Chapter Three of Henry Miller’s Nexus is about despair. Miller describes his desperate state, trapped in a harmful relationship with Mona. He spends his days doing nothing, letting “events pile up of their own accord.” He knows he needs a miracle to save him, but he cannot muster the energy to bring one about.
His despair is of his own making, and he created it out of fear. He lives always in the “now”: because the past is lost to him, and he does not dare to hope for any future. The fear from which his despair is built is terrible because it is fear of one thing and one thing alone: losing Mona. His cowardice has made him brave: he has annihilated everything and will face any danger in order to avoid the one thing he fears. He has retreated into his mind in a desperate bid for survival, believing that survival is only possible if he can keep his love for Mona alive, even if only in his own mind.
In his despairing state, he believes that pure love is impossible. And yet love is essential to life. So he has had to make do with an impure, human love, fragile, which has made a coward of him, fearing as he must for its survival. So many things can destroy an impure love: loss of feeling, sabotage by a rival, death of the beloved. Pure love means letting go and letting the loved one be, but this is impossible for beings who are “weak, proud, vain, possessive, envious, jealous, unyielding, unforgiving.” And we are all those things some of the time. And in despair it seems to Miller that that he is only these things.
But even this impure love, this all he has, gives Miller a glimpse into the deeper truth, the deeper nature of love. What love is in its purity. He can imagine the perfect and pure love, and he knows that if only he were capable of this greater love, then even death could not destroy it. He would have nothing to fear.
But though he can see this pure love in his mind’s eye, he knows he cannot reach it. He knows it is there, but it is infinitely distant. He has learned in his despair to live without true love, with only the idea of it in his mind. A literary notion of love, detached from what he actually feels in his human heart. He is living now a “minus” life, a life lived only in the mind. A life of cold ideas without emotion. Everything of life has faded, he says, because love, which is the essence of life, seems all but lost to him.
The chapter ends with Miller admonishing his past self for having fallen into this wrongheaded thinking. Why look to the stars for the ideal of love when life is all about us? Why pray for the intervention of angels when you can go into the street and find one in human form? And yet this period of inertia was a necessary step in Miller’s development. With this fall into the very depths of despair, Miller learned something of the darkest side of human existence, the very subject matter of what he would soon write, after leaving New York for Paris.
I honestly don’t think there is such a thing as pure love. There is always a bit of selfishness in human love. Even as a parent, I am aware that my love for my son is not without selfishness. I want him to be happy because it makes me happy.
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I think you’re right! Real love is never the absolute negation of yourself for another.
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