Henry Miller; the Man and his Works by George Wickes. Forum House. 1969

Grant me the space to relate a long but brilliant observation on the nature of Miller’s work, as well as that of those artists who share his gifts and nature.

‘There seem to be two distinct types of creative man. The first controls his material and shapes it. The second delivers himself over, bound hand and foot to his gifts. The first belongs to the family of Pope, the second to the family of Lawrence, of Blake. With this second type of artist it is useless to agitate for measure, form, circumspection. They are entirely mantic, delivered over to their pneuma.

It is very exasperating, for almost any one of us talented fellows could show Blake how to improve his work, or Lawrence how to achieve the form he lacked with the artificial aid of a blue pencil. But we should then be guilty, I have no doubt, of missing the whole meaning and content of the work of such artists — for the meaning resides not only in the work as a whole unit, but also in the life of its creator, and in the struggle that went into the making of the work.

Unless we are prepared to admit that this type of creative man is making use of his art in order to grow by it, in order to expand the domains of his own sensibility, we will be unable to profit by what he has to offer us, which is the vicarious triumph of finding ourselves in reading him. The imperfections of his art come from an honourable admission that he wishes to grow. He does not wish to sever the umbilical cord connecting him to his creation. He wraps himself more and more deeply in the coloured cocoon of his personal mythology until it is quite impossible for you to do more than reject him utterly, or accept him unreservedly.

In an age where our literature is coming more and more to resemble an exchange of common- room debating-points wrapped in impeccable prose or verse, the work of such hungry time-spirits as Miller and Lawrence has a very special function. The new psyche of the age will be born of their desperate struggles, one feels. Merit and defect are somehow irrelevant to their work. What matters is the personality, the key, the tone of voice. They remind us that literature is something more than an electric massage for the over-educated ego, or a formal garden in which the critic can take his Peke for a run. It is a wilderness in which one can find or lose oneself, and where the object of creation is not only to produce “works of art” but to become more and more oneself in doing so.

– Lawrence Durell

This excerpt comes from Henry Miller: Man works Blah. This collection of writing includes work by Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, and is commonly purposed to describe either the writers relationship with Miller or the significance of Miller’s work in the US and in Europe. The excerpt by Lawrence Durell is an example of the high calibre of writing produced for this book, something that already contributes to my own writing through simple exposure to better writing as well as the effect of reading good writing to motivate my own projects to greater heights. Beyond this however, the multiple voices of truly incredible writers, all writing about writing that influenced them, rings of a literary communion that dramatically enhanced my desire to write in recent weeks.

The clarity and scope of Durell’s writing, particularly the placing of Miller’s writing on the narrative of literature in recent history evidenced in this extract, echoes how the Daily Maverick was describe in their writing the importance of events on a much greater scale than as mere singular events. This element is echoed in other responses to Miller’s work, such as Bigotry’s Whipping Boy by Walker Winslow. Winslow does however, more so than other contributors to this book, mimic Miller’s gratuitous imagery and harsh, crude and unapologetic tone in a rather obvious and unsophisticated way. This may be a conscious or a subconscious result of how Miller influence Winslow’s writing, but the result is unappealing and blatantly unsuccessful. Winslow then, at least, taught me to consider that I may be potentially mimicking writers subconsciously. As a result, I noticed that I had a habit of replicating another successful writer in my class, particularly their tendency to break up sentences which in contrast to my long sentences always seemed appealing.

So distinct from the actual quality of the writing in this book, which was remarkable in many cases, the biggest contributing factor of this book to my own writing was to consider it’s place in relation to the narrative of my own writing and the writing of others in my discipline. Equally, however, consider to what degree you are being authentic and to what degree you are adopting the writing habits of others.

References: Henry Miller; the Man and his Works by George Wickes. Forum House. 1969


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