- Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

Henry Miller on Art, Life, Writing, and More

Happy birthday, Henry Miller! Here are some quotes from the writer:

 

“Imagination is the voice of daring.”

 

“There is no salvation in becoming adapted to a world which is crazy.”

 

“A book lying idle on a shelf is wasted ammunition.”

 

“The truly great writer does not want to write. He wants the world to be a place in which he can live the life of the imagination.”

 

“I had to learn, as I soon did, that one must give up everything and not do anything else but write, that one must write and write and write.”

 

“Every man is working out his destiny in his own way and nobody can be of any help except by being kind, generous, and patient.”

 

“The truly great writer does not want to write: he wants the world to be a place in which he can live the life of the imagination.”

 

“Words, sentences, ideas, no matter how subtle or ingenious, the maddest flights of poetry, the most profound dreams, the most hallucinating visions, are but crude hieroglyphs chiseled in pain and sorrow to commemorate an event which is untransmissible.”

 

“Art is only a means to life, to the life more abundant. It is not in itself the life more abundant. It merely points the way, something which is overlooked not only by the public, but very often by the artist himself. In becoming an end, it defeats itself.”

 

“Perhaps the artist is nothing more than the personification of this universal maladjustment, this universal disequilibrium.”

 

“The whole damned universe has to be taken apart, brick by brick, and reconstructed.”

 

“Any genuine philosophy leads to action and from action back again to wonder, to the enduring fact of mystery.”

 

“The new always carries with it the sense of violation, of sacrilege. What is dead is sacred; what is new, that is, different, is evil, dangerous, or subversive.”

 

“Through art then, one finally establishes contact with reality: that is the great discovery. Here all is play and invention; there is no solid foothold from which to launch the projectiles which will pierce the miasma of folly, ignorance, and greed. The world has not to be put in order: the world is order incarnate. It is for us to put ourselves in unison with this order, to know what is the world order in contradistinction to the wishful-thinking orders which we seek to impose on one another. The power which we long to possess, in order to establish the good, the true, and the beautiful, would prove to be, if we could have it, but the means of destroying one another. It is fortunate that we are powerless.”

 

“The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.”

 

“The artist who becomes thoroughly aware consequently ceases to be one. ”

 

“Obscenity is a cleansing process, whereas pornography only adds to the murk.”

 

“One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of looking at things.”

 

“A man writes to throw off the poison which he has accumulated because of his false way of life. He is trying to recapture his innocence, yet all he succeeds in doing is to inoculate the world with a virus of his disillusionment.”

 

“The man who looks for security, even in the mind, is like a man who would chop off his limbs in order to have artificial ones which will give him no pain or trouble.”

 

“No one creates alone, of and by himself. An artist is an instrument that registers something already existent, something which belongs to the whole world, and which, if he is an artist, he is compelled to give back to the world.”

 

“Real awareness comes intermittently, in brief flashes of a second’s duration. The man who can hold it for a minute, relatively speaking, inevitably changes the whole trend of the world. In the span of ten or twenty thousand years a few widely isolated individuals have striven to break the deadlock, shatter the trance, as it were. Their efforts, if we look at the present state of the world superficially, seem to have been ineffectual. And yet the example which their lives afford us points conclusively to one thing, that the real drama of men on earth is concerned with Reality, and not with the creation of civilizations which permit the great mass of men to snore more or less blissfully. A man who wanted to live would not waste even a fraction of a moment in the invention, creation, and perpetuation of instruments of death.”

 

“What an astounding thing is the voice! By what miracle is the hot magma of the earth transformed into that which we call speech? If out of clay such an abstract medium as words can be shaped, what is to hinder us from leaving our bodies at will and taking up our abode on other planets or between the planets? What is to prevent us from rearranging all life, atomic, molecular, corporeal, stellar, divine? Who or what is powerful enough to eradicate this miraculous leaven which we bear within us like a seed and which, after we have embraced in our mind all the universe, is nothing more than a seed—since to say universe is as easy as to say seed, and we have yet to say greater things, things beyond saying, things limitless and inconceivable, things which no trick of language can encompass.”

 

“Men are more or less reconciled to the thought of death, but they also know that it is not necessary to kill one another. They know it intermittently, just as they know other things which they conveniently proceed to forget where there is danger of having their sleep disturbed. To live without killing is a thought which could electrify the world, if men were only capable of staying awake long enough to let the idea soak in. But man refuses to stay awake because if he did, he would be obliged to become something other than he now is, and the thought of that is apparently too painful for him to endure. If man were to come to grips with his real nature, if he were to discover his real heritage, he would become so exalted, or else so frightened, that he would find it impossible to go to sleep again. To live would be a perpetual challenge to create. But the very thought of a possible, swift, and endless metamorphosis terrifies him. He sleeps now, not comfortably to be sure, but certainly more and more obstinately, in the womb of a creation whose only need of verification is his own awakening.”

 

“Well, I’ll take these pages and move on. Things are happening elsewhere. Things are always happening. It seems wherever I go there is drama. People are like lice—they get under your skin and bury themselves there. You scratch and scratch until the blood comes, but you can’t get permanently deloused. Everywhere I go people are making a mess of their lives. Everyone has his private tragedy. It’s in the blood now—misfortune, ennui, grief, suicide. The atmosphere is saturated with disaster, frustration, futility. Scratch and scratch, until there’s no skin left. However, the effect upon me is exhilarating. Instead of being discouraged or depressed, I enjoy it. I am crying for more and more disasters, for bigger calamities, grander failures. I want the whole world to be out of whack, I want every one to scratch himself to death.”

 

“For a hundred years or more the world, our world, has been dying. And not one man, in these last hundred years or so, has been crazy enough to put a bomb up the asshole of creation and set it off. The world is rotting away, dying piecemeal. But it needs the coup de grace, it needs to be blown to smithereens.”

 

“I am a free man―and I need my freedom. I need to be alone. I need to ponder my shame and my despair in seclusion; I need the sunshine and the paving stones of the streets without companions, without conversation, face to face with myself, with only the music of my heart for company. What do you want of me? When I have something to say, I put it in print. When I have something to give, I give it. Your prying curiosity turns my stomach! Your compliments humiliate me! Your tea poisons me! I owe nothing to any one. I would be responsible to God alone―if He existed!”

 

“To walk in money through the night crowd, protected by money, lulled by money, dulled by money, the crowd itself a money, the breath money, no least single object anywhere that is not money, money, money everywhere and still not enough, and then no money or a little money or less money or more money, but money, always money, and if you have money or you don’t have money it is the money that counts and money makes money, but what makes money make money?”

 

“To be free, as I then knew myself to be, is to realize that all conquest is vain, even the conquest of self, which is the last act of egotism. To be joyous is to carry the ego to its last summit and to deliver it triumphantly. To know peace is total: it is the moment after, when the surrenderer is complete, when there is no longer even the consciousness of surrender. Peace is at the centre and when it is attainded the voice issues forth in praise and benediction. Then the voice carries far and wide, to the outermost limits of the universe. Then it heals, because it brings light and the warmth of compassion.”

 

“Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.”

 

“I’m crazy enough to believe that the happiest man on earth is the man with the fewest needs.”

 

“Life has to be given a meaning because of the obvious fact that it has no meaning.”

 

“Whatever I do is done out of sheer joy: I drop my fruits like a ripe tree. What the general reader or the critic makes of it is not my concern.”

 

“The real leader has no need to lead—he is content to point the way.”

 

“It is the American vice, the democratic disease which expresses its tyranny by reducing everything unique to the level of the herd.”

 

“Life, as it is called, is for most of us one long postponement.”

 

“No man is great enough or wise enough for any of us to surrender our destiny to. The only way in which anyone can lead us is to restore to us the belief in our own guidance.”

 

“We do not talk—we bludgeon one another with facts and theories gleaned from cursory readings of newspapers, magazines, and digests.”

 

“[T]he blind lead the blind: it’s the democratic way.”

 

“The man who is forever disturbed about the problems of humanity either has no problems of his own or has refused to face them.”

 

“Imagination is the voice of daring. If there is anything Godlike about God it is that. He dared to imagine everything.”

 

“Sex is one of the nine reasons for reincarnation. […] The other eight are unimportant.”

 

“In this age, which believes that there is a short-cut to everything, the greatest lesson to be learned is that the most difficult way, in the long run, is the easiest.”

 

“If we have not found heaven within, it is a certainty we will not find it without.”

 

“Many is the mirage I chased. Always I was overreaching myself. The oftener I touched reality, the harder I bounced back to the world of illusion, which is the name for everyday life. ‘Experience! More experience!’ I clamored. In a frantic effort to arrive at some kind of order, some tentative working program, I would sit down quietly now and then and spend long, long hours mapping out a plan of procedure. Plans, such as architects and engineers sweat over, were never my forte. But I could always visualize my dreams in a cosmogonic pattern. Though I could never formulate a plot I could balance and weigh opposing forces, characters, situations, events, distribute them in a sort of heavenly lay-out, always with plenty of space between, always with the certitude that there is no end, only worlds within worlds ad infinitum, and that wherever one left off one had created a world, a world finite, total, complete.”

 

“My hunger and curiosity drive me forward in all directions at once.”

 

“I am of the order whose purpose is not to teach the world a lesson but to explain that school is over.”

 

“The most difficult thing to adjust to, apparently, is peace and contentment.”

 

“There’s nothing wrong with the world. What’s wrong is our way of looking at it.”

 

“Whoever uses the spirit that is in him creatively is an artist. To make living itself an art, that is the goal.”

 

“In the literature of utter desolation there is always and only one symbol (which may be expressed mathematically as well as spiritually) about which everything turns: minus love. For life can be lived, and usually is lived, on the minus side rather than the plus. Men may strive forever, and hopelessly, once they have elected to rule love out. That high unfathomable ache of emptiness into which all creation might be poured and still it would be emptiness, this aching for God, as it has been called, what is it if not a description of the soul’s loveless state?”

 

“What I really hoped for, no doubt, was to come upon one of those lives which begin nowhere, which lead us through marshes and salt flats, trickling away, seemingly without plan, purpose or goal, and suddenly emerge, gushing like geysers, and never cease gushing, even in death.”

 

“Things happen or they don’t happen, that’s all. Nothing is accomplished by sweat and struggle. Nearly everything which we call life is just insomnia, an agony because we’ve lost the habit of falling asleep.”

 

“I tell you, struggle is what is missing in the lives of most young people today. If they think I’m going to support them while they create great works of art, then they’ve missed the point of my work, of my life! In the process of becoming a writer or an artist one has to be willing to starve. Struggle is the most invaluable experience of all. Suffering seems to be the inevitable fate of the creative sensitive types. Poverty, disease, death, unrequited love affairs, and disappointments of every sort fan the flame of the artistic spirit. The greatest works of art were not created by spoiled brats. They were born for the most part out of a sense of despair, and if not despair then just plain hard work. Somewhere along the line the artist learns the art of transformation.”

 

“The frantic desire to live, to live at any cost, is not a result of the life rhythm in us, but of the death rhythm.”

 

“I blush to think of our origins—our hands are steeped in blood and crime. And there is no letup to the slaughter and pillage.”

 

“To be generous is to say Yes before the man even opens his mouth.”

 

“The happiest peoples, it is said, are those which have no history. Those who have a history, those who have made history seem only to have emphasized through their accomplishments the eternality of struggle. These disappear too eventually, just as those who made no effort, who were content to merely live and enjoy.”

 

“The battle is endless. It had no beginning, nor will it know an end. We who babble and froth at the mouth have been at it since eternity.”

 

“I am against revolutions because they always involve a return to the status quo.”

 

“I am glad to be a maggot in the corpse which is the world.”

 

“Everything remains unsettled forever, depend on it.”

 

“Take a good look at me. Now tell me, do you think I’m the sort of fellow who gives a fuck what happens once he’s dead?”

 

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John Madera is the author of Nervosities (Anti-Oedipus Press, 2024). His other fiction is published in Conjunctions, Salt Hill, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His nonfiction is published in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, New York State Council on the Arts awardee John Madera lives in New York City, Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

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