The Air-Conditioned Nightmare

ISBN: 0811201066
ISBN 13: 9780811201063
By: Henry Miller

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About this book

In 1939, after ten years as an expatriate, Henry Miller returned to the United States with a keen desire to see what his native land was really like—to get to the roots of the American nature and experience. He set out on a journey that was to last three years, visiting many sections of the country and making friends of all descriptions. The Air-Conditioned Nightmare is the result of that odyssey.

Reader's Thoughts


I never considered myself a patriot, until I read this book and felt so fiercely insulted by every trivial insult he flung at all things american. I was fleeing Charleston at the time, and driving through the Smokey Mountains--which were incredible. His arguments seemed extremely petulant ("the parks in america aren't as good as the parks in europe. The stores in america aren't as good as the stores in Europe," etc, etc, etc), and I knew he had no idea what he was talking about when he stopped to make an exception for Charleston, saying it was the only place in America worth going to. I beg to differ.

S.J. Pettersson

Henry Miller frequently wrote about great titles of books that he came across. He himself produced a notable amount of great titles such as the title of this book written upon his return to the US after his years in France and a brief sojourn in Greece. Miller was truly a linguistic anarchist, a semantic villain of the rarest kind who in his heart of hearts truly believed that the typewriter was heavier than the pen. They say that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover (I have a friend who for instance chooses which wine she buys by the "pretty- ness" of the labels, while I myself choose my wine, out of dire necessity it should be noted, by it's price tag), but judging a book by it's title; now that is a different matter altogether!I myself have written a great number of fancy titles, some of them with covers, some without a cover, but practically all of them without any content as of yet.Here are some examples:East of the EquatorDeath, Shackles and the Pursuit of MiseryJesus Saved Me, But He Let My Brother Drown - The Dark Side of ReligionProfound Nonsense and other Poems of NothingnessThe Inverted VertebraeAn Antidote For LifeThe Nightmares of an InsomniacSpherical Cubism & other failed Art Movements of the 20th CenturyThe Equinox ParadoxOccham's Toothbrush - The Art of Bathroom PhilosophyThe Divisibility of InfinityPavlov's Cat meet Schrödinger's DogThe Evolution of Inanimate ObjectsAll these titles are hereby copyrighted by me for eventual use in case of emergency, literary or otherwise.


Still reading....however, I will add that despite being published in 1945, I feel Miller's observations on American and European culture are timeless. He could be writing the same today. Extremely descriptive and passionate...I'll revise my review upon finishing.


First of all, Henry Miller's mastery of the English language ifar exceeds most anyone you are likely to read. He is in that elite class of great writers. Secondly, when you read any of his books, letters, essays and whatnot, you feel is is right there in the room, cafe, or on the street with you, so conversational is he. In this book AIR CONDITIONED NIGHTMARE, he writes about a year on the road in the US, he was contracted to write about by his agent. What he found was a lot of sterile robotic buildings and people. As he said, it was a waste of a year in his life. It is an eye opening book about a land where imagination is difficult to find, sense of adventure minuscule, where the people are essentially lemmings, glomming along, while at the same time filled with a sense of arrogance because they get the sense of themselves not by intelligence, and insight, but by the fact that their country is big, robust, has a powerful military and is financially strong, which in the end has little or no meaning where the human condition, and their interaction with others, their land, is concerned. He found a country with no sense of culture, a country defining itself by how much money a person makes, which disgusted him. After having read this book, and having been back and forth in the US, the book rang so true I have not traveled it since. It is just a bunch of sameness from one end to the other. Naturally, some places are worse than others.

Joshua Buhs

Scorching--if ultimately flawed.The Air-Conditioned Nightmare is Henry Miller's recounting of his trip across the United States after war forced him to leave Europe. Coming out at the end of the war, when patriotism was high, its excoriating of the country would have won him few general plaudits, even as it contributed to his cult status.In characteristic Miller fashion, he eschews the obvious linear narrative--first here, then here--and opts for a spiral form. Even so, at first, the book shows a discipline his post-war works (at least those I've read) lacks. He drills down, avoids the simple declarations that mars his later work ("This astounded me!" "I was overwhelmed!") and is specific. He contrast his experiences in Pittsburgh and Detroit with his reading of books on mystics, seeing America as a purely plastic country, concerned with only the material. “Nothing comes to fruition here except utilitarian projects," he summarizes later int he book (157). Indeed, the book ends with him flipping a giant bird to the Guggenheim Foundation; he had applied for a grant but been turned down, and so lists the other winners as an appendix, highlighting how many of them were focused on the material and the economic rather than the spiritual and freedom.Miller says that his view of America can be written in thirty pages--but really it can be reduced to a single sentence: “The American park is a circumscribed vacuum filled with cataleptic nincompoops" (59).His bill of particulars is not entirely wrong, and he offers some interesting insight into the left-liberatarianism that opposed World War II. He saw small people as manipulated into fighting a battle that was not theirs, forced to put their lives on the line for someone else's mistakes. Miller wanted a world without obligations--only gratuities. And he wanted a spiritual revolution to support this new society. He hated America for showing no inclination in this way.But one also starts to see why George Orwell turned on Miller for valuing individuality above politics. He dismisses Hitler as a madman who will pass in time as do all other dictators--and so his movements in Europe should not concern him at all. Of course, Hitler's evil was spectacular, and required a spectacular response. One imagines Miller in German would have had a very different opinion of whether other countries should have intervened. As well, he ends up celebrating the South for holing onto its culture of gentility--completely ignoring that this culture was in part myth and in total dependent upon acts of terroristic violence. He supported 'negro' culture--and saw it, as did many intellectuals of the time--as the refuge of American soul--but does not try to connect that culture to the violence which surrounded it.Miller's admiration for American blacks is patronizing, but this affection is an important part of the point that he is trying to make. In his travels through the south and southwest he comes across a number of eccentric characters--kooks, we might call them today, creating their own systems of philosophy, creating new kinds of art--new music, new paintings. They are quiet, outside the mainstream, but--as he suggests in his epigram--Miller sees these people as true saints: it is these little people whose ideas are later synthesized by the great mystics, like Christ and Buddha. This is the foundation of a possible new world--the utopia of which he dreamed.And I appreciate his point, but in addition to a certain amount of condescension, there is a real lack of discipline as the book continues, his chapters on New Iberia way too long and tangential. The lack of discipline ends up undermining the books natural narrative course. (Miller often imagined much better books than he wrote: this was originally to be a series of essays with accompanying watercolors, but that never came to be.)He finally reaches California, which is a kind of resolution. He had expected California to be horrible--and Hollywood certainly had some of those aspects--but there's a different part of California, too, one where he can practice his freedom, one closer to the coast. He even came to like the Pacific, which he had not expected. In some ways, this is a coming home: he had been in California as a young man--and compares the return to his starting A.P. Sinnett's _Esoteric Buddhism_ in Brooklyn and finishing it in Paris: nothing had changed. California, too; nothing had changed, but he had. _The Air-Conditioned Nightmare_ was published in 1945, by which time he was settled in Big Sur, and falling in love with the place (though probably still planning to leave for Europe).Rather than end here, he circles back again--one too many loop-dee-loops--back to Europe, back to artists he likes, and back to the south. The book peters out and ends on a bitter note, with him again celebrating values of the Confederacy. Miller is, of course, free to like whatever he likes, but there is no way the Confederacy stands for anything like the libertarian freedom he values. It is an overshoot, one that ultimately works agains the book and seems to make Miller nothing more than a contrarian. Which is a shame: because he had more wisdom than that.


The problem with this book wasn't that it was strictly bad. On the contrary, a reader gets a glimpse of some of Miller's talent as a writer, with pages upon pages of rhapsodic prose tumbling word upon word until the effect is less like a text and more like standing under a waterfall of imagery and ideas.Unfortunately that doesn't constitute the bulk of the book. What Miller offers is a trip around a country with which he is disgusted and alienated. It's unfair to either blame him for the cliché that this sort of work would turn into in subsequent decades or to suggest that many of his criticisms are inaccurate. But the vast majority of the text is comprised of sweeping generalizations about vast swaths of the country (about which he seems to know little); effete, snooty, and quasi-aristocratic attitudes about the people he encounters - the sort of ex-pat elitism that he attempts poorly to counterbalance with some patronizing support for a scattered handful of salt-of-the-earth types; and blatant, unabashed racism - again, that he attempts to cast as some sort of admiration for African-Americans, but is unmistakable in the acidic tinge that it carries. One is left wondering why, if America is the insatiable cultural vortex that Miller makes it out to be, he returned shortly after this was written and lived in California the remainder of his life.Ultimately, while it bears some marks of the brilliance that carried his best work, this is a somewhat forgettable footnote in an otherwise remarkable body of work.

F.J. Nanic

I am just amazed how many Americans have not even heard about this book...but then again, many didn't hear about Depleted Uranium Weapons either.

Tom Lichtenberg

Reading the prologue to this book by Henry Miller astonishes me. Written 70 years ago, it could have been written today. Some excerpts:It is a world suited for monomaniacs obsessed with the idea of progress - but a false progress, a progress which stinks. It is a world cluttered with useless objects which men and women, in order to be exploited and degraded, are taught to regard as useful ... Whatever does not lend itself to being bought or sold ... is debarredWe are accustomed to think of ourselves as an emancipated people; we say that we are democratic, liberty-loving, free of prejudices and hatred. This is the melting pot, the seat of a great human experiment. Beautiful words, full of noble, idealistic sentiment. Actually we are a vulgar, pushing mob whose passions are easily mobilized by demagogues, newspaper men, religious quacks, agitators and such like. To call this a society of free peoples is blasphemous. What have we to offer the world beside the superabundant loot which we recklessly plunder from the earth under the maniacal delusion that this insane activity represents progress and enlightenment?

Joe Dwyer

There was a reason, however, for making the physical journey, fruitless though it proved to be. I felt the need to effect a reconciliation with my native land. It was an urgent need because, unlike most prodigal sons, I was returning not with the intention of remaining in the bosom of the family but of wandering forth again, perhaps never to return. I wanted to have a last look at my country and leave it with a good. taste in my mouth. I didn't want to run away from it, as I had originally. I wanted to embrace it, to feel that the old wounds were really healed, and set out for the unknown with a blessing on my lips.—Henry Miller, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare


هنري ميللر قد يكون أول الكارهين لأمريكا يعري وجهها من تبرجها المبالغ فيه يعري أطروحة أمريكا الحلم الجنة بالنسبة لميللر أمركيا ليست سوى وليد مشوه من الأم الجميلة أوروبا استطاعت أن تصنع لنفسها صرحا قائم ‘لى اسس واهية و لكي تحمي هذه الأسس تبتدع ما تشاء من حروب و تقنيات في جوهرها فارغ.بالنسبة لميللر لا شيء حقيقي في أمريكا كل شيء سطحي عديم النفع بلا روح حتى جمال الجغرافيا يسقط أمام تاريخ الدماء التي بنت أمريكا عليها قوتها ميللر يجرد أمريكا من كذبة الحضارة و ينعتها بالعاهرة التي تيبع الوهم" قد ينتهي بنا الأمر أن نصير على اربع نبربر كالسعادين" يقول ميللر .كابوس مكيف الهواء توقفت كثيرا لأفهم المقصود من هذا العنوان و لم اجد الا تفسير واحد و قد أكون مخطئة ربما قصد ميللر أن حتى في الأشياء التي تسعدنا و تخفف معاناتنا شيء يخيف و يفقدنا روحنا و ماهيتنا ,أظن ميللر بعد زيارته لأوربا العجوز فهم أن الحضارة لا تأتي بالتقنية بل بالتاريخ و الخبرة فمقارناته الدائمة بين باريس و أمريكا تظهر مدى تفاهة الفن الأمريكي الذي يعتبر مجرد قمامة الى جانب الفن الأوروبي و مع ذلك يرحل ميللر في أمريكا باحثا عن أمل يعيد له ايمانه ببلده الأصلي فيجد بعض الرجال المغمورين و ينفض عنهم التراب و يعرف بهم العالم و ربما يكون هذا الأمر ما يجعل من هذا الكتاب تكريم لرجال يرفضون بقعة الضوء التي تعشقها أمريكا.

Andrea Riley

I read this book in a road lit and film class, everyone called it propaganda except me...i fought for this book all semester...this is so refreshing and current...although he is a little long winded--but he is Henry Miller--I am sure he doesn't care

Marc Horton

Finally got around to this dyspeptic travelogue, in which Miller returns from Paris, travels around the late 1930's-early 1940's U.S. of A., and, apparently, throws up a little bit in his mouth daily from Mobile to Manhattan. What you imagine to be the quintessential Henry Miller voice is here--sort of like Tropic of Cancer without all the sex--and chock full of classic Miller bon mots: "The American park is a circumscribed vacuum filled with cataleptic nincompoops." Still, it had to have been worth it, no? Well,..: "When I think of what I would have seen in Europe, Asia or Africa, in the space of ten thousand miles, I feel as though I had been cheated." Worth picking up for the adventurous reader convinced that there was a time when American wasn't a cultural wasteland devoid of art, and tragically severed from nature.


I hadn't read Henry Miller since 2001 and forgot how brilliant his prose is in the service of indignation. That said, Miller's rage at American consumerism, corporatism, materialism, and all-around ignorance -- a feeling with which I duly agree -- once in a while, but far too often, sails past insightfulness and lands in the realm of self-righteousness, leading one to suspect that underneath his bohemian persona lies a secret aristocrat. This from the last chapter of The Air-Conditioned Nightmare:"In Mississippi, near the banks of the great river itself, I came upon the ruins of Windsor. Nothing now remains of this great house but the high, vine-covered Grecian columns. There are so many elegant and mysterious ruins throughout the South, so much death and desolation, so much ghostliness. And always in the fairest spots, as if the invader aiming at the vital centers struck also at the pride and hope of his victim. One is inevitably induced to reflect on what might have been had this promising land been spared the ravages of war, for in our Southern States that culture known as the 'slave culture' had exhibited only its first blossoms. We know what the slave cultures of India, Egypt, Rome and Greece bequeathed the world. We are grateful for the legacy; we do not spurn the gift because it was born of injustice. Rare is the man who, looking upon the treasures of antiquity, thinks at what an iniquitous price they were fashioned. Who has the courage, confronted with these miracles of the past, to exclaim: 'Better these things had never been than that one single human being had been deprived of his rightful freedom.'"In other words, the end justifies the means. (And isn't history dialectical? Cannot one look upon such marvels and think of not only their beauty but also at what price they were fashioned?)(Also, I wasn't much interested in the chapters about Miller's artist friends. Seemed to belong to another book. I was expecting something big about America, and The Air-Conditioned Nightmare seemed to frequently run from that artistic task.)


It's great to read some one's long rambling explanation about how much they hate America during a presidential campaign.


Comfort zone! At this point I think I could read a Henry Miller book backwards and it wouldn't really make a difference what I think of it. His language is so glittery that there should be sequins on the pages.

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