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.’
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