4. Burlesque v. Irony

They will make Joyce palatable, understandable

This passage from "The Universe of Death" recapitulates the Moldorf/God burlesque of Tropic of Cancer, where Miller pokes holes in Moldorf's weltanschauung. Miller recognized Joyce's comic genius, and sought to read all of Ulysses as an intellectual burlesque after his own heart. In effect, Miller--the vaudeville comedian, the clown, the "learned desperado," the "mad baboon"--projects himself into the text of Ulysses to assist in the dynamiting of the accumulated structures of the world's literature. Miller was ready to embrace and identify with Joyce to the extent to which he could read in Ulysses a full artistic embodiment and then repudiation of the "disease of our time."

But as an active member of the international expatriate community of Paris, Miller was perspicacious enough to know that there were developing other ways to read Ulysses:

Already, almost coincidentally with their appearance, we have, as a result of Ulysses and Work in Progress, nothing but dry analyses, archaeological burrowings, geological surveys, laboratory tests of the Word. The commentators, to be sure, have only begun to chew on Joyce. The Germans will finish him! They will make Joyce palatable, understandable, clear as Shakespeare, better than Joyce, better than Shakespeare. Wait! The mystagogues are coming![73]

Miller divides Joyce as he caricatures him. Miller perceived two Joyces--the comic and the classic--and he warily saw one of them cooperating in his own canonization. To counter T. S. Eliot, Stuart Gilbert, and Edmund Wilson's qualified praise of Ulysses in Axel's Castle, he insistently derided the "classical" Joyce: "If the Odyssey was a remembrance of great deeds Ulysses is a forgetting." Writing with a sense of urgency, Miller sought figuratively, if not literally, to promulgate Tropic of Cancer in the lull between the writing of Ulysses and what he anticipated as its full critical appropriation. This strategy is pure burlesque: the comic's leap to insert a gag that twists the straightman's intention before he can finish his sentence. Miller read the question and answer chapter of Ulysses--the dynamiting which preceded the final deluge of Molly's "stream of consciousness"--as his cue, the moment to make his own claim to the legacy of the historical genre. Tropic of Cancer was to be a novel of aftermath, the novel after the flood had breached the cultural dam, a literature coming after and displacing Ulysses. By taking up where he sensed the comic Joyce could go no further, Miller intended to "rival, or excel, the last chapter of Ulysses without being 'imitative.'"[74]

Thus the original title of Tropic of Cancer, which was called Tropic of Capricorn until Miller decided his great flowing narrative was yet to come, derives from the question and answer section of Ulysses:

What in water did Bloom, waterlover, drawer of water, watercarrier returning to the range, admire?
Its universality: its democratic equality and constancy to its nature in seeking its own level: [...] the restlessness of its waves and surface particles visiting in turn all points of its seaboard: the independence of its units: the variability of states of sea: [...] its preponderance of 3 to 1 over the dry land of the globe: its indisputable hegemony extending in square leagues over all the region below the subequatorial tropic of Capricorn: [...] its capacity to dissolve and hold in solution all soluble substances including millions of tons of the most precious metals: its slow erosions of peninsulas and downwardtending promontories:[....][75]

The pages surrounding this passage are littered with images--"most precious metals"--which Miller appropriated for Tropic of Cancer. In burlesque fashion these images are ripped out of context and dissolved in the flow of Miller's narrative where these fragments bear little trace of the aesthetic structure to which they once belonged. This violent appropriation disrupts "before" its completion Stephen's "rhythm of beauty, [...] the first formal aesthetic relation of part to part in any aesthetic whole or of any aesthetic whole to its part or parts or of any part to the aesthetic whole of which it is a part."[76] The mesh is torn and the parts float free of the whole in "a cultural stew made up of ideological components which once made up a cosmos."[77]

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