There is a paradox to Henry Miller. The two Tropics books are among the foulest books ever written. Cancer is bad enough, but Capricorn gets worse as it goes on and reached depths of vileness which are really indescribable. Miller’s obscenity is not like Lawrence’s obscenity in Lady Chatterly’s Lover , which was meant to be “natural” , unaffected and inspiring. It is more anchored in the French tradition, the astoundingness of a Francois Rabelais or an Aristophanes in the modern context and something that makes Charles Baudelaire’s new urban phenomenon of flaneurs, ragpickers and prostitutes look as wholesome as apple pie. Some obscenity is normal. Much of Miller’s is abnormal; the kind of think that goes on only among the lowest.
Why did Miller write it? Why, for instance, did he trouble to describe himself as going with a miserable prostitute and then stealing the wage he had given her? He has genius. Why does he want to show himself as a swine? He gives several answers to this: the customary flapdoodle about the artist being a separate species of humanity with unique privileges, the nihilist invocation: the bold assertion that the entire world is all wrong and the sooner it is blown up the better; the adolescent notion that sex alone “holds the world together” , and so on.
The line between genius and derangement is often hard to draw, and the literary evidence suggests that he was rubbing against the latter when he wrote those books; lost in mental abstraction, dissolution, with only a tenuous hold on the figurative. Like he was in a painting as the sum of his own destructions trying to connect the shattered pieces that didn’t quite add up and fascinated by a strand of madness, an insanity that defied rational explanation.
When Jung read James Joyce’s Ulysses he said, “good; if he hadn’t written this he would have gone mad.” It seems that the two Tropics represent two different stages in Miller’s abnormality. When they were written he was of a group which we are, in our curious era, the cut of celebrity, as to find more and more fascinating the carazy artist as performer as commodity as symbol acting as a parameter of memory.
And what drove Miller into this condition? You will not find the explanation in Tropic of Cancer: it contains only a description of the middle stages of the malady. The explanation lies in Capricorn. Although there were several convergent causes, the strongest is hinted at within the final thirty pages, as though consciously or unconsciously he had held it back to the very end. It is in a hideous waking dream of his adolescent years:
The faces of those about me were familiar – they were my uterine relatives who, for some mysterious reason, failed to recognize me in this new ambiance. They were garbed in black and the colour of their skin was ash grey, like that of the Tibetan devils. They were all fitted out with knives and other instruments of torture; they belonged to the caste of sacrificial butchers. I seemed to have absolute liberty and the authority of a god, and yet by some capricious turn of events the end would be that I’d be lying on the sacrificial block and one of my charming uterine
relatives would be bending over me with a gleaming knife to cut out my heart. In sweat and terror I would begin to recite “my lessons” in a high, screaming voice, faster and faster, as I felt the knife searching for my heart. Two and two is four,…going faster and faster I go completely off my nut and there is no more pain, no more terror, even though they are piercing me everywhere with knives. Suddenly I am absolutely calm and the body which is lying on the block, which they are still gouging with glee and ecstasy, feels nothing because I, the owner of it, have escaped. I have become a tower of stone which leans over the scene…Read More:http://lib.ru/INPROZ/MILLER/tropikkozerogaengl.txt
Miller says he had two “uterine relatives.” One was an idiot sister, whom his mother used to beat sav
y. The other was his mother. Whose face did he see bending over him with the knife?
( see link at end): Miller found himself surrounded by artists, philosophers, musicians and poets. The outrageously well-read Miller was suddenly in the company of others who’d also read Rabelais and Blake. And of course there were the women, too.
Everything he saw was an inspiration, everything brought the words flowing. He had no money, of course, but that didn’t concern him. As he wrote in ‘Tropic of Cancer’ most famous passage: “I have no money, no resources, no hopes, I am the happiest man alive.” “Paris is like a whore. From a distance she seems ravishing, you can’t wait until you have her in your arms. And five minutes later you feel empty, disgusted with yourself. You feel tricked. I return to Paris with money in my pocket‚ a few hundred francs, which Collins had shoved in my pocket just as I was boarding the train.” —Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer) Read More:http://www.doctorhugo.org/henry/miller.html