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The Devil at Large: Erica Jong on Henry Miller.

In this collection of reminiscences, biographical and literary observations, bibliographical annotations, and letters, Erica Jong engages readers in a continuous assessment of their own expectations of life and literature. Looking directly at Miller's unabashed anti-Semitism and his derogation of women, she never lets her audience dismiss these views by advising them just to look at the literature; nor does she allow Miller to be a scapegoat for readers' fears and prejudices. Instead, they look with her at a man and his writing that are near the primitive. Her Henry Miller, like her Isadora Wing, would fly into the unknown arts, but can not quit the battles of the here and now - life in 20th-century America.

For both Jong and Miller, the puritanism of time and place are maddening and drive them to excesses of taste and rhetoric that ultimately keep them out of lending libraries and university syllabi, as well as out of literary heaven. But then, books have little currency in a time whose icons are on television screens. In "An imaginary Dialogue," Jong has her Miller explain that he is beyond writing, having sunk into the "primal flux." Presumably, he has landed in a formica purgatory, perhaps because the cosmos trembled and opened a crack to let him in when shaken by Miller's giving travelers new stars to steer by: life and writing on the edge without hope and fear.

Those who love and/or hate Miller need this book, as they do Jong (though I, for one, wish she would eschew the Betty Boop permanent she always wears in dustjacket photographs, which makes me want to say: "Is this the face that launched a thousand Freudian slips?"). We need Jong's reminder that any ism, even feminism and liberalism, can be as repressive and programmatic as the bedrock of our culture-puritanism. We also must be grateful that Henry Miller set out to find fault lines, to bring cosmic quakes and local tremors. Yet, we have to remember that Miller also loved women for the mere pleasure of being with them, expecting nothing beyond the experience. That may be Miller's most revolutionary and unacceptable statement: Pleasure doesn't have to do good.
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Author:Kernowski, Frank
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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