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Crazy Cock

Henry Miller

  Crazy Cock




  Black Spring

  Quiet Days in Clichy




  Tropic of Cancer

  Tropic of Capricorn

  Under the Roofs of Paris

  Crazy Cock

  Henry Miller



  Copyright © 1991 by the Estate of Henry Miller

  Foreword copyright © 1991 by Erica Jong

  Introduction copyright © 1991 by Mary V. Dearborn

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Any members of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or publishers who would like to obtain permission to include the work in an anthology, should send their inquiries to Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.

  Henry Miller: Letters to Emil. Copyright © 1968 by Henry Miller.

  Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

  Published simultaneously in Canada

  Printed in the United States of America

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Miller, Henry, 1891–1980

  Crazy cock / Henry Miller.

  p. cm.

  ISBN 0-8021-3293-6 (pbk.)

  I. Title.

  PS3525.I5454C7 1991

  813’.52—dc20 91-9247

  Designed by Irving Perkins Associates

  Grove Press

  841 Broadway

  New York, NY 10003

  03 04 05 06 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6


  CERTAIN WRITERS become protagonists. Their writings and their biographies mingle to create a larger myth, a myth which exemplifies some human tendency. They become heroes. Or antiheroes. Byron was one such writer. Pushkin, another. Colette exemplified a kind of female heroism. As did George Sand. And de Beauvoir.

  Miller is the only American who stands in their company, and appropriately enough, he is more honored in France than in his own country. His writing is full of imperfection, bombast, humbug. But the purity of his example, his heart, his openness, will, I believe, draw new generations of readers to him. In an age of cynicism, he remains the romantic, exemplifying the possibility of optimism in a fallen world, of happy poverty in a world that worships Lucre, of the sort of gaiety Yeats meant when he wrote “their ancient, glittering eyes are gay.”

  I knew Henry Miller. In a number of ways, he was my mentor. I was a very young writer, very green and suddenly famous, and he, a very old writer, seasoned in both fame and rejection, when we met—by letter—and became pen pals, then pals. I feel lucky to have known him, and in some sense, I feel that I only got to know him well after his death.

  Miller was the most contradictory of characters: a mystic who was known for his sexual writings, a romantic who pretended to be a rake; he was above all a writer of what the poet Karl Shapiro called “wisdom literature.” If we have trouble categorizing Miller’s “novels” and consequently underrate and misunderstand them, it is because we judge them according to some unspoken notion of “the well-wrought novel.” And Miller’s novels seem not wrought at all. In fact, they are rants—undisciplined and wild. But they are full of wisdom, and they have that “eternal and irrepressible freshness” which Ezra Pound called the mark of the true classic.

  In the profound shocks and upheavals of the twentieth century—from the trenches of World War I to Auschwitz to the holes in the ozone layer—we in the West have produced a great body of “wisdom literature,” as if we needed all the wisdom we could get to bear what may be the last century of humans on earth. Solzhenitsyn, Günter Grass, Neruda, Idries Shah, Krishnamurti, Sartre, de Beauvoir all write predominantly wisdom literature. Even among our most interesting novelists—Bellow, Singer, Lessing, Yourcenar—the fictional form is often a cloak for philosophical truths about the human race and where it is heading. The popularity of writers like Margaret Mead and Joseph Campbell in our time also serves to show the great hunger for wisdom. We are, as Ursula Le Guin says, “dancing at the edge of the world,” and it takes all our philosophy to bear it.

  Henry Miller did not come to his profession easily. He was over forty before he had his first book published (Tropic of Cancer), and by then he had won the reputation of a bum and a no-good in the eyes of his very bourgeois German-American family.

  He had been struggling for years to find his voice as a writer, and Crazy Cock is interesting principally for the way it recounts that struggle. Put beside Tropic of Cancer it is almost a textbook study of a writer looking for a voice.

  The voice of Miller in Crazy Cock is third person, stilted, fusty. Henry appears to be ventriloquizing a Literary Voice—with a capital “L.”

  The writer who invented first person, present tense exuberance for the twentieth century is writing here in the third person! And it doesn’t suit him. It makes him use words like “wondrous,” “totteringly,” “blabberingly,” “fragrant,” and “abashed.” Here is Henry the Victorian, the reader of Marie Corelli, writing in a pastiche of Victorian romance and Dreiserian realism. Blabberingly indeed!

  But Crazy Cock is fascinating for what it tells us about Miller’s literary roots. Henry Miller was born an heir to the Victorian age—(even in the seventies, when I knew him, he used to rave to me about Marie Corelli)—and Crazy Cock shows us what Henry had to overcome to find his own voice as a writer.

  Here is the voice of Henry Miller in Crazy Cock.

  She was more beautiful than ever now. Like a mask long withheld. Mask or mask of a mask? Fragments that raced through his mind while he arranged harmoniously the inharmony of her being. Suddenly he saw that she was looking at him, peering at him from behind the mask. A rapport such as the living establish with the dying. She rose, and like a queen advancing to her throne, she approached him. His limbs were quaking, he was engulfed by a wave of gratitude and abasement. He wanted to fling himself on his knees and thank her blabberingly for deigning to notice him.

  Now listen to the sound of Tropic of Cancer.

  I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I am. Everything that was literature has fallen from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God.

  This then? 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. I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing. . . .

  Henry is retracing his steps as an artist here, telling us exactly what happened between Moloch and Crazy Cock, and Tropic of Cancer: he let go of literature. It reminds me of Colette’s advice to the young Georges Simenon: “Now go and take out the poetry.”

  Good advice. A writer is born at the moment when his true voice of authority merges at a white heat with the subject he was born to chronicle. Literature falls away and what remains is life—raw, pulsating life: “a gob of spit in the face of Art.”

  For the truth is that every generation, every writer, must rediscover nature. Literary conventions tend to ossify over time, and what was once new becomes old. It takes a brave new voice to rediscover real life buried under decades of literary dust. In unburying himself, Henry unburied A
merican literature.

  The style of writing Henry Miller discovered has itself become convention, so it is hard to grasp how electric it seemed in 1934. The feminist critique of the sixties came in to bury Henry under rhetoric—just as false, in its way, as the rhetoric of male supremacy. But the feminist critique neglects to ask the main question Henry Miller poses: How does a writer raise a voice? The problem of finding a voice is essential for all writers but is more fraught with external difficulties for women writers because no one agrees what the proper voice of woman is—unless it is to keep silent. This, by the way, accounts for all the trouble feminists, including me, have with Henry. He liberates himself, becomes the vagabond, the clown, the poet, but the open road he chooses is never open to the other sex. Nevertheless, it is useful to trace the steps of his liberation: Paris plus first person bravado equals the voice we have come to know as Henry Miller.

  Henry found this voice primarily in his letters to Emil Schnellock, his pal from the old neighborhood (who lent him the $10 that was in his pocket when he sailed to Europe in 1930 and with whom he left the manuscripts of Crazy Cock and Moloch for safekeeping*). Henry’s Letters to Emil constitutes an amazing record of a writer finding his voice. The transition from the tortured prose of Crazy Cock to the explosive simplicity of Tropic of Cancer is all there. We hear the explosion as writer finds his sound. We see the contrail streaked across the sky.

  Henry Miller’s writing odyssey is an object lesson for anyone who wants to learn to be a writer. How do you go from self-consciousness to unself-consciousness? Crazy Cock will show you the first part of the journey. Tropic of Cancer is the destination.

  In between come his Letters to Emil. These letters are crucial because they are written to someone who accepts him completely and with whom he can be wholly himself. In them, he practices the voice that will revolutionize the world in Tropic of Cancer. It is the voice of the New York writer revolting against New York. And it is the voice of the weary picaro—weary of flopping from pillar to post.

  Two years of vagabondage has taken a lot out of me. Given me a lot, too, but I need a little peace now, a little security in which to work. In fact, I ought to stop living for a long while, and just work. I’m sick of gathering experiences.

  There’ll be a lot to tell when I get back to New York. Enough for many a wintry night. But immediately I think of N.Y. I get frightened. I hate the thought of seeing that grim skyline, the crowds, the sad Jewish faces, the automats, the dollars so hard to get, the swell cars, the beautiful clothes, the efficient businessmen, the doll faces, the cheap movies, the hullabaloo, the grind, the noise, the dirt, the vacuity and sterility, the death of everything sensitive. . . . (to Emil from The Dôme, Paris, October 1931)

  The total acceptance that Emil provided made possible the voice of the Tropics. The perfect audience for any writer is, in fact, an audience of one. All you need is one reader who cares, and cares uncritically. It is no wonder that Nabokov dedicated nearly every book to his wife, Vera. And no wonder that, in my perplexity about newfound fame, the madness of the movie business, my dilemma about how to write a second novel, I turned to Henry Miller in 1974. He was willing to be a generous sounding board for me as Emil Schnellock had been for him. He passed the gift of uncritical acceptance along. In a world where writers take virtually every opportunity to trash one another, Henry Miller was a wonder of generosity.

  I think he was willing to be that for me because his own road as a writer had been so very hard to travel. He had to pull up roots, go to Paris, live like a clochard in order to find the freedom to be an artist.

  Brassai records the transformation that came over Miller in Paris: “In France, his brow smoothed out, he became happy, smiling. An irrepressible optimism irradiated his whole being.”

  The New York that Henry left in March of 1930 was nowhere as fraught as the New York of today, but it still bore certain similarities. In New York it was a dishonor to be an unknown writer; in Paris one could write écrivain on one’s passport and hold one’s head high. In Paris it was assumed (it still is today) that an author had to have time, leisure, talk, solitude, stimulation. In New York it was, and still is, assumed that unless you fill up your time with appointments, you are a bum.

  More than that (and more important, particularly for Henry) was the American attitude toward the vagabond artist—an attitude which unfortunately persists to our day. “In Europe,” as Brassai says in his book Henry Miller: Grandeur Nature, “poverty is only bad luck, a minor unhappiness; in the United States it represents a moral fault, a dishonor that society cannot pardon.”

  To be a poor artist in America is thus doubly unforgivable. To be an artist in America is anyway to be a criminal (its criminality pardoned only by writing best-sellers, or selling one’s paintings at usurious rates to rich collectors and thus feeding the war-machine with tax-blood). But to be poor and an artist—this is un-American.

  Which of us has not felt this disapproval, this American rejection of the dreamer? “Poets have to dream,” says Saul Bellow, “and dreaming in America is no cinch.”

  In the last few years we have seen a dramatic replay of these attitudes in the debates over censorship and the National Endowment for the Arts. Our essential mistrust of the dreamer leads us to cripple him or her with restrictions of all sorts. We seem not to understand that the basic wealth of our country—wealth and emotional health—comes from our creative spirit. Even with Japanese conglomerates buying our movie companies, even with statistics that prove that our movies, music, television shows, and inventions are our biggest exports in real dollar terms, we still honor the money-counters and money-changers above the inventors and dreamers, who give them something to count and change.

  This is a deep-seated American obsession, and one whose historical genesis it would be fascinating to retrace. It comes, of course, out of puritanism and its assumption that dream-life and imagination are suspect. We must understand how Henry was buffeted about by these forces and how he fled to Europe to be reborn. As Brassai says, “It was the scorn which ultimately Miller could not stand. It was the scorn that he wanted to escape. Madness and suicide threatened him.” Miller himself writes in Tropic of Capricorn, “Nowhere have I known such a degradation, such a humiliation as I have known in America.”

  Crazy Cock is fascinating because it shows us the New York that Miller fled and the reasons that he had to flee in order to find himself as a writer. Just as the Paris books are bursting with sunshine, Crazy Cock is dour, dismal, gray. The liveliest thing about it is its title.

  Still, it is a vital part of the Miller canon. It shows us how far he had to travel to become the Henry Miller who breathed fresh air into American literature.


  May 1991


  THE YEAR was 1927. Henry Miller’s second wife had just run away to Europe with her Lesbian lover. He was recovering from an extended period of what he called nervous disintegration. Penniless and humiliated, he had been forced to move back in with his parents, who were dismayed at their thirty-six-year-old son’s failure to live up to their eminently bourgeois expectations. In desperation, he had taken a deadend office job offered him by a childhood rival. One evening, however, he stayed after work and began typing without pause. After midnight, a sheaf of closely typed pages—a torrent of words—lay next to his typewriter. They were notes for the book Miller felt he was destined to write: the story of his marriage to June, her love for Jean Kronski, and his utter debasement in the face of this betrayal. The notes would become Crazy Cock, Henry Miller’s third novel and his surest move toward Tropic of Cancer, the literary accomplishment that would follow just a few years later.

  This was not Miller’s first attempt at writing. He had always expected that he would become a writer, or something equally exceptional. For Miller, even his very birthdate, one day after Christmas in 1891, suggested his specialness; he later stated it was a year of extraordinary literary significance.
/>   Born to middle-class German-American parents—his father was a tailor—Henry was precocious, and the family had high expectations for his future. As an adolescent, however, he came to scorn traditional schooling and became a confirmed autodidact. Family circumstances ruled out college, except for a brief stint at tuition-free City College, and instead Henry reluctantly joined his father in his tailor shop in 1913. He made his first serious attempt at writing—an essay on Nietzsche—at this time, but he did his most important work on his walks to and from the tailor shop; he later said that he wrote whole enormous volumes in his head, tomes about his family’s history and his own boyhood, and indeed traces of these early “works” made their way into later books such as Black Spring and Tropic of Capricorn.

  In 1917 he married and soon fathered a child. Faced with these responsibilities, he took a job as an employment manager at Western Union, the Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company of his later books. He had to hire and fire messengers, and the turnover was incredible; the absurdity of the job reduced him to despair. On a three-week vacation in 1922, he willed into being a book-length manuscript. Galled by his employer’s suggestion that it was too bad there was no Horatio Alger tale about a messenger, and inspired by the example of Theodore Dreiser’s Twelve Men, which he much admired, Miller turned out a work he would call Clipped Wings. The title referred to the wings on the Western Union symbol, and the book was a portrait of twelve messengers, angels whose wings had been clipped. The fragments of the manuscript that survive indicate that the book was a tedious exercise in cynicism and misanthropy; Miller himself said that he knew it was “faulty from start to finish . . . inadequate, bad, terrible.”

  He returned to Western Union, passive and pessimistic, less certain than ever of his writing future, trapped in a loveless marriage. Then, on a chance visit to a Times Square dance hall, he met June Mansfield Smith, the Mona of Tropic of Cancer, the Hildred of Crazy Cock, the Mara of The Rosy Crucifixion, the mythified “her” to whom Tropic of Capricorn is dedicated. Mysterious, dramatic, spellbindingly beautiful, June won Henry immediately. He was mesmerized by her torrential talk, her spinning of intricate and shadowy tales involving intrigues with other men; in Crazy Cock he would describe her as “a veritable honeycomb of dissimulations.” June surrounded herself with chaos, and Miller thrived on it. He later wrote in Tropic of Capricorn: