6. Diatribe v. Epiphany
If Miller's narration circles about Joyce's final image of the "grey, sunken cunt of the world," it is a circling "on the flat," in the hope of deriving the destructive, leveling, and generative power of what Miller would later call "vaginal laughter":
It means that what it took the poor male, with his logarithmic cunning, five thousand, ten thousand, twenty thousand years to build, she will pull down in a night. She will pull it down and pee on it, and nobody will stop her once she starts laughing in earnest.
It is on the edge of this "vaginal laughter" that Miller positions his own humor and his narrative's "fluid imbalance":
If you continue this balancing at the edge of the abyss long enough you become very very adept: no matter which way you are pushed you always right yourself. Being in constant trim you develop a ferocious gaiety, an unnatural gaiety, I might say. There are only two peoples in the world today who understand the meaning of such a statement--the Jews and the Chinese. If it happens that you are neither of these you find yourself in a strange predicament. You are always laughing at the wrong moment; you are considered cruel and heartless when in reality you are only tough and durable.
These clarifications are from Tropic of Capricorn. In Tropic of Cancer, Miller's rant through the "private trenches of the damned" continues, moving closer to a direct critique of Joyce's sexual symbolism. In the intervening pages occur many of the passages I have been analyzing: the clown, Van Norden's "zero" and the "Arabian zero" of the "equation sign," Dostoevski's waggling eyes, and Miller's rephrasing of the opening Emersonian epigraph.
Miller's diatribe concludes in a celebration of the flow of Ulysses, but by way of repudiating Joyce's sexual hierarchy of presence and absence. The critique begins with an invocation of Rabelais whose Pantagruel (1532) and Gargantua (1534) were published, Miller is please to note, four hundred years before Tropic of Cancer. It is from Rabelais that Miller appropriates the violent but, in his usage, affirmative image of the "open wound":
In the four hundred years since the last devouring soul appeared, the last man to know the meaning of ecstasy, there has been a constant and steady decline of man in art, in thought, in action. The world is pooped out: there isn't a dry fart left. Who that has a desperate, hungry eye can have the slightest regard for these existent governments, laws, codes, principles, ideals, ideas, totems, and taboos? If anyone knew what it meant to read the riddle of that thing which today is called a "crack" or a "hole," if anyone had the least feeling of mystery about the phenomena which are labeled "obscene," this world would crack asunder. It is the obscene horror, the dry, fucked-out aspect of things which makes this crazy civilization look like a crater. [....] It is no use putting on rubber gloves; all that can be coolly and intellectually handled belongs to the carapace and a man who is intent on creation always dives beneath, to the open wound, to the festering obscene horror. [....] The dry, fucked-out crater is obscene. More obscene than anything is inertia. More blasphemous than the bloodiest oath is paralysis. If there is only a gaping wound left then it must gush forth though it produce nothing but toads and bats and homunculi.
Everything is packed into a second which is either consummated or not consummated.