Category Archives: Henry Miller

Barney Rosset and Henry Miller

I just watched a fascinating documentary called Obscene about the life of Barney Rosset, the one time operator of Grove Press which published the first U.S. editions of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Tropic of Cancer, Naked Lunch, and the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Rosset and Grove Press were involved in the legal fight against censorship for the first three of these titles.

I plan on writing more about Obscene in general over at Tombrarian because I am going to nominate it for the notable videos committee. But I want to dwell a bit here about something Rosset says about Henry Miller:

I didn’t think of Henry Miller being particularly involved with sex. He just had contempt for this country that I shared. I never even noticed the fact that it was supposed to be sexually explicit or anything else and I still don’t, but it is an insulting book to everybody.

I particularly like this quote for a couple of reasons. One is that it has always annoyed me that people focus so much on the sex in Miller’s books. I recently re-read Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn and I would be surprised if 10% of those books are about sex. There is so much else going on that I feel people are really missing the point if they look at them so narrowly.

The other reason is that Rosset points to Miller’s contempt for America. In re-reading the two Tropics, this aspect stood out to me more than ever. I think because a lot of what Miller critiques is still so much an issue. So much of the narrow-mindedness, anti-intellectualism, consumerism, puritanism, and lack of concern for the environment that he rails against in the 1930s are still issues today.

Another interesting point that Rosset raises briefly regards why he felt an initial connection to Tropic of Cancer. Rosset was taken my Miller’s description of his breakup with Mona and how Miller resolved, as Rosset says, that he “will exist without her.” At the time, Rosset was going through his own break up. I have long held that Mona (based on Miller’s wife June) leaving him is at the heart of Tropic of Cancer. There’s an essential sadness that is key to understanding why the character of Henry Miller behaves as he does and takes the philosophical journey that he does. All the sex in the book is intricatly tied to this event. The supposed sexual liberation of the book is tempered when viewed from this angle.

Re-reading the Tropics and being struck by Miller’s harsh critique of the U.S. led my back to Aller Retour New York, which is Miller’s long letter to his friend Alfred Perles which was published as a short book in Paris between the two Tropics and in the U.S. in 1945. The letter describes Miller’s visit to New York after he had been living in Paris. The letter is a long-reflection of many of the difficulties Miller has with the American way of life. One of his long-standing complaints is about how wasteful American’s are compared to the Europeans:

Everybody has a crease in his trousers and shoes highly polished. Nobody wears a last year’s hat, crisis or no crisis. Nobody is without a clean handkerchief softly laundered and wrapped in a seal packerchief. When you have your hair brushed by the barber he throws the brush away to be fumigated and wrapped in cellophane again. The cloth he puts around your neck is sent immediately to the laundry–by pneumatic tubes that deliver the following morning. Everything is a twenty-four-hour service, whether it is necessary or not. Your things come back so fast you don’t have time to earn the money to pay for this service you don’t need. If it rains you get your shoes shined just the same–because the polish is a protection against weather stains. You get trimmed coming and going. You are in the sausage machine and there is no way out–unless you take a boat and go somewhere else. Even then you can’t be sure because the whole fucking world is going a hundred percent America.

Feels awfully prescient for 1935.

Being and Formulating

I mentioned in my introductory post that I had a short-lived blog, Being and Formulating. Although that blog never became what I wanted it to be, I am still quite fond of the quote that inspired the title. The title comes from a quote from the diaries of Anais Nin. I came across this quote second-hand from Brassai’s book Henry Miller: The Paris Years:

In Miller’s mind…to commit the events of one day, or even one hour, to paper takes days if not weeks. Anais would therefore never catch up with events, and her Diary would never be truly current. Moreover, all she was doing by trying was postponing the exhilaration of life, the moments in whose heat you would never think of writing. The pulse of life makes any formulation impossible…All the diary can reflect are life’s stagnant period, what Andre Breton called the ‘empty moments’ of existence. Anais wouldn’t always avoid throwing herself into the current of life. She too would directly confront the dilemma of whether to live or to write. She herself says as much in her Diary: ‘The river of life divides into two branches: being and formulating.’

I decided to re-post it on this new blog because the sentiment translates well into the world of blogging. And this would be the optimistic reason why people start and then abandon blogs. People are too busy “being” to take the time to write about their lives. Were I to focus on the pessimistic reasons why people give up their blogs, I would have named that blog “Being and Laziness” (or “Laziness and Laziness”).

Of course, I’m making assumptions here that seem obvious but might not be. I have my experience of Tombrarian taking a life of it’s own while several other attempts have failed. I’m curious to hear other people’s experience with trying various blogs and having some succeed while others fail.

About the Site and the Title

Being and Formulating is the personal blog of Tom Ipri. I also post to my professional blog, Tombrarian. The title comes from a quote from the diaries of Anais Nin. I came across this quote second-hand from Brassai’s book Henry Miller: The Paris Years:

“In Miller’s mind…to commit the events of one day, or even one hour, to paper takes days if not weeks. Anais would therefore never catch up with events, and her Diary would never be truly current. Moreover, all she was doing by trying was postponing the exhilaration of life, the moments in whose heat you would never think of writing. The pulse of life makes any formulation impossible…All the diary can reflect are life’s stagnant period, what Andre Breton called the ‘empty moments’ of existence. Anais wouldn’t always avoid throwing herself into the current of life. She too would directly confront the dilemma of whether to live or to write. She herself says as much in her Diary: ‘The river of life divides into two branches: being and formulating.’”

Although the quote obviously speaks to a period of time well before anyone blogged, it certainly speaks to the recent explosion of this technology (and certainly speaks to the on-again-off-again nature of my posting. So, if I’m not posting, assume I’m “being.”) I love this quote and decided I wanted to use something from it for the name of my blog: my choices being either “Being and Formulating” or “Life’s Stagnant Period.” While the later has certain panache, I opted for the former.

My other blog, Tombrarian, has existed since March 2006. I had another blog before that which launched in April 2005, and when that one met its demise, I uploaded all its posts into Tombrarian. Since its inception, Tombrarian had been both a personal and professional blog ; however, this duel use has caused some apprehension on my part. I’ve hesitated posting some lengthy library-related ideas fearing that I’d bore family and friends and have hesitated posting more personal thoughts concerned that they are not professional. Thus the creation of Being and Formulating.