Author: Henry Miller.
Title: Rosy Crucifixion: Sexus Nexus Plexus
Relatively early on in this autobiographical work, Henry Miller declares that he is too self-conscious to be writer. “I don’t know anything about writing yet. I’m too self-conscious, I guess.”
Strange words in an anything-but self-conscious novel. In fact, if there were one defining quality to Mr. Miller’s writing, it would have to be the opposite of that—a sort of self-consciouslessness. For starters, Mr. Miller is overtly honest—almost painfully so—about his sexual escapades. He tells us how he made love to a woman married to a paralyzed man in a public bathroom; about having sex with his wife only after he tells her he’s leaving her; how he joined in in orgies. He tells us of the sores on his penis and how he was turned on by his lover’s story about the time she was raped. He tells us all this in such graphic detail that his publisher was threatened with jail time the year the first installment came out and the novel itself was banned in Paris for some time.
Although his raunchy stories are certainly the most obvious manifestation of Mr. Miller’s self-consciouslessness, they are by no means the extent of it. In other words, he doesn’t hold back elsewhere either. He goes on rants for pages explaining how to borrow money from friends and telling us that, in borrowing money, he is doing his friends a favor. He revels in the fact that he is unable to hold down a job and he unabashedly allows his lover, Mona, to support him. There is also something honest about how he never mentions his daughter’s name, choosing instead to refer to her as “the child.” He does not pretend to be a father.
Nor is this aura of self-consciouslessness confined to his story-telling; the writing itself is so mercilessly self-consciousless that you’d be hard pressed not to find a typo. Maybe it’s just the edition I have, but the whole thing has a sense that it hasn’t even been read over once by anyone, let alone an editor. If an editor was involved, he should be fired immediately. And then summarily shot. Still, the typos somehow work—they create a sense that it’s all something rambling, raw and honest.
Yes, strangely, there’s something romantic about it all.
From the opening lines, we see Mr. Miller as a hopeless romantic, falling madly in love with a woman (“I felt thoroughly refreshed, pure at heart, and obsessed with one idea—to have her at any cost. Walking through the park I debated what sort of flowers to send…”) only to learn moments later that he is already married (“I telephoned my wife that I would not be home for dinner. She greeted the announcement in her usual disgusted way, as though she expected nothing more of me than disappointments and postponements. ‘Choke on it, you bitch,’ I thought.”). The whole dichotomy of this moment has a strange texture to it—the same texture that pervades the work as a whole. His declaration of love is plain, no attempted justification for his feelings, no remorse in betraying his wife. Nothing. Just naked declarations, as if love alone were justification enough.
In a way, it’s uncomfortable to find such a life romantic. It gives one pause to consider why.
On one level, there’s a sadness to his story. By novel’s end, the world has flipped on Mr. Miller. In the beginning, it was him who fucked his wife. Figuratively, by leaving her. And then, to compound things, literally. In the end, it’s his woman—Mona—who screws him. This time, figuratively and no longer literally. And even if we look past all those clues that she is a prostitute—which Mr. Miller does quite easily, fooling himself, but not us—we still see that she takes on a female lover, Anastasia, while keeping Mr. Miller around. (From this, I imagine, the crucifixion part—a trinity, with Mr. Miller the one on the cross.) Put another way, she Henry Millers Henry Miller.
But that Mr. Miller gets dished some poetic justice isn’t enough to explain my feelings toward him—you see, it wasn’t so much that I felt sorry for Mr. Miller; rather, somewhere among his declarations of love, and his borrowing of money, and loafing around, there was a respect there, too, and a romance, a sort of human nobility.
So the question I struggled with was how can you feel these things about a guy who gets into the type of shit Mr. Miller gets into?
Here’s the thing—amidst it all, Mr. Miller is unwaveringly honest. He holds nothing back and offers no justification. He simply tells us his life, his feelings. There is no attempt to control how we see him. And it is because of that complete honesty that we are allowed to see him as something exceedingly rare—uniquely human.
In the end, the irony is that it is his acts, as despicable as they may be, that make him a good person. It is our being normative that is unsettling; his honesty, if not to himself then at least to us, is freeing.
But, ultimately, as with any good work that’s not self-censoring, his book does not care about what we feel, just as it does not care about how he feels. In the same breath that he laments being too self conscious to be a writer, he tells us of his life’s dream: “What I want is to open up. I want to know what’s inside me. I want everybody to open up. I’m like an imbecile with a can-opener in his hand, wondering where to begin—to open up the earth. I know that underneath the mess everything is marvelous. I’m sure of it.”
Somewhere along the road Henry Miller achieved what Henry Miller wanted to. He stopped being self-conscious; he started being a writer. And then he wrote. He wrote the Rosy Crucifixion and he wrote openly and honestly and fiercely and because of that he opens up himself and human nature and everything else.
And in the end, he was right. There is something marvelous underneath all that mess.