8. The Last Book

History of a Voice or Autobiography of Self-liberation

With this formulation of the relation between writing and Being, Miller makes plausible a rereading of Tropic of Capricorn: no longer a history of the emerging "voice" of Tropic of Cancer, it reads as an autobiographical account of the self-liberation of a Being at one with himself and God's universe:

The man whom God loves is the onion with a million skins. To shed the first layer is painful beyond words; the next layer is less painful, the next still less, until finally the pain becomes pleasurable, more and more pleasurable, a delight, an ecstasy. And then there is neither pleasure nor pain, but simply darkness yielding before the light. And as the darkness falls away the wound comes out of its hiding place: the wound which is man, man's love, is bathed in light. The identity which was lost is recovered. Man walks forth from his open wound, from the grave which he had carried about with him so long.[67]

The identity recovered is simply that of a Being shedding past words in order to regain again and again the abandon he once found in writing: it is a recovery of the status of "Being" for what Miller had been doing as "Writing." But writing, so conceived, is unconstrained by the discourse of the novel. Questions of rivalry between different aesthetic and interpretive conventions, of the relative merits of differing accounts of the relation between "form and substance" and "history," are relegated to the past. Miller tells Nin, "Interpretation will eventually cede to truth, which needs no demonstration."[68] A rather sophisticated reinterpretation of Tropic of Capricorn will authorize a great deal of what, from the vantage of the discourse of the novel, can only be called naive writing.[69]

For better or for worse, the reinterpretation Miller began in his 1939 letter to Nin is especially thorough. It is the kind of "reading" most usefully understood as a "transvaluation": rather than depending on a shift of emphasis from one set of passages to another, Miller's "rereading" of Tropic of Capricorn pivots upon the reconstruction of a metaphoric complex--writing/being--central both to Tropic of Capricorn as part of "one system" with Tropic of Cancer, and to Capricorn as the first book of a Rosy Crucifixion quartet. In consequence of Miller's transvaluation, we confront an apparently fundamental "ambiguity in the text" of Tropic of Capricorn, which, through Tropic of Capricorn's ties to Tropic of Cancer, permits the projection of Miller's American agenda back to the beginning of his literary career.[70] Was Miller ever engaged in the discourse of the novel? Read apart from its history, that is, approached only as a "text," Tropic of Capricorn cannot answer this question.

The "ambiguity in the text" of Tropic of Capricorn, upon which the characterization of Miller's entire career seems to hinge, arises because his "clean exit" turns upon the transvaluation of a figure crucial to the rhetoric of his Paris narrative, the "Arabian zero" of Tropic of Cancer.[71] To restate in this context what I have argued previously, the "Arabian zero," "the sign from which spring endless mathematical worlds," is a figure for the zero degree of Being at which Miller becomes a productive "writing machine": "My back is to the wall; I can retreat no further."[72] Once the Self has been reduced to zero it, in effect, "gives way" to writing. Only after Miller makes up his "mind to hold on to nothing" does narrative begin to unfold "on the meridian of time" where "there is no injustice; there is only the poetry of motion creating the illusion of truth and drama."[73] A component of Miller's defense of narrative as the legitimate modern form of the historical genre, the "Arabian zero" argues that Being is novelistic when Being is not.

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