Reading our newest feature article, on Henry Miller’s Paris, I couldn’t help but feel that it had been written just for me. I am sitting on my roof as I write this, soaking in the early spring sun. Today the streets of Cambridge are rife with sandals, shorts, and other vestiges of summer, donned a little early out of optimistic excitement.
I think we get this way every spring – something about the hard winter wakens a desire for debauchery in all of us, no matter how slight. Miller, with his graphic awareness of the human body, speaks to this new-found sensuality, a desire to eat, drink, and above all, be merry. We have not yet reached the balmy days of June (which, I have been told, is named after the goddess of marriage because it is so perfect for weddings), but we certainly can dream.
However, one of the most distinguishing features of the dream is the surreal mixture of beauty and fear. Like most major metropolises, Paris is a city of contradictions. But Paris is set apart, distinguished by its uncanny beauty and history of decadence. At the time he wrote Tropic of Cancer, Miller was, like many other great intellectuals, an American in Paris. He was an expatriate, and as such, able to see the city for what it was, warts and all. His Paris is not one of blossoms and romance and impressionist painting, but rather the earthly delights so powerfully captured by Hieronymus Bosch. Yet as unsavory as this may seem at times, there is a powerful sense that Miller is truly alive in his works.
Writer William Caverlee drives home this point in our newest piece, in which he recalls two separate trips to France: one, taken in the 1970s when he was a young man, in love with Miller’s profanities and audacity, and a far more recent voyage. Through his wanderings, Caverlee comes to see that there are several different ways of looking at Paris – and more than one way of reading Miller. Cities, like books, are different the second time around, and not always in a good way.
But as for Miller, he’ll always have Paris. Take a moment out of your busy spring cleaning schedule to read Henry Miller in Paris, the Mean Streets of the Tropic of Cancer and visit the so-called City of Light.