In 1930, Henry Miller moved to Paris with two unpublished novels in his suitcase. Soon after he began work on Tropic of Cancer. He wrote to a friend around that time:
I start tomorrow on the Paris book. First person, uncensored, formless—fuck everything.
Four years later, a French publisher (of pornography) began printing Tropic of Cancer. The book came with a warning label: “Must not be taken into Great Britain or USA”. It was widely banned, which of course only made people want to read it.
I admire Miller’s gumption. I think every would-be author needs a little of that fuck everything attitude.
This quote about Miller by George Orwell:
Miller is a writer out of the ordinary, worth more than a single glance; and after all, he is a completely negative, unconstructive, amoral writer, a mere Jonah, a passive acceptor of evil, a sort of Whitman among the corpses.
A sort of Whitman among the corpses—god I love that!
And I could not agree more with Orwell’s assessment. Or course, Miller is a gleeful sinner, completely irredeemable, but that does not mean—at least to me—that he is not still worth reading. Maybe I am risking something saying that.
I won’t make apologies for Miller, for reading Miller. I am guilty of the indecent act of reading books others are inclined to ban, in that I am something of a serial offender.
As a would-be author, I can only hope to write a book worthy enough to be banned one day.
Rest assured, I do make an effort to be a better human than Henry Miller wrote himself to be—
admittedly that is a pretty low bar, not impossible to crawl under, but no one should consider doing so an accomplishment.