Miller, Henry. "A Saturday Afternoon".
This is an individual chapter from Miller's novel Black Spring.
Motto: "This is better than reading Vergil."
Paris. Saturday afternoon. The first person narrator has a sense of being home and is enjoying himself. What is better than reading Vergil? A Saturday afternoon like this. The narrator walks through the streets, has a beer. He thinks of his friends who are trying to begin a book or continue their book but are unable to write anything. Then he thinks of Whitman whom he likes because he is always like a Saturday afternoon.
He enjoys life and hates being each second closer to dying. He does not hear the second which has just ticked off but clings to one which has not yet announced itself. He does not follow the signs but goes to places which have no signs. He drives a bicycle and crosses the bridges over Seine. He stops in a urinal, a woman looks at him from the window and smiles. He recalls the urinals he has taken before and thinks of them as of the most luxurious memories, the most pleasant moments. The best place for urinal is an underground in winter, but he prefers sunlight and people around.
An untranslated French paragraph from Larousse on Robinson Crusoe is inserted in the text. The narrator observes that Robison is content with relative happiness, which is very un-Anglo-Saxon. In the civilized world there is not even relative happiness. He gives an irreverent picture of Vergil as he sees him and calls him bad names. Always when he thinks of Vergil, the phrase "What time is it" comes into his mind.
He returns to the subject of urinals and toilets and asserts that these are a good place for reading a book. He recommends various kinds of toilets for various books. He also recommends taking a friend with you to the reading session. He closes his observations on the subject by revealing that "there are certain passages in Ulysses which can be read only in the toilet".
He changes subject and gives an unpleasant picture of the present corrupt America. He urges: "Unscrew the doors from their jambs!" He praises King James Bible for its depicting the cruel reality. He returns to the urinals and recommends some of them in Paris, especially the one beside the Palace. Though now a tomb, the Palace evokes in the narrator images of the Pope and of beautiful frescoes which he ordered to be painted on the walls.
He concludes with the statement: "Words are dead."
The narrator is enjoying himself. He rejects conventional ways of enjoying one's life. He indulges in his ritual urinating, enjoying onlookers. Perhaps this is his way how to let everyone know how perfectly happy he is. (He refuses the only "relative happiness" of Robinson Crusoe).
The narrator is fond of literature, but laughs at those who struggle with writer's blocks. He is obviously unconcerned with what he is writing himself. He simply writes down his thoughts in such order as they occur. He manifests complete lack of reverence to those who are generally considered grand masters of literature (e.g. Vergil).
AuthorMiller, Henry. (1891 - 1980).
Full Title"Saturday Afternoon".
First PublishedParis: Obelisk Press, 1936.
Miller, Henry. "A Saturday Afternoon". Black Spring. (1936). NY: Grove, 1981.