Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Date with UBUWEB: having Henry Miller and Gertrude Stein over for tea

Miller and naked lady friend.

"He has magenta eyes like old fashioned vest buttons"

Listening to "Jabberwhorl Cronstadt", a selection from Henry Miller's "Black Spring". Miller is one of those authors I keep returning to. His deftness in describing the rawness of a thing with such exactness and seeming innumerability always astounds me. It is so precise, yet so ornate without seeming so. It is his quality of raw that I especially appreciate, how it occupies the virgin space of an ear or a page so effortlessly, and yet with such force and delicacy (the perfect sexual act, if you ask me, which may be entirely intentional on his part). His text, and especially his reading of his text, makes me wanna smash my typewriter to the ground, then pick up the pieces, meticulously glue them back together, and type out a broken soliloquy. His writing is just that gorgeous.

In Tropic of Cancer (which I've now pulled from my bookshelf) I have written on the very first page "this is a prolonged insult" (I always destroy my texts with notes while reading--somehow it helps me to recreate them and appropriate them. No one else has read the text the same way, I think, and so it becomes quite personal, and in return, I come to own the text myself). Reading down a little further, Miller writes:

"I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A year ago, six months ago, I though 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 spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty... what you will."

I love that he capitalizes Art, Time, Destiny... back when people believed in Destiny. Do they still?

It strikes me that he often runs on with the sentences. Long lists of things, especially in "Jabberwhorl Cronstadt". (Incidentally, I looked up the word "Cronstadt" and found "Kronstadt"--a place in Russia. Does anyone happen to know the connection?)

So I compared Henry Miller to Gertrude Stein.

Who else seems to have a sense of continual perpetuation of meaning or interpretive lengths of words, but Stein. I can't believe that on a Sunday of the May long weekend I'm stuck at home with no money and as a result of looking for things to do (having cleaned my room entirely, even changed it around to prepare for new comfy red velvet reading chair) I've decided to seek out threads that unite Stein and Miller. I'm sure a thousand feminists are grabbing their crotches in protest and thrusting in my direction (forgive the crude imagery. I'm from Moncton. And I'm reading Henry Miller).

I see it. It's there. They are connected. Miller, perhaps unconsciously at first, creating a perfect balance of elements in a given chapter, with one section heavy on description, another on dialogue, but each fluctuating little, focusing rather on how to involve the reader in the text's depths through subtle use of repeated words and connectivity of objects and feelings, and of course, desires. Not just basic human sexual desires, but desires for all things. For needs, for wants. Like an infection, desire. Maybe Miller's texts are infected. If so, then Stein's are diseased. A good disease, of course. I'm so entirely in love with both of them that maybe I'm drawing my own fabulaic parallels. Maybe trying to bind two disparate things, creating an unconscious metalepses somehow. But really, I can't help what I see. Stein's validations (not repititions), being continuous and fluid in nature, seeming to affect all things, is disease-worthy in definition at least. I'm sure she'd want to recalibrate the meaning of disease. Something like "the sickness is not in the thing. the thing which bears the sickness is not in. the thing which is the bearing in is not the thing. the disease which was the sickness is not the thing. the thing which is not the disease which is the sickness meaning is not the thing. the thing is not the disease." Or something like that. It seems odd to compare the two. Stein's work, whether deliberately or not, in most ways shattered the meanings of things, so that as a direct result the patriarchal, old-man-system, of "language" and "meaning" was recreated. Well, maybe not recreated really, but certainly OPENED WIDE UP, whereas before, things meant things. And that was it. New worlds were Stein's specialty. I love her for it. Seems odd to compare her with "patriarchal" Miller, but really, I think if a lot of his blatant obvious "meaning" were further looked into, we'd all discover a very serious conscious brilliance of other meaning, and other consciousnesses that exist. I see it.

So, my tea is cold and I need to get a fresh cup--or else I'd go on about Miller's own repetition. There's so much of it--such gems of repetition on literature and poetry and basic human needs (you should hear what he says about poetry, fantastic). What fun. It's raining here. What else am I supposed to do.

Hey, is this what writers do when they're broke? They write? It's a wonder we don't write all the time.


Blogger Iris Neva said...

wow i found someone else who "destroys their texts with notes while reading"...
don't know the cronstad (кронштад) connection, sorry, except that i can tell you that it is an island some twenty kilometres or so from st. petersburg (where i live now), it is connected to land by a very long bridge and pretty boring place when you get there.

2:02 p.m.  
Blogger MissWanda said...

It's a fantastic thing to write in the margins! Takes me places, makes me write other things. In fact, that's why I think it takes me so long to read a long piece of fiction. I stop too often to reflect.

I don't know you, nor you me, but I can tell you how absolutely affected I am by anything Russian. I studied Russian at university (the first time around). Was even engaged to a Russian from Moscow for a year. An attractive, tall red haired boy intent on naming our children after his parents. Eugene. Lydia. Oh boy.

I've been longing to get over there for years. Thinking of graduate work maybe in Scotland @ U. of Edinburgh or some such thing, if possible. (If I could come up with the 10 thousand euros per year, or some such thing. Why is money always such an issue).

I dream of walking down the Nyevsky prospekt in St. Petersburg one day. Taking photos of the elaborate subways in Moscow. Meeting some Russian poets and discussing everything under the sun. Having them call me Vandishka, again. Or some affectionate Russian mother smoothing my hair and calling me her 'ochin kraceevaya devooshka'.

I've been drawn to these people, this country, forever. I can't help but feel a sense of belonging to iy. To a place I've never been. But somehow, I've been there many many times already. It's a mystery.

12:15 p.m.  
Blogger Iris Neva said...

sheesh i just googled my own name and realized that you replied to my comment... a looong time ago.
hope you see this one one day ;)

i have originally been drawn to russia because of nabokov.
well to tell you my story even tho my passport, my parents, my place of birth and my accent all are german i feel russian.

i went to language school in a small town in the south and in st. petersburg last year. as things turned out nowadays when i am in russia i see myself mostly in moscow though.

if you ever make it over there i'll hook you up with some pretentious moscovian poets -only condition is probably that you down a few vodkas with them :p

5:32 p.m.  
Blogger MissWanda said...

Hey Iris Neva. I just found this comment too. It is May, 2012. Much has changed, and still much remains the same. Are you still around?

I would love to meet some pretentious Moscow poets. And drink vodka.

ew702 at

10:33 p.m.  

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