4. Burlesque v. Irony
Get off the gold standard of literature
Miller's admiration for Joyce was as great as was his antagonism. Like so many contemporary and subsequent writers, Miller took Ulysses as the challenge to the modern novelist. But his response--unlike, for example, Thomas Pynchon, whose rivalry with Joyce is readily apparent--was in a different key, a burlesque key. Miller challenged the very "Order and Myth" of Ulysses:
Up to the present, my idea in collaborating with myself has been to get off the gold standard of literature.
We are reverting to alchemy, to that fake Alexandrian wisdom which produced our inflated symbols. Real wisdom is being stored away in the subcellars by the misers of learning. [....] All the gold that is being tucked away in the pockets of the earth will have to be re-mined; all this symbolism will have to be dragged out again from the bowels of man. But first the instruments must be perfected.
In Tropic of Cancer, Ulysses is "re-mined," but not by "that fake Alexandrian wisdom which produced our inflated symbols." The fragments taken from Ulysses are trace mineral elements like those Bloom, waterlover, contemplates along with the hegemony of water below the "tropic of Capricorn." Like Bloom, Miller admires in water "its capacity to dissolve and hold in solution all soluble substances including millions of tons of the most precious metals." Thus Miller holds in narrative suspension the trace elements of Joyce's cosmos, making no effort to refine or integrate them into another modern myth. He displaces that task, which the modern novel's critical discourse already was discovering completed in Ulysses, into the impossibly distant future: "But first the instruments must be perfected." The instrument Miller sets out to perfect is narrative:
To carry on the artist must act as God at the dawn of creation. [....] Henceforth, he moves with dead certainty in the midst of live doubt. Thought and life take form, and in the quick of the form he anchors himself. The life of this form depends, not upon a stable equilibrium, but on a fluid imbalance.