III. Narrative Detours: The Rhetoric of the Real

Henry Miller's Narrative Modernism

The "one system" of Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn is a rhetorical system, a global system of persuasion invoking both halves of the meta-fiction of the historical genre: the true novel is distinguished from all other genres and from all other novels by its formal embodiment of the historical forces of the moment and by its representation of the realities those forces produce. Together Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn complete Miller's reiteration of this meta-fiction: Tropic of Cancer announces the formal revolution of Miller's narrative modernism, and Tropic of Capricorn, through its representation of Miller's life in America prior to his encounter with modernist aesthetics, crafts a "history" of a twentieth-century Waste Land from which Miller's digressive narratives emerge the sole legitimate heir to the legacy of the novel, capable in their own right of fully representing and embodying the historical moment. It is to advance the polemic they share that the narratives of Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn are differentiated, or as Miller puts it, separated "only by an imaginary line."

In taking up the rhetorical function of Tropic of Capricorn's "historical" content, I return to a dimension of novelistic discourse which, though laid out in the methodological explorations of the first chapter, remains largely implicit through the intervening discussion of the relation between interpretive technique and novel form. In that first chapter I argued that the analysis of literary history is best served by regarding the genre of the novel as an ideological field comprising two disjunct but interactive discourses, that of literary practice and critical evaluation, which together sustain an illusion of generic integrity and continuity by claiming the historical genre's distinctive ability, over and against all other genres, to represent and embody the force of history, and by reconstructing genealogies of the novel to correspond to plausible accounts of historical change. Thus the meta-fiction of "the historical genre" is less a theoretical articulation of the category or concept of "The Novel," encompassing its every conceivable instance or eliciting its generic essence, than it is a shared rhetoric novelists and critics employ to distinguish their enterprise from other ideological/artistic activity and to legitimate, among themselves, some ruptures in the novel's form over and against all others as compelled by a changing reality the "true" novel must represent. In much of the novel's critical discourse, be it conducted in reviews, essays, scholarly treatises, or between the covers of a novel, "Reality" and "History" make their appearance as little more than tropes of authority--slogans, claims and counter-claims, tossed about in heat of debate with about as much substance to them as the "Truth" and "Beauty" poets and their partisans were once fond of accusing each other of utterly missing. In analyzing the role interpretive technique plays in the conduct and outcome of the struggle between rival novel forms, I have taken "Reality" and "History" for the battle cries they often are: though insubstantial, they point to the ground disputed, to what is at stake throughout even the more linguistic and philosophic turns of novelistic discourse. Interpretive technique may play a similar role in shaping every genre, but for the "historical genre" the outcome of a successful bid for aesthetic hegemony is the ideological authority to represent the cause and constitution of our modern world.

In this chapter I wish consider the extent to which the representational work of the novel is itself a rhetorical device at the disposal of novelists advancing rival novel forms. In substantiating, in whatever measure, the slogans of "History" and "Reality," the "local histories" represented by different novelists serve both to justify and naturalize their formal innovations, as well as the critical methods that discover them. There is, of course, no end to the reality a text may be said to represent because there is no limit to our ability to discover significance in what it does not say. The interpretive tools of irony, contradiction, and repression open the written work of a given time and place into a linguistic, ideological and psychological field which is inexhaustible, not because the work already contains, in anticipation, everything that might be found in its text, but because we do not grow tired of talking about it. Indeed, an author's work does not become a text unless we are persuaded and continuously repersuaded that there is something at stake in talking about it; once we grow tired and forget what we have said, the "thing"--no longer a work and no longer a text--is exhausted, its significance relegated to the kind of discursive history one finds in libraries.[17] The "rhetoric of the Real" with which I am here concerned is a delimited case of this endless reality the text may be said to represent, but a special case.

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