8. The Last Book
Balancing at the edge of the abyss
Tropic of Capricorn, read as a history of Miller's writing, fleshes out Tropic of Cancer's equation of writing with the diminution of Being. It represents the social, economic, and cultural forces that "historically" produced Miller's "voice" by reducing his spirit to zero:
If you continue this balancing at the edge of the abyss long enough you become very very adept: no matter which way you are pushed you always right yourself. Being in constant trim you develop a ferocious gaiety, an unnatural gaiety, I might say. There are only two peoples in the world today who understand the meaning of such a statement--the Jews and the Chinese. If it happens that you are neither of these you find yourself in a strange predicament. [....]
In a way, in a profound way, I mean, Christ was never pushed off the dead end. At the moment when he was tottering and swaying, as if by a great recoil, this negative backwash rolled up and stayed his death. The whole negative impulse of humanity seemed to coil up into a monstrous inert mass to create the human integer, the figure one, one and indivisible. [....] The earth rolls on, the stars roll on, but men, the great body of men which makes up the world, are caught in the image of the one and only one. [....]
If one isn't crucified like Christ, if one manages to survive, to go on living above and beyond the sense of desperation and futility, then another curious thing happens. [....] You become an anomaly of nature, a being without shadow; you will never die again but only pass away like the phenomena about you.
The distance from traditional philosophic, theological, and poetic conceptions of the fullness of Being at which Miller would eventually debate the question of Writing versus Being is suggested by the difference he discovers between Christ's crucifixion and his own. Miller approached this debate through the discourse of the novel, as a novelist who had attacked the symbolic structuration of the Modern novel and Modernist subjectivity in order to advance the claims of his own narrative technique. In Tropic of Capricorn Miller found Christ's deification an allegory of the aesthetic dialectic of presence and absence against which Tropic of Cancer had first offered the narrative of an "Arabian zero," a Being degree zero: when the Christian Word "puts on flesh" it becomes the "one and indivisible," a symbolic "human integer"; but when Miller's word "puts on flesh" it becomes a narrative "welter of crisscrossed tracks." Tropic of Capricorn "re-collects" incidents from Miller's past into narrative cycles of illusion and disillusion at the prospect of ever achieving the full presence of Being. The life represented reduces Miller to the "being without shadow" who is the "writing machine" of Tropic of Cancer and the narrator who opens Tropic of Capricorn with a claim to the legacy of the historical genre, pointing to "this which I am doing now" as "something which is parallel to life, of it at the same time, beyond it."
It is precisely by stripping the "human integer" of meaning and substance that the narrative of Tropic of Capricorn moves toward the future it already knows, toward the turn of the "last screw" with which its own world of writing begins:
I remember the day I brought the [world's lying] machine to a dead stop and how the other mechanism, the one that was signed with my own initials and which I had made with my own hands and my own blood slowly began to function. I had gone to the theater nearby to see a vaudeville show[....]
After all the doors to life have been checked there comes the "spark" and an "implosion," and "all the doors seem to be opening at once." They open, however, not to Life or full Being, but, with a "swift plunge," to a "dead center from which time itself is reckoned":
In the plunge the skeleton blew apart, leaving the immutable ego as helpless as a squashed louse.
If from this point I do not begin, it is because there is no beginning. If I do not fly at once to the bright land it is because wings are of no avail. It is zero hour and the moon is at nadir. . . .
At "zero hour" the empty subject of Tropic of Capricorn is prepared to write Tropic of Cancer.