9. Conclusion: Only the myth lives in myth

The Problem of the Text: our moment in the discourse of the novel

The problem of the Text is of our moment in the discourse of the novel. It is now not possible to wish it away by renewed invocations of the "facts" of history and the author's biography. For the text is precisely that object of analysis that can invite such facts back in as a "guest" at the Text's "performance." The task of a history of the novel is to approach the Text, in conjunction with other texts, not as an object of critical knowledge to be seized more firmly and completely, nor as a pleasurable "stroll in a difference repeatable only as difference," but as an aggregate of "incidents," of "codes that are known," to be relocated in a history of literary production and consumption, of speech and interpretation, such that the Text's present "plurality" becomes visible as a moment in a disputatious discourse which has not come to an end.

A contingent dispute embedded in the events and institutions that bring ambitious novelists and critics of varied background and inclination upon each other's literary horizons, the discourse of the novel is contextual before it is intertextual, social before it is ideational. Miller in Paris in the 1930s was not the novelist he had tried to become in New York in the 1920s, nor the writer he became upon his return to America and migration to California in the 1940s: not only did he change, but so did his allies, adversaries, and their common world. The meta-fiction of the "historical genre" which joins diverse novelists and critics in the discourse of the novel is a rhetoric--not a matter of propositions to be parsed under the epistemic uncertainty of philosophy, nor of tropes to be catalogued in the library of Western literature, but of stances taken in discrete situations which require identification. For these reasons the history of the discourse of the novel is necessarily informed by and always verging upon the cultural history of the novel's writers, critics, and readers. Here a burden is placed upon the explanations literary history must offer, one not placed upon text-centered critical analysis. This burden is also a temptation and a danger. It cannot be that, having broken from the imaginary plenitude of the Text for reasons of its interpretive and historical inadequacy, we end by recapitulating the same debilities in another dimension, effacing the literary substance of literary discourse before the equally imaginary plenitude of that "real text" Culture. Literary history can contribute to the general history of social and ideological life from which it draws, but only if it first traces the dynamics of literary production and consumption, giving weight to the reality of writers and critics whose primary energies as participants in their culture are directed toward creating and explicating fictions. To leap beyond that requirement, to reach directly for totalizing paradigms of literature's place in the politics of cultural reproduction, as is the tendency of the most persuasive forms of contemporary literary criticism, is to end by writing a history of the world as represented in literature, as embodied in literature, as if it were literature. This is to write history as a kind of novel, a textual microcosm claiming to represent and embody the significant elements and forces of the historical moment. It is to participate inadvertently in the meta-fiction of the historical genre, rather than addressing the history of its hubris.

These concerns inform my discussion of Miller's participation in the early twentieth-century debate over the future of the British-American novel. On occasion I have speculated upon the pertinence of the discourse of the novel to grander cultural formations, but in the main I have sought to limit my claims to those that may be ventured upon the narrow ground of Miller's personal and textual interaction with his literary and critical contemporaries. The third chapter thus embeds Miller's apprehension of the emerging modernist consensus in the particulars of his life and literary speculations on the way to Tropic of Cancer, to some extent redressing the inevitably reified abstractions of the first chapter's account of the rhetoric of "the historical genre," and the second chapter's demonstration of the hegemonic strategies and effects of "New Critical modernism." In a similar vein, the three chapters on Miller's narrative devices, while treating the formal tensions between Miller's "cosmos-on the flat" and the "vertical" structure of The Waste Land and Ulysses, seeks to ground the resulting interplay of blindness and insight in Miller's effort to turn his life in the streets of Brooklyn, New York, and Paris to account in opposing the Modernist aestheticization of urban experience. The last two chapters on Tropic of Capricorn's "rhetoric of the Real" identify two narrow instances--not the only two--whereby the discourse of the novel turns outward to advance the other ideological discourses from which it draws. Miller's and Fitzgerald's representations of modernity, constructed to validate their rival novel forms, serve to legitimate, and by their very difference vitalize, the multiple modes of consumer and sexual desire essential to the reproduction of capitalism and patriarchy. So too, does Miller's revisonary reading of Tropic of Capricorn. Undertaken to transform Tropic of Capricorn from a novel to a cultic, biblical book of "wisdom," Miller's interpretation accomplished the transference of his aestheticized "reality" from the discourse of the historical genre to that ideological discourse which in the American tradition has always proclaimed the personal, political, and economic virtues of "self-liberation."

If this circumspection has left implicit many a potential connection between Miller's narratives and Miller's world, between this local study of the discourse of the novel and that unattainable horizon of all interpretive activity, Culture, the elisions which may lend this essay an air of incompletion have, I hope, their value. To speak to his culture, the novelist must first speak as a novelist. The mediations necessary to specify the changing relation between the discourse of the historical genre and the history of its culture need to be explored at greater length than any one work allows, for those mediations, to the extent that they are of historical consequence, are not conjunctions in a sentence, not critical tropes rewriting thought as an allegory of the Real, but evidence of the temporal materiality of even the most imaginative of human endeavors. What easily conjoins across difference and deferral in language enforces itself as distance and delay in social life. The discourse of the novel is ideologically powerful and generative precisely to the extent that it cannot be understood in any immediate reflective or expressive relation to culture at large. It is powerful and elusive to the extent that it is a rhetoric which cannot be imagined to instantaneously permeate every corner of the Mind on the model of revealed Truth, but which must be traced concretely as it works upon the intractable, upon imaginations dispersed in "time and space and history."

Doubtless, I have reified thought as thought, Miller's as well as that of New Critical modernism, in the process of explicating their discursive relation, and its implications for "local studies" of other modernisms obscured by outcome of the early twentieth-century debate over the shape of the New Novel. Explication is the art of hyperbole, of condensation and extrapolation. Hopefully I have used that art in ways which, subject to correction and supplementation by others, locate the novel's claims upon history in history, which is the only place where, unlike the mind or the text, we may build a sufficient account of twentieth-century literature and its "relation to the society that produces and consumes it."

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