chapter  3
43 Pages

Parisian Tempest

In Paris, Henry Miller learned to dispense with facts and dredge the silt at the bottom of his heart for the truth that would drive his spiral form.1 Physically and emotionally drained by his travails with June and the equally difficult task of recording that struggle, Miller arrived in Paris with ten dollars, a draft of Crazy Cock, and little hope. Miller quickly sensed the futility of finishing Crazy Cock according to his previous plan: “The literary had to be killed off” (1994d: 51). Everywhere Miller turned, he saw an inversion of the realist/naturalist mode from which he worked. For Miller, this new artistic perspective meant a flight from “dead fact” toward spiral form and its reliance on “signs and symbols” (1956: 55). At theaters such as Studio 28, the surrealist films of Buñuel, Machaty, and others tacitly scoffed at the notion of plot, while experimental writers such as Blaise Cendrars, Georges Duhamel, and Louis-Ferdinand Céline reconfigured “facts” in an effort to cut through the facade of appearance and discover a deeper, firstperson reality.2 From painters such as Matisse and Chagall, Miller gleaned a sense of color and perspective.3 J.D. Brown correctly asserts that another movementDadaism-“encouraged humor, disorder, and destruction, … elements Miller had already discovered in himself” (1986: 36). During long talks with Michael Fraenkel, Miller grasped the static, death-like nature of surfaces and sought the chaotic, “dark, hidden, concealed sources of the putrefaction,” while he redoubled his interest in dreams and psychoanalysis owing to the inspiration he derived from his contact with Anaïs Nin and her collage technique (Fraenkel 1945: 48). Still searching for the resounding first-person voice he would employ in the autobiographical romances, Miller absorbed and synthesized these various concepts readily.