lundi 7 janvier 2013

On Henry Miller, The Devil at Large by Erica Jong (1993)

“He was always seeking 'life more abundant' as he says at the end of 'The Colossus of Maroussi'. Sex was one path towards abundance. Travel, another. Conversation, letter-writing, and painting were still others.” “He” in this quote is Henry Miller, most famously the author of 'Tropic of Cancer' and 'Tropic of Capricorn', two semi-autobiographical novels written in Paris between 1934 and 1939, banned for a quarter century and finally published in North America in 1961.

What was all the fuss about?

Erica Jong, herself a controversial writer, author of 'Fear of Flying' (1974) has written 'On Henry Miller, The Devil at Large' to help explain the checkered history of this 20th century American artist.

Even if all you know of Henry Miller comes from cultural references, footnotes, occasional sightings in films like Warren Beatty's 'Reds' (1981) or in documentaries like 'Dinner with Henry Miller' (1979) or if you've only seen the Philip Kaufman film 'Henry and June' (1990), you will understand the 'life more abundant' reference. With Henry Miller, stream-of-consciousness passages are abundant; depictions of bodily functions are abundant; slang words too; as are the descriptions of erotic acts and thoughts penned and uttered every chance Miller got.

Erica Jong's book is enormously entertaining even if it is somewhat preachy or self-indulgent in places. But to be fair, the book is not exclusively a biography of Miller - it is also the story of her friendship with Henry, it delivers a scholarly and literary assessment of him as a personality and a fellow artist.

Jong's book also contextualizes the legal and literary debates that have taken place over issues of erotica, pornography and publishing over the 20th century. A bit of chest-thumping is to be expected and even encouraged from the literary godchild of Anais Nin.

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