6. Diatribe v. Epiphany

I love everything that flows

"I love everything that flows," said the great blind Milton of our times. I was thinking of him this morning when I awoke with a great bloody shout of joy: I was thinking of his rivers and trees and all that world of night which he is exploring. Yes, I said to myself, I too love everything that flows: rivers, sewers, lava, semen, blood, bile, words, sentences.
Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer
The eye, accustomed to concentration on points in space, now concentrates on points in time; the eye sees forward and backward at will. The eye which was the I of the self no longer exists; this selfless eye neither reveals nor illuminates. It travels along the line of the horizon, a ceaseless, uninformed voyager.
I am the arrow of the dream's substantiality. I verify by flight. I nullify by dropping to earth.
Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn

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A crepuscular melange of all the cities of Europe and Central America

Short of following the detours of Miller's writing through extended quotation, it is difficult to describe Miller's flowing, narrative modulations from anecdote to diatribe. My analytic tools, when all is said and done, are by and large still New Critical: a sense of their history can only qualify their universal application. It is as if one set out to describe a roller coaster ride with photographs and engineering blueprints. One may survey the site from different angles. One may plot the course, up, down, slow and fast. But the varying experience of anticipation, uncertainty, release, terror, giddy elation, and nausea eludes capture by camera or structural design. Miller suggests as much when, in the first hint of what is to come in Tropic of Cancer, he invokes the Coney Island roller coaster of his youth as apiece with the "crepuscular melange of all the cities of Europe and Central America":

Twilight hour. Indian blue, water of glass, trees glistening and liquescent. The rails fall away into the canal at Juarès. The long caterpillar with lacquered sides dips like a roller coaster. It is not Paris. It is not Coney Island. It is a crepuscular melange of all the cities of Europe and Central America. The railroad yards below me, the tracks black, webby, not ordered by the engineer but cataclysmic in design, like those gaunt fissures in the polar ice which the camera registers in degrees of black.[3]

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Cataclysmic in design

Paris, New York, the world-city Miller inhabits, and upon whose inescapable reality he insists, is a product of advanced industrial capitalism--neither an unplanned accident nor the product of one central plan.[6] Miller does not state as much directly, but it is in recognition of this that his narrative leaps immediately from the sunset overview to the quotidian level of urban survival, where the contingent decisions are made that cumulatively produce the cataclysmic design of the world city:

The railroad yards below me, the tracks black, webby, not ordered by engineer but cataclysmic in design, like those gaunt fissures in the polar ice which the camera registers in degrees of black.
Food is one of the things I enjoy tremendously. And in this beautiful Villa Borghese there is scarcely ever any evidence of food. It is positively appalling at times.[7]

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Veridic moments of time without space

Miller's visionary prelude to his roller coaster ride through the "crepuscular melange" of cities specifies the site of his frenetic diatribes. This site is historical in two senses, as the brief comparison of Miller's and Melville's use of the figure of the railroad indicates. Miller's diatribes embrace a social site within which the tension between Nature and Mechanism--from which nineteenth-century poets and novelists culled so many potent images for man's split being--has been effaced. History has rendered the question of Nature or machine moot. For Miller, man and the landscape have been flattened into one irredeemable mechanism. Miller announces, "I am the machine," without a trace of the dialectic of domination captured in Melville's "furious trope," "living instrument." The thing flows on, but the dialectic of the "machine in the garden" reaches a terminal point, a railroad terminal: the railroad yard of the urban-industrial Waste Land has replaced the railroad line crossing the wilderness. Alongside his burlesque and street-wandering anecdotes, Miller's frenetic diatribes accept the historical reality of the twentieth-century urban-industrial world without regret, without looking back. He begins to write in, and of, "A world without hope, but no despair."[12]

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Ahab's monomania

Miller's "veridic moments" are distributed throughout Tropic of Cancer. These moments tremble on the surface of the down-to-earth anecdotal prose, always threatening to race off with the narrative, such that one cannot neatly categorize sections of Tropic of Cancer--these parts anecdotal, those stretches diatribe. Without plot, this uncertainty as to when and where Miller will "let go" or come to a halt provides a facsimile of suspense. Nevertheless, one might roughly chart Miller's changes of pace. His modulations into extended stretches of frenzied narrative tend to occur toward the end of the unnumbered and unnamed "chapters" of Tropic of Cancer. To venture as much is not to suggest that these "veridic moments" are distributed structurally, as are, say, the "platform scenes" in The Scarlet Letter. Rather, Miller's verbal accelerations are allocated "economically," as if the narrator were intent upon striking some ratio of anecdote to diatribe. But, always forgetting himself, this juggling narrator runs on too long and needs to compensate; compensation turns into over-compensation and the process repeats. Along the way, any sense of the intended ratio is lost, thus producing Miller's "fluid imbalance." The duration of Miller's tirades bear no proportional relation to the length of their containing "chapters."[16]

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Oomaharumooma - Everything has to have a name

Alone, with a tremendous empty longing and dread. The whole room for my thoughts. Nothing but myself and what I think, what I fear. Could think the most fantastic thoughts, could dance, spit, grimace, curse, wail--nobody would ever know, no body would ever hear. The thought of such absolute privacy is enough to drive me mad. It's like a clean birth. Everything cut away. Separate, naked, alone. Bliss and agony simultaneously. Time on your hands. Each second weighing on you like a mountain. You drown in it. Deserts, seas, lakes, oceans. Time beating away like a meat ax. Nothingness. The world. The me and the not-me. Oomaharumooma. Everything has to have a name. Everything has to be learned, tested, experienced. Faites comme chez vous, chéri.

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Reminds one of a steam-engine. A locomotive. They're the only things that seem to me to ache with amorous love. All that steam inside them. Forty million foot-pounds pressure. The ache of AMOROUS LOVE. Steam-pressure. CHUFF![19]


Jame Joyce, The great blind Milton of our times

By turning sight into a site, Miller enables his own narrative "detour" around the aesthetics of the emerging modernist canon. Again, it is Joyce that Miller has in mind when he announces his detour, and not simply Joyce, but Joyce as received and appropriated by the critical partisans of New Critical modernism. First joining Joyce, Miller rants:

"I love everything that flows," said the great blind Milton of our times. I was thinking of him this morning when I awoke with a great bloody shout of joy: I was thinking of his rivers and trees and all that world of night which he is exploring. Yes, I said to myself, I too love everything that flows: rivers, sewers, lava, semen, blood, bile, words, sentences.[24]

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Molly Bloom lying on a dirty mattress for eternity

Structurally, or as Miller says, "archaeologically," the first act of Bloom's day out on the town is the same as the last before he returns home--the purchase of the gland is an overlay not only of Palestine but of the "orgy" Stephen and Bloom attend. Miller the reader knows this, and the writer leaps about Ulysses as if it were a single site--the unifying sight Joyce and Gilbert claimed for the vision of the text. Where Joyce carefully builds image upon image, Miller takes the resultant structure, but not its integrity, for granted. He moves through interstices and lapses, as he had "jumped halfway across Asia" while waiting on the artist/God Moldorf--"framing your words, your lips parted, the saliva gurgling in your cheeks."[28]

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Vaginal Laughter

If Miller's narration circles about Joyce's final image of the "grey, sunken cunt of the world," it is a circling "on the flat," in the hope of deriving the destructive, leveling, and generative power of what Miller would later call "vaginal laughter":

It means that what it took the poor male, with his logarithmic cunning, five thousand, ten thousand, twenty thousand years to build, she will pull down in a night. She will pull it down and pee on it, and nobody will stop her once she starts laughing in earnest.[32]

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The Humor of Rabelais and Joyce

Miller criticizes Joyce for hesitation, for remaining on the "carapace" paralyzed by horror. He accuses Joyce of structuring his text about the image of the "grey sunken cunt of the world," rather than "Molly Bloom lying on a dirty mattress for eternity." In "The Universe of Death," he contrasts the "technical facility" of Joyce's humor and obscenity with that of Rabelais and, implicitly, that of his own narratives:

Is Joyce this man who can imitate any style--even the text-book and the encyclopedia? This form of humor, in which Rabelais also indulged, is the specific remedy which the intellectual employs to defeat the moral man: it is the dissolvent with which he destroys a whole world of meaning. [....] But observe the difference between the humor of Rabelais, with whom the author of Ulysses is so frequently and unjustly compared, and Joyce. [....] Rabelais' humor was still healthy; it had a stomachic quality, it was inspired by the Holy Bottle. Whereas with our contemporaries it is all in the head, above the eyes--a vicious, envious, mean, malign, humorless mirth. To-day they are laughing out of desperation, out of despair. Humor? Hardly. A reflexive muscular twitch, rather--more gruesome than mirth-provoking. A sort of Onanistic laughter... In those marvelous passages where Joyce marries his rich excretory images to his sad mirth there is a poignant, wistful undercurrent which smells of reverence and idolatry. Reminiscent, too reminiscent, of those devout medieval louts who kneeled before the Pope to be anointed with dung.[35]

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Do anything, but let it yield ecstasy

The burlesque, anecdotes and diatribes of Tropic of Cancer flow together in a narrative time that is neither mimetic, retrospective, nor surreal. What is left of the world are "spots of time," "intervals" which cannot be dated or remembered as intervals. Left also is the medium of Miller's narrative: not the timelessness of dreams, of the unconscious, but time a "score," a "reality to write upon." The time of Tropic of Cancer is the time of writing: neither a time that shadows the year's worth of events recorded in its anecdotes, nor a time of its present telling, nor the timelessness of ecstatic vision; but a time created by writing which opens the possibility of mimesis, retrospection, and dream coexisting without cohesion within the same narrative, "And all the while a meter is running inside and there is no hand that can reach in there and shut it off."[39]

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To overthrow existing values

Miller awakens to discover a temporal narrative realm beyond the poetic figuration of the self, the city and the literary past in terms of presence and absence, fullness and emptiness. He asserts that no longer is it necessary to create the symbolic fullness of a "great human being" to counterpoise the "zero" of the modern waste land. The "zero," the emptiness, which once posed an insoluble dilemma, is resolved into an "equation sign" which not only levels and joins all elements of man's urban reality but joins Miller's narrative to the literary past. Tropic of Cancer--"the crab, syphilis"--claims to take up the "words left behind" by novelists of the past. Miller's narrative completes the sentence of "words left unfinished." As his awakening rant continues, Miller recasts the literary idols of his past into a genealogy with respect to which his own struggles are a recapitulation and a fulfillment:

When I think of their deformities, of the monstrous styles they chose, of the flatulence and tediousness of their works, of all the chaos and confusion they wallowed in, of the obstacles they heaped up about them, I feel an exaltation. They were all mired in their own dung. All men who over-elaborated. [....] What is called their "over-elaboration" is my meat: it is the sign of struggle, it is struggle itself with all the fibers clinging to it, the very aura and ambience of the discordant spirit. And when you show me a man who expresses himself perfectly I will not say that he is not great, but I will say that I am unattracted . . . I miss the cloying qualities. When I reflect that the task which the artist implicitly sets himself is to overthrow existing values, to make of the chaos about him an order which is his own, to sow strife and ferment so that [in] the emotional release those who are dead may be restored to life, then it is that I run with joy to the great and imperfect ones, their confusion nourishes me, their stuttering is like divine music to my ears.[47]

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Diatribe v. Epiphany - Notes

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