8. The Last Book
The word is light and the truth becomes flesh
Thus in his letter to Anaïs Nin in February 1939, Miller once again recasts Tropic of Cancer's call for "strong hands, for spirits who are willing to give up the ghost and put on flesh." But here the "ghost," the dead writing of the past, is no longer Joyce's, but his own. Absolute silence being untenable for Miller, the only "clean exit" from the world of the novel is through an extra-textual mode of writing that realizes "the relation between truth and being."
The word was never meant to be engraved on tablets of stone nor imprisoned between the covers of a book. The word is light and the truth becomes flesh. It is incorruptible. The search for immortality through art is only the acknowledgment of the powers of death. Writing is life, but what is written is death. And it is death precisely because it seeks to preserve what cannot be preserved through form and substance.
The language of this passage is deceptively conventional. It might have been lifted directly from any of a hundred texts--with the exception of one word which, appearing where it does, changes the rhetorical effect of the entire passage. The word is "Writing," and it appears where convention leads one to expect Being, Speech, Logos, Breath: "Writing is life, but what is written is death." What dictates Miller's substitution is hardly a "deconstruction" of Being. It is precisely to "give way to being" that he "reconstructs" the concept of Being such that within it writing and life may be equated. The substitution "preserves" the authority of writing at the expense of the "form and substance" of what Miller had written, and does so by reducing to two the threefold persona Miller adopted from Whitman's "Song of Myself." The temporal distinction between "writing" and "what is written" splits the troublesome middle term, "valvéd voice" or "creative powers as a writer," in order to redistribute its past and present parts between the historical ego--"Turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating, drinking and breeding"--and the ontological Self that "stands part from the pulling and hauling." This leaves the requisite "two items on the bill of fare": fleshy life experience and writing consciousness. Through the "integration" of these two items, Miller hopes to "give way to being":
The same difficulties that impede one in writing impede one in life. The reason why it is bad to use the will is the same as why one should not struggle in writing. The harmony which permits free action also gives a free flow in writing. It is a question of assimilation and integration.
Under Miller's reformulation, the Being capable of assimilating life and writing must, like narrative, flow in time rather than aspire to the omniscient stasis of union with the Kosmos at the "apex of the apices" of Whitman's stairs. The self-liberation of "adapting myself to myself" is sought in the "harmony" of Being manifest in the extra-textual writing of the next free flowing act.
In this retrospective reading, Tropic of Capricorn becomes an autobiographical essay in self-liberation: where Miller wrote "writing" it becomes possible to "read" a sign of Being, a kind of extra-textual, act-writing Being always already beyond and emerging from the detour of the text. Miller opens Tropic of Capricorn to this reinterpretation by suggesting to Nin that "unconsciously" he all along had pursued a path only now visible upon rereading, "if you listen properly":
I should have been trying to bring about that identification of the two vital centers[....] Unconsciously I was, no doubt. With endless groping one finally becomes aware--the random shots in the dark are too striking to be ignored. Every deep realization of this sort is a real advance, a real consolidation in the hitherto blind grasp at truth. Suddenly you perceive that, if you listen properly, the truth is always speaking in you. And then you become terribly quiet and contained. You cease trying to do more than you can do. You also never do less than you are able to do. But you work and act from a new level which is like an inexhaustible reserve of strength and inspiration.
What Miller will "cease trying to do" is wrestle with formal innovation in an debate, now seen as meaningless as well as futile, over how to "record the changing ego." But his writing will not end, as he had suggested it might to Michael Fraenkel. Instead Miller's assertion, "Writing is life, but what is written is death," inaugurates writing as an "act" of flight from what writing has written. To recover the abandonment of Being it is necessary to abandon what has been written that one might write on.