Marylin Manson didn’t marry Henry Miller either. But if he did, that’d be fucked up!
Tropic of Cancer is a book that is colossal in its pretentiousness. Which is pretty cool because there’s actually a part in the book where he talks about writing a book and he says that the book he’s writing “is colossal in its pretentiousness.” Still, shenanigans like that can’t help but make the author seem a pompous sleazeball. And the book is full of self-important shit, like pretending like Miller is this hero just cause he thinks he’s awesome and everyone else is shit and so he takes advantage of other people. In the end, it’s well-written and interesting and I actually enjoyed it more than not, although the feeling that this guy is a pompous sleazeball doesn’t really dissipate. And I guess the sex parts were really risqué at the time, and thirty years later the book was an obscenity trial cause célèbre that helped start the sexual revolution, so it’s an important cultural artifact as well.
So to sum up, Tropic of Cancer is an enjoyable read and important cultural artifact that was written by a pompous sleazeball. To me it seems like basically everyone agrees with both of these propositions, but someone always feels like one or the other of them is underrepresented and so you get a sinusoidal oscillation of appreciation of Tropic of Cancer that goes “it may be written by a pompous sleazeball BUT IT’S PRETTY COOL” and then “it may be pretty cool BUT IT’S WRITTEN BY A POMPOUS SLEAZEBALL”. In that vein, there’s a new biography of Miller, and, countervailing, there’s a pretty interesting NYT book review of the biography (h/t LGM).
Jeanette Winterson’s book review focusses on Miller’s misogyny:
Well, what if we accept Turner’s assertion that “Cancer” has traveled from banned book to spiritual classic that tells us “who we are”? A reasonable objection is that “we” cannot include women, unless a woman is comfortable with her identity as a half-witted “piece of tail.”
And it’s been a while since I read Tropic of Cancer, but that seems to ring true; mostly the female characters in the book are useless halfwits that just get exploited and then made fun of by Miller. But, here’s the thing, as far as I remember, so are all the male characters that aren’t Miller! Miller (at least, the Miller as he is in Tropic of Cancer) isn’t a misogynist – he’s a dick! In fact, if anything, the men in the book are even worse off than the women – Miller at least likes something about the women in the book – their sex appeal – while the majority of the men, even if he uses them to get money (or women), provide nothing by their presence that Miller likes, so they appear even more like irredeemable targets for Miller-mockery rather than being characters. Now, let me propose something: I am not actually defending Miller – it’s no good to be a misogynist, but it’s still better to be a misogynist than a dick! If you treat half the world’s people like thay’re not people but machines whose sole purpose is to provide with shit you want, that’s pretty awful. But if you treat all the world’s people like that – that’s not any better. In fact it’s roughly two times worse.