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Sexus, Page 39

Henry Miller

  The way of life! A grand expression. Like saying Truth. There is nothing beyond it. . . it is all.

  And so the analyst says “Adapt yourself!” He does not mean, as some wish to think—adapt yourself to this rotten state of affairs! He means: adapt yourself to life! Become an adept! That is the highest adjustment—to make oneself an adept.

  The delicate flowers are the first to perish in a storm; the giant is laid low by a slingshot. For every height that is gained new and more baffling dangers menace us. The coward is often buried beneath the very wall against which he huddled in fear and anguish. The finest coat of mail can be penetrated by a skillful thrust. The greatest armadas are eventually sunk; Maginot lines are always circumvented. The Trojan horse is always waiting to be trotted out. Where then does security lie? What protection can you invent that has not already been thought of? It is hopeless to think of security: there is none. 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.

  In the insect world is where we see the defense system par excellence. In the gregarious life of the animal world we see another kind of defense system. By comparison the human being seems a helpless creature. In the sense that he lives a more exposed life he is. But this ability to expose himself to every risk is precisely his strength. A god would have no recognizable defense whatever. He would be one with life, moving in all dimensions freely.

  Fear, hydra-headed fear, which is rampant in all of us, is a hang-over from lower forms of life. We are straddling two worlds, the one from which we have emerged and the one towards which we are heading. That is the deepest meaning of the word “human,” that we are a link, a bridge, a promise. It is in us that the life process is being carried to fulfillment. We have a tremendous responsibility, and it is the gravity of that which awakens our fears. We know that if we do not move forward, if we do not realize our potential being, we shall relapse, sputter out, and drag the world down with us. We carry Heaven and Hell within us; we are the cosmogonic builders. We have choice—and all creation is our range.

  For some it is a terrifying prospect. It would be better, think they, if Heaven were above and Hell below—anywhere outside, but not within. But that comfort has been knocked from under us. There are no places to go to, either for reward or punishment. The place is always here and now, in your own person and according to your own fancy. The world is exactly what you picture it to be, always, every instant. It is impossible to shift the scenery about and pretend that you will enjoy another, a different act. The setting is permanent, changing with the mind and heart, not according to the dictates of an invisible stage director. You are the author, director and actor all in one: the drama is always going to be your own life, not someone else’s. A beautiful, terrible, ineluctable drama, like a suit made of your own skin. Would you want it otherwise? Could you invent a better drama?

  Lie down, then, on the soft couch which the analyst provides, and try to think up something different. The analyst has endless time and patience; every minute you detain him means money in his pocket. He is like God, in a sense—the God of your own creation. Whether you whine, howl, beg, weep, implore, cajole, pray or curse—he listens. He is just a big ear minus a sympathetic nervous system. He is impervious to everything but truth. If you think it pays to fool him then fool him. Who will be the loser? If you think he can help you, and not yourself, then stick to him until you rot. He has nothing to lose. But if you realize that he is not a god but a human being like yourself, with worries, defects, ambitions, frailties, that he is not the repository of an all-encompassing wisdom but a wanderer, like yourself, along the path, perhaps you will cease pouring it out like a sewer, however melodious it may sound to your ears, and rise up on your own two legs and sing with your own God-given voice. To confess, to whine, to complain, to commiserate, always demands a toll. To sing it doesn’t cost you a penny. Not only does it cost nothing—you actually enrich others. Sing the praises of the Lord, it is enjoined. Aye, sing out! Sing out, O Masterbuilder! Sing out, glad warrior! But, you quibble, how can I sing when the world is crumbling, when all about me is bathed in blood and tears? Do you realize that the martyrs sang when they were being burned at the stake? They saw nothing crumbling, they heard no shrieks of pain. They sang because they were full of faith. Who can demolish faith? Who can wipe out joy? Men have tried, in every age. But they have not succeeded. Joy and faith are inherent in the universe. In growth there is pain and struggle; in accomplishment there is joy and exuberance; in fulfillment there is peace and serenity. Between the planes and spheres of existence, terrestrial and superterrestrial, there are ladders and lattices. The one who mounts sings. He is made drunk and exalted by unfolding vistas. He ascends sure-footedly, thinking not of what lies below, should he slip and lose his grasp, but of what lies ahead. Everything lies ahead. The way is endless, and the farther one reaches the more the road opens up. The bogs and quagmires, the marshes and sinkholes, the pits and snares, are all in the mind. They lurk in waiting, ready to swallow one up the moment one ceases to advance. The phantasmal world is the world which has not been fully conquered over. It is the world of the past, never of the future. To move forward clinging to the past is like dragging a ball and chain. The prisoner is not the one who has committed a crime, but the one who clings to his crime and lives it over and over. We are all guilty of crime, the great crime of not living life to the full. But we are all potentially free. We can stop thinking of what we have failed to do and do whatever lies within our power. What these powers that are in us may be no one has truly dared to imagine. That they are infinite we will realize the day we admit to ourselves that imagination is everything. Imagination is the voice of daring. If there is anything Godlike about God it is that. He dared to imagine everything.


  Everybody took Mona and Rebecca for sisters. Outwardly they seemed to have everything in common; inwardly there wasn’t the slightest link between them. Rebecca, who never denied her Jewish blood, lived completely in the present; she was normal, healthy, intelligent, ate with gusto, laughed heartily, talked easily and, I imagine, fucked well and slept well. She was thoroughly adapted, thoroughly anchored, able to live on any plane and make the best of it. She was everything that a man could desire in a wife. She was a real female. In her presence the average American woman looked like a bundle of defects.

  Her special quality was her earthiness. Born in southern Russia, having been spared the horrors of ghetto life, she reflected the grandeur of the simple Russian people among whom she grew up. Her spirit was large and flexible, robust and supple at the same time. She was a Communist by instinct, because her nature was simple, wholesome and all of a piece.

  Though she was the daughter of a rabbi, she had emancipated herself at an early age. From her father she had inherited that acumen and integrity which from time immemorial have given to the pious Jew that distinctive aura of purity and strength. Meekness and hypocrisy were never the attributes of the devout Jew; their weakness, as with the Chinese, has been an undue reverence for the written word. For them the Word has a significance almost unknown to the Gentile. When they become exalted they glow like letters of fire.

  As for Mona, it was impossible to guess what her origins were. For a long time she had maintained that she was born in New Hampshire and that she had been educated in a New England college. She could have passed for a Portuguese, a Basque, a Roumanian Gypsy, a Hungarian, a Georgian, anything she chose to make you believe. Her English was impeccable and, to most observers, without the slightest trace of accent. She might have been born anywhere, because the English she spoke was obviously an English she had mastered in order to frustrate all such inquiries as relate to origins and antecedents. In her presence the room vibrated. She had her own wave length: it was short, powerful, disruptive. It served to break down other transmissions, especially those which threatened to effect real communication with her. She played lik
e lightning over a storm-tossed sea.

  There was something disturbing to her in the atmosphere created by the coming together of such strong individualities as composed the new menage. She felt a challenge which she was not quite able to meet. Her passport was in order but her luggage excited suspicion. At the end of every encounter she had to reassemble her forces, but it was evident, even to herself, that her forces were becoming frayed and diminished. Alone in our little room—the cubicle—I would nurse her wounds and endeavor to arm her for the next encounter. I had to pretend, of course, that she had acquitted herself admirably. Often I would rehearse some of the statements she had made, altering them subtly or amplifying them in an unexpected way, in order to give her the clue she was searching for. I tried never to humiliate her by forcing her to ask a direct question. I knew just where the ice was thin and I skated about these dangerous zones with the adroitness and agility of a professional. In this way I patiently endeavored to fill in those gaps which were distressingly blatant in one who was supposed to have graduated from such a venerable institution of learning as Wellesley.

  It was a strange, awkward and embarrassing game. I was surprised to detect in myself the germination of a new sentiment towards her: pity. It was incomprehensible to me that, forced to show her hand, she should not have taken refuge in frankness. She knew that I knew, but she would insist on keeping up pretenses. Why? Why with me? What had she to fear? That I had detected her weakness had in no way diminished my love. On the contrary, it had increased it. Her secret had become mine, and in protecting her I was protecting myself also. Could she not see that in arousing my pity she was only strengthening the bond between us? But perhaps that was not her great concern; perhaps she took for granted that the bond would grow with the years.

  To make herself invulnerable—that was her obsessive concern. Detecting that, my pity expanded immeasurably. It was almost as if I had suddenly discovered that she was a cripple. That happens now and then, when two people fall in love. And if it is love which has united two people then a discovery of that sort serves only to intensify the love. One is not only eager to overlook the duplicity of the unfortunate one, one makes a violent and unnatural effort towards identification. “Let me carry the burden of your sweet defect!” That is the cry of the lovesick heart. Only an ingrained egotist can evade the shackles imposed by an unequal match. The one who loves thrills at the thought of greater tests; he begs mutely that he be permitted to put his hand in the flame. And if the adorable cripple insists on playing the game of pretense then the heart already open and enfolding yawns with the aching void of the grave. Then not only the defect, but the body, soul and spirit of the loved one are swallowed up in what is veritably a living tomb.

  It was Rebecca who really put Mona on the rack. Better said, she permitted Mona to put herself on the rack. Nothing could induce her to play the game as Mona demanded that it be played. She stood firm as a rock, yielding not an inch one way or the other. She showed neither pity nor cruelty; she was adamant against all those wiles and seductions which Mona knew how to employ with women as well as with men. The fundamental contrast between the two “sisters” became more and more glaring. The antagonism, more often silent than spoken, revealed with dramatic clarity the two poles of the feminine soul. Superficially Mona resembled the type of the eternal feminine. But Rebecca, whose ample nature had no superficies, had the plasticity and fluidity of the real female, who, throughout the ages and without abdication of her individuality, has transformed the outlines of her soul in accordance with the changing image which man creates in order to focus the imperfect instrument of his desires.

  The creative side of the female operates imperceptibly: its province is the potential man. When its play is unrestricted the level of the race is raised. One can always gauge the level of a period by the status of its womankind. Something more than freedom and opportunity are here involved, because woman’s true nature never expresses itself in demands. Like water, woman always finds her own level. And like water also, she mirrors faithfully all that passes in the soul of man.

  What is called “truly feminine” therefore is only the deceptive masquerade which the uncreative male blindly accepts as the real show. It is the flattering substitute which the thwarted female offers in self-defense. It is the homosexual game which narcissism exacts. It is most flagrantly revealed when the partners are extremely masculine and feminine. It can be mimicked most successfully in the shadow play of the avowed homosexuals. It reaches its blind culmination in the Don Juan. Here the pursuit of the unattainable reaches the burlesque proportions of a Chaplinesque pursuit. The end is always the same: Narcissus drowning in his own image.

  A man can only begin to understand the depths of woman’s nature when he surrenders his soul unequivocally. It is only then that he begins to grow and truly to fecundate her. There are then no limits to what he may expect of her, because in surrendering he has delimited his own powers. In this sort of union, which is really a marriage of spirit with spirit, a man comes face to face with the meaning of creation. He participates in an experiment which he realizes will always be beyond his feeble comprehension. He senses the drama of the earth-bound and the role which woman plays in it. The very possessiveness of woman takes on a new light. It becomes as enchanting and mysterious as the law of gravitation.

  A strange four-cornered battle was going on between us, with Kronski acting as referee and goad. While Mona vainly endeavored to traduce and seduce Rebecca, Arthur Raymond was doing his utmost to convert me to his way of thinking. Though neither of us made any outright allusion to the subject, it was evident that he thought me neglectful of Mona and I thought him unappreciative of Rebecca. In all our discussions I was always championing Rebecca or she me, and Mona and he were doing the same, of course. Kronski, in the true spirit of referee, saw to it that we were kept on our toes. His wife, who never had anything to contribute, usually grew sleepy and retired from the scene as quickly as possible. I had the impression that she spent the time in bed lying awake and listening, because as soon as Kronski joined her she would pitch into him and torment him for having neglected her so shamefully. The quarrel would always end with grunts and squeals followed by repeated visits to the sink which we shared in common.

  Often after Mona and I had retired, Arthur Raymond would stand outside our door, asking first if we were still awake, and talk to us through the transom. I deliberately kept the door closed because in the beginning I had made the mistake of being polite and inviting him in, a fatal procedure if one had any thought of getting a night’s rest. Then I fell into another error, the stupid one of being semipolite, of answering at intervals in drugged monosyllables—Yes . . . No . . . Yes . . . No. As long as he sensed the faintest stir of consciousness in his listener, Arthur Raymond would carry on remorselessly. Like a Niagara he wore down the rocks and boulders which opposed his torrential flow. He would simply drown out all opposition. . . . There is, however, a way of protecting oneself against these irresistible forces. One can learn the trick by going to Niagara Falls and observing these spectacular figures who stand with their backs against the wall of rock and watch the mighty river shooting over their heads and falling with a deafening roar into the narrow bed of the gorge. The tingle of spray to which they are subjected acts as a stimulant to their swooning senses.

  Arthur Raymond seemed to be conscious that I had discovered some sort of protection analogous to this descriptive image. His only recourse, therefore, was to wear away the upper bed of the river and rout me out of my precarious place of refuge. There was something ludicrously obstinate about such a blind and stubborn persistence, something monumentally akin to the Gargantuan strategy which Thomas Wolfe was later to employ as a novelist and which he himself must have recognized as the defect of the perpetuum mobile machine in giving to his great work the title Of Time and the River.

  If Arthur Raymond had been a book I could have tossed him aside. But he was a river incarnate, and the bed through which he
pulsed like a dynamo was but a few steps removed from the ledge in which we had carved a sheltering niche. Even in sleep the roar of his voice was present; we emerged from our slumbers with the stunned expression of those who have been deafened in their sleep. This force, which no one had been able to canalize or transform, became an omnipresent menace. Thinking of him in later years, I often likened him in my mind to those turbulent rivers which slip their banks and double back on their tracks, forming mighty loops like the writhings of a serpent, seeking in vain to spend their uncontrollable energies, finishing their agony by catapulting into the sea with a dozen furious mouths.

  But the force which was sweeping Arthur Raymond on to nullification was at that time, by very reason of its menacing aspect, lulling and hypnotic. Like mandragoras under a glass roof, Mona and I lay rooted in our own bed, which was a strictly human bed, and fertilized the egg of hermaphroditic love. When the tingle of spray ceased to splash against the glass roof of our indifference we would gurgle from the roots with that plaintive chant of the flower which is humanized by the sperm of the dying criminal. The master of the toccata and fugue would have been appalled could he have heard the reverberations which his roar engendered.