I have Henry Miller’s bible. It’s too fragile to read so it sits here, on the shelf , in my office. Until yesterday. Now it’s on my desk awaiting installation in an archival plexiglass box due to arrive today. It will last forever now. It’s outlived Rob O’Harrold from the Diocesan House who gifted it to Henry Miller on March 3, 1925. It’s outlived Miller, and June aka Mara, who, at Miller’s request, went out into the night looking for a bible in Tropic of Capricorn. It’s outlived Emil Schnellock, to whom Miller gifted the bible on March 21, 1925. And it will outlive me unless science develops the genetic equivalent of archival Plexi to preserve me.
I don’t turn to this bible for comfort – it is I who am caring for it now. I do see God in the story of Henry Miller’s bible, the way I hear God in all good stories. Miller wrote to Emil in 1930 from Paris that he was writing his own bible. A book about Paris, The Last Book. A book about everything excluded in literature. His book, his biblio, his bible of life as he knew it from the beginning to the end and back round again, Tropic of Cancer, was banned for obscenity in the US and England.
I inherited Emil’s personal collection of Millerana which included books with his notes in the margins- clearly these were Emil’s ‘dearest possessions. I can smell the tobacco and feel his glasses on the bridge of my nose and hear the conversation between his mind and Miller’s words. Not so with the bible. It’s notorious owner, the ”king of smut” as Miller wrote on the Tropic of Cancer preface he sent to Emil, owns this bible. And therefore It belongs to everybody and I’m responsible for it. What do I do with it?
Walter Benjamin wrote in the essay, Unpacking My Library, : “For a collector’s attitude toward his possessions stems from an owner’s feeling of responsibility toward his property.Thus it is, in the highest sense the attitude of an heir, and the most distinguished trait of a collection will always be its transmissibility. ..But one thing should be noted: the phenomenon of collecting loses its meaning as it loses its personal owner.” Emil died when I was three – to my knowledge we never met. Why I am heir to his collection is a mystery. I make up stories when I don’t have answers. My story is one of synchronicity, serendipity and spirit in which the collection, including the bible, found me, assisted by metaphysicians like Madame Anna and perhaps Henry and Emil. I am its rightful heir. Emil said he wanted to be obliterated from memory, knowing he’d go down in history as Henry’s friend. Henry said memorials ”defeated the purpose of a man’s life. Only by living your own life to the full can you honor the memory of someone.”
This is my responsibility- to live my own life to the full. As an artist and writer, I chose Emil’s personal possessions and his collection of Miller writings as objects I love, asking them to carry me into the frontier of my life. This body of work, which has been the focus of my studio practice since fall of 2011, is not a memorial- it’s a travel journal, my last book, my bible. “I have no need for bibles. I make my own bibles, ” Miller wrote in Open Letter to Surrealists Everywhere, 1938 (the manuscript is part of Emil’s collection – does that make it mine?) Like the Buddhist teacher who knows the student must surpass him in spiritual enlightenment or he hasn’t done his job, Miller understood the spiritual practice of ‘kill the teacher’. Be what you love and admire- don’t stand back memorializing. If you remember Woodstock you weren’t there or something like that. (I wasn’t there).
The GIDEON connection:
Back to Henry’s bible. When the bible is not in my office it’s in the nightstand, Gideon style, at Hotel Central, the hotel installation I’m making sourced from the ideas and objects in Emil’s collection. I’ve decided the Hotel installations, in keeping with Benjamin and my responsibilities as heir to Emil’s collection, need to be transmissible, lighter weight. I want to send the bible to Superior, Montana where the Gideons placed their first bible in a hotel room in 1908. Turns out the Gideon founders met in the Central Hotel in a small town in Wisconsin (synchronicity, lights on !!!). Gideon’s International estimates that in 2015 they will place their 2 billionth bible in some hotel room around the world. I want to contribute Henry’s bible to the project- make it 2 billion and one. The bible is a cultural icon- it will never be the beloved go-to book on the night stand. I want it to be there for the questioners, the curious, the ironic, the doubters, the poets, the believers, the artists, the faithful frontiersman who, despite all evidence, take to the road with love.
PS Plexi box has arrived. But the bible would rather be cradled in flesh….