"Choking on My Own Saliva": Henry Miller's Bourgeois Family Christmas in 'Nexus.'(Family Systems Psychotherapy and Literature/Literary Criticism)

By Decker, James M. | Style, Summer 1997 | Go to article overview

"Choking on My Own Saliva": Henry Miller's Bourgeois Family Christmas in 'Nexus.'(Family Systems Psychotherapy and Literature/Literary Criticism)


Decker, James M., Style


Due to his hyperfragmented narrative style and abiding interest in sexual candor, Henry Miller remains one of American literature's most enduring literary gangsters, a figure chided both for supposedly propounding a "theology of the cunt" (Gilbert and Gubar 116) and for "bad writing and silly thinking" (Widmer viii). Ever the "bad boy," Miller, who once declared that "the most boring group in all communities were the university professors," would probably relish such critical lashings ("Preface," The Air-Conditioned Nightmare 19). Indeed, he generally maintained that he desired to show the scoundrel in himself and that conventional literary form meant nothing to him. Sexuality, as he often stressed, never served as his literary goal, and one may trace much of what commentators attribute to bad writing to Miller's experiments with narrative form. Nevertheless, such acerbic statements reflect a larger critical tendency to ignore the cathartic nature of Miller's literary project. Miller frequently asserts that he writes only to free himself from the bonds of the past and that the process of writing helps him attain a more complete level of self-awareness. From what, however, did Miller need to escape?

The more obvious answer to this question would no doubt center on some notion of capitalist society. In books such as Sexus (1949), Miller represents his persona "Henry Miller"(1) deriding the American business ethos and "Mr. and Mrs. Megalopolitan," who, "hobbled and lettered," experience their "realest moments" while defecating, an act symbolic of the "big shit-house" where everything they "touch is shitty. Even when it's wrapped in cellophane the smell is there. Caca! The philosopher's stone of the industrial age" (374-75). A more sensitive reading of Miller's oeuvre, however, suggests that his quarrel with capitalism reveals a deeper conflict within his own family. Although Miller readily launches into jeremiads concerning the public sphere, he reserves some of his more vitriolic attacks for his own family, such as in this passage from Tropic of Capricorn (1939):

My people were entirely Nordic, which is to say idiots. Every wrong idea which has ever been expounded was theirs. Among them was the doctrine of cleanliness, to say nothing of righteousness. They were painfully clean. But inwardly they stank. Never once had they opened the door which leads to the soul. (3)

While he occasionally tendered some kind words for his father, his Uncle Dave, or his Aunt Caroline, Miller's recollections of his family - especially of his mother - lean toward the vicious sentiments of the above citation. In his condemnation of his family's values, Miller positions(2) himself as an independent artist searching for Truth and Beauty quite apart from the insipid platitudes and unexamined mores of his family of idiots, and, indeed, most readers would agree with J. D. Brown that Miller's autobiographical quest "powerfully expressed the rebellious nature of an individual narrator in a collapsing culture" (108). Through his writing, Miller desperately seeks to abandon the sterility of the American life typified by the family alcove where he "heard nothing but inanities" (Black Spring 22).

Nevertheless, many adherents of contemporary family systems therapy recognize that even the most ostensibly autonomous individuals owe much of their behavior to their reactions to others. Michael E. Kerr and Murray Bowen elaborate:

Both "rugged individualism" and obligatory conformity are strongly influenced by the togetherness force. The "rugged individual" operates as much in reaction to others as the compliant person. His determination to be independent stems more from his reaction to other people than from a thoughtfully determined direction for the self. He has trouble being an "individual" without permanently disrupting his relationships with others. (64)(3)

Such a perspective suggests that Miller's fierce individualism may well find its roots not in high intellectual sources, but in the family. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"Choking on My Own Saliva": Henry Miller's Bourgeois Family Christmas in 'Nexus.'(Family Systems Psychotherapy and Literature/Literary Criticism)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.