chapter  1
25 Pages

Introduction: Spiral Form

Henry Miller’s somewhat disingenuous remark to Erica Jong illustrates the older writer’s propensity to combine self-analysis with fabulation, historical fact with anecdotal hyperbole. Devoting literally millions of words to his spiritual autobiography, Miller sought to explore his identity on a scope few other authors ever attempted. Despite his almost maniacal efforts to reveal his innermost self in a “truthful” manner, Miller regularly, even typically, followed his advice to Jong and willfully distorted both the internal and external facts of his life. Although he occasionally protested, most famously to Edmund Wilson, that he never “use[d] ‘heroes’” and that everything he wrote paralleled his “real” life, Miller manipulated language, style, and form in such a way as to alter the significance of those parallels and create a persona quite unlike the historical Henry V. Miller (1938a: 49).2 Simultaneously lyrical and naturalistic, surreal and quotidian, Miller’s “autobiographical romances,” prose essays, letters, stories, watercolors, and criticism embody a life-long attempt to invent a mythopoeic vision and revision of the self. By filtering memories, dreams, and fantasies through an anecdotal matrix, Miller allows his narratives to blur categories of past, present, and future, enabling him to depict a persona that stands both in and apart from the historical continuum. Such a framework lets Miller fuse real events and fabrications without sacrificing the “truthfulness” of his representations. Because his narratives deny strict chronology, Miller may rearrange the incidents of his life in a pattern that seeks not photographic realism, but psychological realism. Viewing the same basic experiences, the memories that J. Hillis Miller describes as “a precarious support for narrative continuity,” from a variety of temporal and psychological positions, Miller creates a type of suprarealism that rejects factual continuity for emotional essence (1998: 149). An individual occurrence may thus provide Miller’s narrator, or supraselfan amalgam of the numerous redactions of “Henry Miller” that stands collectively for the biographical Miller at various points in his life-with myriad associations or interpretations. Although these interpretations may contradict or undercut one another, they work together to form a hermeneutics of the self.