III. Narrative Detours: The Rhetoric of the Real

The model for the age that Joyce and Stein are searching for

By "rhetoric of the Real" I refer to those elements of a novel's imaginary world which persuade readers that the novelist's formal innovations are not mere formalities, but necessitated by the larger, "true" historical reality the author seeks to reveal through fiction.[18] The "rhetoric of the Real," in other words, is intelligible as such only within the discourse of the novel, comprising those aspects of the representational work of the novel that serve its formal polemics:

The happiest thought I have is of my new novel--it is something really NEW in form, idea, and structure--the model for the age that Joyce and Stein are searching for, that Conrad didn't find.[19]

Fitzgerald's "happiest thought" three weeks after the publication of The Great Gatsby is the generic "happiest thought" of the novelist; equal in ambition, Miller might have written the same of Tropic of Capricorn. To realize this "happiest thought" the ambitious novelists must make a "modern world" in which their art, and their art alone, is possible.[20]

The materials from which novelists construct their "modern worlds" are thoroughly ideological: ideological in the broadest sense, in which the most direct descriptions of places and people, the most idiosyncratic personal details, as well as the most reflective statements of principle, derive from and return to what M. M. Bakhtin called "social heteroglossia"--the changing, conflictual array of dispersed and stratified "languages" that compose cultural history.[21] Bakhtin defines the novel as the genre that "orchestrates" this social heteroglossia. My concern, however, is not with a definition of the novel but with the discourse within which the novel is continually redefined. I seek to demonstrate the extent to which aesthetic debate over the novel's proper form produces a selective alignment of ideological discourses, not in one novel, but, responsively, across the range of rival novel forms, producing a conflict-ridden pattern within which contemporary representations of the Real differ. By examining the ways in which the representational work of the novel is shaped by concerns of formal rivalry, we are in a position to discern how the struggle to define the "New Novel" constitutes the genre as an ideological discourse in its own right--the effort to legitimate aesthetic difference through a rhetoric of the Real organizing novelists' distinctively novelistic contributions to Bakhtin's "social heteroglossia."

The critical significance of this approach is double: on the one hand, it instigates a deeper, more thoroughgoing examination of the novel's polemical nature, and on the other, it contributes to an understanding of the way in which the novel as novel strengthens ideological discourse. Of course, the discourse of the novel is ideological in the general sense that, in advancing the meta-fiction that through formal innovation the art of novel can represent and embody the force of history, novelists always are providing what ideological discourse cannot find outside the imagination: a thoroughly legible "reality" within which ideology has the undisputed status of knowledge. To "read" a novel is to know a world in which everything, in the last analysis, makes sense. But there is no such thing as one novel endlessly renewed, only novels. It is as a discourse, multiplying and elaborating strands of the "social heteroglossia," that the disputatious historical genre contributes to the diversity which is ideology's strength.

In the third part of this "local study" of the discourse of the modern novel, I wish to explicate Tropic of Capricorn's function within the "one system" that is Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. In previous chapters I have drawn upon Tropic of Capricorn where it reiterates elements of the aesthetic polemic Miller first announced in Tropic of Cancer. Here I do not intend to retrace these steps, but rather to focus upon the manner in which Miller sets out in the "last book" of his expatriation to supplement deficiencies in Tropic of Cancer's claim to to be "The Last Book" which "will exhaust the age."

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