5. Anecdote v. Image
Narrative Method vs. Mythic Method
As Miller makes his final approach to the story of Germaine his narrative polemic turns upon Modern novelists' efforts to reshape the techniques of the visionary tradition so that symbolism might capture the temporal extension of Man's being. The presiding "gargoyles" are Proust and Joyce--primarily Joyce, for here Miller's theme is not simply the private, psychological past of memory, but the public, historical past of books. Mythic method, the paralleling of heroic past and urban present, is at issue as Miller stops after a detour past the Cine Combat offering Metropolis to quote from a history of "Paris during the days of Charles the Silly!" He continues, looking for reminders of this past in the present:
At the Rue des Lions I looked for the stones of the old menagerie where he [Charles] once fed his pets. His only diversion, poor dolt, aside from those card games with his "low born companion," Odette de Champdivers.
It was a Sunday afternoon, much like this, when I first met Germaine. I was strolling along the Boulevard Beaumarchais, rich by a hundred francs or so which my wife had frantically cabled from America.
The passage provides, in brief, the basic elements upon which a New Critical reading might seize to establish various revisonary ratios: Germaine is to Henry as Odette is to Charles; the Paris of Tropic of Cancer is to medieval (or Proustian) Paris as the Dublin of Ulysses is to Homeric Greece. Pressed into service, such a metaphoric structure would turn Miller's narrative method into mythic method. It would render Tropic of Cancer a quest for epiphany, for a visionary moment wherein past and present merge in a singular, omniscient summation of the universal human condition. It would make Tropic of Cancer over into a minor version of what Louis Gillet called "Work in Progress": "a sort of extra-temporal history, formed of the residue of all histories, which one might call (in using a title of Johann Sebastian Bach) a cantata for all time."
However, to sustain any such mythic parallel in Miller's text a New Critical reading would also have to make Germaine, that utterly conventional "whore with the heart of gold," the thematic and symbolic center of Tropic of Cancer's third "chapter," in effect reconverting the narrative-bound anecdote of Germaine into something structurally akin to the set tourist piece "Mademoiselle Claude." In a parodic vein this is what Miller does when midway through the story of Germaine he announces, "When some time later I came to write about Claude, it was not Claude that I was thinking of but Germaine...," and after quoting from "Mademoiselle Claude" exclaims, "That was for Germaine!" But with Miller's interpolation of the "real story" of Claude, who is no more than the equally conventional whore as frigid, pretentious snob, there is not even the ghost of a central, creative modern myth for the New Critical reader in this sandwiching of cliche upon cliche. The narrative becomes hopelessly entangled in the question of what was for Germaine and what was for Claude: its only parallel between past and present consists of a ramble through Miller's past literary failures. Charles the Silly and Odette de Champdivers are never mentioned again. Shortly, Germaine, Germaine/Claude, and the "real" Claude also vanish once and for all. And though the medieval aspects of modern Paris are repeated here and there, Tropic of Cancer never develops the "continuous parallel" Eliot thought essential to Joyce's mythic alternative to "narrative method." Since here nothing can be abstracted from the sequence of presentation and bear up to scrutiny, a New Critical reading quickly comes up empty, and hence must judge Tropic of Cancer empty, or forsake its own measures of literary density for those of Miller's thoroughly parodic, anecdotal narrative.