Blast and Bless : Radical Aesthetics in the Writings of Henry Miller and Ezra Pound

Stevenson, Guy. 2015. Blast and Bless : Radical Aesthetics in the Writings of Henry Miller and Ezra Pound. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

The aim of this thesis is to provide a new way of reading Henry Miller by drawing attention to his unlikely aesthetic and moral intersections with Ezra Pound. It traces the lineage of a particular strand of radical modernist expression that is exemplified in Pound’s critical essays between 1909 and 1938 and finds its way – incongruously - into Henry Miller’s semi-autobiographical novels of the 1930s. In the process, I will illuminate hitherto underexplored territory that is shared by two seemingly incompatible writers, pointing the way to a better understanding of the aesthetic and moral contradictions in Miller’s – and indeed Pound’s – work.

Crucially, I propose that Miller’s literature is morally engaged rather than amoral or unwittingly counter-revolutionary, two common and reductive assumptions. By reading him in the context of Pound’s often suspect pronouncements on hierarchy and order it is possible to reassess George Orwell’s widely accepted conclusion that Miller is simply a ‘passive, unflinching’ recorder of life.* It is also possible to treat his textual violence as an important part of his aesthetic, rather than condemning or glossing over it. This thesis will define a set of aesthetics that are common to Pound and Miller and involve complex, often paradoxical impulses – most crucially between the desire to cultivate a radically inclusive artistic approach and the instinctive adherence to a set of absolute tastes and values.

Taking as my starting point a little known review by Pound of Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, I demonstrate that the latter’s often brutal, anti-humanist rhetoric enables rather than undermines his larger humanistic project. I show that Miller’s idiosyncratic assimilation of high modernist reactionary tropes and ideas were integral to his original and influential view of art, ethics and reality. Concomitantly, this comparison of two very different writers seeks to generate a new perspective on the slippage between retrograde and progressive elements in both their works as well as the period in which they were writing.

*George Orwell, ‘Inside the Whale’ in Collected Essays, ed. by George Packer (London: Harvill Secker, 2009), pp. 95-137, p. 128. Originally published in Inside the Whale and Other Essays (London: Victor Gollancz, 1940).

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Henry Miller, Ezra Pound, Tropic of Cancer, Modernism, Modernisms, Imagism, Vorticism, Modern American Literature, Georges Bataille, Henri Bergson, 1930s Paris, James Joyce, Ulysses, T.E. Hulme, Wyndham Lewis, Fascism, Men of 1914, Inside the Whale, George Orwell, Eschatology, Aesthetics

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


30 June 2015

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

23 Jul 2015 14:47

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 13:50


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