The architecture of work. The architecture of life. The architecture of marginalia. With the first, we can point to The Tropic of Cancer; with the second, we can point to an enviable itinerant path that made its way through Greece, France (where — before he got to Paris, according to a reply he sent to his fan club — he danced in the middle of a square in a small town on roller skates), and California; and, with the latter, we can point to a collection of letters on hand at The Ransom Center at the University of Texas, where we can spot a slight hint of some of what’s to come in Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch.
There is the story of Harry Herschkowitz, someone young who keeps sending Miller three dollars a week until Miller asks him to stop. There is the prisoner who wants to buy Miller’s watercolors, William Cressman, writing him on March 12th, 1960 from the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Which looks like a castle.) There is Dorothy Dudley, who wrote a book on Theodore Dreiser that Miller admired, so much so that he asked at one point in his reply, “When are the men going to write like the women?”
And then there’s this letter he got from a woman on October 1st, 1963 —
On Sunday morning Robert Linn, age 16, got to a telephone somehow and called me to say that his mother, a vindictive bourgeois bitch, had had him arrested and tossed into the psycho ward at Chicago Wesley Memorial Hospital; and would I please write to you the letter the hospital authorities wouldn’t mail if he wrote it? Robert had the privilege of meeting you this summer, one of his chief reasons for going to California (his mother’s statement at that time was that if he went she would never speak to him again, which would have been great, but she didn’t stick to it.)
There’s a free wind blowing here — the kids feel it — your books are selling to people under 25 mostly …
And one thinks of the waves of the area around Venice Beach, especially come the last sentence. Somewhere, there’s a gentle yellow shade in the air. One reads letters of how Miller wishes to send money to people like Herschkowitz once he comes into money himself. One thinks ahead to how Conrad Moricand arrives at Miller’s penniless — at Miller’s invitation, in response to Moricand’s pleading — but does not necessarily enjoy any of the experience at all.
Nevertheless: one can observe a certain kind of thread peaking through the marginalia, threatening to define itself as something holistic and whole — as a ‘philosophy of life,’ even.