Henry Miller Memorial Library

Big Sur, California
We do not talk - we bludgeon one another with facts and theories gleaned from cursory readings of newspapers, magazines and digests.

What’s your favorite HML moment from 2014? Vote now!

With the end of the year upon us, we were thinking back on cool things about the Library that are more subtle and inconspicuous. So…

What's your favorite HML moment of 2014?

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Henry’s Midnight Astrology-Driven Nepenthe Ping Pong Vision

Sitting or sleeping in a cold, drafty cabin in the wintery rain can do a number on your psyche. Because of this, it’s important to pick up some “winter hobby” of some sort.

Y’know, basket weaving or Soduku or perhaps…ping pong. These two winter-survival “must-dos” coalesce in entertaining fashion when Henry Miller knocked on Nepenthe’s doors late one night, long ago.

Take it away, Nepenthe Stories!!!

Many know of Henry Miller’s years in Big Sur, but few are aware that his first home on the coast was in the Log House, above Nepenthe. Novelist Lynda Sargent took in the penniless Henry Miller and gave him a place to set up his typewriter during the day and lay his head at night.

ping_smIt is rare to meet the person who has heard the story of novelist Lynda Sargent, who lived in the Log House after it was the Trails Club and before Lolly and Bill bought it and built Nepenthe, and who took in the penniless Henry Miller and gave him a place to set up his typewriter during the day and lay his head at night…

Miller and Sargent didn’t get along so well, but they say you could hear the sound of their two typewriters clacking away from the highway!
Miller eventually found his own place on Partington Ridge, but he came back frequently after Nepenthe was built. Bill Fassett liked to tell the story of Henry’s mid-night dreaming that brought him to his door late one winter night.

“Damn it, Fassett,” Henry raged. “My astrologer came to me in a dream and said I’d beat you at ping-pong tonight, and damned if I won’t!”

Daddy Bill said he trounced Henry with little fanfare, while Lolly sat quietly by and knitted. “Time to get yourself another astrologer,” she commented as Henry went back into the night.

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On Miller’s over-hyped “meanness, St. Paul, Jonathan Edwards, and the “Air-Conditioned Nightmare”

One of the great paradoxes (of which there are many) of Msr. Miller is his ability to juggle a hardened, astringent cynicism along with a kind of optimistic romanticism.

On one hand, there’s Miller, the ranting Brooklyn curmudgeon, haranguing about the shallowness and vapidity of modern life in books like “Tropic of Capricorn” and (see below) “The Air Conditioned Nightmare.”

The saint formerly known as Saul of Tarsus

The saint formerly known as Saul of Tarsus

Then there’s the quasi-Zen like flower-power Miller, evoking St. Paul-to-the-Corinthians and whispering platitudes like “The one thing we can never get enough of is love.”

What gives?

The answer, of course, is simple. Miller contains multitudes. And at the expense of falling back on Phd thesis-logic, his tortured inner dialectic perfectly mirrors that of his morally-tortured homeland.

What’s more, as this astute post by Nicholas Vajifdar in Bookslut argues within the context of its review of “Air-Conditioned Nightmare,” Miller’s fiery condemnations of the US, collated during his cross-country trip in the 1930s, lacked a meanness and ugliness that you’d see in, say, the crazed rantings of his holier-than-thou predecessors (e.g. Jonathan Edwards and the like.*)

Take it away, Nicholas:

For all his negative energy, one of Miller’s most admirable qualities is his total lack of meanness. Meanness, I mean, as distinct from enmity and prejudice. His negativity partakes not at all of the miserable bickering, the rat-like grasping and spitting, on display in every internet comment section in the world.

His hate is serene; it doesn’t hide, flinch, shriek, throw chicken bones. When, after his Dante-esque journey through the Hell of the Industrial North and the Purgatory of Steaming Dixie, he slurs down into his bizarro promised land of coastal California, I felt that his generous sensibility had at last been physically repaid.

(Read the whole thing!)


Those who knew Miller personally would agree. For all his “fronting,” at the end of the day, his faux meanness flowed from an inner wellspring of generosity, appreciation, and loyalty. (Never mind the fact that much of his excoriations of pre-war America were not only accurate, but eerily prescient.)

* Perhaps this is where Miller, the long-running target of the US’s established puritan theocracy, has, ironically enough, something in common with the Bible-thumping agitators who antagonized him through most of his life: a distinctly American moralizing streak. The difference? Edwards’ moralizing is rooted in the stone-age inanity of the Old Testament; Miller’s is rooted in a more forgiving and humanistic Europeanism. Pass the baguette!







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Guardian names “Tropic of Cancer” 59th best novel ever…..

tropicofcancerOn the heels of this past weekend’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of Tropic of Cancer’s legalization, let’s revisit that influential just one more time, shall we?

There have been a gazillion novels written and the UK’s Guardian took the time whittle the list down to 100. And in their list of the 100 Best Novels ever, Msr. Miller clocks in at number 59.

Money quote: “Miller’s delight in rubbing the reader’s face in filth was intoxicating and influential. His “fuck everything” would inspire Kerouac, Genet, Burroughs, Mailer and Ginsberg, among others. Not bad for a man who had once written: “Why does nobody want what I write?”

Read it all here!

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Henry Miller Library and Ping Pong descent on LA THIS WEEKEND!

Attention LA and lovers of free speech, poetry, art, and music dwelling within a radius covering Santa Barbara down to Riverside!

The Henry Miller Library and its literary journal Ping Pong is bringing our omnivorous appetite for all things art 341 south miles (via I-5 South the 101) for a we’d like to call “Speech is Not Free! 50th Anniversary: Tropic of Cancer Obscenity Trial”!!!
It’s kicking off TOMORROW! Here’s what’s in store:

Friday, November 7 @ 7 – 10PM: Ping Pong kicks things off with readings from its latest installment plus writers who will read or display a piece of banned work that effected them in a transformative way. At Coagula Curatorial Gallery, 974 Chung King Rd. in LA. FREE.

Saturday, November 8 @ 3 – 5PM: HML Director Magnus Torén, talks about “Cancer,” its influence on the censorship laws in the US, and where we are today in regards to the silencing of voices. At Coagula Curatorial Gallery, 974 Chung King Rd., in LA. FREE.

Sunday, November 9 @ 3pm – 5pm: Benefit Concert for the HMMLat McCabes Guitar Shop, 3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, featuring Paz Lenchantin (Pixies & Entrance Band), Kevin Morby, Jonathan Wilson, Emmett Kelley (Cairo Gang), Deradoorian, Christian Wargo (Fleet Foxes), Pearl Charles & Lauren Barth, plus more TBA.

Read more here and do tell all your friends south of Morro Bay!!!


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Exclusive interview w/ Magnus re: upcoming Nov 7-9 LA event celebrating the Tropic of Cancer anniversary trial!


Henry Miller is responsible for — to quote scholar James Decker — “the free speech that we now take for granted in literature.” It began fifty years ago when Miller’s novel ”Tropic of Cancer” was deemed not obscene by the U.S. Supreme Court fifty years ago this year.

And so the Library and its literary magazine Ping-Pong  — who’s also celebrating the release of its newest installment — will be throwing a party to commemorate this achievement!  (Drum roll…….)

Ping Pong and the Henry Miller Library present “Speech is Not Free! 50th Anniversary of the Tropic of Cancer Obscenity Trial”, Nov 7-9 at the Coagula Curatorial Gallery (947 Chung King Rd.) in Los Angeles!!

Click here for an interview with Library Director Magnus Toren as he talks about this most excellent weekend and what he, in particular, has in store!

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Time is running out to register for the greatest children’s writing workshop in the world! (Dec 5-7!!)

Time is running out to register for the greatest children’s writing workshop in the world! That’d be the Big Sur Writing Workshop for picture books, early reader, middle grade & YA fiction, Dec 5-7 at the Big Sur Lodge!
Unlike other conferences, which have speakers on stage talking to dozens of participants, you’ll get one-on-one and small-group attention from our amazing faculty!!

If the thought of perhaps writing a children’s book is even merely a distant gleam in you or a friend’s eye, you owe it to yourselves to CHECK THIS OUT.

Network, make friends, hang with Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc. reps, enjoy Big Sur, hone your craft, and who knows, maybe even land a publishing deal!388410_10151022361390187_239683307_n

To sign up call 831-667-2574 or click here!

Who’s on our faculty? Click here!

It WILL sell out!

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The October HML Email Digest is out! Here’s what you’re missing (for only $2 a month!)

For $1 dollar you can buy lip gloss. OR for only $2 a MONTH — that’s about 7 cents a day – you can sign up for the Henry Miller Library Monthly E-Mail Digest!

Click here!!!

ciboYou’ll get the satisfaction in knowing that you recurring payment goes to a good cause – namely, our sleepy 501 © 3 nonprofit arts center BUT THERE’S MORE!

Indeed, as a Digest member you’ll get “insider access,” exclusive photos, cool content, video, and more. Why, just take a look at what Digest members are getting in the month of October.

All that for less than the price of, like, a push pin, rubber band, or other small office supply! Click the link and sign up today – you can always bail!

1. Flashback: The Harvard Crimson Reports “Tropic of Cancer” is banned in Massachusetts on Nov. 14, 1961!

Here come da judges: The Supreme Court, 1964

Here come da judges: The Supreme Court, 1964

2. Henry Miller and the SLAPS Test.

3. 30% Discount for Ping Pong for Digest Members!

4. Unsung Hero in Miller’s Life #34: Elmer Gertz

5. Lion(ish) in Winter: Miller the Elder Statesman in Pacific Palisades.

6. 30% Discount on the Cibo Matto Poster for Digest Members!

7. Sven – A Big Sur Odyssey (the one where he gets a job)

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Unsung Hero in Miller’s Life #34: Elmer Gertz (aka the man who convinced the Supreme Court to lift the ban on “Cancer”)

Elmer Gertz, in many ways, is one of the reasons the Library exists. He along with Emil, naturally, Anais Nin, Larry Durrell, and Bar- ney Rosset–these are the people in Miller’s orbit that helped bring him to the attention of the rest of the world.

$(KGrHqF,!osE-vo82U15BP6(3cIbzQ~~_35Gertz defended Tropic of Cancer and Miller’s publisher, Grove Press, against obscenity charges. I mean, this is the guy that, in 1964 convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to lift the ban on the book! Everyone who values artistic expression – or takes it for granted nowadays – owes an enormous deal to Elmer.

After the court case, he and Miller became close friends – which often happened whenever anyone got to know Miller.

Anyway, it was just another day – this is in 1996, mind you – and all of a sudden, in walks Gertz with his wife, Maime. I was floored. Elmer was a big deal to me – I understood that without him, I’d still be waiting tables or driving a truck or something.

He’s thrilled that I recognize him, and, after a while of bouncing off the walls with stories from his past friendship with Henry, it occurred to me to take him up to Miller’s old house on Partington Ridge.

At the time, his house was still owned by Miller’s kids, so I called his daughter Valentine to ask if it would be OK to bring Elmer up to the house. She immediately said yes. I closed the Library early, and we drove down the coast and up the winding road to Miller’s house. miller

To see the elation and wonder on Elmer’s face — being up there, seeing part of what Miller had so passionately talked with him about, being present in the place that he had read about for years – it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Though Elmer was Miller’s lawyer he was at the end of the day completely enraptured by Miller the writer and the person. Standing there in Miller’s home, he had tears in his eyes. It may sound corny, but for him, it was like a Graceland experience, you know?

Elmer Gertz was 90 years old at the time. It was his first visit to Big Sur. He passed away four years later.

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Let’s get legal: Henry Miller and the SLAPS Test

To paraphrase Olivia-Newton John, let’s get legal..ical.  Specifically, let’s talk about Henry Miller and the SLAPS Test.

The SLAPS tests sounds like something I encountered at a frat party in college, but in reality, its something that’d be very familiar to lawyers and their ilk.

And while we don’t to get too academic on you, it really is fascinating to grasp the impact of the “legalization” of “Cancer,” as the ruling has impacts pretty much every other book every written since then.

Here come da judges: The Supreme Court, 1964

Here come da judges: The Supreme Court, 1964

The test, also known as the “Miller Test” or the Three Prong Obscenity Test (TPOT), is the United States Supreme Court’s test for determining whether speech or expression can be labeled obscene, in which case it is not protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and can be prohibited.

Basically, the court said a book can be banned only if it passes all three of the following criteria:

1) the dominant theme must be prurient (e.g. having or encouraging an excessive interest in sexual matters.)

2) the book must offend contemporary community standards;

3) the book must be “utterly without redeeming social importance,” by virtue of having no “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific” merit.

You can read more about the court’s thinking here, but we know how this one turned out.  Yay!

(That said, if you click that link you’ll see that with the Internet, the Miller Test is becoming harder to apply as the definition of “community standards” becomes more fungible. See? “Cancer” is still with us – the gift that keeps on giving.)

What was particularly cool, by the way, was Miller’s aw-shucks defense of the book: “If it was not good, it was true; if it was not artistic, it was sincere; if it was in bad taste, it was on the side of life.”

Two more things.  One, I Google Image Searched “SLAPS Test” and this came up.

Lastly, can someone tell us why it was called the SLAPS test?

SLAP’S all folks!

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