The Artists’ Prayer

When I was small, I prayed. It connected me to something bigger than myself. Henry Miller prayed to a different god than the one I grew up with. We all pray to our own gods and goddesses.

In 1934, the Apollo Theater opened in Harlem. Babe Ruth, in his last year as a Yankee, hit .288. Gehrig hit .363. Adolf Hitler became fuhrer of Germany. What could possibly go wrong?

Henry Miller was in Paris, working on the book that would become Tropic of Cancer, full of lice, and vino rosso, and cunt, and the strange diseases that eagerly manifest themselves among the people who have nothing better to do than fuck apples lubricated with cold cream, who are perfectly happy whiling away their hours methodically differentiating the orange and red bands on invisible rainbows

We still say prayers to remember. Here’s the prayer that Henry Miller left behind, for artists everywhere:

“Side by side with the human race there runs another race of beings, the inhuman ones, the race of artists who, goaded by unknown impulses, take the lifeless mass of humanity and by the fever and ferment with which they imbue it turn this soggy dough into bread and the bread into wine and the wine into song. Out of the dead compost and the inert slag they breed a song that contaminates. I see this other race of individuals ransacking the universe, turning everything upside down, their feet always moving in blood and  tears, their hands always empty, always clutching  and grasping for the beyond, for the god out of reach: slaying everything within reach in order to quiet the monster that gnaws at their vitals. I see that when they tear their hair with the effort to comprehend, to seize this forever unattainable, I see that when they bellow like crazed beasts and rip and gore, I see that this is right, that there is no other path to pursue. A man who belongs to this race must stand up on the high place with gibberish in his mouth and rip out his entrails. It is right and just, because he must! And anything that falls short of this frightening spectacle, anything less shuddering, less terrifying, less mad, less intoxicated, less contaminating, is not art. The rest is counterfeit. The rest is human. The rest belongs to life and lifelessness.”

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