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‘Insomnia or the Devil at Large’: Gorgeously primitive watercolors by Henry Miller
03.31.2017
08:47 am

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In the mid ’60s, Henry Miller, the great and often controversial American writer whose works were mostly banned in the US until 1961, developed an infatuation on a Japanese lounge singer and actress named Hoki Tokuda. Miller and Tokuda would eventually marry (a true May-December affair—their age difference was almost 50 years, and the marriage was reportedly…unconventional in other respects as well), but before sealing the deal, fretfulness over their relationship would provoke a prolonged bout of insomnia in Miller, and during that spell of sleeplessness, he produced a series of watercolors and the short story “Insomnia or the Devil at Large.” Miller described the watercolors thusly:

They reflect the varying moods of three in the morning. Some were sprinkled with bird seed, some with songes, and some with mensonges. Some dripped from the brush like pink arsenic; others clogged up on me and came out as welts and bruises. Some were organic, some inorganic, but they were all intended to lead their own life in the garden of Abracadabra.”

 

 
“Insomnia” would eventually see its most widely-distributed publication as a 33-page book in 1974, but in 1970, Loujon Press of Albuquerque, NM produced a rather lavish boxed portfolio featuring 17x22” reproductions of the Insomnia watercolors and a letterpress book containing the story. Several editions were made, with the intention of producing 999 boxes in all, but the reality was somewhat more modest. Evidently only about 300 of the wooden cases were made, and the editions, designated with letters A through F, were all published in smaller numbers than originally hoped, some in cheaper boxes, some in an “economy” edition comprised of simply the book and prints with no case at all.

One of the nicer sets, from edition G, has just come up for bidding via the Aspire Auction company. Its provenance is about as direct as can be—it was procured directly from Miller himself by a book and art dealer named Arthur Feldman, and it’s signed.

Insomnia or The Devil at Large”, book and a portfolio of twelve works, 1970. Lithographs on paper, book with comb binding, marked Edition G out of 385 copies to colophon, first edition, signed and dated by the artist “May 1st 1970”, published by Loujon Press, Albuquerque, NM. In wooden box with sliding lid, overall 24” x 19 ⅛”

Bidding closes on Thursday, April 6th. Best of luck. The images that follow are from the copy being offered for sale, and are culled from the auction house’s web site. Clicking spawns an enlargement.
 

 
More after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
Dying Words: Henry Miller’s last interview, 1980
06.01.2016
11:25 am

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Belief
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Henry Miller

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Henry Miller was always looking for something though he never seemed to find it. Throughout his life the author of cult favorites Tropic of Capricorn and The Tropic of Cancer signed-up for various philosophies and crackpot ideas but inevitably canceled his subscription. He was always willing to believe any kook who claimed to have a knowledge of god, the afterlife, the cosmos or some esoteric wisdom. Miller was willing to give anything a go. At least for a little while.

He tried Madame Blavatsky and her Theosophical Society. He half-believed Blavatsky’s “Secret Doctrine” of the seven planes of existence and the seven cycles through which everything moves—which she claimed came via a secret brotherhood of Mahatmas in Tibet—until Miller “discovered” Blavatsky had invented the whole thing and forged the correspondence with her spiritual guides Koot Hoomi and Mahatma Morya.

In his youth, Miller latched onto the teachings of the former Evangelist preacher Benjamin Fay Mills like “a drowning man.” Miller later explained the preacher’s teachings offered him was a brief respite from his “battle” with his own libidinous sexual desire.

In the 1950s, Miller was convinced “flying saucers” were about to invade Earth. He thought the US government was covering up their knowledge of UFOs and extraterrestrials. Miller corresponded with ufologists ‘fessin’ up his own experience of seeing flying saucers (two objects twinkling in the sky) and witnessing them “far out on the horizon, at dawn, and without aid of glasses.”

Miller was a “cosmic tourist.” He visited “...the Scientology of L. Ron Hubbard, the apocalyptic studies of the Essenes, Christian Science, Kahlil Gibran, White Witchcraft and the modern hinduism of Sri Ramakrishna.” He dabbled with astrology and Buddhism, and was suckered by the conman guru “Lobsang Rampa” who wrote a book titled The Third Eye describing his spiritual life and upbringing in Tibet—but Rampa turned out to be a plumber from Devon called Cyril Hoskin who had never once set foot outside England.

Yet Miller never felt cheated by these cranks. He was open-minded about everything and was never dispirited, disappointed or angered when he found out he’d been conned by yet another New Age charlatan. Miller’s view was simple:

Any theory, any idea, any speculation can augment the zest for life so long as one dies not make the mistake of thinking that he is getting somewhere.

More after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘The Henry Miller Odyssey’: Miller’s life and work in his own words
01.05.2015
02:30 pm

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The Henry Miller Odyssey, a fantastic biographical film directed in 1969 by documentarian Robert Snyder is told in Henry Miller’s own words as the embattled, passionate, often censored and eventually celebrated author discusses formative moments in his life. He includes encounters with his unhappy, overbearing mother, the influence of the streets of his Brooklyn upbringing and the liberating feeling of walking out of his job at Western Union to once and for all make his living as an author in 1924. As Miller recounts his own biographical narrative with the still strong New York accent of a serious scrapper, the septuagenarian author adds frequent words of wisdom about finding strength through humiliation and transcending the world’s absurdities through struggle, intimate encounters with creative minds and sheer determination.

Highpoints of the film include Miller’s reading of a long passage from his 1936 novel, Black Spring and then visiting a variety of locations around Paris that were important to him during his early, often grueling but productive years as an indomitable writer living by his wits and his bootstraps and sometimes literally starving in pursuit of his art. Miller later discusses his room in the Villa Seurat where he wrote many of his major works including the third and fourth drafts of Tropic of Cancer, along with Tropic of Capricorn and Black Spring. During the course of the film Miller meets with several Parisian compatriots including Alfred Perlès (on whom the character named Carl in Quiet Days in Clichy was based) and engages in lively and philosophical discussions with his former lover and muse, Anaïs Nin. Contemporary footage of Parisian street life is interspersed with Miller’s musings providing a genuine feel for how the city itself became such a large part of his writing and belief system.
 
Miller Tropic
 
Miller seems genuine and candid. He’s animated and full of life and ideas. He comes across as a man who’s overcome years of hardship and is enjoying the life of the mind that he’s (to hear him tell it) earned for himself. 

The Henry Miller Odyssey is one of four films that director Robert Snyder made about Henry Miller. Snyder (who incidentally was married to Buckminster Fuller’s daughter, Allegra) also made Henry Miller: Reflections On Writing, Henry Miller Reads and Muses and a film called Henry Miller: To Paint Is To Love Again that was completed in 2004 after Snyder’s death. 
 

Posted by Jason Schafer | Leave a comment
Henry Miller gives a tour of his bathroom in ‘Asleep and Awake’ 1975
10.09.2014
10:40 am

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bathroom

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This quirky and entertaining little film Henry Miller: Asleep and Awake has the legendary author of Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring, Tropic of Capricorn and The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy giving a personal tour of the images festooned on the walls of his bathroom. Miller must have spent a lot of time in there to have pasted and pinned all the photographs, posters and mementoes that decorated the walls. He claims his bathroom became so talked about among friends that they would visit not to see him but to view his secret gallery. “People often come in here and get lost, as it were,” Miller explains.

They’re in here for how long? I don’t know, and I imagine something happened that they got constipated or something. But it isn’t that, of course, they get fascinated with these pictures.

I myself, to tell you the truth, spend long minutes in here viewing them all, wondering where did I get them? Why did I put them up there? They run quite a gamut from the Buddhists to the whores to the maniac who made that beautiful castle up there. In a way, again it’s very much like a… it’s a sort of a voyage, I look upon it, a voyage of ideas. We’re traveling not around the world, but around my bathroom which is a little microcosm like the world.

The pictures reflect Miller’s interest in art (Paul Gauguin, Hieronymus Bosch), his favorite writers (Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, Blaise Cedrars, Hermann Hesse and a wide selection of beautiful women (including a brief appearance by fourth and final wife Hiroko Tokuda). There’s even a hidden corner for all the pornographic pictures. It’s a place for contemplation as Miller explains, “one of the beauties about it is it can take you anywhere, if you let your mind roam.”

Director Tom Schiller allows Miller to roam and connect the pictures bringing out the occasional nugget of personal information with the author finally relating a dream about escaping from an insane asylum before he returns to that “shithole New York” (or a studio backlot—the set for Hello Dolly) to bring the film to a poignant close.

My whole life seems like one long dream punctuated with nightmares.

 

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Nothing Lasts Forever’: Bill Murray in ‘lost’ sci-fi comedy set in a totalitarian New York City

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Henry Miller reads from ‘Black Spring’
08.12.2014
10:18 am

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Black Spring


 
Not a lot of writers ever attained a badass quotient as high as Henry Miller did in Paris in the 1930s. He was a Whitmanesque American novelist in the international center of high art, writing scandalous books about sex and having plenty of sex with Anaïs Nin. And unlike the works of the “hordes of shrieking poseurs” populating Montparnasse at the time (to quote Orwell from the essay linked below), his books are very good! They remain highly readable to this day, especially Tropic of Cancer. In 1976 Norman Mailer wrote a book about Henry Miller called Genius and Lust, in which he called Tropic of Cancer “one of the ten or twenty great novels of our century, a revolution in consciousness equal to The Sun Also Rises.”
 

 
George Orwell’s extended 1940 essay “Inside the Whale” uses Miller’s works as a prism to make some trenchant observations about the modernist movement as a whole. His remarks on Black Spring are worth quoting here:
 

When I first opened Tropic of Cancer and saw that it was full of unprintable words, my immediate reaction was a refusal to be impressed. Most people’s would be the same, I believe. Nevertheless, after a lapse of time the atmosphere of the book, besides innumerable details, seemed to linger in my memory in a peculiar way. A year later Miller’s second book, Black Spring, was published. By this time Tropic of Cancer was much more vividly present in my mind than it had been when I first read it. My first feeling about Black Spring was that it showed a falling-off, and it is a fact that it has not the same unity as the other book. Yet after another year there were many passages in Black Spring that had also rooted themselves in my memory. Evidently these books are of the sort to leave a flavour behind them—books that “create a world of their own,” as the saying goes. The books that do this are not necessarily good books, they may be good bad books like Raffles or the Sherlock Holmes stories, or perverse and morbid books like Wuthering Heights or The House with the Green Shutters. But now and again there appears a novel which opens up a new world not by revealing what is strange, but by revealing what is familiar. The truly remarkable thing about Ulysses, for instance, is the commonplaceness of its material. Of course there is much more in Ulysses than this, because Joyce is a kind of poet and also an elephantine pedant, but his real achievement has been to get the familiar on to paper. He dared — for it is a matter of daring just as much as of technique — to expose the imbecilities of the inner mind, and in doing so he discovered an America which was under everybody’s nose. Here is a whole world of stuff which you supposed to be of its nature incommunicable, and somebody has managed to communicate it. The effect is to break down, at any rate momentarily, the solitude in which the human being lives. When you read certain passages in Ulysses you feel that Joyce’s mind and your mind are one, that he knows all about you though he has never heard your name, that there some world outside time and space in which you and he are together. And though he does not resemble Joyce in other ways, there is a touch of this quality in Henry Miller. Not everywhere, because his work is very uneven, and sometimes, especially in Black Spring, tends to slide away into more verbiage or into the squashy universe of the surrealists. But read him for five pages, ten pages, and you feel the peculiar relief that comes not so much from understanding as from being understood. “He knows all about me,” you feel; “he wrote this specially for me.” It is as though you could hear a voice speaking to you, a friendly American voice, with no humbug in it, no moral purpose, merely an implicit assumption that we are all alike. For the moment you have got away from the lies and simplifications, the stylized, marionette-like quality of ordinary fiction, even quite good fiction, and are dealing with the recognizable experiences of human beings.

 
Here’s Miller reading from “The Tailor Shop” from Black Spring:
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
‘Everything to the extreme’: Be a guest at one of Henry Miller’s dinner parties
07.23.2014
05:04 pm

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Literature

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“The earth is not a lair, neither is it a prison. The earth is a Paradise, the only one we’ll ever know. We will realize it the moment we open our eyes. We don’t have to make it a Paradise-it is one. We have only to make ourselves fit to inhabit it. The man with the gun, the man with murder in his heart, cannot possibly recognize Paradise even when he is shown it.”

― Henry Miller, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare

“We get about as much information about the other peoples of this globe, through the movies and the radio, as the Martians get about us.”

― Henry Miller, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare

I think I probably “discovered” Henry Miller from Tom Schiller’s SNL shorts that featured the dry wit of the Tropic of Cancer author and from his role in Warren Beatty’s Reds as one of the “witnesses” who had personally known John Reed and Louise Bryant. Miller’s presence onscreen was remarkable for a man his age and I wanted to know more about him. I was a kid, but I thought he was a very cool motherfucker for an old guy, like his near contemporary in authoring banned books, William S. Burroughs.

By the 1970s, Henry Miller’s work, once very, very difficult to come by in America, was being stocked in regular shopping mall bookstores and could be found on local library shelves, even one in a conservative backwater burg like my hometown of Wheeling, WV, which had most of his books. Frankly, the “erotic” Henry Miller didn’t really interest me all that much. I was more interested to read his opinions on things and events, non fiction essays, in other words, or interviews with him. High on my list of Miller’s writing were “A Nation of Lunatics,” his bicentennial contribution to an anthology titled Four Visions of America and The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, his scathing assessment of traveling around America in a car for two years after a decade spent in Europe (Think of it as a mix of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, which it preceded by many years. with Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night.)

When he was 84, Miller began a relationship with a young woman of twenty named Brenda Venus—a future Playboy model and author of several bestselling sex instruction books—from Biloxi, Mississippi. Venus found Miller’s address in a used book she’d purchased and had written to him. Miller was was infatuated by her and wrote her over 1,500 love letters, which were published in 1986 as Dear, Dear Brenda. (Worth noting that Dear, Dear Brenda was staged as a play in Russia a few years back, with Venus played by Olympic gymnast Svetlana Khorkina. According to her Wikipedia page, Brenda was invited to be the guest of Vladimir Putin at the premiere, which was held at the famed Moscow Art Theatre, home of Chekhov.)

Miller was an extremely gregarious man, known for holding court at frequent dinner parties he threw during the final two decades of his life spent in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles. In the video below, you can be a fly on the wall during one of Miller’s dinners. “The Botticelli of Mississippi” is present at the author’s side. The Swiss poet and novelist who Miller is expounding on at length, and calls his “hero,” is Blaise Cendrars, who many considered the heir to Rimbaud. It’s probably a good idea to read the Wikipedia page on him before beginning this video, because he’s the main topic of conversation. Note that the conversation begins with Miller talking about how he’s hoping to win the Nobel prize (for the cash reward!) and where it ends up a half hour later.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
A wonderful Henry Miller documentary for your viewing pleasure

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Robert Snyder’s excellent 1969 documentary The Henry Miller Odyssey takes a joyful look at the Buddha of Brooklyn and his fascinating world.

The colossus of Big Sur at work, living in, and revising old haunts in Brooklyn and Paris. Miller generously reveals how he saw his era, his peers and himself. He recalls his painful youth and his struggle to survive as a writer; talks about art, dreams, and the allure of Paris; reads passages from his works and enjoys himself with friends, including Lawrence Durrell, Anais Nin, Alfred Perles, Brassai, and Jakov Gimpel. What emerges in this insightful documentary is Miller’s charm, his gentleness and his lust for life.

Mostly narrated by Miller, this warm-hearted and playful film captures the essence of a man who did indeed have a lust for life.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Anaïs Nin: Talking about her Diaries, Henry Miller, Muses, Dreams, Art and Death

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It is always good to have reader feedback on Dangerous Minds and recently Jenny Lens’ interesting comments on Anaïs Nin made me dust off my copies and revisit Nin’s books and diaries. This, of course, led me to check out what is available on YouTube, which uncovered these 4 clips, which appear to have been mainly taken from the documentary Anaïs Nin Observed (1974).

In the first clip, Anaïs explains how her diary started out as a letter to her father, and how it became an “inner journey.” This leads on to Nin reunited with Henry Miller where they discuss the importance of the artist as a liberator.

In the second clip Anaïs discusses art, the artist, and creative anger, concluding that she likes to “feel I have transcended my destiny.”

In the third, Anaïs discusses her favorite heroines, including Lou Andreas-Salomé, the Russian psycho-analyst and author, who was friends with Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, and Rainer Maria Rilke. Andreas-Salomé was one of the first to write psycho-analytically about female sexuality, long before she met Freud, and was his associate in the creation of psycho-analysis. Nin also talks about Caresse Crosby co-founder of the Black Sun Press, publisher of Henry Miller, Ernest Hemingway, D. H. Lawrence and Ezra Pound, amongst many others, patron to the Arts, and inventor of the modern bra. Anaïs then goes on to talk about volume 5 of her Diaries and her experiences of taking LSD, and how she turned into gold. The clip cuts out just as Nin discusses not passing judgement on her characters.

In the fourth, Nin and Henry Miller discuss “death in life,” dreams and the importance of recording them, and whether analysis will destroy the need for them.
 

 
More of Anaïs Nin (and Henry Miller), after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Henry Miller, Asleep And Awake’: 1975 documentary
10.13.2010
03:35 pm

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Thinkers

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Henry Miller, Asleep And Awake is a charming visit with the Buddha of Brooklyn.

Tom Schiller’s 1975 documentary follows Miller from the microcosmos of his very own shit-hole to a mock-up 1890s New York of his childhood—or “that old shit-hole, New York’” (in fact the set for Hello Dolly, with Barbra Streisand & Walter Matthau, 1969). Schiller describes his documentary this way: ‘A guided tour of the pictures and artifacts of his bathroom’ ... though it feels to be very much more than that.

 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Drinking wine with Henry Miller: a glimpse into the mind of one of life’s great provocateurs
09.18.2010
12:09 am

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Henry Miller
Dinner with Henry

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Dinner With Henry is exactly what the title suggests. Over a plate of food and glass of wine, the 87 year old Buddha of Brooklyn enthusiastically riffs on his hero Blaise Cendrars, D.H. Lawrence, Rimbaud and the surrealists. Shot by Richard Young and John Chesko in 1979, this “lost’ documentary has recently surfaced and it’s a wonderful peek into the life of one literature’s great provocateurs.

Henry Miller, along with Charles Bukowski, Rimbaud and Richard Brautigan, inspired me to buy a typewriter and attempt the life of a writer. Oh, what I would have done to have had a glass of wine with the great man.

Brenda Venus, the last great love Miller’s life, wrote about the filming of this dinner in her 1986 book Dear, Dear Brenda: The Love Letters of Henry Miller;

Two filmmakers had requested to film Henry speaking freely about wine. When they arrived at Henry’s home, he was in “an ill temper” explains Venus, who guessed that he’d had a bad sleep. When dinner time arrived, Henry was asked to “speak frankly and spontaneously.”  At first, his comments seemed negatively focused on the meal. It’s unclear who prepared the meal, but Henry does not spare anyone’s feelings by calling it “pitiful” and refusing to eat certain things, or complaining about the order of courses. With some coaxing from Brenda, Henry is finally set on track to various personal commentaries. Although he does offer some comparison between French and American wines, he doesn’t offering any real opinion of the wines set before him, which had been the whole point of the film. “I kept encouraging Henry to say something about the various wines he was sipping,” write Venus, “but he pointedly ignored me while regaling the camera with his powers as a raconteur”

 
Henry Miller reads from Black Spring  and is interviewed on French TV after the jump…

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment