Monday, January 08, 2018

Frederick Turner, 'Renegade: Henry Miller and the Making of *Tropic of Cancer*' (2011)

Frederick Turner, Renegade: Henry Miller and the Making of Tropic of Cancer. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2011.

Turner lays the groundwork for Henry Miller's breakthrough novel by putting it in context. He goes back to the American frontier mentality, the development of American folklore (much of it rough and biting), and on through Walt Whitman and Mark Twain to Miller. 

Frontier folklore: "The Yankee spun his tales, performed his sleights-of-hand, and changed his name and address, all with a blank, impenetrable mask behind which was -- what? Maybe only a collection of personae." (page 29).

This is the third time in less than three weeks that the ideas of "masks" and "personae" and cultural milieu have popped up: previously, in recent posts on James Brown (here) and Anaïs Nin (here). Zeitgeist, meet synchronicity. 

And then there's the palimpsest, in which earlier writings are partially erased or faded, and new texts are piled on top like archaeological layers, with bits of the old coming to light from time to time. 

"[I]t is surprising how many facts of Miller's life are either unknown or in dispute . . . The major problem here is Miller himself. who was as compulsive a mythologizer as he was autobiographical, incessantly and even gleefully inventing competing versions of events . . . so that what he left behind at his death was a vast palimpsest presenting biographers and critics with a plethora of problems that can never be definitively solved." (pages 57-58).

Miller loved burlesque: "In the darkness of the hall and the focused lights of the stage, in the deliberate thinness of the make-believe, things otherwise off-limits were not simply allowed, they were celebrated. Here the masks were joyfully hurled aside and the knock-down power of the frontier-formed culture was in plain view." (page 72).

". . . against his many poses, his masks and disguises, his evasions and indecisions and prevarications . . . was a tough, knotty core of artistic integrity that made him show up for work . . ." (page 127)

"'I will never become a European,' he said, '"but thank God, I am no longer an American. I am one of those things you call an 'expatriate,' a voluntary exile. I have no country, no frontiers, no taxes to pay, no army to fight for.'" (page 171) 

Quoting Emerson: '"The way to write is to throw you body at the mark when your arrows are spent.'" (page 188)

Quoting from the novel: "'One is ejected into the world like a dirty little mummy.'" (page 204)
Brassaï, (Conchita & Friends), 1933
Fun book. Anaïs Nin plays an important role, there is mention of the French novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline -- whose work Miller's Tropic of Cancer was compared to at publication (Tropic was banned in the USA until the early 1960s) -- and others play their parts, too, such as the photographer-artiste Brassaï. 

Today's Rune: Breakthrough.   

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

I've read some of his stuff that make me think, wisdom, and other bits that make me say, "ridiculous."