5. Anecdote v. Image
Intellectual trees - Like T. S. Eliot's verse.
Miller accepts The Waste Land, the structure in disintegration, the "heap of broken images" of the modern urban world. The climate of the time is indisputable. But in contesting the "lock step" of the "Unreal City," in making a hero of time rather than Timelessness, his narrative reveals the insistently distanced perception upon which Modernism depends to imagine--to image--the city's flowing life as dead structure. Where Eliot sees an "Unreal City" in which "each man fixed his eyes before his feet," Miller, afoot with his own vision, discovers a twisting "hive of activity."
High noon and here I am standing on an empty belly at the confluence of all these crooked lanes that reek with the odor of food. Opposite me is the Hotel de Louisiane. A grim old hostelry known to the bad boys of the Rue de Buci in the good old days. Hotels and food, and I'm walking about like a leper with crabs gnawing at my entrails. On Sunday mornings there's a fever in the streets. Nothing like it anywhere, except perhaps on the East Side, or down Chatham Square. The Rue de l'Echaude is seething. The streets twist and turn, at every angle a hive of activity. Long queues of people with vegetables under their arms, turning here and there with crisp, sparkling appetites. Nothing but food, food, food. Makes one delirious.
The structure of death, which Eliot equates with labor, does not preclude the continuance of life and interest within the city's streets. Granting the moments in which the city's masses "possess the street in a kind of dumb torpor," Tropic of Cancer's representation of Paris insists upon the reality of times other than the "dead sound of the final stroke of nine," or the "violet hour, when eyes and back turn upward from the desk." The experience of the city's streets, Miller asserts, is not exhausted Eliot's moments of vision. "Sunday!" at "high noon" and during every weekday lunch hour's quotidian quest for food there persists a delirium which is at once physiological and aesthetic--the two joined together by the twisting streets whose history embraces, on one running plane, the proletariat and "the bad boys of the Rue de Buci in the good old days."
As Miller's "high noon" ramble continues, the suggestion that time makes all the difference between his and Eliot's Waste Land is brought home. He substitutes two narrative passages, one white and one black, for the uniform shade of Eliot's vision of the dawn and dusk of the working day--"final stroke of nine" and the "violet hour":
Pass the Square de Fustenberg. Looks different now, at high noon. The other night when I passed by it was deserted, bleak, spectral. In the middle of the square four black trees that have not yet begun to blossom. Intellectual trees, nourished by the paving stones. Like T. S. Eliot's verse. [....] Sterile, hybrid, dry as Boris' heart.
Seeking to subsume the urban landscape's continually changing face under a unifying symbolic structure, Eliot chooses to view the city at similar moments. Although representing the city at moments of maximum transition for its population, the paradoxical effect of Eliot's choice is to deny the contrasts of city life, collapsing the beginning and end of the working day into one dawn/dusk image of unreality: an emphasis upon scenic composition denies the experiential variety within it. The result, Miller insinuates, is a depopulation: for all the crowds and voices circulating in The Waste Land, Eliot might as well be describing the city at night--"deserted, bleak, spectral." The Unreal City--its sterility, its aridity, its very unreality--is founded upon a distanced vision of the "hive," a vision which, invoking the "natural" tropes of Romantic poetry to register loss, cannot follow the meaning dispersed in the twentieth-century city's activities. The twisting and turning surface life of the streets at "high noon" is Miller's "horizontal" response to the tragic despair The Waste Land conveys in "vertical" tropes of root and branch, burial and resurrection. He reshifts the blame for the impossibility of rebirth and bloom from the city surface, per se, to the scenic distance from which its "paving stones" are mapped in Eliot's poem. Redeploying the array of oppositions present throughout The Waste Land, Miller finds narrative potential precisely where Eliot finds that "death had undone so many."