Broken Life (Notes on Henry Miller’s Nexus)


Henry Miller is especially enjoying this conversation with Mona, who has just returned from Europe. It’s not just because he’s missed her so much; what he likes is that they are having his favourite kind of conversation: the “broken” and “kaleidoscopic” kind, as he calls it. He writes:

“Often, in the pauses between remarks, I would make mental answers wholly at variance with the words on my lips. An additional spice, of course, was contributed by the atmosphere of the room, the books lying about, the droning of a fly, the position of her body, the comfortable feel of the couch.”

The kaleidoscopic nature of conversation: what you say, what you think, what happens around you. It’s not just about the words spoken: “There was nothing to be established, posited or maintained. If a wall crumbled it crumbled” and the conversation would continue regardless of the sense.

You might call it getting lost in the moment: we’ve all enjoyed times like these, talking nonsense with our friends. Nothing achieved, nothing gained, just sheer enjoyment. Just living, you might say.

Mona says to Henry: “You do have a strong spiritual make-up, but there’s also more of the animal in you than most men. You want to live … live at any cost … whether as a man, a beast, an insect, or a germ …”

To a beast or an insect, conversation isn’t everything – or isn’t anything at all. Henry is like a dog pricking up his ears and wagging his tail at his master’s voice. It’s the buzz of life that’s important, the fact that something is going on. And the love in his heart for the one speaking.

(“Woof, woof, woof!” – the final words of Sexus, the first volume in this trilogy.)

And like any spirited animal, Henry is always looking for trouble. Because suffering is life too. He’s learned from Socrates the importance of “gadflies”: they can be a nuisance but they can also wake an animal from its stupor. He is happy to meet the gadflies of the world – or to be the gadfly himself.

Even when he’s not out making or getting into trouble, Henry is caught in the buzz of life. He’s distracted even while “writing”, and that’s why he can’t write. “Sometimes I would sit at the machine for hours without writing a line,” he writes. “Fired by an idea, often an irrelevant one, my thoughts would come too fast to be transcribed. I would be dragged along at a gallop, like a stricken warrior tied to his chariot.”

These ideas coming too thick and fast for him to write them down: this is the world intruding even while he’s locked away in his study. His nose darts back and forth and he wags his tail and he can’t type with his paws.

His favoured writing process is like his favourite kind of conversation: broken and kaleidoscopic. Less about the words themselves, and more about the many associations they bring up, and the sensation of this strange flow, and his enjoyment of it.

(Image is from Pixabay.)

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