Man, Machine & Desire

Henry Miller’s writing isn’t for the faint of heart perhaps, but there’s a brute honesty that has always appealed, even if you’re cringing slightly as you read it. One of my favorite books by Henry is actually his autobiography “My Life & Times,” put out by Playboy Press in 1972. In it, he explains some of his philosophies and observations about life and art. I don’t believe the years he spent living poorly, bumming dinners off of friends and acquaintances were merely for the sake of focusing on creating art – but rather to follow his desire to live without the restrictions that come with the business world. I understand and relate to his thinking here; you need a certain amount of money to live but if it’s the driving force behind your life and art, something’s got to give and odds are it’ll fall down on the creative side – the depth just won’t obtain.

“Every day men are squelching their instincts, their desires, their impulses, their intuitions. One has to get out of the fucking machine he is trapped in and do what he wants to do. But we say no, I have a wife and children, I better not think of it. That is how we commit suicide every day. It would be better if a man did what he liked to do and failed than to become a successful nobody. Isn’t that so?” ~Henry Miller

Obviously he’s not specifically saying leave your family, although I’ve witnessed relationships wherein everyone’s best interests would have been served out to heed that piece of council – he’s speaking more of a continual stifling of spirit that’s forced to conform until it’s utterly useless for anyone.

While doing press for his 1992 film, “Damage” Louis Malle said something so true that I’ve never forgotten it:

“I think what I found interesting in the theme was how a family could live on a certain routine – the idea that everybody must always stay in control-there’s a sense of ritual and of course the family is very strong and very tight but you know that the foundations are not very solid because it’s not based necessarily on strong emotions—it’s based on more habits than anything else.”

For most people that thought is an uncomfortable one because it requires them to face some uneasy truths about their lives and relationships – what’s working or maybe most importantly what’s not and about settling out of fear of the unknown and unwritten.

Pic: Henry Miller in Paris ~ Carlo Bavagnoli for Life Magazine 1969

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2 thoughts on “Man, Machine & Desire

  1. Interesting post on Miller. That quote you mention, about family life being a routine or having to maintain a job for monetery stature…well, that is so true. As an artist, it is hard to stretch your wings when you have to maintain the status quo, keep everything running smoothly without degredation of the schedule kept–all becomes a habit I’d say. I have to love his “successful nobody” comment. I’m probably that…but…someday…

  2. I think that artists have to be somewhat selfish with their time and for a passionate person, which all good artists are, living a dull lifeless existence within their family life is unbearable. It also sucks the life out of creativity. This is something I’ve been turning around in my mind for some time. Ever notice how many great artists marry 2-3 times?

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