Miller's Tales

Throughout his long life, Henry Miller (1891-1980) wrote a handful of good books, among them The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945), in which the prodigal son and narrator returns from self-imposed exile in France to tour his native United States by automobile, and Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch (1956), a back-to-the-land meditation that prefigured some of the next decade's communitarian experiments. Both, along with one or two other of Miller's books, will endure in the literature of American social criticism as fine examples of the polemicist's art.

Miller, of course, is remembered for none of these books, but for a tide of pornographic and near-pornographic novels published both pseudonymously and under his own name: Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn, Sexus, Quiet Days in Clichy, and nearly a hundred others. Of these books. Miller boasted, "The difference between me and other writers is that they struggle to get down what they've got up here in the head. I struggle to get what's below, in the solar plexus, in the nether regions." Smuggled into the United States in sub-rosa French editions, these "dirty books" titillated generations of American adolescents, who skipped over Miller's mawkish attempts at artistry to get at the naughty paragraphs deep within.

Read today, with the constant commodification of sexual...

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