6. Diatribe v. Epiphany

I love everything that flows

"I love everything that flows," said the great blind Milton of our times. I was thinking of him this morning when I awoke with a great bloody shout of joy: I was thinking of his rivers and trees and all that world of night which he is exploring. Yes, I said to myself, I too love everything that flows: rivers, sewers, lava, semen, blood, bile, words, sentences.
Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer
The eye, accustomed to concentration on points in space, now concentrates on points in time; the eye sees forward and backward at will. The eye which was the I of the self no longer exists; this selfless eye neither reveals nor illuminates. It travels along the line of the horizon, a ceaseless, uninformed voyager.
I am the arrow of the dream's substantiality. I verify by flight. I nullify by dropping to earth.
Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn

The least imitable aspect of Miller's prose, and the third narrative device to be examined, is his periodic modulation into frenetic diatribes on "God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty . . . what you will."[1] These modulations, often gradual but sometimes sudden, between the commonplace of anecdotal observation and recollection and what Miller called the opening of "a deep fissure in my brain" in which "the very nexus of my dreams is broken and dissolved and my guts spill out in a grand schizophrenic rush" are perhaps the quality that has led even the harshest critics of Miller's work to preface their criticism with, "This fellow can write: but[....]"[2] Where New Critical readings of Miller concede the point in order to shift the critical venue, Miller's own critical proclamations insistently point to this "can write" as the issue, vehicle, and nature of his challenge to the modernist aesthetics coalescing about the "classical" Eliot and Joyce. More than any other narrative device, Miller's flowing modulation from anecdote to diatribe constitutes the literary practice his critical discourse seeks to legitimate. In these modulations Miller found a narrative resolution to the split between naturalist observation and philosophical aside that had marked his early, unsatisfactory emulation of Theodore Dreiser. The anecdotal stance is close up, its observations triggered by events rather than composed around a panoramic scene or vision. The rant is a bodily venting, a "hole poked in the side" by circumstance and opened wider by the rush of words that passes through, rather than a reflexive, self-contained doubling of consciousness. In effect, Miller broke naturalist observation into anecdotal observation, and transformed the purported dispassion of critical reflection into an openly emotive rant. In both cases, the reworked parts of his Dreiserian past collapse distance into contingent immediacy. Between these two contingent immediacies, between anecdote and diatribe, narrative "flow" becomes possible as something more than a matter of well turned phrases, something more than a matter of "stylistics" narrowly conceived. In Tropic of Cancer, narrative "flow" becomes ideational and critical, a "posture" from which Miller evaluates, that is, polemically devalues, the ironic contemplative posture of New Critical modernism.

« Previous | Main | Next »