From Henry Miller’s The World of Sex:
Over and over again I have said that there is no way out of the present impasse. If we were wide awake we would be instantly struck by the horrors which surround us… [sic] We would drop our tools, quit our jobs, deny our obligations, pay no taxes, observe no laws, and so on. Could the man or woman who is thoroughly awakened possibly do the crazy things which are now expected of him or her every moment of the day?
TWoS originally was intended to be a limited edition monograph — a thousand of them were printed — for the consumption of Miller’s friends and a few literary critics. He wanted to explain why sex played such a key role in his controversial, censored, often banned novels: Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn, and his Rosy Crucifixion Trilogy, Sexus, Nexus, and Plexus. Bluenose critics and plaster saint moralists around this holy land had condemned Miller for his purported obsession with sex. Per Penguin UK, which publishes the book today, Miller “argues that sex is at the heart of his writing because it is at the heart of life — a vital force as essential as bread, money, work or play. Drawing on his own experiences and on the writing of his famously banned novels in Paris, he shows sex as a mysterious realm that must be explored if we are to be truly free.”
In any case, Miller was baffled by humanity’s ugh reaction to sex while at the same time gearing up blithely for the greatest slaughter in our species’ history, World War II. The world, as so many philosophers before and since have observed, is hypocritical. Or, as this philosopher…
… would put it, full of horseshit.
“Everybody says sex is obscene,” Miller wrote in Tropic of Cancer. “The only true obscenity is war.”
And, I’ll add, it isn’t just war that’s obscene. Our everyday lives as complacent, pliant workers and consumers demand of us compromises that, on their faces, are not only obscene but deranged. In our political lives, as well, we make choices that are wholly illogical and driven only by the same impulses we share with chimps, hounds, pussycats, squirrels, orcas and other critters of the Earth. Yet, we flatter ourselves that we’re somehow better than our animals cousins, that we’ve “ascended” from them.
Like I said, horseshit.
Sometimes, one or two of us gives the digit to the insulting, inhuman, soul-crushing demands modern life places upon us.
A story: A pal of mine tells of an early foray into the straight, workaday world. She went into it with good intentions. She wanted to be a good, successful citizen, joining the rush hour crowd, earning enough scratch so as to merit a credit rating that would ensure she’d be lashed to a thankless, pitiless gig for the rest of her natural life. So, she applied to be an “associate” at Nordstrom. She’s smart, energetic, amiable — even charismatic. The HR people at the retailer snapped her right up.
What the HR people didn’t know, though, is she has a sense of dignity. She knows she’s only on this planet for a finite stretch and therefore would like to spend her time here not being forced into a second infantilism just so she can purchase a MacBook, a jug of J’Adore Dior, or — true success! — both on the same day.
She reported for her first day of work at the downtown Nordstrom store in a southern city. She was brought into a large room filled with all the people who’d be working the floor during the upcoming shift. It was a pep rally. The associates — wait, eff that — the clerks began singing and waving their arms like loons. They screeched and railed, tonically, about how they were going to sell the holy shit out of everything in the place that day.
My pal watched this display for long minutes, her mouth agape. After the group sing, individuals were called upon to tell the assembled multitude what great and fabulous things they’d already sold that week. They spewed and gushed like the kindergarten droolers they were trained to become. They grinned and whooped. They continued to wave their arms like loons.
Then it was time to bring the newbies up to the front of the rally. They’d join in the fun, yelling about how lucky they were to be part of such a wonderfully ovine group, and how they’d sell the very air in the store to customers who had an insatiable desire to fill their lungs with the stuff. My pal’s name was called. “Come on up here,” the leader demanded.
Her eyes wide, her mouth still agape, she gave the crowd the peace sign… and walked out.
Talk about heroes.