6. Diatribe v. Epiphany
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."
Between two extremes represented and alluded to time and again, Tropic of Cancer's narrative orchestrates what Miller in Tropic of Capricorn would call his "cacophony," "velocity exercises, Czerny with a capital Zed riding a crazy white horse in a bottle of mucilage." Tropic of Cancer's bric-a-brac "spots of time" are suspended "on the flat," on a score of which the extreme low note is Miller's ill-prepared departure for Paris and the extreme high note his awakening in Paris. First, the low note:
It was in February I pulled out of the harbor in a blinding snowstorm.
My world of human beings had perished; I was utterly alone in the world and for friends I had the streets, and the streets spoke to me in that sad, bitter language compounded of human misery, yearning, regret, failure, wasted effort.
I am one who was lost in the crowd, whom the fizzing lights made dizzy, a zero who saw everything about him reduced to mockery.
I had moments of ecstasy and I sang with burning sparks. I sang of the Equator, her red-feathered legs and the islands dropping out of sight. But nobody heard.
The second "spot of time" is Miller's awakening in Paris. The man of the crowd moves off center, away from the Equator, away from the emerging modernist consensus, and toward his own eccentric Tropics. As the man of the crowd, Miller rediscovers a crowd in his head, a crowd which is at once the streets of New York and Paris and a host of ancestors:
I moved along under the Equator, heard the hideous laughter of the green-jawed hyena, saw the jackal with silken tail and the dick-dick and the spotted leopard, all left behind in the Garden of Eden.
Today I awoke from a sound sleep with curses of joy on my lips, with gibberish on my tongue, repeating to myself like a litany--"Fay ce que vouldras! . . . fey ce que vouldras!" Do anything, but let it produce joy. Do anything, but let it yield ecstasy. So much crowds into my head when I say this to myself: images, gay ones, terrible ones, maddening ones, the wolf and the goat, the spider, the crab, syphilis with her wings outstretched and the door of the womb always on the latch, always open, ready like the tomb. Lust, crime, holiness: the lives of my adored ones, the failures of my adored ones, the words they left behind them, the words they left unfinished; the good they dragged after them and the evil, the sorrow, the discord, the rancor, the strife they created. But above all, the ecstasy!
At first reading, such ravings from Tropic of Cancer appear to be mere excess emotionalism, a sort of superheated romanticism combining the familiar notion of mad, inspired genius with a perverse sexual hedonism reaching even into the realm of disease. But the "ecstasy" of which Miller speaks is neither visionary nor sexual. These are the preliminaries, not the product.