When I read this for the first time I thought the world was opening up and eating people. I wanted to get drunk and go on a hooker spree, to move to Paris and generally debauch for the rest of my 20's....Then I realized I kind of wanted to do all this anyways but with Miller's aid I could and even better I could disguise the whole thing as "literary." I struggled through Capricorn, through The Books in My Life, through a number of Miller's personal letters and musings. I even made a pilgrimage to Big Sur. Then I picked up Richard Brautigan or "Cannary Row" or something and I realized I could skip Paris. I could skip Europe entirely. I could just drink wine on a bench in my back yard, throw on an old Bill Broonzy CD and stare at the sun. I could even meet a nice girl and keep her around for a while. No need for crabs or lice or bed bugs at all. No sir, just soft northern california sunlight and grassy knolls. That was it. The dirty big city Miller hangovers were gone.....Still, for a few months there, Miller was really really doing it for me. At the time it was true life changing stuff.5 stars.Alex
Here a cunt, there a cunt, everywhere a cunt cunt"Art consists in going the full length. If you start with the drums you have to end with dynamite."But if you begin with masturbation, you don't necessarily end with sex. There are books you have to read at a certain age. There are others that are ageless, and those books are better. This should be read when you're young and stupid. Are you young and stupid now? Fantastic; read this and hate me. Are you older? Then read something else. maybe something for old people, like Henry James.matt
Hank's a horny dude from nowhere Brooklyn who loves lowlifes and reads Proust.Hank's wife leaves him for a woman and he quits the country to go run around Paris as a freewheeling urchin.Hank writes dementedly eloquent insights as to the state of his Being.Hank writes a shocking, pornographic classic that is banned on arrival.Hank lives to see vindication.Go, Hank, go!Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally. Sorry; the last paragraph today gets cut off a few sentences early!)The CCLaP 100: In which I read for the first time a hundred so-called "classics," then write reports on whether or not they deserve the labelBook #20: Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller (1934)The story in a nutshell:Like many of the other novels to first become commercial hits under the moniker of "Modernism" (see, for example, past CCLaP-100 title Mrs Dalloway from the same period), Henry Miller's infamously raunchy Tropic of Cancer from 1934 doesn't bother to concern itself much with traditional plot or a traditional three-act structure, but is rather an attempt to capture the details of a particular moment in history in as intense a way as possible, using not only humorous anecdotal tales but also the brand-new literary technique known as "stream of consciousness." And man, what a period of history to capture -- based on Miller's own experiences from half a decade before, the novel is set in Paris in the years after World War One, a time when most young people had turned permanently cynical and nihilistic, horrified as they rightly were over what exact carnage humans had proven themselves capable of, now that humans had added mechanized industry (trains, machine guns, biological weapons) to the business of war. Add to this that the US itself had still not established its own global-class artistic community (which wouldn't happen until New York's Greenwich Village after World War Two), and you're left with the situation Miller describes with such black humor here -- of entire Parisian neighborhoods become boisterous, drunken melting pots, packed to the gills with bohemians from around the world who no longer give a crap about anything, who embrace such things as casual sex and exotic drugs in a way no other generation had embraced them before, as they party their way to the apocalypse they were all sure was right around the corner. Multiply by 300 pages, and you basically have Miller's book.The argument for it being a classic:There are two basic arguments over why Tropic of Cancer should be considered a classic, starting with the book itself: It is, after all, a shining example of early Modernism, the exact kind of radical departure from the flowery Victorian style that so many young artists were embracing back then, here done in a mature and self-assured way that builds on the literary experiments of the previous twenty years, but that finally makes it palatable for the first time to the general reading audience (and by "palatable" I mean "not incomprehensible," thank you very MUCH James Freaking Joyce). As such, its fans say, the novel should be rightly celebrated for the literary masterpiece it is; one of those rare books that gets stream-of-consciousness exactly right, one of those rare books that perfectly shows the combination of arrogance and self-hatred that mixes in the warm dysfunctional heart of any true bohemian. Ah, but see, in this case there's an entirely different second reason why this should be considered a classic; because for those who don't know, thirty years after its initial publication in Europe, this was one of the landmark artistic projects of the 1960s to help finally lift the yoke of government censorship in America, one of the first projects used by the courts to help define was exactly is and isn't "obscene," adding immense fuel to the countercultural fire that was going on in this country at the same time. If it wasn't for Tropic of Cancer, fans say, we would still have the all-or-nothing paradigm of the Hays Code in the arts, instead of the "put out what you want and we'll give it a rating" paradigm of our present day; no matter what you think of the book itself, they argue, this alone is a reason to consider it a classic.The argument against:Like many of the titles in the CCLaP 100 series (see The Catcher in the Rye, for example), the main argument against Tropic of Cancer seems to be the "What Hath God Wrought" one; that is, the book itself may not be that bad, but it legitimized something that should've never been legitimized, in this case whiny confessional stream-of-consciousness rants from broke artists in their twenties living in big cities, complaining for 300 pages about how unfair life is and how all the prostitutes keep falling in love with them. Yep, it was Tropic of Cancer that started all that, critics claim; and anytime you come across yet another sad little blog about how the heart of the city beats in the weary soul of some overeducated, entitled slacker, that's one more time we should visit the grave of Miller and pee all over it, in retribution for him creating a situation where such blogs are encouraged in the first place. Again, it's not so much that people complain about the book being awful on its own (although some will definitely argue that stream-of-consciousness has always been a house of cards, difficult to make work well within a literary project); it's more that the book simply isn't great, and should've never gotten the accolades and attention it did, with Miller being damn lucky that he had as exciting a sex life as he did at the exact moment in history that he did, along with the shamelessness to write it all down.My verdict:So as will very rarely be the case here at the CCLaP 100, let me admit that this is one of the few books of the series I've actually read before; in fact, much more than that, it was one of the books I practically worshipped in my early twenties as a snotty, overeducated, oversexed artist myself, a book that had a bigger impact on both my artistic career and just how I lived my life in general back then than probably any other single project you could mention. So needless to say I was a bit biased going into this week's essay; I not only consider Tropic of Cancer a classic, but easily among the top-10 of all the books in this series, one of those books that any restless young person of any generation should immediately gravitate towards starting around their 18th or 19th birthday. And that's because Miller is so good here, so damn good, at perfectly capturing that restlessness that comes with any generation of young, dissatisfied creatives -- that sense that they want to do something important, that they should be doing something important, just that none of them know how to do that important thing, so instead let that passion seep out through their sex lives, their clothing choices, the bands they listen to, etc. Tropic of Cancer is all about yearning, all about grasping life to the fullest you possibly can, not for the sake of simply doing so but rather because this is the only way you'll ever find what you're truly seeking. Or as MIller himself puts it: "I can't get it out of my mind what a discrepancy there is between ideas and living."But that all said, let me just plainly warn you -- whoo man, is this a filthy book, with it unbelievably enough still just as able to shock and offend as when it first came out. And again, I see this as an asset and strength of Miller as an author; because ultimately it's not really the language itself that has gotten people so upset about this book over the decades (you'll hear worse in most Hollywood hard-R sex comedies), but rather that Miller embraces a prurient attitude throughout, one that plainly addresses the cold realities about sex which are not usually discussed in polite company. Just take, for example, the chapter where he compares for the reader the various young artsy prostitutes who live in his neighborhood; of how the best ones are the ones who have come to grips with the fact that they're whores and not wives or girlfriends, and therefore lustily embrace the exact disgusting acts that wives and girlfriends won't, the main reason men visit prostitutes in the first place. Yeah, not for delicate sensibilities, this one is; despite it being almost 75 years old now, you should still exercise caution before jumping into it feet-first.And then finally, re-reading it this week for the first time since college two decades ago, I've realized something else about this book; that it's not just the fun little stories of crazy sex and urban living that Miller gets right, but also the more somber reflections of perpetual poverty, of the almost existential dread that can develop when waking up in the morning and not knowing how you're going to eat that day. This is the flip-side of the crazy bohemian life, something plainly there in Tropic of Cancer but that most people don't see when first reading it, or when reading it at a young age; that to live a life rejecting middle-class conformity and embracing chaos is not just endless evenings of absinthe and oral sex, that there's a very real price to pay for rejecting all these things as well, the price of health and kids and normal relationships and any kind of slow building one could potentially do in their chosen career. Let's not ever forget that the things Miller talks about in Tropic of Cancer happened half a decade before his literary career ever really took off, years where basically none of them got anything accomplished at all except to definitively list all the kinds of books they didn't want to write; let's also never forget that Miller's life got dramatically more boring after his literary career took off, busy as he suddenly was with...you know, writing all those books. The artistic life can be...August
Seems the contemporary catch phrase to label Miller by is "Misogynist." Whatever... he wrote from his perspective and never swayed from his own vantage point to impress anyone. He is a true artist. How else would he have attracted the love interest of such an intelligent, beautiful woman as Anaiis Nin? Tropic of Cancer, to me, borders on spiritual enlightenment by way of pure honesty. I also enjoyed reading Nin's diary showing her side of their mutual lust affair. She was as much of a lost soul as he was, as well as his intellectual equal. They both survived off other people for the most part: Anaiis was married to a wealthy man and slept with him and his contemporaries as well as Miller; Miller was married to whoever would take him in and feed him (some food, but most often intellectual conversation) and slept with his friend's friend's friends, as well as a plethora of prostitutes. The bottom line is that he and Anaiis both explored their depravities through the medium of writing, creating literary works of art in the process.Michael
Tropic of Cancer is probably best known for being about sex, a book that was banned for over thirty years. An autobiographical novel of a struggling writer living in Paris in a community of bohemians. A fictionalised account of Miller’s life living underground, with prostitutes, painters and other writers.This is an odd novel, not necessarily good but a literary landmark. Without Henry Miller we may never have books like Lolita, Naked Lunch, A Sport and a Pastime and even Tampa. On the plus side, we may never have Fifty Shades of Grey. This novel pushed the boundaries of literature in the 1930’s and found itself being banned, which developed a cult following that helped influence the future of literature. I tend to think, much like Lady’s Chatterley’s Lover, if it wasn’t for the banning of the book, this novel wouldn’t be a classic; it would have just faded away into obscurity.There are some advantages to reading this book, there are the autobiographical elements but then Miller focuses on his friends and colleagues. Almost off topic, like he is commentating on what is happening in their lives. Then it gets a little more complex because there is a stream of consciousness reflecting on the occasional epiphany. The whole narrative gets really confusing with its non-linear approach, the tangents and reflections. It makes the whole book hard to read and in the end not really enjoyable.I can’t help but compare this novel to The Dud Avocado, the sexual adventures in Paris is similar but Tropic of Cancer wasn’t as interesting and a female lead makes for a less sex obsessed narrative and tends to focus on life abroad as well. I can’t help thinking just how narcissistic Henry Miller must have been with all those autobiographical novels of his life; do people still do that? Or is this just a thing of the past, pushing the boundaries.I have to give Henry Miller one thing; he doesn’t hold back, he will expose the good, the bad and the disturbing parts of his life. If I ever wrote a book like this (which I have no interest in doing anyway) I would be more inclined to hold back, to paint myself in a more favourable light; Miller doesn’t do that at all. There isn’t much I can say about this book, it’s about sex and that is about it. The stream of consciousness part was interesting but I still find that difficult to read. I would probably tell people to skip this and read The Dud Avocado or something similar but for the book snobs (like myself) if you do read this book I hope you get something out of it apart from the historical significance of a book like Tropic of Cancer.This review originally appeared on my blog; http://literary-exploration.com/2013/...Janet
Funny, rude, shockprovoking, a terrific portrait of bohemian life in Paris in the 1930's--enough of a roman a clef that one, with a little research ('Henry Miller in Paris') identify all the characters... I feel like I lived in the Hotel Chaotica with all these people. On a trip to Paris I even walked down that street in Montparnasse and stood in front of the house. Alas, it has been all gentrified, but the park is still there, and one must just imagine the fleas and the bedbugs, the ever mooching Miller, the great scene of the turd in the bidet (not a spoiler, I don't think). I read it for titillation value as a teenager--to see 'cunt' in print!! Even knowing it was my dear Anais he was describing... But now, having lived a bit of that life myself, as have most artists of a certain age, it's just funny as hell.Taylor K.
I knew this would be raunchy, but what I didn't expect was how funny it would be. Maybe I've watched too many male-centric sex comedies, but that's how the "obscene" parts of this book played out to me. (Stop reading here if you are easily offended when it comes to sex.) There's a scene where he has sex with a woman in a bathroom and comes on her dress and she gets ticked off at him, another where he's watching a friend have sex and he keeps tickling the guy's ass, there's a gay sailor character, etc. There were parts where he lost me, though, for example, this moment where he's staring at a woman's vagina and is thinking about how it's like a tunnel or a black hole or something and goes on this weird abstract train of thought. I don't know if I'd personally call it a masterpiece, but it surprised me, in a good way.Wael Mahmoud
Tropic of Cancer first published in 1934 in France, but this edition was banned in the United States until 1961.Tropic of Cancer is one of the most important and beautiful pieces of prose in the history of English literature, It isn't an ordinary novel, it's Miller's life in pairs, how he sees his friends, how he thinks about human being's big questions. What Miller is doing only is searching for food and if he finds it then he can give a "lay" and write some pages in his novel.In this beautiful prose we can't imagine completely his friends but we clearly know how Miller saw them, Many of his discussions are almost a nonsense except when he talking about literature, and his idea about becoming an inhuman instead of a human was the most brilliant one.This novel is a good example of the real literature which starts and ends with the language, It isn't possible to read a great novel which isn't written in a beautiful language, classic or modern or post-modern, realistic or surreal, love, action or thriller novel, the language is the most important thing.Talking about the language and the literature, i want to refer to a remarkable cross-purposes use of a word in two novels, in atonement we read the word "c***" for one time and the use of this word was the key of the whole plot of the novel, and the reader is suppose to feel its vulgarity. Here in tropic of cancer we read it hundreds of time, it's even means women in Miller's language and the reader suppose to feel it as an ordinary word.The novel not suitable for the morally conservative readers.الترجمة العربية للرواية - قرأتها منذ عدة أعوام - بواسطة أسامة منزلجي جيدة على مستوى نقل روح العمل إلى حد كبير ولكنها بالطبع لا تنقل جمال لغة ميللر.الرواية غير مناسبة للقراء المؤمنين بمفهوم الأدب النظيف بتاتاً, فميللر يستخدم الكلمات الواقعية التي قد تثير حفيظة القارىء أحياناً, خاصة عند نقلها للعربية.Katie Abbott Harris
I thought this fictionalized memoir was highly overrated, and mostly tedious. It is a tale of ex-pat Henry Miller's time in Paris - the people he meets, the money he spends, the places he stays, the books he reads, and the sex, sex, and more sex in which he participates. The prose is an erratic and meandering stream of consciousness, and I have to sheepishly admit that if it weren't for the gratuitous erotic sections and profanity, I would have stopped reading out of boredom. In saying all of this, the book DOES have great value and I still believe it to be worth reading. After being released in France in the 1930's, the novel was finally published in the United States in 1961 and promptly led to an obscenity trial. America's laws on pornography were tested, paving the way for future authors to do what they do best. For this reason, it is a truly important and landmark piece of literature and should be experienced, but don't expect too much.John Doe
George Orwell wrote an essay about this book called, “Inside the Whale.” The title alludes to the Jonah story in the bible. In that story Jonah rejected his responsibility, ran, and was swallowed by a whale. He finally accepted his responsibility and returned to the world. In contrast, Orwell’s Miller doesn’t want to leave the whale. God’s punishment ironically is Miller’s safe and comfortable oasis. Miller can attempt to triumph over god in this way because he has chosen an ironic stance towards his life. God’s punishment is only a punishment for a serious person. A serious person makes the world’s values and causes his values, his causes. Such a person feels happy and safe in the world, has plans, wants to buy a condo in the suburbs, etc. The unserious person, on the other hand, is alienated by the world’s values and from its causes. Slavery, wars, poverty, racism, the rate race—inside a whale at the bottom of the ocean with a ton of blubber insulating you on every side is not such a bad way to ride out a nuclear winter. Clearly, Miller is not a Jonah. Jonah is a criminal guilty of a specific crime. For Miller, the world is guilty and the best a person can hope for is not to be an accomplice, etc. Orwell is really smart and his insight is really helpful. But, he makes it clear that he is not a Miller fan. I, on the other hand, am a fan.Sketchbook
Henry Miller performs a cunning stunt. There is no odious P.C. here, which one must deplore. This faux-memoir isnt "sexy," but it is a vomit of hilarity. I long for the Baz Luhrmann musical version. Meantime, plunge in, whacckkk it, and then slurp a gonarrhea cocktail. Btw, don't eat the ham sandwich in the bidet.Ben
A marvelous pretention of a travel memoir from an American in Paris. More a song than a book: a love ballad to a city. In parts it reads like the surreal confessions of a sex addict. In other parts it is nothing less than a mock-serious philosophical treatis. Tropic of Cancer is almost always as fun to read as it must have been to write. I say almost because at the outset, I kept wondering how much of his self-preening I'd let Miller get away with before I lost all interest; he can at times be highly idealistic and self-indulgent (I mean really really self-indulgent), but then I began to indulge myself in all his blarney... skimming in short to make the passages a jumble of images and impressions. Nevertheless several passages of this book I will continually return to inorder to mark the essential expressions of existential transformation, which are really the hallmark of Miller's style.Simona
Si è detto molto, troppo di questo romanzo di Miller. C'è chi leggendolo si è scandalizzato, chi come me lo ha adorato, amato. Ho adorato lo stile di Miller, il modo in cui racconta il suo vissuto, la sua storia, le avventure con i suoi amici, il suo flusso di coscienza sugli scrittori che ama e che detesta. Siamo a Parigi e il fatto stesso che sia ambientato in questa città, che amo alla follia, aggiunge più di un punto a suo favore. Dimenticate per un attimo la Parigi che avete imparato a conoscere e amare, la Parigi delle "Blinding lights" come cantano gli U2. La Parigi descritta da Miller è una Parigi sull'orlo dello sfacelo, della disperazione, contorniata da prostitute e barboni agli angoli delle strade con personaggi al limite che tentano di sopravvivere e di arrivare a fine giornata.Un romanzo arido, duro, forte, una piccola perla che vi invito a leggere.Annette
One of my favorite passages:"At night when I look at Boris' goatee lying on the pillow I get hysterical. O Tania, where now is that warm cunt of yours, those fat, heavy garters, those soft, bulging thighs? There is a bone in my prick six inches long. I will ream out every wrinkle in your cunt, Tania, big with seed. I will send you home to your Sylvester with an ache in your belly and your womb turned inside out. Your Sylvester! Yes, he knows how to build a fire, but I know how to inflame a cunt. I shoot hot bolts into you, Tania, I make your ovaries incandescent. Your Sylvester is a little jealous now? He feels something, does he? He feels the remnants of my big prick. I have set the shores a little wider. I have ironed out the wrinkles. After me you can take on stallions, bulls, rams, drakes, St. Bernards. You can stuff toads, bats, lizards up your rectum. You can shit arpeggios if you like, or string a zither across your navel. I am fucking you, Tania, so that you'll stay fucked. And if you are afraid of being fucked publicly I will fuck you privately. I will tear off a few hairs from your cunt and paste them on Boris' chin. I will bite into your clitoris and spit out two franc pieces...""The world is a cancer eating itself away"