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The Secret Violence of Henry Miller

The Secret Violence of Henry Miller

Katy Masuga
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt81drw
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  • Book Info
    The Secret Violence of Henry Miller
    Book Description:

    Henry Miller is a cult figure in the world of fiction, in part due to having been banned for obscenity for nearly thirty years. Alongside the liberating effect of his explicit treatment of sexuality, however, Miller developed a provocative form of writing that encourages the reader to question language as a stable communicative tool and to consider the act of writing as an ongoing mode of creation, always in motion, perpetually establishing itself and creating meaning through that very motion. Katy Masuga provides a new reading of Miller that is alert to the aggressively and self-consciously writerly form of his work. Critiquing the categorization of Miller into specific literary genres through an examination of the small body of critical texts on his oeuvre, Masuga draws on Deleuze and Guattari's concept of a minor literature, Blanchot's "infinite curve," and Bataille's theory of puerile language, while also considering Miller in relation to other writers, including Proust, Rilke, and William Carlos Williams. She shows how Miller defies conventional modes of writing, subverting language from within. Katy Masuga is Adjunct Professor of British and American literature, cinema, and the arts in the Cultural Studies Department at the University of Paris III: Sorbonne Nouvelle.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-764-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    This book explores the “secret violence” that the American writer Henry Miller inflicts on language over the course of his expansive body of work from the 1930s through the 1970s. Few critics have examined the provocative questions of linguistic volatility raised in Miller’s works, ignoring his innovative style and thereby missing the potential impact of his work in literary studies. Having been marginalized on moral grounds since first publication in 1934, Miller’s works require reexamination in order to bring new attention to his unwritten connections with other writers during this period, including Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and James Joyce....

  5. 1: A Denial of Categories
    (pp. 14-28)

    Miller’s work has been collectively placed in several literary genres and historical or cultural categories, and one result is an unfortunate reductive quality in assessments of Miller’s work. Although the categories themselves create their own complex issues of form, coding, and points for inclusion, these intricacies, first and foremost, limit a general understanding, and hence judgment, of Miller’s work. Three categories are assessed in this chapter: surrealism, obscenity and pornography and the confession, or autobiography. While useful or enlightening issues may arise out of arguments following from such categorizations, this chapter considers how the categories impact negatively on an analysis...

  6. 2: Reflecting the Galactic Varnish
    (pp. 29-50)

    Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s text Kafka : pour une littérature mineure (Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, 1975) is useful for contextualizing questions that arise in a study on Miller’s inventive literary form. Miller’s writing exhibits qualities of a minor literature in the way that it subverts the conventional assumptions of functionality of the major language of English from within. Upon close inspection, his seemingly haphazard, obscure, or nonsensical and plotless literature reveals itself to contain significant allusions and stylistic nuances that call attention to the act of writing as more than just a secured literary form being submitted to...

  7. 3: The Fleshly and the Angelic
    (pp. 51-74)

    While reserving an interest in the ideal of which it is a part in order to violate it, minor literature causes the major language to lose its power as an inhibiting force for expression. The major language is a body from which to flee, from which to forge a new language that resists its structural forms, rules and even grammar. In the words of Kafka, Miller’s parallel act of concession and defiance in his writing is his “ape-nature” fleeing out of him “head over heels and away” (“A Report to the Academy,” 258).¹ Like Kafka, in Deleuze and Guatarri’s analysis,...

  8. 4: Material Trifles
    (pp. 75-96)

    As mentioned in the introduction and chapter 1, Miller’s writing, particularly passages of the urban landscape, has been analyzed under various genres, such as surrealism and romanticism, which appear in critical texts previously mentioned as well as in Henry Miller, the Modern Rabelais(1990) by John Parkin.¹ Although these methods do provide interesting routes for specific modes of interpretation, my approach is to consider Miller’s writing (his presentations of people and things) in light of the manner in which the language presents objects as being complete or, in some way, incomplete. Miller’s language causes the reader to question conventional forms of...

  9. 5: Our Changing Geography
    (pp. 97-116)

    Miller’s portrayals of the urban landscape are ripe with self-conscious textual references and the introduction to a form of experimental writing that plays on itself as a text that is movement and as a text that is about movement, physically and mentally. Miller’s text constantly remains fluid and dynamic, leaving no stability while also moving away, quite deliberately, from any sense of realism. An important example of this quality in Miller’s writing is seen in his multi-level engagement with America and the cities of Paris and New York, which illustrates how in Miller, as for example in Proust, all names...

  10. 6: The Illusion of Force and Speed
    (pp. 117-152)

    Throughout his texts, Miller often writes of movement: literally, figuratively, metaphorically. In a literal sense, the narrator is constantly making use of various modes of transportation, across space and in time. Miller’s texts themselves — often filled with diatribes, monologues, racing catalogue descriptions, and other allusions that evoke a sense of movement and the passage of time — seem to be in motion despite their physically static presence on the page. His passages on time and motion are always embedded in a context that extends their figural and metaphorical functions, and they create a sense of velocity through the literal...

  11. 7: Developing a Painter’s Eye
    (pp. 153-176)

    Miller’s texts regularly engage in discourse on the arts, specifically painting and literature (and occasionally music). Throughout these works, Miller makes extensive direct citations and references as well as oblique allusions to texts, paintings, writers, painters, and musicians. Such widespread traces of these arts in Miller’s texts mediate both the narrator and the reader’s relation to the text and to the world. Taking Miller’s interest in painting as its focus, this chapter explores the manner in which Miller engages his reader via “literary images” in his writing. By means of ekphrastic writing — using one artistic medium to remark on...

  12. 8: The Book of Life
    (pp. 177-211)

    As with painters and painting, Miller cites numerous writers and texts in relation to episodes of the life of his narrator. Similar to the passages employing notional ekphrasis, these literary evocations are used to illuminate events in the narrator’s life as opposed to indulging in the content of the writing involved. Although not imaginary per se (as is the case with notional ekphrasis in painting), these references incorporate such things as Miller discussing another writer’s methodology for writing or comparing himself with them as creators, as “those who were most in life” (Sexus, 189). This type of reference contrasts with...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 212-218)

    The pictures Miller paints with his words do not give the reader any better sense of the actual world than dreams, or even speaking, might do, again confirming Deleuze and Guattari’s observation: “At any rate, what a vapid idea, the book as the image of the world” (A Thousand Plateaus, 6).¹ A text does not enable the actual world to be more accurately understood. (If it did, as Miller explains, “the world would go to smash.”) In fact, the text often betrays the reader in this truth-telling posture. Writing is an act of creation and always one of multiplicity and...

  14. Works Cited
    (pp. 219-226)
  15. Index
    (pp. 227-230)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. None)