Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘Henry Miller’

03 MAY, 2013

Famous Advice on Writing: The Collected Wisdom of Great Writers

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Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Didion, Sontag, Vonnegut, Bradbury, Orwell, and other literary icons.

By popular demand, I’ve put together a periodically updated reading list of all the famous advice on writing presented here over the years, featuring words of wisdom from such masters of the craft as Kurt Vonnegut, Susan Sontag, Henry Miller, Stephen King, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Susan Orlean, Ernest Hemingway, Zadie Smith, and more.

Please enjoy. (If you’re unable to scroll within the embed below, open the full reading list in a new window.)

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11 APRIL, 2013

Henry Miller on the Joy of Urination

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“To relieve a full bladder is one of the great human joys.”

Henry Milleroracle of writing, modern philosopher, man of discipline, wise heart — may endure as a literary legend, but part of what made his spirit so extraordinary was his irreverence and his childlike wonder at the world. From This Is Henry, Henry Miller from Brooklyn: Conversations with the Author from the Henry Miller Odyssey (public library) — the same 1974 gem that gave us Miller’s meditation on the mystery of the universe and the meaning of life — comes his delightful paean to something far less exalted and much more grittily human: urination.

I do not find it strange that America placed a urinal in the middle of the Paris exhibit in Chicago. I think it belongs there, and I think it a tribute that the French should be proud of. … I am a man who pisses largely and frequently, which they say is a sign of great mental activity. One likes to piss in sunlight among human beings who stand and smile down at you. Standing behind a tin strip and looking out on the throng with that contented, easy, vacant smile, that long reminiscent pleasurable look, is a good thing. How many times have I stood thus in this smiling gracious world, the sun splashing over me and the birds twittering crazily, and found a woman looking down at me from an open window. Standing thus with heart and bly and bladder open, I seem to recall every urinal I ever stepped into. To relieve a full bladder is one of the great human joys.

This Is Henry, Henry Miller from Brooklyn is a treat in its entirety, an unprecedented glimpse of Miller’s character in all of its dimensions, from the playful to the profound. Complement it with Miller on the art of living and the future of mankind.

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21 MARCH, 2013

Henry Miller on the Mystery of the Universe and the Meaning of Life

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“This is the greatest damn thing about the universe. That we can know so much, recognize so much, dissect, do everything, and we can’t grasp it.”

More than merely one of the most memorable, prolific, and disciplined authors of the twentieth century, Henry Miller was also a champion of the wisdom of the heart, a poignant oracle of writing, a modern philosopher. But hardly anywhere does Miller’s spirit shine more brilliantly than in the 1974 gem This Is Henry, Henry Miller from Brooklyn: Conversations with the Author from the Henry Miller Odyssey (public library) — not a book in the traditional sense, but “a transmutation, a reduction of the hours and hours of film and tape” that filmmaker Robert Snyder began recording in 1968 as the basis for the 1969 documentary The Henry Miller Odyssey. The book itself, as Snyder puts it, “is only a skimming of the film of the man” and “couldn’t be more than an invitation to the man’s work.”

Anchoring the biographical anecdotes are Miller’s many meditations on writing, creativity, and the meaning of life. Among the most poignant is this hand-written “memo to self,” dated 9/17/1918, in which Miller adds to other famous wisdom on the meaning of life:

What are we here for if not to enjoy life eternal, solve what problems we can, give light, peace and joy to our fellow-man, and leave this dear fucked-up planet a little healthier than when we were born.

The book ends with Miller’s grandest reflection on the eternal mystery of the universe, something great minds from Galileo to Montaigne to Neil deGrasse Tyson have pondered. He observes:

No matter what you touch and you wish to know about, you end up in a sea of mystery. You see there’s no beginning or end, you can go back as far as you want, forward as far as you want, but you never got to it, it’s like the essence, it’s that right, it remains. This is the greatest damn thing about the universe. That we can know so much, recognize so much, dissect, do everything, and we can’t grasp it. And it’s meant to be that way, do y’know. And there’s where our reverence should come in. Before everything, the littlest thing as well as the greatest. The tiniest, the horseshit, as well as the angels, do y’know what I mean. It’s all mystery. All impenetrable, as it were, right?

Complement This Is Henry, Henry Miller from Brooklyn with Miller’s meditations on creative death and the art of living.

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