Henry Miller on Writers: The Uncrowned Puppet Rulers

Henry Miller’s writing is hard to classify and even harder to judge in terms of literary merit.  When he’s on, he’s very good, among the best writers of his generation.  When he’s off, and he’s off plenty, then his expression is sophomoric, like much scribbling of the Beats.

He’s often very good when he meditates on writing and what it means to be a writer.  After all, this is a role he identified with and lived honestly through daily practice.  Here’s Miller in his own words:

To write, I meditated, must be an act devoid of will.  The word, like the deep ocean current, has to float to the surface of its own impulse….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 (by writing) is to inoculate the world with the virus of his disillusionment.  No man would set a word down on paper if he had the courage to live out what he believed in….[A writer] wants an impossible world in which he is the uncrowned puppet ruler dominated by forces utterly beyond his control.  He is content to rule insidiously–in the fictive worlds of symbols–because the very thought of contact with rude and brutal realities frightens him.  True, he has a greater grasp of reality than other men, but he makes no effort to impose that higher reality on the world by force of example….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.  The first quivering word he puts to paper is the word of the wounded angel: pain.  The process of putting down words is equivalent to giving oneself a narcotic.  Observing the growth of a book under his hands, the author swells with delusions of grandeur.  “I too am a conqueror–perhaps the greatest conqueror of all!  My day is coming.  I will enslave the world–by the magic of words.”


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