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Miller Light

July 21, 1991

Henry Miller does not need defenders. I am nevertheless moved to ask by what criterion Molly Giles was assigned to review the two recently published biographies of Miller, inarguably one of the most original, influential, prolific and popular authors of this century. Giles may have won a National Book Critics Circle citation for reviewing, but she clearly knows little about Miller as a man or as a writer.

Other than objecting to her failure to recognize or even suggest what reasons there are that Miller should warrant a single, let alone two biographies (actually three, and the best, so far, Jay Martin's "Always Merry and Bright" was published by Capra Press in 1978, though Giles writes that Miller "died in 1981 (it was 1980) without a full-fledged biography"), or to describe what kind of an artist Miller was, or what made him the figure he remains today, Giles apparently accepts inaccuracies concerning Miller by both authors at face value.

For one, Giles writes, "Acclaimed as a writer, he no longer cared for writing, and spent his last years playing competitive Ping-Pong in his Pacific Palisades mansion." To the contrary, Miller cared all his life deeply for writing (and reading) and wrote virtually every day until physical infirmities prevented him from continuing. His essay "On Turning 80" is one of the most beautiful things Miller ever wrote.

What's more, he continued to champion the smaller presses that supported new authors and experimental writing in radio and TV interviews and made contributions of his own to such publications. It should also be noted that despite his facile reputation as a male chauvinist, Miller endorsed the criticism of his own work in Kate Millet's "Sexual Politics," voiced his admiration for Germaine Greer and her book "The Female Eunuch," and openly promoted Erica Jong's "Fear of Flying," all considered landmark works by women at the time. Miller did this in his mid- to late 80s, blind in one eye, deaf in one ear, unable to walk without a cane or an ambulater and victimized by arteriosclerosis . . .

More important, Henry Miller was not an antisemite. He did resent the Jewish mass migration at the turn of the century that broke up the childhood community he loved in Brooklyn and which he called his "first paradise." But Miller almost always otherwise writes of Jewish individuals glowingly. . . .

As for Miller's view of Jews as a people, I refer Giles to Miller's "Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch" as one example where Miller offers a virtual rhapsody to the Jewish character and their importance to his own life and personal survival.

Last, Giles writes so dispassionately, even indifferently about her subject that it just plain irritates . . . I encourage any adventurous reader to skip the recent, often misinformed, generally unsympathetic biographies reviewed by Giles and which her writing echoes and go directly to Miller's work itself. There are indescribable treasures awaiting.


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