Miller - Durrell on the Mimeograph

I just received this email from my friend Charles Talkoff riffing on a reference to the mimeograph in the Miller-Durrell correspondence.

In the winter of 1936-37 Miller and Durrell were writing to each other with Miller in Paris and Durrell on Corfu. Miller writes to Durrell:

"...I have a little scheme of my own - another! - which I want to propose to you. Perhaps we can do both - adopt my plan and have Laughlin* take it also. I am thinking of investing in a machine, a sort of mimeograph machine which enables one to make innumerable copies from an original typewritten sheet in any colored ink one wants. I have been wondering if, instead of a magazine, with all the difficulties it entails, we could not do better by bringing out one thing at a time, after this process. We could put a thin paper cover around it with the title printed on it - by the same process - or else each one separately, in Chinese ink or something like that.We would send the thing to a select list of people who we think might be interested. Put no price on it, but suggest that they pay what they like towards the expense, if it appeals to them. I haven't solved all the technical problems yet, nor have I the dough..."

This entire piece strikes me as a meta-fiction of the best kind. We are so used to the images and tropes of Miller and Durrell that to look into the correspondence is to read the fiction upon which the reality rested and was filtered to reappear as their respective works of fiction. In other words Miller and Durrell as characters in the ur-narratives of Miller and Durrell who becomes totemic to us - thus the act of reading is a fetish and ritual bringing magic into our consciousness.

To put it still more succinctly of course Miller is in Paris and is hatching a scheme and of course Durrell is in Greece and specifically on an island. Prospero's island and Prospero's Paris identical yet different enough.

We then have the next layer in which (and about which you know more than I do) the mechanics of what one assumes are the first mimeo machines. And all of this prior to the great changes wrought by WWII.

Yet of course in Miller's scheme we see something timeless. The no dough broke-ass writer struggling to find some way to combine distribution and integrity of means and method. Versus of course mass production printing - the ink-drenched nightmare as it were in which the very essence of writing (a thing one does alone) is transmuted and diluted.

Miller's solution is the archetypal underground gesture.

It is the thinking of a monk.

It is the thinking of a romantic.

It is also the thinking of a reactionary and we should not be so afraid that we do not see that aspect in Miller and his monkish romanticism.

In Inside the Whale, Orwell recounts meeting Miller and telling him he was on his way to fight in Spain. Miller tells Orwell he is an idiot.

Orwell of course, the committed socialist; the writer as figure-of-action in the world is (to his credit) torn as he regards Miller as a significant writer commenting upon the slow-moving putrification of the 20th century, and yet...what does one make of Miller's point that the wheel turns endlessly and this war is essentially no different than the other war.

Orwell picks up on this of course and again strikes a somewhat ambivalent tone about the end of Tropic of Cancer where Miller watches the Seine flow as a symbol of eternity.

Quite right says Orwell but (echoing Voltaire?) he comes down on the side of needing to tend to the garden.

And so we have Miller writing to Durrell and both reside with in our imaginations and we carry them with us - some eternal Paris and some eternal Greek island and the romantic monkish gesture of printing endless reams in an endless ocean of multi-colored inks (and foregoing the gross hierarchical notion of debasing art by pricing it before the initiate can respond by telling you what it is worth to them (!)) all combine to tell us something we already knew and are happy to be reminded of.

*Founder of New Directions.



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