7. Desire in the Waste Land

Roseland: No Improper Dancing Allowed

In contrast to Fitzgerald, whose aesthetics demand that he rescue an image of symbolic fulfillment--the face--from the transitory promise of Daisy's voice, Miller, in pursuit of the American dream of unfettered freedom, is directly fascinated by the generative power of the lying voice. In his descriptions of his "Jazz Baby" Miller unreservedly celebrates historical change as a kind of lie against nature. Miller's history replaces natural imagery with legal prohibition as a sexual stimulant; the body's sexual movements are mechanized in the inversion. What nature Miller encounters at the Roseland Dance Hall is nature in effacement:

At the rail of which fences off the floor I stand and watch them sailing around. This is no harmless recreation . . . this is serious business. At each end of the floor there is a sign reading "No Improper Dancing Allowed." Well and good. No harm in placing a sign at each end of the floor. In Pompeii they probably hung a phallus up. This is the American way. It means the same thing.[105]
The dance of the magneto world, the spark that unsparks, the soft purr of the perfect mechanism, the velocity race on a turntable, the dollar at par and the forests dead and mutilated. [....] Laura the nympho brandishing her cunt, her sweet rose-petal lips toothed with ballbearing clutches, her ass balled and socketed. Inch by inch, millimeter by millimeter they shove the copulating corpse around. And then crash! Like pulling a switch the music suddenly stops and with the stoppage the dancers come apart, arms and legs intact[....][106]

Miller's description of Mara's body is equally mechanized. After comparing her morning preparations to those of "an athlete preparing for the great event of the day," he pointedly corrects himself: "Like an athlete I said she was, but in fact she was more like a mechanic overhauling a fast plane for a test flight."[107]

In pursuit of the lie against nature which is the female body mechanized, Miller abandons the promise of the face and explores the head, whose interior reaches he finds empty:

I no longer look into the eyes of the woman I hold in my arms but I swim through, head and arms and legs, and I see that behind the sockets of the eyes there is a region unexplored, the world of futurity, and here there is no logic whatever, just the still germination of events unbroken by night and day, by yesterday and tomorrow.[108]

Here Miller finds what he seeks: the power to generate a lie that can create "the face of the world." In Mara, Miller projects the history--the lie--which produces both her mechanical body and America: "Whatever made America made her, bone, blood, muscle, eyeball, gait, rhythm, poise, confidence, brass and hollow gut."[109] From the imagined interior of Mara's head, Miller takes his "own name" and the sound of his own empty, mechanical voice:

How had she come to expand thus beyond all grip of consciousness? By what monstrous law had she spread herself thus over the face of the world, revealing everything and yet concealing herself? [....] Looking into the backs of her eyes, into the pulpy translucent flesh, I saw the brain structure of all formations, all relations, all evanescence. I saw the brain within the brain, the endless machine endlessly turning, the word Hope revolving on a spit, roasting, dripping with fat, revolving ceaselessly in the cavity of the third eye. [....] I heard her call my own name which I had not yet uttered, I heard her curse and shriek with rage. I heard everything magnified a thousand times, like a homunculus imprisoned in the belly of an organ. I caught the muffled breathing of the world, as if fixed in the very crossroads of sound.[110]

In place of "the very crossroads of sound," Miller will put his own narrative "welter of criss-crossed tracks" as he tells his story of life with her.[111] In place of Mara's "muffled" lies, he will put his written truth. He will take back the aesthetic form in which he creates this female monster and call it his novel, displacing responsibility for the reality he creates upon Mara: "I am thoroughly irresponsible for my fate."[112]

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