Supposedly, years ago, when Henry Miller’s Sexus appeared in the American „Classics” series, several teenagers managed to persuade their parents to buy the book. The graphic design proposed for Sexus by Noir sur Blanc has the same power of misleading innocent readers – it looks like a promising criminal novel with a philosophical and artistic flair, perfect for a boring vacation. In some ways, Miller’s work has something similar to the narration of crime stories – its hero, an emotionally insatiable (and not only emotionally) writer who cannot choose between wives and lovers, is able to go really far. But Miller’s subtle side, if it is at all possible to speak of such a side, which had manifested itself in his Tropic of Cancer, died irrevocably and naturally.
Elements of the „Parisian spleen” displayed in Tropic of Cancer gave place to Brooklynian orgies pushing aside all ponderings about the role of the artist and the will to live. Not that Miller abandoned his way of seasoning brutal sex with philosophical treatises – I firmly believe that even he would not have been able to fill six hundred pages of a novel only with eroticism and pornography, but what the reader still can enjoy in Miller when his descriptions of sexual excesses start to get boring or provoke nausea, this intriguing blend of the desire for beauty and for intensification of ugliness, dissolve in Sexus into two separate worlds. Brooklyn bridges, streets and beds are possessed by violence, contempt and sick imagination; aesthetics’ thin legs shake and it is barely audible through the screams of the women „owned” by the hero.
Certainly, the lack of a moralizing tone and a tendency to metaphorize events may prove to be a surprising feature of Sexus, especially since the literature of the 1940s is associated with great moralists of the last century. I am not sure, however, whether Miller’s novel is so absolutely devoid of pathos, as many of his readers would like to believe or just believe. Accusations against „narrow-minded people,” underlying the words of the „knowing more” hero (of the liberated creator-Genius who conjures up the myth of the artist moving the world a step forward with nihilism, misogynism and bestiality) would not be so glamorous if not for the arrogant pathos of finding a better way of life. There is an interesting „patent for the hero” in this procedure, as if Miller thought: the more pathetic deviations fill the hero’s days, the more readers will be willing to trust him. Without a doubt, the animal-human beings coming out to the surface together with the nightly Brooklynian lights have an intensity and individuality that cannot be forgotten. In comparison with them, you can feel like a man made of paper. Every morsel of bread tastes like a royal dinner for them, and each sip of yesterday’s wine like an aromatic ambrosia. And yet there is also something trite in these „flesh and bone” literary figures, in the catalog of madness and disease composed by Miller.
My pleasure in reading Sexus was mainly due to the opportunity to become acquainted once again with the excellent work of translator Lesław Ludwig. I do not want to think what would happen if Sexus came into other hands than his.