Having read his Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, and not really enjoying either, I had previously decided that I would not be reading Henry Miller again, that there really wasn't anything of value there, and not only was his writing not very good, I found the man himself to be an extremely sleazy, sexually depraved, small minded person, with not a whole lot going on upstairs, in either his heart or his mind. Yeah, that's harsh, I know, but just calling it like I see it, at least based on the above two books, being semi-autobiographical in nature.
Well of course being the closeted perv and freak that I am (no just kidding, seriously, but I do tend to keep gravitating toward that which I claim to hate) though not at all small minded, I still don't feel any differently about those books, but I've decided to give him another chance, mostly after seeing some favorable reviews of his less raunchier material. This time reading a couple of his non-fiction travel narratives, both written many years after the Tropics. They are Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus, about his life in Big Sur, California, which I haven't started reading yet, and The Air Conditioned Nightmare, about his travels across America in the early 1940s, which I'm halfway through. After having lived as an expatriate in France for ten years, this book chronicles Henry Miller's return to the USA and his largely negative thoughts and impressions along the way.
Overall I'm not sure whether I'll give The Air Conditioned Nightmare two stars or three stars. Some of it is very boring, most of it is extremely negative, but some of it also quite good, negative but interesting. In other words, much of it is not worth reading again, but there are a few golden lines that I feel should be saved, and this is one of them.
From The Air Conditioned Nightmare:
"In America the old men are as a rule a sorry sight, particularly the successful ones who have prolonged their existence beyond the natural term by means of artificial respiration, so to speak. They are horrible living examples of the embalmer's art, walking cadavers manipulated by a retinue of handsomely paid hireling who are a disgrace to their profession.
The exceptions to the rule -- and the contrast is abysmal -- are the artists, and by artists I mean the creators, regardless of their field of operation. Most of them began to develop, to reveal individuality, after passing the age of forty-five, the age which most industrial corporations in this country have fixed as the dead line. It must be admitted in passing, of course, that the average worker who has functioned from adolescence as a robot is about ready for the scrap-heap at this age. And what is true of the ordinary robot is largely true of the master robot, the so-called captain of industry. Only his wealth permits him to nourish and sustain the feeble, flickering flame. So far as true vitality goes, beyond forty-five we are a nation of derelicts.
But there is a class of hardy men, old-fashioned enough to have remained rugged individuals, openly contemptuous of the trend, passionately devoted to their work, impossible to bribe or seduce, working long hours, often without reward or fame, who are motivated by a common impulse -- the joy of doing as they please. At some point along the way they separated from others. The men I speak of can be detected from a glance: their countenance registers something far more vital, far more effective, than the lust for power. They do not seek to dominate, but to realize themselves. They operate from a center which is at rest. They evolve, they grow, they give nourishment just by being what they are.
To live beyond the pale, to work for the pleasure of working, to grow old gracefully while retaining one's faculties, one's enthusiasms, one's self-respect, one has to establish other values than those endorsed by the mob. It takes an artist to make this breach in the wall. An artist is primarily one who has faith in himself. He does not respond to the normal stimuli: he is neither a drudge nor a parasite. He lives to express himself and in so doing enriches the world."
I thought this was great, especially the last two paragraphs. I feel the exact same way. Henry Miller you may have been a Dirty Old Bastard, but for this you have earned my respect.
Note: In my post about Creativity, I mentioned that one of the aspects of being creative, is feeling confident. Which is pretty much another way of saying that you have faith in yourself. To have faith in yourself means that you are willing to do what you think is right, even if it seems like everyone is against you and you have no respect or support. You do it anyway, because you love what you do, and fully believe in what you are doing.