3. Miller and the Emerging Modernist Canon

Not a Stable Equilibrium, but a Fluid Imbalance

In Hamlet, Miller recasts Emerson's poet/God. The novelist must follow another course:

To carry on the artist must act as God at the dawn of creation. [....] Nothing can rear itself organically any longer. [....] Henceforth, he moves with dead certainty in the midst of live doubt. Thought and life take form, and in the quick of the form he anchors himself. The life of this form depends, not upon a stable equilibrium, but on a fluid imbalance.[74]

Miller's use of language is more sophisticated than that condescendingly attributed to "natural" storytellers and raconteurs. In the course of this brief recharacterization of "God at the dawn of creation," "form" assumes three successive meanings as Miller works deliberately backward through the story of creation:

And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. (Genesis 2:19)
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. (Genesis 1:6)
darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:2)[75]

Miller's reversal disposes of Adam the namer: "Thought and life take form" but these forms are not solid enough to be named. Miller disposes of God the divider, who structures creation with oppositions: forms have a "life," but the "quick of the form" is not a matter of a "stable equilibrium," not a matter of endless divisions within the same. Narrative returns a "fluid imbalance," an eternal movement wherein it is difficult to discriminate the formless spirit of the creator from the formless waters of the creation. "Through endless night the earth whirls toward a creation unknown. . ."[76]

By narrating Biblical creation in reverse as the history of the present, Miller takes a detour around Emerson the visionary, around God the Creator, God the Word, that is, around the God who served as the model for the Romantic and then Modernist artist. This God had been "picked clean." Instead, Miller offers a "God at the dawn of creation," one of the "'gaseous invertebrates' swimming in an ideological ether." This Spirit--the new artist--moves within the waters: "To put a face on things is no longer possible."[77] As a narrator, an endless talker who knows that talk is endless, Miller deals with conceptual paradoxes--the either/or of Romantic and Modernist antinomies--as doomed attempts to "reach in there and shut it off." Miller "measures" everything along the "meridian of time" which has no beginning and no end. It is in this fashion that he works up the epigraph from Emerson with which Tropic of Cancer begins. Rather than undermine Emerson's text through ironic inversion--a favored technique of Modernism--Miller's paraphrase bypasses Emerson, setting Emersonian phrases adrift in a narrative flow that refuses to stop. In a world going smash, the task of determining of "what is really [...] experience, what is truly [...] truth" is absurd. There is nowhere--no place, no consciousness--to take a stand and make such determinations.

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