7. Desire in the Waste Land
Enjoying nothing, desiring nothing but this power
In Miller's world the exchange of women among men produces no perceived value--not because women ought not be treated as objects, nor because, as in The Great Gatsby, they are too symbolically valuable to be shared, but because they are too many for any bonding debt to accrue among the men. In market terms, women are worthless. They exist in Tropic of Capricorn, as Curley's "digging" suggests, in the abundance of a ready natural resource. The abundance, however, is urban rather than natural: all women are on display, as are the commodities on Miller's Broadway. Curley "industriously" enforces Miller's sexual aesthetic on a recalcitrant object:
He took pleasure in degrading her. I could scarcely blame him for it, she was such a prim, priggish bitch in her street clothes. You'd almost swear she didn't own a cunt, the way she carried herself in the street. Naturally, when he got her alone he made her pay for her highfalutin' ways.
In a city where all women are on display in the show window of male desire there is no basis for ownership or exchange because unlimited supply exceeds demand: sexual satisfaction is pursued through chance encounters. Value, if anywhere, resides in the recitation of the encounter. The stories Miller and his men share, the "notes" they compare, create a metonymic chain of desire that threads through these encounters. This series of anecdotes constitutes Miller's society of men as it constitutes Miller's narrative aesthetics: "Going back in a flash over the women I've known. It's like a chain which I've forged out of my own misery. Each one bound to the other."
Miller's sexual desire moves through Tropic of Capricorn's "The Land of Fuck" as through a sexual department store. Giving a brief description of each, he takes a partial inventory of "cunts": hysterical, seismographic, cannibalistic, masochistic, dithyrambic, porcupine, telegraphic, political, vegetative, religious, mammalian, cruising, glacial, and "miscellaneous cunts which defy category or description." The movement of Miller's desire is metonymic, recapitulating the form of his narrative aesthetics--or, as Miller tells the story, anticipating the form of his narrative aesthetics. As a history of the "voice" of Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn finally rejects women, as well as commodities, finding them inadequate objects of metonymic desire. Even while rehearsing his sexual exploits, Miller derides women as a source of satisfaction, giving his as yet unenlightened, sexualized self the pseudonym "Samson Lackawanna." When the catalogue of "cunts" reaches absurd length, Miller turns and pointedly rejects the form of symbolic desire Nick envisions in the "fresh, green breast of the new world," mocking such aspiration in the contemptuous image of a "cunt which is all, and this we shall call the super-cunt, since it is not of this land at all but of that bright country to which we were long ago invited to fly." Where the impatient movement of Miller's narrative does not overrun symbolic sexual desire and the women who have served as the inadequate objects of his own metonymic desire, he gives the futility of "sexual calculation" one more turn, parodying the mythological visions of many of his modernist contemporaries. For them, as for Samson Lackawanna, it "was most imperative to find and enjoy the metaphysical fuck":
From Apis [Father Apis, the mantic bull] sprang the race of unicorns, that ridiculous beast of ancient writ whose learned brow lengthened into a gleaming phallus, and from the unicorn by gradual stages was derived the late-city man of which Oswald Spengler speaks. And from the dead cock of this sad specimen arose the giant skyscraper with its express elevators and observation towers. We are the last decimal point of sexual calculation; the world turns like a rotten egg in its crate of straw.
At this point, Miller is but a step away from the "endless mathematical worlds" of Tropic of Cancer's "Arabian zero," whose history he is unraveling. At "the last decimal point of sexual calculation," women, already reduced to objects, are repudiated, and sex gives way to writing, sexual desire to narrative desire. In concluding Tropic of Capricorn Miller will write:
I sat down to write her a letter telling her that I was so miserable over the thought of losing her that I had decided to begin a book about her, a book which would immortalize her. It would be a book, I said, such as no one had ever seen before. I rambled on ecstatically, and in the midst of it I suddenly broke off to ask myself why I was so happy.
The answer to Miller's question is written everywhere in Tropic of Capricorn:
I realized that I had never the least interest in living, but only in this which I am doing now, something which is parallel to life, of it at the same time, and beyond it. [....] From childhood on I can see myself on the track of this specter, enjoying nothing, desiring nothing but this power, this ability. Everything else is a lie--everything I ever did or said which did not bear upon this. And that is pretty much the greater part of my life.
But to move from the symbolic plenitude of the "super-cunt" to the world of auto-writing, Miller must first meet, and then escape, the object of his missive, the "lie" that is "everything else"--Mara.