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This is the controversial 1939 book that was banned in the US for 30 years after its publication due to obscenity. I was expecting something along the lines of William Burroughs or D.H. Lawrence; what I got was clearly related.

At first I was intrigued by Miller's account of working for what he called the Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company (based on his experience working for Western Union in New York in the 1920s). It was a fine anticapitalist rant, and I wondered if this weren't the main reason for the book's being banned for such a long time. After the first hundred pages or so, however, I reached the sex - and what mechanical, meaty grinding it was. Reviews say that Miller "retains an ironic distance from his protagonist's racism and misogyny", but if so, it was invisible to me. The guy came off as a complete shit trying to justify his existence by waxing rhapsodic about all the rotten things he was doing. His experience remained fundamentally interesting to me, with moments of brilliance, but I found it ultimately depressing.

The influence of this stuff is clear: I can see the lineage from William Blake to D.H. Lawrence to James Joyce to Miller, and from him on to the Beats like Ginsburg and then Burroughs and Tim Leary. But Miller was caught in a particularly depressing part of history, in the post-Victorian depths of military-industrial gloom, desperately humping his way along, trying to forget for a moment his drab, wretched life. It's more sad than sexy - at least to me.

I was thinking about how much this reminded me of Burroughs, but an even more embittered and jaded version of it. This version of Miller seemed to have almost no sense of humor at all, only an occasional biting wit; and all of his decadence didn't seem to get him anywhere. I talked about it with some friends and they reminded me that at that time, it was very much in vogue to be miserable if you wanted to be considered an intellectual - this was the era of Nihilism verging on Objectivism. So you were either a mindless sheep or a miserable bastard; there seemed to be nothing in between.

So would I recommend this book? Yes and no. For a representative sample of what it feels like to be born fifty years too early and kicking against it in every way one can think of, yes. If you want straight-up sexy, no.

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astvinr
Feb. 3rd, 2008 11:12 pm (UTC)
A spot-on review! Couldn't agree more. In fact, Miller does have a lot of humour, but that's his problem. It's the sneering, leering misogynistic 'humour' of the old-time bar-room comic. Curiously, I have a copy of Quiet Days in Clichy in a German translation. I bought it for a few pence and read it in the hopes of learning some German slang I didn't already know, but instead found a revelation. The humour doesn't translate (it never does into German) so all the lascivious smirking was gone. "Ironic distance from his protagonist's racism and misogyny" was actually achieved. You just have to translate Miller out of the picture and you get something rather lovely.
I so prefer Anais Nin, though, but I'm über impressed that you can tackle Miller now. Boy, oh boy, are you getting way better!!
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