On Communication: Henry Miller

HM Jonathan WilliamsHenry Miller – Photo credit: Jonathan Williams 1961

The following excerpt is from one of my absolute favorite books, Henry Miller’s “My Life & Times”. I re-read this one over and over, usually on Sundays for some reason. I was reading this morning and this stood out for me, Henry’s discussion on getting the point across, whether in writing for publication, writing letters or talking with someone face to face and how in each case we alter whether consciously or unconsciously how we communicate. I thought it was so interesting and true, that I knew I wanted to share it with all of you.

When I write by hand I’m more sincere. That’s because I’m getting away from my “literary” self. The moment I sit at a typewriter my fingers are already activating me, altering me, putting me in the groove of the writer. When I take up the pen it’s a little more cumbersome, more awkward, unnatural, so there isn’t that same facility. I am naturally more literary when I write with a typewriter. Things come out more glibly, more polished too. Whereas with the pen it’s a struggle, and the material seems to come from a different source.

With talk it varies a great deal. It’s like a flood, a cataract, with some people. With others, I hem and haw or I grow silent. It’s how people touch you off, and in what areas. It depends on whom I’m up against, how relaxed I am, and whether I feel in good form and am in a good mood, whether I can reveal and express myself it’s dependent upon all sorts of things. I know that I’m somewhat of an actor and I know that all of us are dishonest to a degree—in the sense that we are actors. We know how good we are, or think we are, or we want to make an impression, and all these things color our speech. If you’re talking to a girl whom you want to impress, whom you’re madly in love with, and you talk to another girl who doesn’t mean a damn thing to you, everything changes, doesn’t it? So it is with men. Some men you want to get close to, or you want to open them up, or you want to impress them.  You feel inferior or superior, all sorts of things. There’s such a multitude of factors involved when we confront one another.

In talking face to face with someone I have had the desire to express a thought earnestly and sincerely and suddenly I have found myself lying or distorting the thought to suit a momentary whim. I think I understand and recognize a lot about myself. And what is there to be ashamed of? There is no absolutely honest man. Everything is mixed, “grayish,” not just black and white.

If I wrote on a typewriter about a certain experience, and then I wrote a letter to someone about the same experience, or talked in person to him about this experience, each version would be different. What you leave out or what you put in is a matter of selection. Now with the machine I feel that I give myself to the fullest. In talking I may give another full expression but with a deeper note of sincerity.

Whether consciously or not, when I write a letter in longhand I am probably coming close to talk. Because I do want to reveal myself. But when you talk about revealing, you naturally think about talk, talking it out with someone, telling someone about something. ~Henry Miller

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2 thoughts on “On Communication: Henry Miller

  1. This IS very interesting…no question that form of communication affects what is communicated. I wonder what Henry Miller would think of online communication. Coincidentally, I’m reading a book of love letters Henry Miller wrote (in longhand) to his muse, Brenda Venus, at the end of his life. Fascinating stuff.

  2. Interesting that you tied those two thoughts together Aida because after I mentioned in a post that book of letters, Brenda sent me a message-very cool, shared about Henry. I love that Henry kept up correspondence with young artists, developing lifelong relationships with them, like he did w/Lawrence Durrell. Although I love email, etc., I’ve been making an effort to send handwritten letters to my friends who live far from me. I hate to think of that form of communication disappearing altogether.

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