I’m reading Henry Miller’s ‘Tropic of Cancer’ again, which is is to say that I am seriously fucking my brain up with hardcore reality and fiction. Miller’s writing is like a burst pipe of observations, fanciful embellishing, outright lies and terribly accurate truths.
I always go through a panic attack when I read Miller. He has a rawness to his words that I can’t quite reach. He talks about lice, cunts, bidets, assholes, friends and lovers with the same honest eye. Or maybe he is coloring his words to his own bias but fuck if I can tell. It all rolls together forming a mythical Paris experience that my orderly brain will never be able to reproduce. The fact that he is mixing in the filthy with the beautiful makes it all seem hyper real and honest.
What does amuse me is how Miller reminds me of blogger habits I despise. Bloggers are eager to disguise the real people in their lives so they mention these people in tangent terms and aliases like ‘like ‘Pretty Boy’ or ‘D’. We get these half profiles of important people in the blogger’s life but no real clue as to why they are important. All we know is that ‘D’ gives amazing blowjobs during Law and Order episodes. It infuriates me on a daily basis to see these characters step into the blog and step out with no idea of what or who they are.
Miller does the same thing and I laughed out loud when I recognized it. Characters like Carl step in and bitch about all the pussy they are getting and then step out. Women like Germaine are painted with loving words and then never mentioned again. When some names do reappear, you struggle to remember who they are because nobody in this fucking novel gets a description unless it is a derogatory one.
It is funny how I forgive Miller because I think he is making an artistic choice, whereas with bloggers I just want to scream obscenities at them. I am like one of his hypocritical characters who hates misers but refuses to eat in front of Miller for fear of having to share.
I already tried to write a story this week in Miller’s style. It’s infectious. I’m sure he would be offended that I was inspired by him to sound like him but it was too much fun to pass up. I admire some writers for their plots and others for the depth of their characters but my love for Miller is for that fact that he seems to write in a language all his own. He doesn’t seek to offend or shock his audience as much as shit happens and he is compelled to report it, even if the shit only happened in his head.
I recognize it. It’s that truth that bubbles up when you really reflect on something. It’s the honesty that realizes that you love a whore because she’s a whore. It’s an embrace of life without slapping feel good terms like ‘sex-positive’ on something. You know what’s fucking sex-positive? Sex. Dirty, humiliating, shameful, wonderful sex. Fuck. We bloggers spend more time defending and propagandizing what we write than we do actually writing about sex.
I’ve been reading a lot about Miller this week too. His battles with censorship tickle me. The fact that he is labeled a pornographer is sad to me sometimes because I see him less as a porn writer and more of a reporter on human life. The censorship came because he fucking wrote what he fucking saw.
My favorite quote about ‘Tropic of Cancer’ is this one,
In his dissent from the majority holding that the book was not obscene, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Musmanno wrote Cancer is “not a book. It is a cesspool, an open sewer, a pit of putrefaction, a slimy gathering of all that is rotten in the debris of human depravity.”
That is one awesome endorsement.
Sometimes I get e-mails from starting porn writers. They ask me questions and I put on my kindly Uncle Shon robe and try to help them. One type of question that comes up time and time again is on specifics. How much sex should there be? Should we cover every detail? How long should the sex scenes be? These questions make me want to cry. It’s this assumption that there is a proper way, some sort of Penthouse Forum approved porn outline that readers will enjoy. It’s the assumption that porn has a secret recipe that makes awesome apple pies every time.
God damn. I want to shake every one of them. Are they writers or short order cooks? Do they have their own thoughts and dreams and hopes and fears? The perfect porn story is inside every damn writer if they would just take the damn time to honestly look at their own libido. You don’t write while worrying about whether to add Lesbians or Onions. You add your personal ingredients and make something delicious. You don’t fucking ask the reader if he wants ketchup on it.
I get mad because I look at ‘Tropic of Cancer’, a book that is infamous for being obscene and associated with pornography, was never meant to be porn yet is the best example of porn because Miller was just writing himself onto the page. Miller did the hard part already for you. He wrote a Bible about being human. His books were banned so that you could learn from them. Miller wrote about smelly cunts so that you could write about whatever is on your mind.
8 Responses to “Cancer of Writing”
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I love this as much as your fiction writing; it’s equally as vivid. I like the bit about lesbians and onions especially. Now I have to read “Tropic of Cancer.”
I am selfishly proud of the ‘Lesbians and Onions’ line myself so I am glad it was just not me.
‘Tropic of Cancer’ gets better every time I read it.
Here, Here! Henry is King.
I am one of those novince erotic writers but I know better than to ask how to write thanks to a summer spent with Miller three years ago. I will never be the same and neither will the literary world ;)
Have you had a chance to peruse his pulp work- his paid by the page french epic “Opus Pistorum”, the high points for me contain vivid accounts of John Thursday making a home inside nubile underrage french maidens and filling them with piss?
Roll over Bukowski!! (or not!)
If you have only read the Tropics, you aint read nothing yet!!!
nola- Thanks. I remember the first time I read Miller it took me weeks to recover. I wish I knew exactly what I was working on at the time just so I could see the before and after period.
Mandingo -Ha, no I have to say I haven’t read his pulp work. I’ll have to scrounge for that.
Lesbians and Onions. That is a truly beautiful phrase. Maybe they will marinate in my brain overnight and emerge in the morning as a poem.
Or maybe I’ll just wake up with indigestion.
Thanks for a very fine piece. I really should go back and re-read Henry Miller. My copies have survived every attempt I have made over the last 40 years to cull my book collection down to manageable size.
In many ways, I love harsh, brutal language. There is a sense of absolution in it that I absolutely adore. I haven’t read the book, but it’s on my wishlist now.
Of course, I also love your writing without knowing the influences.
Oatmeal girl- I have Miller with my foreign authors bookshelf and it just seemed right.
T’sade- I remember once trying to recommend the book by describing how Miller stole from a prostitute and it all came out awkward. It’d definitely a book for a certain frame of mind.