The Male Mystique of Henry Miller


Credit Illustration by Joe Ciardiello


NYT Book Review

When Miller sailed for Paris, he had a copy of “Leaves of Grass” in his luggage.

He left behind him an ex-wife and small daughter for whom he had made no provision, and a current wife, June, who was his lover, muse and banker, until Anaïs Nin in Paris was able to take over those essential roles.

Turner never troubles himself or the reader with questions about Miller’s emotional and financial dependency on women. Miller was obsessed with masculinity but felt no need to support himself or the women in his life. Turner sympathizes with the Miller who must sell his well-cut suits on the streets of Paris for a fraction of their worth, but is apparently indifferent to the fact that June was selling her body on his ­behalf.

Indeed, Turner tells us that Miller had to endure “the most awful humiliation a man might suffer.” This, presumably, is June’s lesbian affair, one she brought home to their apartment, so much so that Miller wrote a novel, “Lovely Lesbians,” one of his lifelong rants against women, written around the same time as “Moloch,” his rant against Jews.

Miller realized with these failed novels that hatred alone was not enough to sustain a work of fiction. He had plenty of hatred, toward Jews, foreigners and especially America, the newfound land that had spoiled itself and a once-in-a-species opportunity to really begin again.

For Miller, Turner writes, America was “more mercenary than the meanest whore.” This is an ugly image, and while it is certainly true of Miller’s mind, it seems indicative of Turner’s own unconscious thinking. But it usefully presents us with the fused object of Miller’s hatred: the body politic of America will be worked over and revenged through the body of Woman.

Miller had attended political meetings as a young man, but he was uninterested in political activism — and when the war broke out, he left Paris to return to America. Not for him the heroics of Resistance. Yet his lifelong pose was as a warrior fighting with homemade weapons against an indifferent, crushing industrial machine for which nothing mattered but profit and every­thing was for sale.

~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~

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