On Henry Miller: Or, How to Be an Anarchist by John Burnside - review by Guy Stevenson

Guy Stevenson

The Colossus of Big Sur

On Henry Miller: Or, How to Be an Anarchist


Princeton University Press 175pp £18.95 order from our bookshop

As anyone who has tried to write about him knows, Henry Miller is a difficult subject. Besides his reputation for pornography and sexism – both partially justified and always requiring explanation – there’s also always the nagging sense of this defiantly anti-academic writer hovering, disapprovingly, over the critic’s shoulder. In his preface to On Henry Miller, a book intended to be ‘not about Miller, but after’ him, the poet and novelist John Burnside does a good job of summing up these pitfalls. Scanning an early draft, he says, he realised with horror first that he had unwittingly fudged the issue of female objectification, and second that he had produced a work ‘as unlike anything Henry Miller might have written as it was possible to be. There was no fever, no itch, no drunkenness.’

Like Miller – who wrote his own study after rather than about an idol, D H Lawrence – Burnside has tried to give lit crit a wide berth, aiming instead for a personal account of the impact reading Miller has had on his thinking, feeling and writing. That impact,

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