The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. Henry Miller.

Miller, Henry. The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. New Directions, New   York. 1945. Travelogue. 8/12

Similar to my recollection of DH Lawrence’s criticism, I remember reading Miller when I was 20 and hippie-hitchhiking in Europe. Wasting my time. My companions would eyeball me reading a paperback with suspicion or weed paranoia as I laughed my head off on the train, in a café… Miller was so fucking outrageous, but so literary: had the whole territory covered I thought. He and his friend Lawrence Durrell were fiction for a 1968 backwater English lit major, never mind that would have been true in the 30s, I catching up three decades later, ignorant of Bellow and Richler at their cutting edge.

So wandering lonely as a low-level cloud in the 2012 bookstore I stumbled on this … travelogue? Henry Miller driving around the United States in an old car seething with superior disgust. I picked the book up, read a few lines, and heard a long-distant siren of freewheeling hilarity coming out of its seductive literary language. So I bought (and then of course had to read) it.

It’s not his best stuff. I guess he had already made his mark in the conventional world ten years before he went on this picaresque-beatnik anti-American rant. But the naturally hyperbolic literary man appears every so often:

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 amnestic self. The American park is a circumscribed vacuum filled with cataleptic nincompoops.

… milk and cookies to a narcissit rebelling 60s hippie-boy.

Put the piano man on his piano stool and give him a reefer. Put the 58,946 crippled and killed this year back on the asphalt pavement and collect the insurance money. Call the Western Union and sing Happy Birthday to You. Buy six Packards and an old Studebaker. Get your spark plugs cleaned… Do anything, be anything, say anything that comes into your head, because it’s all cuckoo and nobody will know the difference.

I guess the old man (mid-50s, old in those days) might have been beginning to see in post-war morality and the beat generation’s response, the early popular flowering of his prescient recognition that in America Nothing Matters. The America all the intellectuals had formerly run away to Paris from.

Imagine if Henry Miller had lived to see what’s going on in America now… 5.8/8.2

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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