9. Conclusion: Only the myth lives in myth
Judgment is a matter of literary criticism, not literary history
This conviction has animated my local study in the history of the modern novel and its central central contention that Miller's "undisciplined" expatriate narratives, Tropic of Cancer (1934), Black Spring (1936) and Tropic of Capricorn (1939), are not simply marginal to our received genealogy of the novel, but have been marginalized by the successful aesthetic polemics of his contemporaries--the coalition of writers and critics who in the 1920s and 1930s secured the eventual hegemony of New Critical modernism by setting the agenda for subsequent interrogation of the meaning, structure, and discipline of the novel form. Under the mode of rhetorical analysis I have pursued it appears no accident that techniques of symbolic, perspectival, and mythic analysis, applied to Joyce's literary practice, discover the meaning, order, and textual unity that make Ulysses the paradigmatic Modern Novel, whereas the same modes of analysis, applied to Miller's narrative method, turn up only partial structures, discovering, that is, "incomplete," "bad," or at best "curious" modernist texts. The formal coherence of Miller's expatriate works appears only as they are read historically as polemical efforts to redirect "The Revolution of the Word." In reply to T. S. Eliot's denigration of "narrative method" in favor of "mythic method," Miller advanced a radically digressive narrative resistant to symbolic integration. He cultivated a "fluid imbalance" to counter the "equilibrium of opposed impulses" I. A. Richards offered as "the ground-plan of the most valuable aesthetic responses," and his quotidian history of a "cosmos--on the flat" opposed Stuart Gilbert and Louis Gillet's idealization of the "vertical" structure of Joyce's "extra-temporal history."
It is the hegemony of New Critical modernism that has obscured the coherence of Miller's narrative strategy and, of equal importance, his deep and polemical engagement with questions of literary value and the meaning of history. Discerning these now illegible elements of Miller's Paris narratives requires treating as contested, as contestable, issues in a literary critical struggle long since won. This I have tried to do throughout these pages, so as to rehabilitate Miller's modernism as a coherently articulated, historical alternative to the canon New Critical modernism built. What I have systematically refrained from addressing is the question of Miller's inclusion in a revised canon of "great modern writers," or his continued exclusion. Doubtless, readers uncomfortable with Miller--the Miller they have known, or the Miller I uncover--might have been comforted by more words of critical condemnation from me, or be comforted, now, by a judgment regarding the legitimacy of his claims upon our admiration and sympathies. When all is said and done, we remain interested in identifying the heroes and villains of a "usable past." The expectation of judgment in which this interest issues is wholly reasonable, but as I see it, a matter of literary criticism, not the task of literary history to which I have committed myself in these pages.
Canon formation--the weighing of value and merit under whatever name it transpires--is the business of literary criticism. The construction, defense, and dissemination of an compact body of exemplary works plays an indispensable role in the creation and experience of literature: it is by the canon and against the canon that ambitious writers, critics, and readers are measured and measure themselves, even in dismantling its standards. Were we to accomplish what some have advocated, the eradication of all canons from college curricula and academic criticism, the evaluative function performed by debate over the canon would persist--perhaps in different form--outside the university. In the case of the novel, it did so for most of the genre's history. Satisfying our desire to know literature, literary criticism meets our desire to like what we know, and to know what we should like. But such cannot be the business, as I have come to see it, of literary history. The difference between literary history and literary criticism arises, not from any greater objectivity at the fount of the historical impulse, nor from any more intense self-interest inherent in literary criticism, but from the distinct objects of these two inquiries. Whereas the object of literary criticism is literature, the object of literary history must first be the shifting grounds of literature's critical appropriation. In practice, this means I have not produced a balanced assessment of Miller and his oeuvre, nor even a complete reading of any of his novels, such as would be necessary to argue their inclusion within, or exclusion from, an array of works valued for their social, psychological, or aesthetic merit. Rather, what I have attempted to do is to trace the debate over the proper terms of the novel's critical assessment as it cuts through Miller's expatriate narratives and the texts, literary and critical, of New Critical modernism. The works of the 1920s and 1930s appearing in this historical essay have appeared, not as texts--objects of art we might celebrate or condemn, in whole or in part--but as polemics, as arguments about the formal composition of the novel and about, in Henry James' phrase, that form's "relation to the society that produces and consumes it."