5. Anecdote v. Image

We walk split into myriad fragments

Shall I at least set my lands in order?
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land
No sign. Gone. What matter?
He walked back along Dorset street, reading gravely. [....]
Nothing doing. Still an idea behind it. [....]
James Joyce, Ulysses
Henceforward we walk split into myriad fragments [...]; we walk against a united world, asserting our dividedness. All things, as we walk, splitting with us into a myriad iridescent fragments. The great fragmentation of maturity. The great change.
Henry Miller, Black Spring
Mythical thought [...] builds ideological castles out of the debris of what was once a social discourse.
Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind

Like The Waste Land and Ulysses, Miller's Paris narratives may be described as the work of a "bricoleur."[1] Indeed, authorized by the example of Eliot and Joyce--the visible patchwork of their compositions, and its thematization as an ineluctable reflection of the fragmentation and dissolution of modern culture--Miller perhaps took bricolage a step further.[2] In addition to lifting such passages of literature, criticism, and philosophy as are the staple of The Waste Land and Ulysses, he made extensive use of cannibalized portions of his own discarded works, letters, notebooks, and previously published articles and stories. Working simultaneously on Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring, and Tropic of Capricorn in January 1933, he wrote Anaïs Nin:

When you mention the kilo. of notes, I see another book evolving out of thin air, as it were. He works while I sleep. Formidable! I only hope it isn't literature.
I'm well pleased with the metamorphosis of my novel [Crazy Cock] which is now sandwiched into Tropic of Cancer. Such a fraud--and yet it fits marvelously.[3]

Miller's choice of material, extending into the personal, may mark him as more the bricoleur than either Eliot or Joyce, but it is due to the peculiar "fit," not the degree of "fraud," that his novels constitute an alternative modernism, a rival embodiment of the fragmentation and dissolution he, along with his subsequently canonized contemporaries, believed to distinguish modern life.

Miller's constructivist response to the constructivism of Eliot and Joyce reveals modernist bricolage to be not one, but an interlocutory array of techniques. If the fundamental compositional unit of The Waste Land and Ulysses is the image--the mere sign with "still an idea behind it"--the basic building-block of Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring, and Tropic of Capricorn is the anecdote.[4] At stake in the different uses to which these two types of fragment, image and anecdote, lend themselves is more than the question of proper "modern" technique--what would emerge from the 1920s and 1930s to count as "building" and "built." When variations in technique are justified with invocations of historical necessity, as in the discourse of the novel, formal contention invariably enfolds shared and disputed representations, and consequent understandings, of twentieth-century consciousness and urban reality. To read the bricolage of Miller's marginalized work alongside the critically familiarized bricolage of The Waste Land and Ulysses is to recover the extended parameters of technique and ideology with which Tiresias' London and Bloom's Dublin and Miller's Paris, in common, articulate their difference. It is also, inevitably, to inquire whether Lévi-Strauss' very concept of "bricolage" is, after all, sufficiently expansive to encompass the contentious discourse that is twentieth-century literature; whether the Man, the anthropology, of The Savage Mind is not itself built of the debris of the discourse of modernism.

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