Academic journal article Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal

Henry Miller: Creating the 'New Man' out of 'Chaos' Getting a Handle on Henry Miller

Academic journal article Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal

Henry Miller: Creating the 'New Man' out of 'Chaos' Getting a Handle on Henry Miller

Article excerpt

The narrator is finally over the misunderstanding that there's a savior who's going to miraculously change things to suit his needs. It's up to himself to adjust to the reality that life is not planned by God. He concludes one must do whatever they have to do to survive even if it means becoming a predator.

Even though he believes he's thought himself through his last illusion, the transformative process, starting when he came to Paris until the present, will continue throughout the rest of Tropic of Cancer in a variety of adventures as he drifts from one crazy situation to another.

I've now read past the middle of Tropic of Cancer and I've hardly said anything about the motif of sexual candor that made this book so infamous when it was first published. Even today I'm sure there are many readers who would be shocked by the kind of sexually graphic scenes Miller is so good at writing. He goes beyond naughty. He goes beyond average sex. He examines sex in detail observing the female anatomical parts while describing what he sees in realistic detail. He uses the male penis as a symbol of the horrors of society's dis-functionalism. He goes to the deeper problems of sexual relationships. He sees himself in the crosshairs of domineering women and squirms away. Henry is running from American Puritanism. Parisian women take him far away from his neurotic past. I've skipped over these parts because it would take a thick book to describe the imagery Miller employs on the subject, how he breaks all the taboos associated with the act, how he describes the tangled jungle of sexual repression and release between the sexes. His realism is shocking but it's his use of surrealistic fantasy that gets us much closer to the imaginative life of his creative genius. It also saved him from the obscenity charges that now seem so silly and narrow-minded. Those were the times.

In one chapter he presents several aspects of the sex motif projected by Van Norden's thoughts on women who he believes are all whores, then Carl's finicky insecurities, as well as the narrator's own remarks about the reality of prostitution. He finishes the chapter with a passage that describes how a great artist like Matisse, another aspect of his many faceted personality, idealizes women who infuse his genius with paradisaical images even as European society is about to explode into war and chaos.

The most important thing here is that all these thoughts and ideas on sex are connected to Mona, whom Henry really can't stop thinking about. She's always with him, an aspect of his every thought and action: behind, in front of, to his left and right, in his dreams; she's his ultimate desire and his greatest failure, alluring and destructive like the Indian goddess Kali, smiling one minute and then tearing her victim to pieces the next.

Mona, the femme fatale, mixes herself into his very fabric of reality so effectively he's become trapped like a rat in the corner whose only way out is through violence. His survival depends on freeing himself from Mona even though he doesn't want to. His struggle in Paris is really about her. She's the whore and the saint simultaneously taking him to heaven then back to earth in the same breath. She's also his birth mother. Although he calls her Tania he means Mona. At the beginning of the book he says: "You Tania are my chaos. It is why I sing. It is not even I, it is the world dying, shedding the skin of time. I am still alive, kicking in your womb, a reality to write upon."

Another motif that's playing in the background along with Mona and sex is emotional and intellectual violence that he uses to change himself into a new kind of man. From the beginning of Tropic of Cancer, Henry announces he's going to change the world by destroying the sacred pillars of civilization he believes are all wrong. Do you remember them? " ... This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. …

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