Henry Miller is a famous author. Check. But is he famous for the right reasons? Uncheck.
Miller is one of America's greatest literary offspring, and to prove it, he lived much of his life beyond American borders. Famous more for the sexuality of his books than the quality of writing that infuses those passages with a blend of of hyper-realistim and romanticism, yet always enfodled within Miller's Cynicism (not today's so-called cynicism), Miller in fact chronicled the one road to true joy still on the maps, if we look. His work refuses literary hijinks for the sake of critics yet no less refuses the Strunk & White commandments. If you haven't read Miller, start with the two Tropic novels. Then move on to a jewel rare not because of it's unavailability but rather its lack of what readers expect from Miller.
That's to say The Time of the Assassins: A Study of Rimbaud by Henry Miller proves as autobiographical as any of his novels, only this time Miller fuses his story with that of Rimbaud's and in doing so produces not the historically-accurate biography of Rimbaud but rather the emotionally-accurate portrait of Rimbaud. Example: "It is only now, eight years after I first heard the name, that I am able to see him clearly, to read him like a clairvoyant. Now I know how great his contribution, how terrible his tribulations. Now I understand the significance of his life and work - as much, that is, as once can say he understands the life and work of another. But what I see most clearly is how I miraculously escaped suffering the same vile fate."
Of course, the great mystery of Rimbaud's fatal voyage to Africa, the suicide of Rimbaud the Writer and the birth of Rimbaud the Businessman or, at least, would-be Businessman, remains unsolved or a void without solution. Suddenly, and forever more, Rimbaud will write his mother requesting only technical manuals for his various ventures. He has amputated himself from his own past for reasons we can only surmise. Perhaps what most writers consider the modern-day curse that prevents anyone with an ounce of blood and guts -- courage -- from attaining real influence may not be so modern after all. Rimbaud wanted not only to derange the senses but to derange the reader's senses. He must have suspected his fate would come to resemble something like the popular butchering of Henry Miller's legacy ("Oh, yeah, he was the guy in that NC-17 movie," or, worse Reds). For the best account of Rimbaud's "second coming," see Somebody Else: Arthur Rimbaud in Africa 1880-91 by Charles Nicholl.
Africa indeed proved to be Rimbaud's "vile fate," only he chose that fate, plunged into it, as if one suicide were not enough. "Rimbaud," Miller writes, "fled from the chimeras he had created; I embraced them (my italatics). Sobered by the folly and waste of mere experience of life, I halted and converted my energies to creation. I plunged into writing with the same fervor and zest that I had plunged into life. Instead of losing life, I gained life; miracle after miracle occurred, every misfortune being transformed into a good account. Rimbaud, though plunging into a realm of incredible climates and landscapes, into a world of phantasy as strange and marvelous as his poems, became more and more bitter, taciturn, empty and sorrowful."
Miller's best work does resemble Rimbaud's in the sense that both found life itself a fantasy, and in that fantasy, Miller found his footing, while Rimbaud lost his. Constantly prey to his own turmoil and worst impulses, Rimbaud tried to leave himself and the "chimeras he had created" behind. Still, the connection remains for Miller.
Summarizing that connection, Miller writes, "Rimbaud restored literature to life; I have endeavored to restore life to literature. In both of us the confessional quality is strong, the moral and spiritual preoccupation uppermost. The flair for language, for music rather than literature, is another trait in common. With him I have felt an underlying primitive nature which manifests itself in strange ways."
Time of the Assassins remains as one of Miller's strangest fruits; the passage above might have been written by J.G. Ballard. Like Ballard, little division exists between any of Miller's creative and nonfiction works. Whatever the subject, he "restored life to literature." This time, he restores life to Rimbaud. For those who grasp the reasons Miller deserves to rank amongst the best writers, Time of the Assassins will prove a joyous discovery. For those who've yet to read Miller and decide to give him a try, this odd volume should soon enter to-be-read lists.