Henry Valentine Miller (26 December 1891 – 7 June 1980) was an American writer and artist. He was known for developing a new type of semi-autobiographical novel that blended character study, social criticism, philosophical reflection, stream of consciousness, explicit language, sex, surrealist free association, and mysticism.
- The history of the world is the history of a privileged few.
- Sunday after the War (1944), pub. New Directions.
- To live without killing is a thought which could electrify the world, if men were only capable of staying awake long enough to let the idea soak in.
- "Reunion in Brooklyn", Sunday after the War (1944)
- Obscenity is a cleansing process, whereas pornography only adds to the murk.
- Interview, 1961
- She was to me, and still is, the greatest person I have known - one who can truly be called a "devoted" soul. I owe her everything.
- Letters of Henry Miller and Wallace Fowlie (1975)
- A guy who's always interested in the condition of the world, and changing it, either has no problems of his own, or refuses to face them... not wanting to face things of his own nature.
- Reds (1981)
Tropic of Cancer (1934)
- This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty ... what you will.
- Chapter One
- I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.
- Chapter One
- There is only one thing which interests me vitally now, and that is the recording of all that which is omitted in books.
- Chapter One
- Well, I'll take these pages and move on. Things are happening elsewhere. Things are always happening. It seems wherever I go there is drama. People are like lice - they get under your skin and bury themselves there. You scratch and scratch until the blood comes, but you can't get permanently deloused. Everywhere I go people are making a mess of their lives. Everyone has his private tragedy. It's in the blood now - misfortune, ennui, grief, suicide. The atmosphere is saturated with disaster, frustration, futility. Scratch and scratch, until there's no skin left. However, the effect upon me is exhilarating. Instead of being discouraged or depressed, I enjoy it. I am crying for more and more disasters, for bigger calamities, grander failures. I want the whole world to be out of whack, I want every one to scratch himself to death.
- Chapter One
- For a hundred years or more the world, our world, has been dying. And not one man, in these last hundred years or so, has been crazy enough to put a bomb up the asshole of creation and set it off. The world is rotting away, dying piecemeal. But it needs the coup de grace, it needs to be blown to smithereens.
- Chapter Two
- It is no accident that propels people like us to Paris. Paris is simply an artificial stage, a revolving stage that permits the spectator to glimpse all phases of the conflict. Of itself Paris initiates no dramas. They are begun elsewhere. Paris is simply an obstetrical instrument that tears the living embryo from the womb and puts it in the incubator. Paris is the cradle of artificial births. Rocking here in the cradle each one slips back into his soil; one dreams back to Berlin, New York, Chicago, Vienna, Minsk,. Vienna is never more Vienna than Paris. Everything is raised to its apotheosis. The cradle gives up its babes and new ones take their place. You can real here on the walls Zola lived and Balzac and Dante and Strindberg and everybody who ever was anything. Everyone has lived here some time or other. Nobody dies here. . .
- Chapter Two
- "I am a free man-and I need my freedom. I need to be alone. I need to ponder my shame and my despair in seclusion; I need the sunshine and the paving stones of the streets without companions, without conversation, face to face with myself, with only the music of my heart for company. What do you want of me? When I have something to say, I put it in print. When I have something to give, I give it. Your prying curiosity turns my stomach! Your compliments humiliate me. Your tea poisons me! I owe nothing to anyone, I would've responsible to God alone-if he exited!"
- Chapter Four, Pappin
- Sleep, Napoleon! It was not your ideas they wanted, it was your corpse.
- Chapter Four
Tropic of Capricorn (1939)
- To walk in money through the night crowd, protected by money, lulled by money, dulled by money, the crowd itself a money, the breath money, no least single object anywhere that is not money, money, money everywhere and still not enough, and then no money or a little money or less money or more money, but money, always money, and if you have money or you don't have money it is the money that counts and money makes money, but what makes money make money?
- London: Harper Perennial, 2005, p. 108
- Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.
- New York: Grove Press, 1961, p. 170
- Take a good look at me. Now tell me, do you think I'm the sort of fellow who gives a fuck what happens once he's dead?
- New York: Grove Press, 1961, p. 313
The Colossus of Maroussi (1941)
New York: New Directions, 1958
- He saw the humorous aspect of everything, which is the real test of the tragic sense.
- Part 1, p. 29
- "He" is Miller's friend George Katsimbalis, the "Colossus" of the book's title.
- What an astounding thing is the voice! By what miracle is the hot magma of the earth transformed into that which we call speech? If out of clay such an abstract medium as words can be shaped what is to hinder us from leaving our bodies at will and taking up our abode on other planets or between the planets? What is to prevent us from rearranging all life, atomic, molecular, corporeal, stellar, diving? Who or what is powerful enough to eradicate this miraculous leaven which we bear within us like a seed and which, after we have embraced in our mind all the universe, is nothing more than a seed — since to say universe is as easy as to say seed, and we have yet to say greater things, things beyond saying, things limitless and inconceivable, things which no trick of language can encompass.
- Part 1, p. 73
- To be free, as I then knew myself to be, is to realize that all conquest is vain, even the conquest of self, which is the last act of egotism. To be joyous is to carry the ego to its last summit and to deliver it triumphantly. To know peace is total: it is the moment after, when the surrenderer is complete, when there is no longer even the consciousness of surrender. Peace is at the centre and when it is attainded the voice issues forth in praise and benediction. Then the voice carries far and wide, to the outermost limits of the universe. Then it heals, because it brings light and the warmth of compassion.
- Part 1, p. 80
- One feels that [in Knossos, c. 1500 B.C.] man […] was religious in the only way which is becoming to man, by making the most of everything that comes to hand, by extracting the utmost of life from every passing minute.
- Part 2, pp. 121–2
- I'm crazy enough to believe that the happiest man on earth is the man with the fewest needs.
- Part 2, p. 133
- There ain't no such thing as civilization.
- Part 2, p. 144
- If men cease to believe that they will one day become gods then they will surely become worms.
- Part 3, p. 235
The Wisdom of the Heart (1941)
New York: New Directions, 1941
- [T]he aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.
- "Creative Death", p. 2
- A fragment of Miller's unfinished book on D. H. Lawrence, originally published in the London literary journal Purpose.
- Life has to be given a meaning because of the obvious fact that it has no meaning.
- "Creative Death", p. 5
- Whatever I do is done out of sheer joy: I drop my fruits like a ripe tree. What the general reader or the critic makes of it is not my concern.
- "Reflections on Writing", p. 22
- The real leader has no need to lead—he is content to point the way.
- "The Wisdom of the Heart", p. 46
- It is the American vice, the democratic disease which expresses its tyranny by reducing everything unique to the level of the herd.
- "Raimu", p. 49
- All about us we see a world in revolt; but revolt is negative, a mere finishing-off process. In the midst of destruction we carry with us also our creation, our hopes, our strength, our urge to be fulfilled. The climate changes as the wheel turns, and what is true for the sidereal world is true for man. The last two thousand years have brought about a duality in man such as he never experienced before, and yet the man who dominates this whole period was one who stood for wholeness, one who proclaimed the Holy Ghost. No life in the whole history of man has been so misinterpreted, so woefully misunderstood as Christ's. If not a single Man has shown himself capable of following the example of Christ, and doubtless none ever will for we shall no longer have need of Christs, nevertheless this one profound example has altered our climate. Unconsciously we are moving into a new realm of being; what we have brought to perfection, in our zeal to escape the true reality, is a complete arsenal of destruction; when we have rid ourselves of the suicidal mania for a beyond we shall begin the life of here and now which is reality and which is sufficient unto itself. We shall have no need for art or religion because we shall be in ourselves a work of art. This is how I interpret realistically what Gutkind has set forth philosophically; this is the way in which man will overcome his broken state. If my statements are not precisely in accord with the text of Gutkind's thesis, I nevertheless am thoroughly in accord with Gutkind and his view of things. I have felt it my duty not only to set forth his doctrine, but to launch it, and in launching it to augment it, activate it. Any genuine philosophy leads to action and from action back again to wonder, to the enduring fact of mystery. I am one man who can truly say that he has understood and acted upon this profound thought of Gutkind's—“the stupendous fact that we stand in the midst of reality will always be something far more wonderful than anything we do."
- "The Absolute Collective", pp. 92–93
- An essay first published in The Criterion on The Absolute Collective: A Philosophical Attempt to Overcome Our Broken State by Erich Gutkind, as translated by Marjorie Gabain.
- Life, as it is called, is for most of us one long postponement.
- "The Enormous Womb", p. 96
- No man is great enough or wise enough for any of us to surrender our destiny to. The only way in which anyone can lead us is to restore to us the belief in our own guidance.
- "The Alcoholic Veteran with the Washboard Cranium", p. 122
The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945)
New York: New Directions, 1945
- We do not talk—we bludgeon one another with facts and theories gleaned from cursory readings of newspapers, magazines and digests.
- [T]he blind lead the blind, it's the democratic way.
- "With Edgar Varèse in the Gobi Desert", p. 166
- The new always carries with it the sense of violation, of sacrilege. What is dead is sacred; what is new, that is, different, is evil, dangerous, or subversive.
- "With Edgar Varèse in the Gobi Desert", p. 172
The Rosy Crucifixion I: Sexus (1949)
New York: Grove Press, 1965
- A man writes to throw off the poison which he has accumulated because of his false way of life. He is trying to recapture his innocence, yet all he succeeds in doing is to inoculate the world with a virus of his disillusionment. No man would set a word down on paper if he had the courage to live out what he believed in....
- Ch. 1, pp. 17–18
- We're creators by permission, by grace as it were. No one creates alone, of and by himself. An artist is an instrument that registers something already existent, something which belongs to the whole world, and which, if he is an artist, he is compelled to give back to the world.
- Ch. 6, p. 138
- The man who is forever disturbed about the problems of humanity either has no problems of his own or has refused to face them.
- Ch. 9, p. 205
- Through art then, one finally establishes contact with reality: that is the great discovery. Here all is play and invention; there is no solid foothold from which to launch the projectiles which will pierce the miasma of folly, ignorance and greed. The world has not to be put in order: the world is order incarnate. It is for us to put ourselves in unison with this order, to know what is the world order in contradistinction to the wishful-thinking orders which we seek to impose on one another. The power which we long to possess, in order to establish the good, the true and the beautiful, would prove to be, if we could have it, but the means of destroying one another. It is fortunate that we are powerless.
- Ch. 9, p. 213
- The man who looks for security, even in the mind, is like a man who would chop off his limbs in order to have artificial ones which will give him no pain or trouble.
- Ch. 14, p. 339
- Imagination is the voice of daring. If there is anything Godlike about God it is that. He dared to imagine everything.
- Ch. 14, p. 341
- Sex is one of the nine reasons for reincarnation.[…] The other eight are unimportant.
- Ch. 21, p. 465
The Books in My Life (1952)
2nd edition. New York: New Directions, 1969
- In this age, which believes that there is a short-cut to everything, the greatest lesson to be learned is that the most difficult way, in the long run, is the easiest.
- Preface, p. 12
- A book lying idle on a shelf is wasted ammunition. Like money, books must be kept in constant circulation. Lend and borrow to the maximum—of both books and money! But especially books, for books represent infinitely more than money. A book is not only a friend. It makes friends for you. When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold.
- Chapter 1: "They Were Alive and They Spoke to Me", p. 23
- If we have not found heaven within, it is a certainty we will not find it without.
- Chapter 11: "The Story of My Heart", p. 192
The Rosy Crucifixion II: Plexus (1953)
New York: Grove Press, 1965
- Many is the mirage I chased. Always I was overreaching myself. The oftener I touched reality, the harder I bounced back to the world of illusion, which is the name for everyday life. 'Experience! More experience!' I clamored. In a frantic effort to arrive at some kind of order, some tentative working program, I would sit down quietly now and then and spend long, long hours mapping out a plan of procedure. Plans, such as architects and engineers sweat over, were never my forte. But I could always visualize my dreams in a cosmogonic pattern. Though I could never formulate a plot I could balance and weigh opposing forces, characters, situations, events, distribute them in a sort of heavenly lay-out, always with plenty of space between, always with the certitude that there is no end, only worlds within worlds ad infinitum, and that wherever one left off one had created a world, a world finite, total, complete.
- p. 53
- My hunger and curiosity drive me forward in all directions at once.
- p. 61
- I am of the order whose purpose is not to teach the world a lesson but to explain that school is over.
- p. 599
New York: New Directions, 1957
- Often, when following the trail which meanders over the hills, I pull myself up in an effort to encompass the glory and the grandeur which envelops the whole horizon. Often, when the clouds pile up in the north and the sea is churned with white caps, I say to myself: "This is the California that men dreamed of years ago, this is the Pacific that Balboa looked out on from the Peak of Darien, this is the face of the earth as the Creator intended it to look."
- p. 6
- One's destination is never a place, but rather a new way of looking at things.
- p. 25
- Often misquoted as "One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things".
- The most difficult thing to adjust to, apparently, is peace and contentment.
- p. 28
- It was here in Big Sur that I first learned to say 'amen.'
- p. 32
- There's nothing wrong with the world. What's wrong is our way of looking at it.
- p. 351
- Whoever uses the spirit that is in him creatively is an artist. To make living itself an art, that is the goal.
- p. 400
The Rosy Crucifixion III: Nexus (1960)
New York: Grove Press, 1965
- When a situation gets so bad that no solution seems possible there is left only murder or suicide. Or both. These failing, one becomes a buffoon.
- Ch. 3, p. 36
- The Bible is full of miracles, and they have been accepted by thinking and unthinking individuals alike. But the miracle which every one is permitted to experience some time in his life, the miracle which demands no intervention, no intercessor, no supreme exertion of will, the miracle which is open to the fool and the coward as well as the hero and the saint, is love. Born of an instant, it lives eternally. If energy is imperishable, how much more so is love! Like energy, which is still a complete enigma, love is always there, always on tap. Man has never created an ounce of energy, nor did he create love. Love and energy have always been, always will be. Perhaps in essence they are one and the same. Why not? Perhaps this mysterious energy which is identified with the life of the universe, which is God in action, as some one has said, perhaps this secret, all-invasive force is but the manifestation of love.
- Ch. 3, p. 40
- In the literature of utter desolation there is always and only one symbol (which may be expressed mathematically as well as spiritually) about which everything turns: minus love. For life can be lived, and usually is lived, on the minus side rather than the plus. Men may strive forever, and hopelessly, once they have elected to rule love out. That high unfathomable ache of emptiness into which all creation might be poured and still it would be emptiness, this aching for God, as it has been called, what is it if not a description of the soul's loveless state?
- Ch. 3, p. 41
- What I really hoped for, no doubt, was to come upon one of those lives which begin nowhere, which lead us through marshes and salt flats, trickling away, seemingly without plan, purpose or goal, and suddenly emerge, gushing like geysers, and never cease gushing, even in death.
- Ch. 8, p. 129
Henry Miller on Writing (1964)
Henry Miller on Writing: Selected by Thomas H. Moore from the Published and Unpublished Works of Henry Miller (New York: New Directions, 1964)
- Things happen or they don't happen, that's all. Nothing is accomplished by sweat and struggle. Nearly everything which we call life is just insomnia, an agony because we've lost the habit of falling asleep.
- p. 5
- The frantic desire to live, to live at any cost, is not a result of the life rhythm in us, but of the death rhythm.
- p. 8
- I blush to think of our origins—our hands are steeped in blood and crime. And there is no letup to the slaughter and pillage.
- p. 10
- To be generous is to say Yes before the man even opens his mouth.
- p. 17
- I had to learn, as I soon did, that one must give up everything and not do anything else but write, that one must write and write and write.
- p. 19
- Every man is working out his destiny in his own way and nobody can be of any help except by being kind, generous, and patient.
- p. 20
- The truly great writer does not want to write: he wants the world to be a place in which he can live the life of the imagination.
- p. 22
- Words, sentences, ideas, no matter how subtle or ingenious, the maddest flights of poetry, the most profound dreams, the most hallucinating visions, are but crude hieroglyphs chiseled in pain and sorrow to commemorate an event which is untransmissible.
- p. 23
- The happiest peoples, it is said, are those which have no history. Those who have a history, those who have made history seem only to have emphasized through their accomplishments the eternality of struggle. These disappear too eventually, just as those who made no effort, who were content to merely live and enjoy.
- p. 32
- The battle is endless. It had no beginning, nor will it know an end. We who babble and froth at the mouth have been at it since eternity.
- p. 78
- Perhaps the artist is nothing more than the personification of this universal maladjustment, this universal disequilibrium.
- p. 97
- The whole damned universe has to be taken apart, brick by brick, and reconstructed.
- p. 99
- I am against revolutions because they always involve a return to the status quo.
- p. 101
- I am glad to be a maggot in the corpse which is the world.
- p. 104
- Everything remains unsettled forever, depend on it.
- p. 104
- Art is only a means to life, to the life more abundant. It is not in itself the life more abundant. It merely points the way, something which is overlooked not only by the public, but very often by the artist himself. In becoming an end it defeats itself.
- p. 110
- The artist who becomes thoroughly aware consequently ceases to be one.
- p. 110
My Bike & Other Friends (1977)
- Political leaders are never leaders. For leaders we have to look to the Awakeners! Lao Tse, Buddha, Socrates, Jesus, Milarepa, Gurdjiev, Krishnamurti.
- p. 12
- Emma Goldman. I had nothing but admiration for her. Those speeches she made on behalf of the working man, Jesus! She could inflame you, incite you to riot, [-] Goldman and Berkman, decided to assassinate the head of a big steel company, an industrial magnate named Frick. Well, they decided a gun would be the quickest and most efficient way, but they had the problem of not having enough money to buy one. So, Goldman thinks she'll have to prostitute herself to get the money. She dresses up and fixes herself up in a horrible way. She had no sense whatever in that regard. She stations herself on the street, waiting for customers, and all the while she's looking hideous, monstrous. The first man who approaches her is a gentleman, well dressed, well educated and the like. She tells him everything, all about her work, her beliefs, and even about the assassination plot. The man was completely intrigued with her stories, he wasn't at all interested in fucking her. He handed her a good sum of money [-] Needless to say, she had a profound effect on the lives of nearly everyone who came into contact with her. She was an exceptional figure.
- The Gnostics thought the planet Earth was a cosmic mistake. I too feel that way — I'm through with this Earth before I've even departed from it.
- One day, during one of their sessions, Gurdjieff tells Peters to look out the window and describe what he sees. 'An oak tree' the child answers. 'And what do you see on the oak tree?' 'Acorns' Peters replies. 'How many of these acorns do you suppose will become trees?' Fritz Peters is stumped, [-] 'Maybe five or six?'
'No' retorts Gurdjieff. 'Only one will become a tree, perhaps, none! Nature is always very giving, but it only gives possibility. It takes hard work and great effort to become a tree or a genuine man.'
- I venerate van Gogh. He was a remarkable human being, a man who knew about love. His work reflects a spirit filled with light, even though his life was a tragedy in many ways.
- Vlaminck and Utrillo were very good friends, drinking buddies. One day they attend a funeral. They're walking behind the hearse in a procession, and they're having a great time conversing with one another. They are completely engrossed when suddenly one asks the other, 'Say, don't you smell something funny?' They look up and they're walking behind a garbage truck! They'd lost the hearse in the middle of their enthusiastic conversation.
- There was one artist who wrote as beautifully as he painted. That was Hokusai - He speaks for all artists, whether they are painters or not. [He wrote]: "I have been in love with painting ever since I became conscious of it at the age of six. I drew some pictures I thought fairly good when I was fifty, but really nothing I did before the age of seventy was of any value at all. At seventy three I have at last caught every aspect of nature-birds,fish,animals,insects,trees,grasses, all. When I am eighty I shall have developed still further. And I will really master the secrets of art at ninety. When I reach a hundred my work will be truly sublime, and my final goal will be attained around the age of one hundred and ten, when every line and dot I draw will be imbued with life."
- The pygmies are one of the most cultured peoples on the face of the earth. They live a wonderful life, a life of purity. Not only are they busy and productive, they're happy and healthy as well. If we puny Americans had to live under their conditions, we'd perish in a day. Modern man has much to learn from the people he calls 'savages'. Before we are down to the last blade of grass it would be wise to study the life of the Pygmies. The secret of our own survival rests with them, the people who know how to make the most out of very little and find complete happiness with the bare essentials.
- I've spoken many times about the Japanese woman. I've praised her again and again. But I have to tell you that I think the Japanese man is the worst. The women are such delicate creatures and they're treated abominably by the men. The Japanese men are pigs - even worse than American men.
- More than anything the French have a profound knowledge of the ways of life. They possess a tolerance and an acceptance of the way things are. Problems are faced with intelligence, patience, and a sense of humanity. I have more respect for them than any other nationality on the face of the earth.
- As far as Bach is concerned, I never came close to liking him [-] My favourite composer is Scriabin -[and] his Fifth sonata, in my mind, the greatest piece of music ever written.
- Wagner wrote an opera titled Tristan and Yseult and in it there is a theme called Love Death theme. It is so sensual, so sexual that he was criticized for having introduced sex into music. And that was quite a few years before the appearance of Elvis Presley!
- The man who doesn't respond to music, the man without music in his soul is not to be trusted. A man like that is cold and empty, empty to the core.
- Through it all I learned the value of being humble to the dust, reduced to ashes. Everyone should experience that. Before you can recognize you're somebody, you have to know you're nobody. [-] The butterfly was just a lowly worm in its beginning. The worm didn't live with the moment-to-moment expectation of sprouting wings and taking flight. He lived a useful and productive life, the life of a worm. And he had to die a worm in order to be born as an angel! The spinning of the cocoon is, in and of itself, remarkable. It is as wondrous as the emergence and first flight of the butterfly.
- I tell you, struggle is what is missing in the lives of most young people today. If they think I'm going to support them while they create great works of art, then they've missed the point of my work, of my life! In the process of becoming a writer or an artist one has to be willing to starve. Struggle is the most invaluable experience of all. Suffering seems to be the inevitable fate of the creative sensitive types. Poverty, disease, death, unrequited love affairs, and disappointments of every sort fan the flame of the artistic spirit. The greatest works of art were not created by spoiled brats. They were born for the most part out of a sense of despair, and if not despair then just plain hard work. Somewhere along the line the artist learns the art of transformation.
- Inspirational Writing Advice From Charlie Kaufman - On Writing. BAFTA Guru (2017-01-06). Retrieved on 2020-03-09. (at 7:08 of 41:08)
- Henry Miller belonged in kind, though not in stature, to the great odd-man-out figures of literature like Blake, Whitman and Lawrence. Despite his incoherence as artist and philosopher he made a powerful impact on his time, thanks chiefly to the assurance and the sheer headlong energy of his work, expressed with equal vehemence in his protest against contemporary civilisation and in the affirmation of his own ego. ... Born in Brooklyn, Miller went to Cornell University and then – after a succession of odd jobs – to Paris where he launched himself on the ebb tide of American expatriate writing. He was already in his forties when his first and most famous novel, Tropic of Cancer, appeared in 1934. It was not until many years later, when it came out as a paperback, that the book was banned in the United States. This made it more celebrated than ever... There were clergymen who found him religious. There were critics who judged him to be some kind of sage and even saint, Ezra Pound admired him... As chief literary anarchist of his day, a kind of low priest celebrating the last rites of what he regarded as a doomed civilisation, it was not surprising that he became a hero of the Sixties beat generation...
- Norman Shrapnel, Beat generation writer Henry Miller dies, The Guardian (9 June 1980)