7. Desire in the Waste Land

Tack your womb up on my wall

Where Fitzgerald must perform an act of "rehabilitation" to convert Daisy into something "significant, elemental, and profound," Miller need only appropriate as his own the vitality with which he imbues the monster he has made of Mara. Mara's ability to generate lies--"the little womb in the throat hooked up to the big womb in the pelvis"[113] or, again, "life maturating in a black box, a negative tickled with acid and yielding a momentaneous simulacrum of nothingness"[114]--is the female image of endless narrative creativity Miller elaborates from metonymic sexual desire:

And with it all, in the fixed, close intimacy of a night without end she was radiant, jubilant, an ultra-black jubilation streaming from her like a steady flow of sperm from the Mithraic Bull. She was double-barreled, like a shotgun, a female bull with an acetylene torch in her womb. In heat she focused on the grand cosmocrator, her eyes rolled back to the whites, her lips a-slaver. [....] Even the hole in the sky through which the lackluster star shone down was swallowed up in her fury.[115]

Miller/Mara, the "female bull," "double-barreled, like a shotgun"; Father Apis the "mantic bull"; the "hysterically endowed eunuch who marches up to the soda fountain with a sawed-off shotgun between his legs"--all are one and the same empty being, an aggregative being assembled of bits and pieces of cultural bric-a-brac: myth, art, commodities, and male and female organs. From this strange being, whose "discordant fullness" comprises so many potentially symbolic parts as to be no symbol, no being, at all, Miller claims to learn his lines:

I remember everything, but like a dummy sitting on the lap of a ventriloquist. It seems to me that throughout the long, uninterrupted connubial solstice I sat on her lap (even when she was standing) and spoke the lines she had taught me.[116]

The performance is pure burlesque, as Miller vaunts his mastery as "dummy" and "ventriloquist." But if there is an doubt as to who is master in this "ambisexual" charade, Miller settles it before he leaves the "historic" New York of Tropic of Capricorn for Paris and the modernist polemics of Tropic of Cancer. He disposes of last "natural" female components of the ambisexual "mantic bull" in the final parting, brutal image that closes Tropic of Capricorn:

Equilibrium is no longer the goal--the scales must be destroyed. Let me hear you promise again all those sunny things you carry inside you. Let me try to believe for one day, while I rest in the open, that the sun brings good tidings. Let me rot in splendor while the sun bursts in your womb. I believe all your lies implicitly. I take you as the personification of evil, as the destroyer of the soul, as the maharanee of the night. Tack your womb up on my wall, so that I may remember you. We must get going. Tomorrow, tomorrow. . . .[117]

Tropic of Capricorn's "history" of the "fluid imbalance" of the voice of Tropic of Cancer fashions of metonymic sexual desire a memory of violent expropriation.

Salvaging forms of commodity and sexual desire as art in the very act of demonstrating their futility, Miller and Fitzgerald promise that an art fashioned after synecdochic and metonymic desire might be redemptive where the commerce of desire, economic or sexual, fails. This, however, does not distinguish their art: the aesthetic rescue of worldly failures is, in one form or another, the business of every genre. It is Miller and Fitzgerald's participation in the disputatious discourse of the novel that gives shape and distinctive ideological weight to the "rescue" performed in Tropic of Capricorn and The Great Gatsby. In examining their rival efforts to define the New Novel, I have focused upon the manner in which each employs a rhetoric of the Real to enhance the authority of their distinctive narrative and symbolist aesthetics. In concluding, I would like to turn briefly to the "generic" dynamic by which competing novelizations of the Real enhance the authority of ideological discourse. The effort to represent and embody the force of history within the bounds of a work of fiction entails more than an act of ideological reproduction: it is to mystify, at the same time, some of the most powerful ways in which ideology organizes social reality.

« Previous | Main | Next »