8. The Last Book
The Rosy Crucifixion
When, back in America, Miller next took up the story of June, it was published as Sexus (1949), Plexus (1953), and Nexus (1960) under the umbrella title of The Rosy Crucifixion. Although in a rough fashion The Rosy Crucifixion might be said to take up the story Miller's life in New York where Tropic of Capricorn leaves off, the two works bear little resemblance other than their derivation from the same life, from the same "period when things were taking shape" prior to Miller's emigration to Paris. In the eighth chapter of Sexus Miller intimates that "significant changes" make it difficult to maintain the pretense that The Rosy Crucifixion merely continues Tropic of Capricorn; he abruptly drops the pseudonym under which June appeared in Tropic of Capricorn, "Mara," and reverts to Tropic of Cancer's "Mona." The Rosy Crucifixion, like Miller's other repatriate works, is on the whole a chronological tale. Its few temporal digressions--readily comprehended under the conventions of recollection, dream and flashback--never even intimate that reality which is fundamental to Tropic of Capricorn's radically disjunctive narrative: a "confusion" whose "order, if it were understood, must have been dazzling." To ignore or underestimate the formal difference between Miller's writing before and after Tropic of Capricorn is to read Miller's "auto-novels" as mere biography--and at that, biography insensate to the major turns of Miller's literary career. The narratives of Tropic of Capricorn and The Rosy Crucifixion assign the common themes, issues, and events of Miller's life to quite distinct fictive worlds, offering quite different accounts of how things happen in our time.
A number of Miller's critics, nevertheless, conflate the works of Miller's expatriation with those of his repatriation, positing intimate connections between Tropic of Capricorn and The Rosy Crucifixion in order to discover a single, coherent, developing body of "thought" presiding over his diverse writings. The varying results of these interpretive efforts dramatize Tropic of Capricorn's pivotal place in Miller's career, if not of the wisdom of assuming Miller's many works constitute a single oeuvre. In The Mind and Art of Henry Miller (1967), William A. Gordon explains the relation between Tropic of Capricorn and The Rosy Crucifixion as follows:
Tropic of Capricorn and The Rosy Crucifixion stand to each other in some ways like the first and fourth parts of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. [....] the works written years apart strangely complement each other. [....] The Rosy Crucifixion tells us in narrative form what happened during that period; Tropic of Capricorn expresses in symbolic form the meaning of the events and ties them into the past, the early life of Henry Miller.
Contrary to what this language might lead one to expect, Gordon finds the "meaning of the events" of Tropic of Capricorn expressed in The Rosy Crucifixion, thus reading the preoccupation with "self-liberation" that animates Miller's American efforts back into his Paris novels. Unfortunately --to extend Gordon's simile--this is somewhat akin to discovering the "meaning" of Faulkner's narratives to be exhausted in his University of Virginia lectures. More recently, Leon Lewis has written in Henry Miller: The Major Writings (1986) that the "tremendous promise of the conclusion of Capricorn is extended into and through [...] Sexus." But Lewis correctly senses that some readers may need help following this "tremendous promise," and so prescribes a means of taking "the dross off the fairly mundane sentiments" of Sexus:
The only answer is that, as I have argued, the best parts of Miller's books need to be read in conjunction with passages from other books and the weaker parts of all of them are going to intrude frequently.
Of course as critical readers we always read "the best parts" of texts in relation to "the best parts" of other texts, but Lewis intends something more. Dissatisfied with the chronological narrative of Miller's American works, Lewis intends that we read them in bits and pieces, inserting here and there "passages from other books"--in effect that we use our discretion as readers to refashion our experience of Sexus into a proxy of that provided by Miller's radically digressive narrative in Tropic of Capricorn.
These efforts conflate Miller's works and so obscure the history of his varied career, but do so on the authority, if not the encouragement, of Miller himself. "The heating and cooling system is one system, and Cancer is separated from Capricorn only by an imaginary line," Miller had written in Tropic of Capricorn. But while preparing Tropic of Capricorn for publication upon his return from Bordeaux, Miller, anticipating the turn his life and literary career were to take, paved the way by reinterpreting, rather than revising, what he had written: viewed in a new light Tropic of Capricorn might signal a decisive break with the task begun in Tropic of Cancer. To complete this break, to separate Tropic of Capricorn from the "one system" it had been written to form with Tropic of Cancer, Miller endeavored to make Tropic of Capricorn break with itself. I will examine his letters to two of the many correspondents to whom he announced his plans: Michael Fraenkel and Anaïs Nin. As Miller's closest literary confidants from the beginning of his expatriation, they were the two he most desired to accept the break he would forge at the end.