After the first couple of chapters of Fear of Flying I despised Erica Jong. Buying experience through far off travels and the trust fund lore have always rubbed me the wrong way. Somehow literature time and time again chronicles these people that say they have freedom, and I interpret it as a freedom which the average person can’t afford. However, now I’m halfway through the book and it is growing on me, especially her description of the writers/artist life and what drives one to have these goals. Perhaps I should wait until I finish the book in its entirety before I babble about it, but I’m too physically sore for the gym or skating today and I am quite bored by my day off.
In library grad school, way back in fall of 2003 I took a class on intellectual freedom where we did a book report on a banned book. My pick for my report was Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller which the style of writing captivated me right away. The book was banned mostly for profanity and sexual explicitly. Reading it now, people have become immune to that type of thing, but the humor and the content attracted me. It’s not necessarily a straight forward story, but there are many digressions or ponderings along the way. Also he has plenty of musings about writing in there. For that grad school project I read up on it by reading George Orwell’s essay ‘Inside the Whale,’ and learned of his letter correspondence with Erica Jong. Since 2003 I’ve read Tropic of Cancer twice, and a couple of Miller’s other books, but never got around to Fear of Flying until now.
I think anyone that has attempted to write would relate to books of this type, that are fiction but read like very self absorbed memoirs. My colleague and friend Joe sometimes quotes some writer as saying something like this: if you are a writer, you couldn’t imagine living without writing. The idea is that a passion and all or nothing attitude needs be taken for people to succeed at writing. Out of my librarian literary circle I think Joe stands the most chance of making it as a writer by pure drive and consistency. My sister, who is an artist, told me in a conversation that artists have to be self absorbed, and think they are geniuses in order to keep going. And rationally it’s kind of silly to think that your work will change or impact society. Henry Miller stuck to his guns of his work by not allowing editing for publication in his birth country. Both Henry Miller and Erica Jung talk of this, about the writing life. Both exemplify the writer that my friend always quotes in that writing is the central focus, the drive in the narrator’s life.
Now I’ll talk of what made these books controversial, and it’s the sex. Miller talks of escapades with whores in a masochistic ways. One hunting image is somewhere in the books he states there is nothing worse than a starving prostitute because they beg for more money. This is an ugly idea, and I can understand why more men like Miller than woman. Miller went so much against the grain, but the writing is so good that one can’t dismiss it as simply shock value writing. Also the travel writing about Paris and the incorporation of philosophy this does have literary value. In America it did not get published until 1961 compared to the 1934 French publication. He stayed true to his book, and it is a unique and genuine book. Fear of Flying was published in the early 1970’s and was controversial because of the sex, but because of freedom of publication it sold a ton of copies and made the author quite a bit of money. I think it’s unique compared to now because it’s pre AIDs and she explores some psychology of relationships. The term zipless fuck may have been coined in this book and it’s basically being promiscuous in your mind with a stranger but not acting out on it physically. A new term may be eye candy, to see someone you think attractive and they exit the subway and you never see them again. I think this is a true psychology to people, that everyone is half in the moment and half into a bizarre daydream, that I enjoyed seeing someone state that in writing.
Miller talks of differences between freedom and responsibility and America and Europe. Erica Jong took on gender roles in society, which may have been a lot timelier. The story line is her talking of her first divorce and then her possibly going through her second one (I’m at the point where she jaunts off around Europe with another man) and her place as a woman. The narrator’s siblings have families at this point, but the question of if her writing would suffer from offspring arises. That chapter I felt very good, the difference between living a normal life in accordance to society’s restrictions or working toward your own goals in a craft you choose.
The prejudices of Henry Miller irked me on my readings and Erica Jong’s take on mental illness rubbed me the wrong way. The first marriage of the book fell apart because the husband went crazy, and her explanations of it seemed selfish and self serving to me. But in a way it’s good for me to read things like that, to see what reactions a public would have to mental illness. Perhaps the reader’s of the 1970’s completely sympathized with the narrator, because the psychriatic industry still did not completely know what it was doing. At the end of the book, there is an essay by Henry Miller about Fear of Flying that I’m looking forward to
Overall, as I read this, I wonder if I have the passion to write seriously. I think the average person probably does not even think of writing, which I do. But reading these famous writers and studying personal lives of successful writers, it’s obvious they were on another level. I’m not going to write every night forgoing sleep, or quit my career so I could write more. I am not going to make serious sacrifices to make publishing possible. But I will always read and I sometimes live vicariously through the words of authors that did give their all for it.