a few weeks ago i made a list of all the books i own which i’ve started and never finished. among them was henry miller’s tropic of cancer, and i caught a lot of flak for not having finished it and for calling miller a misogynist. i caught most of this flak online, but offline my writing professor told our class that he thought it a wonderful book, and said that if i tried it again, he’d try to get through a faulkner.
and lord knows i love that faulkner guy enough to want other people to read him, so i’ve been thinking about henry miller a bit more lately. i think about him mostly in the context of my past: about the scottish bartender who loaned me the copy of tropic of cancer that sits on my shelf, about how i stopped reading it due in part to my growing dislike for said scottish bartender
about someone i used to call henry milleresque, and i wasn’t sure if it was true, but maybe it is
about how the page where i stopped reading is still marked with the travel itinerary of a valentine’s weekend trip to paris with jeff in 1999
about how two pages of my copy of tropic of cancer are marked with paperclips: one really nice description of paris, and one part where miller’s in a paris hotel room and the walls are dark red, which reminded me of when jeff and i were in paris.
it was snowing and we were drunk, walking back to our hotel arm in arm through empty 4 a.m. streets. a man on the other side of the street said something to us in french. “no français,” i said to him apologetically, and smiled.
“you fucking cunt,” he yelled at me in english. “english, you fucking whore!” i could see his breath.
jeff got angry. “hey!” he yelled, turning around to face the guy. i tightened my grip on jeff’s arm and pulled him faster down the street. the guy behind us picked up his pace, too, crossing the street to follow us. “you bitch!” he cried.
jeff’s face began to redden. i could feel his arm tense. when a cab pulled up to the curb near us, i had to forcibly drag him over. “come on,” i said, “let’s just take a cab.”
“we don’t need a cab,” jeff muttered. “let’s keep walking.”
“no!” i said. “we are getting in this taxi! we don’t know what that guy’s going to do! we are not ending up in a French hospital!”
i was opening the car door when the guy caught up to us. as he passed, jeff gave him a hard shove. the guy shoved back, stabbing jeff in the ribs with the knife he kept in his sleeve. dark red blood ran down the walls of our hotel room.
i was opening the car door when the guy caught up to us. as he passed, jeff gave him a hard shove. the guy shoved back and continued on down the street. “cunt!” he yelled. i grabbed jeff’s arm and yanked him inside the cab.
so the other day i was studying for my third and final abstract expressionism test, and i was reading over the willem dekooning section in the triumph of american painting. here is a picture of woman 1 (1950), one of the only dekoonings i really like:
imagine my surprise when there was a henry miller quote from tropic of capricorn right next to the picture of woman 1.
Yes, there she is coming full on, the sails spread, the eyes glowing … This is Broadway, this is New York, this is America … Whatever made America made her, bone, blood, muscle, eyeball, gait, rhythm, poise, confidence, brass and hollow gut … We are seated in a little booth in the Chinese restaurant … Every few minutes she lights a fresh cigarette which burns away as she talks. There is no beginning nor end … No knowing how or where she began. Suddenly she is in the midst of a long narrative, a fresh one, but it is always the same. Her talk is as formless as dream: there are no grooves, no walls, no exits, no stops.
like a train approaching head-on with frightening speed. on the front of the train there’s a toothy skull, its eyes bare, its jaws clicking at the hinge with the clack of machinery.
what was i talking about?