5. Anecdote v. Image
Ulysses is like vomit spilled by a delicate child
Miller's most effective counter to the hierarchical tropes that conventionally coalesce around the subject/object dichotomy lies in his rendition of the live city, not as ambiguously male and female, but as the thing that flows which is neither Nature nor dead abstraction. Miller's critique of the city as seen by canonical modernism resonates with his rejection of the "pure ideology" of "Woman is, man becomes" to the extent that his urban narrative denies the ascension whence man turns to envision the city into which he must return with the language of disgust, aversion, and will to power that ideologically is also the stock and trade of patriarchal misogyny. Miller's city is neither "Nature" nor an evil "Second Nature." It must be traveled, not poeticized as the object of a visionary subject. Miller's most directed critique is addressed to the paradigmatic works of New Critical modernism, to the vision of the city in The Waste Land and Ulysses.
By countering the image and structure of the symbolic city of The Waste Land, Miller's rambling urban anecdotes assert the existence of alternative aesthetics on the margins of the emerging modernist canon. Miller defends the value of an experience of the city which cannot be encompassed by transcendent vision or architectural plan. But, there is more than aesthetics at stake in the defense of this experience. At issue is not precisely the artist's class identity--both Miller and New Critical modernism assert the classlessness of the artist--but the greater question of whether artistic experience transcends the experiences of the great mass of men in its search for value, or abides within and alongside those experiences, affirming their reality as the only legitimate source of value. Miller asserts the classlessness of proletarian experience while New Critical modernism ends, for all its paradoxical explorations of the "depths," in an assertion of the classlessness of bourgeois experience.
The difference is most evident in Miller's critique of the image and structure of Joyce's "dirty Dublin." Miller detects an elitist disgust and retaliatory violence in the very qualities of Ulysses that Edmund Wilson said make the "Dublin" of Ulysses recognizable as "something like a solid city actually existing in space":
Here the work of art assumes the form and dimensions of a cathedral, a veritable tree of life. But with our latter-day exponents of head-culture the great monuments are lying on their sides, they stretch away like huge petrified forests, and the landscape itself becomes nature-morte.
Though we do, as Edmund Wilson says, "posses Dublin seen, heard, smelt and felt, brooded over, imagined, remembered", it is, in a profound sense, no possession at all: it is possession through the dead ends of the brain. [....] And so, if we posses Dublin at all, it is only as a shade wandering through an excavated Troy or Knossus; the historical past juts out in geological strata.
A Romantic who wished to embrace life realistically, an idealist whose ideals were bankrupt, he [Joyce] was faced with a dilemma which he was incapable of resolving. There was only one way out--to plunge into the collective realm of phantasy. As he spun out the fabric of his dreams he also unloaded the poison that had accumulated in his system. Ulysses is like vomit spilled by a delicate child whose stomach has been overloaded with sweetmeats. "So rich was its delivery, its pent-up outpouring so vehement", says Wyndham Lewis, "that it will remain eternally a cathartic, a monument like a record of diarrhoea". Despite the maze of facts, phenomena and incident detailed there is no grasp of life, no picture of life. There is neither an organic conception, nor a vital sense of life. We have the machinery of the mind turned loose upon a dead abstraction, the city, itself the product of abstractions.
Miller's critique is of "the real ground-plan, the invisible pattern" of Ulysses, the manner in which Joyce architecturally renders "Dublin" and Ulysses itself as a city of death and emptiness while at the same time capturing much of its flowing life. The city as seen according to this "ground-plan" of abstraction is a city uncovered archaeologically, structured strata by strata; a city viewed from the air as a mass of buildings among which living-dead men and women move in circles. Miller calls upon his own life in the streets, not simply the streets of Paris but of New York and Brooklyn to say, yes there is an ugliness here, but not a horror of death and emptiness. The "real" life of the city is on the surface upon which Miller advises the eagles of the future to swim. That life looks an endless round of purposeless circling in a Waste Land to the distanced, recollective and prophetic vision of canonical modernism. The Modernist city appears "unreal" because its image has been mapped rather than experienced anecdotally in its twisting interstices. Miller insinuates that the modern city is not a structure, but its street life. It may only be "possessed" artistically through radically digressive, anecdotal narrative.