6. Diatribe v. Epiphany
Jame Joyce, The great blind Milton of our times
By turning sight into a site, Miller enables his own narrative "detour" around the aesthetics of the emerging modernist canon. Again, it is Joyce that Miller has in mind when he announces his detour, and not simply Joyce, but Joyce as received and appropriated by the critical partisans of New Critical modernism. First joining Joyce, Miller rants:
"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.
But, there is qualification in Miller's "I too." The implicit assertion is, "I, truly, more than the great blind visionary of our time ever could, or more than any of his legitimate heirs ever could." To express this qualification, Miller latches upon the phrase Louis Gillet used to describe "Work in Progress," "extra-temporal history":
I want to make a detour of those lofty arid mountain ranges where one dies of thirst and cold, that "extra-temporal" history, that absolute of time and space where there exists neither man, beast, nor vegetation, where one goes crazy with loneliness, with language that is mere words, where everything is unhooked, ungeared, out of joint with the times. I want a world of men and women, of trees that do not talk (because there is too much talk in the world as it is!), of rivers that carry you to places, not rivers that are legends, but rivers that put you in touch with other men and women, with architecture, religion, plants, animals--rivers that have boats on them and in which men drown, drown not in myth and legend and books and dust of the past, but in time and space and history.
Miller's "detour," his avowed purpose in bypassing the aesthetics of Joyce's "rhythm of beauty," is couched in the meta-fiction of the novel. His diatribes do not take Tropic of Cancer outside the realm of literature, outside the discourse of the novel. Miller's raving is neither more nor less than a novelist's insistence that the novel remain a part and representation of history, that it not lose itself in timeless myth and legend--in poeticization. "And whether he is interested in history or not, Joyce is the history of our time"--the problem lies in those, including Joyce, who would remove Joyce's work into an "extra-temporal history." To this removal, Miller replies, as novelists have always replied, with a reiteration of the rhetoric that defines the genre through the novel's relation to "time and space and history." Miller's alternative to New Critical modernism harnesses flowing narrative form(lessness) to the locomotion he represents as the reality of twentieth-century history.
Miller thinks of Joyce when he awakens to announce his narrative detour. He also writes over Joyce to counterpoise his narrative modulations between anecdotal observation and diatribe to Joyce's modulations between anecdotal fragment and epiphantic symbolism. Joyce's modulation between anecdote and poetic dreamscape in Ulysses was illustrated in the previous chapter with the misogynous sequence which extends Bloom's random sighting of the "nextdoor girl" while purchasing his "gland" to the dense symbolism of the Wandering Jew issuing from a waste land, "Dead: an old woman's: the grey sunken cunt of the world." Toward the end of Tropic of Cancer, Miller's narrative modulations cover this epiphantic ground with equal misogyny, but with an aesthetic difference. Recasting the text of Ulysses, Miller begins, as does Joyce, with anecdote. But Miller begins where Joyce's "gland" symbolism culminates--purchased women:
And now it is three o'clock in the morning and we have a couple of trollops here who are doing somersaults on the bare floor. Fillmore is walking around naked with a goblet in his hand, and that paunch of his is drumtight, hard as a fistula. All the Pernod and champagne and cognac and Anjou which he guzzled from three in the afternoon on, is gurgling in his trap like a sewer. The girls are putting their ears to his belly as if it were a music box. Open his mouth with a buttonhook and drop a slug in the slot. When the sewer gurgles I hear the bats flying out of the belfry and the dream slides into artifice.