Clichy, A Devil in Paradise and Plexus of The Rosy Crucifixion. Not what I would call, now that I am a connoisseur, his best samples, but arresting works nevertheless. I bought them all for 4 euros. The Belgian friend who was my cicerone for the day asked with bewilderment if I liked Henry Miller. It puzzled me that his question, not in the words but in the tone, seemed to accuse “Do you read porn?” I don’t know yet, I replied. Tell you what, he said, if he ends up on your favorites’ list I want credit for it. He paid for my books at the counter, despite all my punctilious objections. He also bought me a book of poetry by an unconventional Flemish author, Paul van Ostaijen, a sort of mountebank of words averse to punctuation. But this last gift was only because he liked me and thought that he could win me with a desultory, avant-garde breed of lyric. The book did not impress me and, to his disappointment, I had no comments to offer.

With Henry Miller, on the other hand, it was a different story. After years of intellectual solitude and cynical shame I felt that I finally had someone to talk to. A bridge to another soul’s dry agony and its convalescence. Panacea for my days of desolation. Henry Miller is still there when no one else is.

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