William Gaddis

Henry Miller

from Writers In Revolt (1962) coedited by Alexander Trocci and Richard Seaver

Introductory Essay
by Terry Southern


In 1955, with the appearance of William Gaddis' 1000 page novel, The Recognitions, it was demonstrated once and for all that a general literary system which is based upon the strict interdependence of (1) non-writers reviewing books for money, against a deadline, and (2) the publishers' use of these reviews in advertising and distribution, is an abysmal failure.

The book, and it is doubtless a great one, was completely ignored. Reviewers who treated it at all did so vicariously; they did not become engaged by the work itself—they simply did not have the time. They disposed of it by category, label, pigeonhole—the most facile and common being to compare it, with great disfavor, to Ulysses. The.author, it was said, was obviously trying to create a "work of art" or a "masterpiece"—this put them off. What they really said was that the author was trying to give the impression of having created a work of art or a masterpiece. This is because American "literary criticism" is not equipped to deal with work on any other level than that of the author's intentions. American critics—and this is true of no other contemporary culture—are themselves so far removed from the creative process, and from all imaginative thought, that their response to a work can never be on the basis of what the work is, but on what it seems to represent. It is psychologically untenable for such a person to admit the possibility of direct contact, or experience with a "work of art" or a "masterpiece"—other, of course, than those so certified and still smelling of the grave.
The Recognitions does not need praise; it needs to be read.

Introductory Essay
by Terry Southern


It is not unlikely that at the close of this epoch, the literature of the American which will stand, in many respects, as a pinnacle among aborted towers, will be that of Henry Miller. America has produced, like most other nations of the West, a fair amount of literature to receive international acclaim; there is no longer any dearth, certainly of American Nobel Prize winners. What is rare however, and quite possibly unique, is for a culture to have at its bosom an artist whose major work has not merely gone unpublished in his own country, but has actually been outlawed there; work, that is to say, hailed throughout the rest of the world as of the very first importance, and more widely read, according to the University of California Librarian, Lawrence Powell, than any American living other than Upton Sinclair, or any dead, other than Mark Twain and Jack London. Yet it is only within the past year, through the sustaining wisdom and courage of Mr. Rosset's Grove Press, that Tropic of Cancer and Tropic Of Capricorn have at last appeared in the open market; this leaves Black Spring, Quiet Days in Clichy, The World of Sex, and at least two volumes of The Rosy Crucifixion for a total of several thousand pages—still on the dark side of the horizon.

The influence of this work on contemporary American literature has been immeasurable. The English language itself has always presented a problem peculiar to American creative writing in that it is the only Western language which contains words that are, of themselves, inadmissible, that is to say, the so-called four-letter words. In languages of equal currency—French, German, Italian and Spanish—it is, of course, possible to construct, out of existing and acceptable words, images which are wholly offensive and, as such, inadmissible, but the structure of the language is always such that there cannot exist an instance of an isolated word, of high-frequency usage, which is of itself so potently taboo that it cannot be employed, either in everyday converse or in creative work for any form of communicative or art mass media—stage, film, radio, television and books. One of the crucial problems then in American literary creation has been how to avoid the use of these words with the minimum loss of verisimilitude (in dialogue) and without too seriously crippling the chance for genuine and meaningful self-expression. Genuine artists, certainly, have deplored these arbitrarily imposed limits as nothing less than primitive superstition; and giants, of course, have ignored them, so that one aspect of Henry Miller's life and art has been consecrated to overthrowing this tyranny of words. Let us look at how he was writing, back in the 1930's...

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