Academic journal article Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal

Open Letters from the Hotel Central: My Reply to Emil Schnellock and Henry Miller

Academic journal article Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal

Open Letters from the Hotel Central: My Reply to Emil Schnellock and Henry Miller

Article excerpt

When visitors come to my art studio, they gravitate to the back wall where a pair of wool trousers are suspended from a steel belt. Who is this man, cut in half, with Feragamo shoes?

They peer into the pants, which are lined with Henry Miller's biography (digital copies - no originals were harmed in art making), edited in black ink and red pencil, with margin notes indicating the text was intended to accompany Wisdom of the Heart. (1)

"I love Henry Miller." Male or female, the response is the same. It's the love that keeps Miller alive. Despite the fate of the women in Tropic of Cancer, I hear myself in the flow of his words, religious in the way they throw me into a river and carry me to a greater source, soul-travel writer that he was. My grievance toward the swashbuckling He-ness in Tropic of Cancer rotates, and inverts. I suspend judgment. My anger is part of the story, along with the love. It's a human story.

"I'm writing for posterity, which is with us always in the shape of those who love us," Henry wrote in a letter to his friend, Emil Schnellock, on Oct 14, 1934. (2) Open Letters from the Hotel Central, an art installation project I started in 2011, is my 21st century reply to Emil's personal archive, which I inherited in 1995, following the death of his sister, my great Aunt Dorothy (Schnellock) Greene. The inheritance included 3 decades of Millerana--the remains of the now famous correspondence between Miller and Schnellock that didn't make it into the Henry Miller Collection at UCLA Special Collections Library or the Emil Schnellock Collection at the Henry Miller Memorial Library. (3) It draws on the "human document(s)" (4) that Henry and Emil were committed to preserving for posterity--the graphic tracks of the pre-digital world and the back-story of creation.

I am curator and artist, installing the documents (digital copies) into a new context, the recreated Hotel Central where Henry (often with writer Alfred Perles), lived during the impoverished Tropic years. The historic documents mix with contemporary objects, prints, letters, and a sound installation to create installation "vignettes" around the room.

Above the trousers is the first page of Emil's copy of Open Letter to Surrealists Everywhere, written in 1938: "Below the belt all men are brothers. Man has only known solitude in the upper regions where he is either a madman, or a poet--or a criminal." (5) After once again transcending brother, man, and he (as a woman I am well acquainted with the margins, the outsider looking in and seeing more because of the distance. Miller is a feminine writer--another reason that, despite his transgressions, women like him), I hear Miller talking to the now present future. I'm restoring my connection between body and mind, heaven, and earth. I want to believe that "One fine day we shall burst the belt and be out in the wide world of space in a bright new realm in which art will have disappeared completely--because life itself will have become an art." (6) As I write this, a drone flies overhead somewhere for a kill list in the name of peace. Where is my prehensile tail? In this letter, Miller's voice is a chorus--he's under the ecstasy of influence as Jonathan Lethem might say. I want everyone to read it so I'm hanging it on the wall, near the trousers. Nearby is a bed with a plexiglas mattress and the Tropic of Cancer preface--it's all about transparency and monsters under the bed that leak out with increasing frequency with social media. Next to the bed, on the nightstand, is Miller's bible, signed over to Emil in 1925: "I have no need of bibles ... I make my own bibles." (7)

My studio has transformed into a surreal hotel room--a fecund-test before I donate the collection to the Eros-less life of institutional archives. "Ideas have to be wedded like human beings ... Ideas are related to the living." (8) This is the progeny of my marriage to the collection. I would like Open Letters from the Hotel Central (either as a room or as individual vignettes) to be exhibited in public/academic venues where the conversation may continue--inquiries about the project are welcome. …

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