8. The Last Book

The World of Sex

Under Miller's revisionary interpretation, "zero hour" becomes the moment when the empty subject of Tropic of Capricorn is prepared to liberate himself from the discourse of the novel and write The Rosy Crucifixion. Miller's "clean exit," his transvaluation of the "Arabian zero," is no more than a revisionary acceptance of the idea that "true" Being was, all along, the anchorless drift he took to be writing.[78] By shifting the weight of the equation "Writing is life" from writing to life, Miller's reinterpretation of Tropic of Capricorn, like the "Arabian zero" upon which it turns, leaves "no trace of remainder"--except the formal rupture in Miller's literary practice that retrospectively turns Tropic of Capricorn into a curious "vestibule or ante-chamber" to The Rosy Crucifixion. Without doing injustice to the "text," Tropic of Capricorn may be "read" as a novel or as an autobiographical essay in self-liberation. But each "reading" precludes and denounces the other as misdirected or epiphenomenal. They cannot coexist in Tropic of Capricorn as Miller was forced to concede in veiled terms in The World of Sex (1957) when he tried to explain how "one and the same individual could produce such vastly dissimilar works."[79] A later work, The World of Sex advances Miller's American agenda, but one passage, because it echoes the language of Miller's 1939 letter to Nin, presents the dilemma that makes Tropic of Capricorn pivotal for any interpretation of Miller's career:

The Tropic of Capricorn represents the transition to a more knowing phase: from consciousness of self to consciousness of purpose. Henceforward what metamorphoses occur manifest even more through conduct than through the written word. The beginning of a conflict between the writer who is resolved to finish his task and the man who knows deep down that the desire to express oneself must never be limited to a single medium, to art, let us say, but to every phase of life. A battle, more or less conscious between Duty and Desire. That part of a man which belongs to the word seeking to do its duty; the part which belongs to God striving to fulfill the demands of destiny, which are unstatable. The difficulty: to adapt to that desolate plane where only one's powers will sustain one. From this point on the problem is to write retrospectively and act forwardly. To slip is to sink into an abyss from which there is no rescue possible. The struggle is on all fronts, and it is ceaseless and remorseless.[80]

This talk of Duty, Desire, and God is from a man who had announced his literary arrival as "a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty ... what you will."[81] To represent Tropic of Capricorn as a "transition to a more knowing phase" of his spiritual development Miller has to divide not only Tropic of Capricorn from itself, but himself from himself. The World of Sex attempts to "adapt myself to myself," but, despite Miller's extensive exegesis of Tropic of Capricorn's significance as a essay in "self-liberation," the discourse of the historical genre cannot be "adapted" to the discourse of self-liberation--they remain suspended, facing each other, over the text of Tropic of Capricorn. Miller illuminates the "conflict" between his duty to the word, to the "Revolution of the Word" in which he had once played a part, and his duty to "unstatable" demands of God and Destiny. But he cannot, or will not, say when this "struggle" begins: with the writing of Tropic of Capricorn, in Tropic of Capricorn, or after Tropic of Capricorn in an interpretive effort sustained throughout the almost two decades separating Tropic of Capricorn and The World of Sex.

Miller must leave the "text" of Tropic of Capricorn suspended in "ambiguity," between his duty to the word and his duty to desire, because only as an indeterminate "transition" can it authorize the perilous path Miller took upon his return to America: "To slip is to sink into an abyss from which there is no rescue possible." If Miller allows that the "struggle" begins before Tropic of Capricorn, the subsequent break from the form of Tropic of Capricorn serves no purpose. If he allows that the "struggle" occurs in Tropic of Capricorn, he legitimates the New Critical aestheticization of "ambiguity," denying the polemical thrust of both his narrative aesthetics and his subsequent pursuit of "truth" that "needs no demonstration." If he allows that the "struggle" begins after the writing of Tropic of Capricorn, he grants that Tropic of Capricorn consciously, if not unconsciously, speaks for a different Miller. I have recounted the history of Tropic of Capricorn's writing and transvaluation, examining Miller's biography, letters, essays, and the relations among his texts, to argue that we must understand this "struggle" to come, in earnest, after the writing of Tropic of Capricorn if we are to explain the sudden break in Miller's formal literary practice and find the "order" in Tropic of Capricorn's "confusion"--be that "order" of the discourse of the novel or of the discourse of self-liberation. But whenever Miller's "struggle" begins--before, during, or after Tropic of Capricorn--to allow Tropic of Capricorn to "represent" something other than an indeterminate "transition" is to allow the discourse of the novel to "voice," at some determinate point, its dissent from the "path" Miller took. Miller must leave Tropic of Capricorn suspended in uncertainty, because only an uncertain Tropic of Capricorn can threaten the existence of his novelistic discourse at every point in his career. The formal break in Miller's career is not the only "remainder" of his transvaluation of the "Arabian zero."

« Previous | Main | Next »