“To be sure, I can pick up a book, read it and reread it with pleasure; but it does not possess me deeply unless I find in it the marks of thought equal in power to that of language itself.”
Once in a while I get to ride over the East River on a crowded subway car. When I do, I think of Henry Miller’s wild, hedonistic prose and his love affair with Anaïs Nin. Then I think of Henry Miller getting old in Big Sur, surrounded by admirers, a statesman of letters. Anaïs Nin also ended up in California. She died of some terrible cancer, maybe ovarian or even vaginal, which you don’t hear about too often. She was into therapy and new age stuff before it was called new age stuff; her self-analysis was a large part of her art. I don’t think Anaïs Nin was as good a writer as Henry Miller, which doesn’t mean she wasn’t equal in the thinking department. But you have to get that thinking across in an enthralling way or no one will care what’s on your mind.
It might be that I prefer Henry Miller to Anaïs Nin because I’m a sexist. I also prefer Walker Percy to Iris Murdoch. Iris Murdoch was just too patient with her prose. I don’t need a novelist to take me through every layer of a club sandwich. Kate Winslet portrayed the young Iris Murdoch in a bio-pic; Kate got an ugly haircut for it. Kate Winslet may be British, but she was much more believable as a neurotic Long Island party girl who falls for a character played by Jim Carrey.
My young kids think Jim Carrey is a genius and maybe he is, just like Henry Miller. I recently made the mistake of watching Dumb and Dumber with them. It was a little traumatic for all of us, because I accidentally bought the unrated version and there was a gay rape scene in a filthy public bathroom. The rape didn’t happen, it was just a rape-threat scene, and it was supposed to be funny. The rapist gets his pants down, but then the other, dumber guy wanders in and accidentally knocks out the rapist with the door. Phew.
It’s eerie how kids can understand something like the threat of rape when they see it on TV, even when they don’t really understand it. They’ve been here before, of course, so teaching them things is not teaching at all, it’s just reminding them of shit they already know. And adults, well, we can’t handle anything, least of all knowledge. We just grow more and more limited; our possibilities close in on us as we get older. We stand in line in Paris and wait to get into Shakespeare & Company because the guidebook says Ernest Hemingway and Henry Miller hung out there.
It’s impossible to know what the surrealists would have made of Dumb and Dumber. They lived in a purer time. Purity, whatever that is. I just know that during the rape-threat scene, Jim Carrey sucks his thumb on the floor of a public bathroom while a “red-neck” named Sea Bass exposes his crotch. Sea Bass is wearing a leopard-print thong. I had to normalize all of this for my eight-year-old son. It was my fault for putting the movie on in the first place. I tried to patch things up psychically for my kids. In fact, I turned it into a teachable moment: Always keep it quick and simple when you pee in a public men’s room. And don’t talk to anyone. Ever.