Forget ‘Perfect’

In Tropic of Cancer Henry Miller writes of Van Norden, a compatriot who dreams of perfection. Does he sound at all familiar?

I’m smiling because whenever we touch on the subject of this book which he is going to write some day things assume an incongruous aspect. He has only to say “my book” and immediately the world shrinks to the private dimensions of Van Norden and Co. The book must be absolutely original, absolutely perfect. That is why, among other things, it is impossible for him to get started on it. As soon as he gets an idea he begins to question it. He remembers that Dostoevski used it, or Hamsun, or somebody else. “I’m not saying that want to be better than them, but I want to be different,” he explains. And so, instead of tackling his book, he reads one author after another in order to make absolutely certain that he is not going to tread on their private property. And the more he reads the more disdainful he becomes. None of them are satisfying; none of them arrive at that degree of perfection which he has imposed on himself. And forgetting completely that he has not written as much as a chapter he talks about them condescendingly, quite as though there existed a shelf of books bearing his name.

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