The Air-Conditioned Nightmare - Henry Miller

The Air-Conditioned Nightmare - Photographic Portrait of Henry Miller
Photographic Portrait of Henry Miller

The work The Air-Conditioned Nightmare by Henry Miller (December 26, 1891 – June 7, 1980) was written in 1940, during a travel across the United States, and published in 1945 by New Directions Publishing, New York.

This great American writer, who saw some of his most important books, such as Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, have been banned from being published in the US for more than 3 decades on the convenient justify that they were indecent, depicted in the modest travel narrative The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, the peremptory deflated
of the modest bubble called the American Dream.

The excerpt listed here belongs to the chapter with the enthusiastic title VIVE LA FRANCE!, and could even be seen as a shrewd critique of the functioning of American urban parks of its time or more precisely their non-functioning.

… But only of American urban parks and only of its time?

The Air-Conditioned Nightmare - VIVE LA FRANCE! (1/4)

THE LITTLE park-between June and Mansfield Streets, curiously enough. It’s a melancholy place, even in full sunshine. I have never found a park in America that filled me with anything but sadness or ennui. I would a thousand times rather sit in an abstract park such as Hilaire Hiler gave us in his early canvases. Or a park such as Hans Reichel sometimes sits in when he is doing a water color of his amnesic self. The American park is a circumscribed vacuum filled with cataleptic nincompoops. Like the architecture of the American home, there is never an ounce of personality in the park. It is, as they so rightly call it, "just a bit of breathing space", an oasis amidst the stench of asphalt, chemical fumes and stale gasoline. God, when I think of the Luxembourg, the Zapion, the Prater! For us there are only the natural parks-great tracts of land studded with astounding freaks of nature and peopled with ghosts.

The Air-Conditioned Nightmare - VIVE LA FRANCE! (2/4)

Of all the little man-made parks I think the one in Jacksonville, Florida is perhaps the meanest, drabbest, shabbiest. It belongs in a George Grosz picture. It reeks with tuberculosis, halitosis, varicose veins, paranoia, mendacity, onanism and occultism. All the misfits, the unfits, the has-beens and the would-bes of America seem to drift here eventually. It is the emotional swamp which one has to wade through in order to get to the Everglades. Fifteen years ago, when I first sat in this park, I attributed my feelings and impressions to the fact that I was down and out, that I was hungry and could find no place to sleep. On the return visit I was even more depressed. Nothing had been altered. The benches were littered as of yore with the dregs of humanity-not the seedy sort as in London or New York, not the picturesque sort that dot the quais of Paris, but that pulpy, blemished American variety which issues from the respectable middle class: clean clots of phlegm, so to speak. The kind that tries to elevate the mind even when there is no mind left. The flotsam and jetslfm which drifts like sewer water in and out of Christian Science churches, Rosicrucian tabernacles, astrology parlors, free clinics, evangelist meetings, charity bureaus, employment agencies, cheap lodging houses and so on. The kind that may be reading the Bhagavad Gita on an empty stomach, or doing setting up exercises in the clothes closet. The American type par excellence, ever ready to believe what is written in the newspapers, ever on the look-out for a Messiah. Not a speck of human dignity left. The white worm squirming in the vise of respectability!

The Air-Conditioned Nightmare - VIVE LA FRANCE! (3/4)

Sometimes the sight of these human dump heaps touches a button off and I have to run for a taxi in order to get to the type-writer and put down the mad, fiendish irrelevancies whose genesis not even the smartest of critics would suspect to be an American park. It may happen in such instances that I suddenly remember a cow which I had seen ages ago, or it may be a recent cow like the one at Ducktown, Tennessee, the cow with ninety-seven ribs and nothing to chew but a piece of tin foil. Or I may suddenly recall a moment such as the one in Algiers, Louisiana, talking to a railway fireman and his saying-"now it’s a strange thing about this town but there ain’t a single hotel in it; the people here ain’t got no ambition." The words hotel and ‘lmbition associated oddly in my mind, and at that instant, while I was wondering what was so strange about these two words, a bus passed going to Venice and then everything seemed astoundingly strange and unreal. Algiers on the Mississippi, a Louisiana Venice, the copperized cow evaporating under a scorching sun, the synagogue music in Jacksonville which because of hunger reduced me to tears, my nocturnal walks back and forth over the Brooklyn Bridge, the medieval castles along the Dordogne, the statues of the queens in the Jardin du Luxembourg, six Russian lessons with an hysterical countess in a dressing booth in the rear of an employment agency, an interview with Dr. Vizetelly, during which I learned that I ought to have a vocabulary of at least seventy-five thousand words though Shakespeare had only about fifteen thousand …. A thousand and one such grotesque items could Bit through my brain in a few moments.

The Air-Conditioned Nightmare - VIVE LA FRANCE! (4/4)

The cow is tremendously obsessive-and I will never know why . Maybe in the American park I am just a cow chewing a bit of discarded tin foil. Maybe everything I care about has been eroded away and I am just a gaunt idiot whose ribs are cracking under a Southern sun. Maybe I am standing on a dead planet in a scientific film and because everything is strange and new I miss the beauty of it. Maybe my desires are too human, too tangible, too immediate. One must be patient, one must be able to wait not thousands of years, but millions of years. One must be able to outlive the Sun and moon, outlast God or the idea of God, outstrip the cosmos, outwit the molecule, the atom, the electron. One must sit in these parks as in a public toilet, fulfilling one’s function-like the spareribbed cow on the red hill. Do not think of America as such, America per se, America ad astra: think of skies without atmosphere, of canals without water, of inhabitants without clothes, of words without thought, of life without death, of something going on endlessly and having no name, no rhyme or reason, yet making sense, making grand sense once you lose the obsession of time and space, of destiny, of causality, of logic, of entropy, of annihilation, of Nirvana and of Maya. (…)

Henry Miller, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945)

The Henry Miller Odyssey (1969) - Documentary

America is no place for an artist: to be an artist is to be a moral leper, an economic misfit, a social liability. A com-fed hog enjoys a better life than a creative writer, painter or musician.
Henry Miller
The Air-Conditioned Nightmare
Κλιματιζόμενος Εφιάλτης - Φωτογραφικό Πορτρέτο του Χένρι Μίλερ
Play Video

The documentary The Henry Miller Odyssey was directed by Robert Snyder and released in 1969 in the United Kingdom. It lasts 1 hour and 50 minutes and narrates the author’s life through his own words, his own comedic wince, his own grotesque grimace and actions, according to the cinematographic convention.

  1. Baxter, A. (1961). Henry Miller: Expatriate. University of Pittsburgh Press.
  2. Burnside, J. (2018). On Henry Miller: Or, How to Be an Anarchist. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  3. Miller, H. (1970). The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. New York, NY: New Directions Publishing.
  4. Miller, H., & Kersnowski, F. L. (1994). Conversations with Henry Miller. University Pr of Mississippi.

 

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