8. The Last Book
A clean exit, such as the Devil himself might make
The passages cited thus far from Tropic of Capricorn permit Miller's transvaluation of the metaphoric complex of writing/being because the rhetorical affect of the tale Miller tells in those passages remains unchanged under either the discourse of the novel or the discourse of self-liberation: "pain becomes pleasurable, more and more pleasurable, a delight, an ecstasy." There is, however, a stretch of narrative in which Miller imbues the flight of self-liberation with an entirely different aspect: pleasure becomes terror. There the empty subject's desire for self-expression--not in writing which is "parallel" to life but in Life without parallel--inaugurates a process that ends in the loss, rather than the recovery, of identity in the universal. This flight of Being degree zero transforms the self into neither a "writing machine" nor a revelatory Self, but into a "microcosm of the world's lying machine." The flight Miller would take after the Munich Crisis is represented in Tropic of Capricorn, but it is emphatically not represented as his. It is Mara's. And Miller puts all his skill as a novelist in the service of his misogyny to condemn this flight of Being degree zero away from history, origins, the past, family, friends--and, of course, abandoned husbands:
She changed like a chameleon. Nobody could say what she was really like because with each one she was an entirely different person. After a time she didn't even know herself what she was like. She had begun this process of metamorphosis before I met her, as I later discovered. Like so many women who think themselves ugly she had willed to make herself beautiful, dazzlingly beautiful. To do this she first of all renounced her name, then her family, her friends, everything which might attach her to the past. [....] She conducted herself so skillfully that it was impossible even to broach the subject of origins.
Not a moment did she stop, for if she had, the vacuum she created in her flight would have brought about an explosion fit to sunder the world. She was the world's lying machine in microcosm, geared to the same unending, devastating fear which enables men to throw all of their energies into creation of the death apparatus. [....] Behind her lay the calm fact of reality, a colossus which dogged her every step. [....] It was a race to the outermost limits of the world, a race lost from the start, and no one to stop it. At the edge of the vacuum stood Truth, ready in one lightning-like sweep to recover the stolen ground. It was so simple and obvious that it drove her frantic. Marshal a thousand personalities, commandeer the biggest guns, deceive the greatest minds, make the longest detour--still the end would be defeat. In the final meeting everything was destined to fall apart--the cunning, the skill, the power, everything. She would be a grain of sand on the shore of the biggest ocean, and, worse than anything, she would resemble each and every other grain of sand on that ocean's shore. She would be condemned to recognize her unique self everywhere until the end of time. What a fate she had chosen for herself! That her uniqueness should be engulfed in the universal! That her power should be reduced to the utmost node of passivity! It was maddening, hallucinating. It could not be! It must not be! Onward! Like the black legions. Onward! Through every degree of the ever-widening circle. Onward and away from the self, until the last substantial particle of the soul be stretched to infinity.
She didn't even leave the breath of a sigh behind, not even a toenail. A clean exit, such as the Devil himself might make for reasons of his own.
In Tropic of Capricorn it is Mara, not Miller, who finds the "clean exit." Making the "longest detour," her "path" leads to an unsympathetic version of Whitman's all encompassing Self: her "power" is "reduced to the utmost node of passivity" as her desire condemns her to "recognize her unique self everywhere until the end of time." In writing Tropic of Capricorn, Miller allows himself another choice, that of pursuing "this power, this ability," that is narrative modernism. Miller's representation of the horror of Mara's flight is self-serving, but the "self" it serves speaks the discourse of the novel at the expense of Miller's subsequent discourse of self-liberation.
Miller did not discover the ideology of "self-liberation" during the Munich Crisis. It was part of his past, part of the America he brought with him to Paris:
Walking along the Champs-Elysées I keep thinking of my really superb health. When I say "health" I mean optimism, to be truthful. Incurably optimistic! Still have one foot in the nineteenth century. I'm a bit retarded like most Americans.
It was part of the America he represented in Tropic of Capricorn, and the part of himself he sought to recover for his return to America. The import of the distinction I have drawn to recover the novelistic discourse of Miller's expatriate years is not to deny the beliefs of Miller, the man, but to demonstrate the ways in which Miller's reflections upon the "Self" informed his novelistic practice before they subdued it. In Tropic of Capricorn Miller concludes of the "verb to be":
In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God. So God was this strange little infinitive which is all there is--and is it not enough? For Grover it was more than enough: it was everything. Starting from this Verb what difference did it make which road he traveled? To leave the Verb was to travel away from the center, erect a Babel.
In reinterpreting Tropic of Capricorn, Miller begins his American journey along Grover's indifferent path, unconstrained by the discourse that legitimates writing only when it persuasively represents and embodies the force of history. But in writing Tropic of Capricorn, Miller travels "away from the center." He does "erect a Babel," one claiming to "parallel" historical life, "of it at the same time, and beyond it":
This is a skyscraper, as I said, but it is different from the usual skyscraper á l'américaine. In this skyscraper there are no elevators, no seventy-third-story windows to jump from. If you get tired of climbing you are shit out of luck. There is no slot directory in the main lobby. If you are searching for somebody you will have to search. If you want a drink you will have to go out and get it; there are no soda fountains in this building, and no cigar stores, and no telephone booths. All the other skyscrapers have what you want! this one contains nothing but what I want, what I like.
The narrative of Tropic of Capricorn, Miller's skyscraper "on the flat," is "different," but it seeks to legitimate that difference by recalling the history of which it is a part, a history and a writing from which Miller fled after the Munich Crisis, and for the rest of his life.