II. Narrative Detours: Strategy and Device

Frank Kermode: Puzzles and Epiphanies

One of the simpler aspects of this technique--a device which for all its apparent artificiality, exactly resembles Nature's method--is the presentation of fragments of a theme or allusion in different parts of the work; these fragments have to be assimilated in the reader's mind for him to arrive at complete understanding.
Stuart Gilbert, James Joyce's 'Ulysses'
And now I'm going to tell you about the technical aspect of these books, this book whose genesis I am about to relate....
Only the amorphous side of his nature now possesses validity. By submerging the visible I he dives below the threshold of his schizophrenic habit patterns. He swims joyously, ad lib., in the amniotic fluid, one with his amoebic self.
But what, you ask, is the significance of the bird in his left hand?
Henry Miller, "Burlesk," Black Spring
Everybody agrees that Miller can write; his is a curious gift, incapable of any rest, dependent on continuous movement.
Life, and therefore Miller, deny "form" and mesure. So the critic labels him a minor figure and stands by for perfectly predictable insults.
Frank Kermode, Puzzles and Epiphanies

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Kermode on Miller: Continuous Movement

Kermode's analysis is correct: Miller's narrative, "incapable of any rest, dependent on continuous movement," does "deny 'form' and mesure"--if by "'form' and mesure" one understands no more than Kermode is willing to admit. As we saw in the second chapter, Miller's radically digressive prose is peculiarly resistant to "New Critical" modes of analysis that discover meaning and value --the "real text"--in symbolic, perspectival, and "mythic" structures; yet Miller's modernism no more relies upon nineteenth-century "plotting" to sustain interest and a sense of reality than does the modernism of many of his contemporaries, including Joyce. Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring, and Tropic of Capricorn appear the "formless" product of an inexplicable "curious gift" only so long as one insists that "form" be measured by the critical standard that maintains Joyce's "mesure" as the unsurpassable limit of Modern literary achievement and Ulysses as the sole legitimate heir to the genealogy of the Novel. To suspend such a demand is not to leave the modern novel and its critical debates but to reenter a literary history within which novelists and critics join in discourse--vying, collaborating, denouncing, and persuading--to establish one among many possible aesthetic standards as the "new" hegemonic form of the "historical genre." Kermode's insistent need to label Miller a "minor figure" and his difficulty in doing so are consequences, not of Miller's distance from Joyce and Modern criticism, but of his antithetical proximity.[7] Miller's narrative technique was forged with a full view of the literary and critical polemics that successfully sought to establish the hegemony of New Critical modernism. The (dis)organization of Miller's narrative is a "technique"--a calculated effort to "depose [New Critical] intellect, to frighten away mesure"--and an argument for an equally "formed," equally "modern," alternative to New Critical modernism.[8]

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Literature: Language as a System of Social Evaluations

What is necessary in Miller's case is illustrative of the general proposition that a historical inquiry which takes the relation between novelistic practice and critical discourse as its object must subsume even the "nature" of tropes under historical analysis. If literary history is not to reconstruct its own privileged genealogies of the novel, but recover the shifting grounds on which writers, critics, and theorists have disputed the language, composition and meaning of the true genealogy of the "historical genre," the literary historical project must ground itself in a rhetoric rather than a linguistics. However "decentered" or "diachronic," semantic analysis is deadly to the very project of literary history. A fundamentally categorizing, taxonomic approach to the elements of language, like the taxonomic approaches to genre discussed in the first chapter, inevitably produces an "anxiety of meaning" and a "hermeneutics of suspicion" which seem to engulf the very possibility of historical inquiry in insoluble epistemological dilemmas.[10] The task of literary history, however, is of a different order than that of philosophical linguistics. We need insist upon the foregrounding of temporally specific usages and counter-usages. Literary history, as it extends to encompass the elements of literary language, concerns itself with what words have meant in specific instances--when, where, and to whom--not with what words can mean (or cannot mean, as some would have it) in all the instances in which they appear or might ever appear. As M. M. Bakhtin argued,

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Jack Kahane, Ezra Pound, Tropic of Cancer

The Miller of Paris in the 1930s was not the "sage" of subsequent years, just as the Miller of Paris was not the Dreiserian moralist of years prior in New York.[13] A relation that becomes elusive with the passage of time becomes concrete when we turn to the 1930s and ask: Who would have thought the relation between Ulysses and Tropic of Cancer to be a close one? When Tropic of Cancer was published, its proximity to Ulysses was manifest: in a city of wide-ranging literary "experiments" Miller's narrative wanderings appeared the product of the same laboratory as the narrative of Bloom's adventures in the streets of Dublin. Aside from Miller and his closest friends, there was his publisher, Jack Kahane of Obelisk Press, who had spent years negotiating with Joyce and Sylvia Beach for the right to issue his own edition of Ulysses, only to receive Joycean scraps--the extract from "Work in Progress," Haveth Childers Everywhere (1930), and a second edition of Pomes Penyeach (1931). Kahane saw Tropic of Cancer as his Ulysses, Obelisk Press's way out from under the "shadow" of Beach's Shakespeare & Company:

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Narrative Detours: Strategy and Device - Notes

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