Friday, 15 January 2010

Trysts tropiques

Do not pick up books that have been put out on hard rubbish piles. Or, rather, do, but not if one of the books is Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer because then you might be tempted to read it and that would be a mistake. "I am literally reading trash" I joked to my imaginary friends on twitter, thinking that they would think that I was clever. But get this: I was figuratively reading trash too! Nobody saw that coming.

I'm not going to offer an extensive critique of Tropic of Cancer. In a nutshell - or a cunt-shell, as HM might nonsensically have put it, fond as he was of that word ("cunt" rather than "shell") - it is what I like to call a palindromically bad work, which is to say that no matter how you approach it - aesthetically, morally, erotically - it is still fundamentally bad. HM is a grot, which is not in itself a bad thing, but his writing stinks more than his mindgrapes, and that's a cardinal sin as far as grot-lit is concerned. It's basically 300 pages of HM being a misogynistic anti-Semitic anti-American arsehole, a charming set of attitudes he details in often staggeringly banal cod-modernist prose.

I enjoyed maybe 20 out of Tropic of Cancer's 300+ pages, and not the sex bits either, they were tawdry and dull. Like D.H. Lawrence, who admittedly was working a rather different seam of sexified modernism, HM feels impossibly dated. ToC is an artefact: a famous book, a controversial book, but nonetheless an artefact and dead. I realise HM retains a rabid cult and said cult may find this post objectionable and post comments exhorting me to read Bukowski and Fight Club or just drop dead loser but that's how I see things vis-a-vis HM.

The copy of ToC I (temporarily) rescued from landfill oblivion was part of a series published in the early 00s called Flamingo Sixties Classics. I think this is significant: it's as if this book has been born and died twice, first during the tumult of the 30s then, after the ban on its publication was lifted in the States and England, during the tumult of the 60s. The thing about tumultuous times, as we well know, is that as invigorating and vital as they might be they also induce people to believe in and embrace all sorts of crazy shit. HM got lucky twice: he had the sympathy of the fauxhemian credulous in two separate decades. Hey, good for him, but he's still a complete c- ... er, shell. A complete shell.

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