This 1936 or so entry in the Miller pantheon is a book I've been after for years. Enjoying Miller's scattershot writings in the love-hate way that I do - always inspired by the fact that if Brooklyn-boy Miller can write so haphazardly and be called brilliant, anyone can - I figured I was in for his usual staggering, and falling, vision. Turns out Black Spring is little more than an extended series of sketches and hallucinations, some focused on old New York and some on the France that Miller "made famous" in Tropic of Cancer. If you buy Miller as a 20th century literary genius because he wrote some supposedly fact-based sex scenes, then you'll have to love Black Spring, though the sex quotient is low here outside of Miller's (alleged) teenage seduction of a beautiful widow. Much of the rest of it is his usual self-concious stream-of-conciousness about the general world and people around him. There are some good flashes here and there, though some are of the "so bad it's hilarious" variety. Then there are the annoying parts, one of which is Miller's apparent sketch of the poet Walter Lowenfels, disguised here by a stupid pseudonym that recalls the worst of Kerouac. But that is only slightly as irritating as the pantomiming of James Joyce that goes on throughout the piece, which seems to be of the opinion that Miller - the Ed Wood of American literature - and his pal "Jabberwhorl" are more clever than most of the human race. Then there is Miller's "brutal misogyny," which I think most women would recognize as the sad "macho" posturing it clearly is. All in all, this reads like what Miller biographers have implied about it: that it was a cut-and-paste job aimed at getting quick money for Miller because of his determination to avoid that horrible thing - a regular job, which Miller claimed was the great destroyer of all brilliance (one wonders how T.S. Eliot ever managed!). Miller fans may therefore proceed unafaraid, all others with caution.
"What is not in the open street is false, derived, that is to say, literature."
I've been working my way through Henry Miller's books, partly out of obligation, partly because I was in Big Sur and I've come to the conclusion that he really just wrote one massive book. After you've read 2-3 of his novels, you realize they're all pretty much the same. Lots of sex, vulgar language, little plot, bohemian ideals, stuff about writing, egotistical male characters, etc. Did I mention the sex? Credited with freeing American lit. from its Puritan roots, Miller is something of a link between the high modernists (Eliot, Woolf) and the Beats. He has a sort of stream of consciousness style, but it's an extroverted style, if that makes sense. And his depiction of the demimonde, as well as somewhat sloppy writing would show up in Kerouac and others. "Black Spring" is his second novel, from 1936, and has less explicit sex than some of his other books. It's more of a bildungsroman, describing his growing up in Brooklyn (it's hard to separate Miller the author from his characters) to his arrival in Paris. He's an important and influential author, but I'm not sure how good he is.
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