“…Nation of Lunatics”

In Henry Miller’s 1962 nonfiction opus, Stand Still Like A Hummingbird, only a few paragraphs into the introduction he begins describing some of the epithets that would need to be coined to describe his bad taste, in the event that readers found the book to be as despicable as many had found Tropic of Cancer twenty five years earlier:

The tenor of most of the them, though strongly critical of our way of life, is nevertheless strictly kosher. America is seen through the eys of an American, not a Hottentot. And Europe, which is often favorably contrasted with America, is a Europe which only an American might have eyes for.

So what, my dear compatriots? How will you label me now? Un-American? It won’t fit, I’m afraid. I’m even more American than you, only against the grain. Which, if you think a moment, serves to put me in the tradition. Nothing I have said against our way of life, our institutions, our failings, but what you will find even more forcibly expressed in Thoreau, Whitman, Emerson. Even before the turn of the century Whitman had addressed his fellow Americans thus: “You are in a fair way to create a whole nation of lunatics.”

It is true, of course, that today the whole world seems to have gone mad. But, like it or not, we are in the van, we are leading the procession. Always first and foremost, what!

The dominant theme throughout this book is the plight of the individual, which of course means the plight of society, since society is meaningless unless composed of individuals.

No things have not changed a whit since Tropic of Cancer days, unless for the worse. La vie en rose is definitely not for the artist. The artist – I employ the word only for the genuine ones – is still suspect, still regarded as a menace to society. Those who conform, who play the game, are petted and pampered. Nowhere else in the world, unless it be Soviet Russia, do these conformists receive such huge rewards, such wide recognition for their efforts.

So much for the dominant note. As for the subdominant, the thought is – don’t wait for things to change, the hour of man is now and, whether you are working at the bottom of the pile or the top, if you are a creative individual you will go on producing, come hell or high water. And this is the most you can hope to do. One has to go on believing in himself, whether recognized or not, whether heeded or not. The world may seem like hell on wheels – and we are doing our best, are we not, to make it so? – but there is always room, if only in one’s soul, to create of spot of Paradise, crazy though it may sound.

When you find you can go neither backward nor forward, when you discover that you are no longer able to stand, sit, or lie down, when your children have died of malnutrition and your aged parents have been sent to the poorhouse or the gas chamber, when you realize that you can neither write nor not write, when you are convinced that all the exits are blocked, either you take to believing in miracles or you stand still like a hummingbird. The miracle is that the honey is always right there, right under your nose, only you were to busy searching elsewhere to realize it. The worst is not death but being blind, blind to the fact that everything about life is in the nature of the miraculous.

Love your neighbor, read your Miller.