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DIALOGUE: Conversations between the Ethereal and the Unmedicated

Henry Miller drops by The Zebra Lounge in Chicago

"You know, my biggest fear was always that June was a certified wacko and that in fact I had no talent at all, that what she read on my pages was not what I had written, but the claptrap she made up in her mind when she closed her eyes and thought about me. I put my whole faith in her, my work, my craft, my fragile fragile psyche, into her hands because she had a strong Kegel and I felt held. As we ruminate further on the nature and definition of insanity, please do not forget to cite this particular example."

By Charles Shaw


Late at night, Tommy at the piano playing Neil Diamond standards. Henry enters with nineteen year old Asian woman on his arm.

Henry: I think I know the broad that owns this place. I spent a New Years Eve here in the early Sixties.

ME: Did you get around to Chicago much?

Henry: Only in the later years. By then everywhere you looked was Mies VanDerRohe, box box box and everybody boxed up inside the big boxes. Ironically, very un-square times.

ME: How so?

Henry: It was right when the Tropics were finally released to the herd here in the Motherland, when the big myopic powers-that-were decided we had grown enough in our britches to handle the things that an ignoramus like me writes.

ME: What was different then?

Henry: Nothing. There was just as much fucking going on then, people just didn't feel the need to talk about it as much. It wasn't a badge of honor anymore than it was a scarlet letter, but it was the one smirking place we all slinked off to when we had a shadow or two to hide in.

ME: So, you're just basically the first one to talk about it?

Henry: Hardly! I'm just the first one to say "fuck" as much as I did. Sade said it a lot too, but they're still trying to pretend he never existed. Sade wishes he had my press.

ME: I was in New York with Abbie Hoffman last month. He said you were a "hero for a whole generation."

Henry: I could just as easily say that about him. Abbie understood what I was talking about, he lived as one should live.

ME: How should one live?

Henry: As if passing God on the sidewalk were a commonplace occurrence, and shoving him out of your way was a frequent necessity.

ME: What did you think of Hugo Nin?

Henry: I thought he was a lapdog. If you scratched him in just the right place he'd kick up his leg for you.

ME: Do people often ask you about Anais?

Henry: Sure. And I always give them what they want.

ME: Why is that?

Henry: Because Anais would walk around spreading her cunt if she could get away with it, just to show it off to the world. When you possess something of such magnificence, the logical thing would be to trade on it's value. In a very established way, that has been going on since the dawn of time. People shouldn't bother with the business card, they should just whip out their cock anytime they drop by.

ME: What was it like leaving your daughter behind when you went to Paris for the first time?

Henry: It was like someone had taken a scythe and slashed off half my viscera and stuck it inside a jar of vomit. The pain is of the exquisite variety, but it disables like vile sickness. She was never truly mine, however. Those who think they know me call that time Prologue, a setting of characters and events to serve the eventual story. They can view my story as archetypal now because so many have tried to replicate it again and again. All they ever needed to realize is that if you have a compulsion that overrides every other desire and can easily sway you to forsake everything around you for an abstract idea, then you too can ride the Henry Miller Charter express to Hell.

ME: You say that with a grin…

Henry: Kid, the tears got pulled out by fishhooks decades before you were born.

ME: So, you got to miss the '80's all together. How fortunate were you.

Henry: I saw the '80's, they were called the '20's.

ME: Describe Paris during the 30's in one word.


Henry: Excretus.

ME: Should was assign that a negative connotation?

Henry: No. It simply means it was a time when everyone was oozing, emitting, or ejaculating something.

ME: You were married five times. Why did you keep at it?

Henry: Why not? They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. I mean a general rule of thumb is that Narcissists Don't Nest. We do sojourn, however, and I suppose sometimes a marriage fell inside that sojourn. They all get sick of me eventually.

ME: You don't get sick of them first?

Henry: I go into it sick of them, and worked my way backwards. That way by the time they left me I was madly in love with them. It maximized the devastation quotient.

ME: Some would call that Masochistic.

Henry: One would only hope so! Second General Rule of Thumb: Narcissists are Masochists.

ME: Who was the best piece of ass you ever had?

Henry: Hmmmmm…a subjective question if there ever were one. For expediency of memory, please consider the case of the seventeen-year-old Jewish girl at the Benzedrine and cocktail party on the Upper West Side in the latter half of 1957. That was when those cocksuckers from Columbia, Burroughs and Ginsberg and their cadre were still hanging around the neighborhood.

ME: You all have the distinction of being banned in the US of A. You sent Cancer over from Paris, and they sent it back unopened, marked "Return to Sender." How does that make you feel?

Henry: It annoyed me like an infected pustule. I had written that as a deposition of sorts, an apologia to those I had shot a load of this or that on, who I blinked from my rectum as I steamed away to Paris for the first time…wives, daughters, parents, bosses. It was supposed to at the very least account for my time. But let us not forget Narcissists are Narcissists, and I wanted them lauding my brilliance.

You know, my biggest fear was always that June was a certified wacko and that in fact I had no talent at all, that what she read on my pages was not what I had written, but the claptrap she made up in her mind when she closed her eyes and thought about me. I put my whole faith in her, my work, my craft, my fragile fragile psyche, into her hands because she had a strong Kegel and I felt held. As we ruminate further on the nature and definition of insanity, please do not forget to cite this particular example.

ME: You were a tremendous influence on me. You may take that as either validation of your talents, or confirmation of your lack thereof.

Henry: Are you insane?

ME: I don't know? Abbie told me that insanity is intensely political.

Henry: Which still leaves me a hung yard from an answer.

ME: I think I am to some, and profoundly mundane to others.

Henry: Then you're right where you should be.

ME: So…what is the writer now?

Henry: The writer is now as he has always been an entertainer. The object of writing is to be read. What changes is the context in which the writing is done, and the corresponding style changes that go along with any particular place and time. People will not read fiction like I wrote anymore, they don't have the patience for that much self-indulgence, and they get it. What I was advocating, everyone already voted on.

ME: I spent almost 8 years just trying to shake your scent off my work without dispensing with it altogether. I discovered you inhabit that place called "all or nothing."

Henry: And such is my role. I am a nonesuch, a zygote in the medulla of the human consciousness. I only reflect, a victim of an inadequate verbal censoring mechanism. I am a river flounder, foraging the mud for old refuse. But I am that bubble from beneath you see every time you look across the water.

ME: Your cameo in Reds was the first time I had ever seen or heard you speak. I was eleven years old. I had no idea what the film was about, but I seemed to have tremendous sympathy for the poor people. Then, a few years later, I learned that the film was about the Bolshevik revolution, and I was shamed because I pitied the poor people in the film, who I learned were "Communists". I didn't understand why there should be any reason not to feel pity for a person who needed or deserved it.

Henry: When Beatty asked me to be in it he said it was because he wanted a bunch of us who lived back then to bear witness to what the times were like, to set the cultural stage, as it were.

ME: And you said…?

Henry: I said, "There was just as much fucking going on in those days."

ME: Is there one thing we can count on more than that?

Henry: Yes. Mankind's capacity for cruelty.

ME: How did a cynic like you live to be almost a hundred years old?

Henry: I painted, and I enjoyed every fuck I was fortunate enough to get.

ME: Does that still fly in the 21st Century?


Henry: The only flightless bird is Doubt.


ME: The first paragraph of Tropic of Capricorn changed my life. When you said, "And if I ever met God, I often said, I'd greet him warmly, and spit in his face", why would you spit in his face?

Henry: As Epicurus once said,

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

I would do it because he made pain part of the contract.

ME: But doesn't our reaction to pain define us as a species?

Henry: On the contrary. It is the one thing we have in common with all species.

ME: So what of the world now?

Henry: What of it? There has always been this much hatred going on. If anything, there is so much more understanding now because people are capable of seeing other cultures and their people in the blink of an eye. This was not the case when last the world went to war. Wanton killing is both the exception and the standard. Living within that paradox is a difficult proposition. We are all succubae. Our paths are all intertwined. You can drive a stake into your particular dusty corner of the environs, but with a simple fold the whole plot is turned upside down. We must remember that nothing is permanent.

ME: How much is chance?

Henry: Chance is what happens during the moments you daydream.

ME: And fate?

Henry: Fate is the caste system. Each of us was born with potential beyond our place.

ME: Then why are we not more?

Henry: Because we are the rug upon which powerful people walk, a barrier between their skin and the filth of the earth.

ME: And your lady friend here?

Henry: She is the future. Orient yourself properly.

ME: So give me something to bring down the mount for the true believers. Because, as I'm fond of saying, we sure could use a little advice.

Henry: My wisdom…

"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 those 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."

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