Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Henry Miller

It'd been a long time since I last read a book by Henry Miller. But for whatever reason, I picked up his account of Greece just before the Second World War. Like most of Miller's work, The Colossus of Maroussi is excellent. Miller's writing is fast and muscular. But at the same time it can be poignant and tempered. The success of Colossus owes to Miller's ability to locate in Greece something of the universal, something transcendent. 

It may be that, with Covid, we're living through a period of limited travel and mobility, and it may be that many of us are looking for ways to escape -- whatever the reason, reading Miller's travelogue provided just that: transplantation. Reading Colossus was like being whisked away to a foreign land. It was like being introduced to the Greeks through Miller, and seeing in them something wonderful. 

Miller is at his best in Colussus when he allows himself to be most enthusiastic. I don't know that I'd noticed this before when reading Miller, but he seems to have had a capacity for unbridled interest. He approached places, especially, with an unending curiosity and zeal. He showed no embarrassment when doing this: his descriptions of Greece make it seem like the only place in the world where a person could be happy. 

Miller lets himself go at these moments: he launches -- because that's the word, really -- into meditations, into calculations, into reflections on the meaning of it all. A small thing can trigger this. But when Miller gets going, he's unlike almost any other writer. A person needn't have visited Greece to take Miller at his word, to recognize in that place an unusual mixture of both the human and the divine.

As always with Miller, the last word is reserved for him: "If men cease to believe that they will one day become gods then they will surely become worms." 


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