Notes on Henry Miller’s Nexus: Burying the Past

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In Europe, Henry will acquire “a new body and a new soul”. Then he can make use of his experiences: what he has taken from New York, and from all his life so far.

We’ve seen throughout Nexus that Henry is never short of ideas. But they come so thick and fast that he can’t keep up, and his mind gets entangled. A new body and soul will mean he can finally make use of the ideas that come to him. He will be mentally and physically agile enough to keep up with them, and catch them, and bend them to his will.

It’s a spiritual transformation he’s looking for, not an intellectual one. He’s not going to understand life any better, but he will know better how to “drink of its undying essence.”

With his new body and soul he will acquire a new constitution, which will allow him to take life as it comes.

Heading out for his daily walk, Henry runs into MacGregor – a friend he’s been trying to avoid. He talks to him sharply, wishing he would “go to hell.” But now they’ve parted he’s feeling remorse for the way he’s behaved. He felt his friend needed some harsh words to stir him into action, but is that any way to talk to someone?

Get down off your high horse! he tells himself. He had blamed MacGregor for lacking any seriousness or purpose in life, but in doing so, he realises now, he’s overlooked the one thing they have in common: “plain ordinary human weakness.” It wasn’t for him to judge his friend, but to share in his suffering, to make life easier for him in that moment.

Looking back at his judgemental attitude he can see that he’s still trying to analyse and take apart life, rather than drinking of it unreservedly. Set aside judgement and what’s left? Compassion, love … all the things that make life worthwhile. To drink of that moment with his friend would have meant kindness rather than judgement.

Later it’s Henry’s turn to receive some advice. Sid tells him: “You’ve got to bury the past!” He thinks Henry’s success is certain if only he’ll look forward to it instead of remaining stuck in his old conceptions. Henry is always complaining about America and his own people, blaming them for all his ills. It’s not until he lets go of this bitterness that he’ll be able to move on to the next stage.

It’s ironic that this is the way to become a writer: burying the past to be able to write about the past. Once it’s buried you can unearth it in your own time. Carefully and deliberately. Master of the material now, rather than the victim of the painful memories.

I think this tension always existed in Miller – it’s this paradox that defines him: a demand for life, which means unreserved enjoyment, versus a demand for writing, which requires understanding and deliberation. Somewhere amidst the confused and contradictory statements Miller makes lies the truth of the matter. But can this truth ever be unearthed?

(Image is from Pixabay.)

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3 Responses to Notes on Henry Miller’s Nexus: Burying the Past

  1. Arthur Hoyle says:

    For Miller, living his life and writing about it were inseparable. He sought to transform himself, to transcend his past, his personality, by turning his life experiences into art. He failed in this mission, which is why he tried to write Nexus II. He pursued the alchemist’s dream.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leewatkins says:

      Thanks for the comment! I enjoyed your The Unknown Henry Miller. Do you think he considered himself a failure in the ways you mention? It seems to me that to a degree he was a success: he did transform himself, and he did turn his life experiences into art. Perhaps this process of transformation of life into art is always a process, and so is never completed, and so can always look like failure in the end.

      Like

      • Arthur Hoyle says:

        Hi Lee. Miller went into a depression when the completion of “Nexus” did not bring with it the psychic liberation he had been seeking. But in my view, he was a successful artist who shared his hard-won wisdom with others through his writing and through his personal example. I only wish I had come into his orbit while he was alive. I was a student at UCLA when he lived nearby in Pacific Palisades, but had no clue.

        Liked by 1 person

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