Monday, January 08, 2007

The Tropic of Cancer

Preface is usually that part of book which is actually never read but the one for this 1934 novel is a wee bit different in that it is intense and its rehtoric very well laid out.

Here is a book which, if such a thing were possible, might restore our appetitefor the fundamental realities. The predominant note will seem one of bitterness and bitterness there is, to the full. But there is also a wild extravagance. a mad gaiety, a verve, a gusto, at times almost a delirium. A continual oscillation between two extremes, with bare stretches that taste like brass and leave the full flavor of emptiness.It is beyond optimism or pessimism. The author has given us the last frisson. Pain has no more secret recesses.

In a world paralyzed with introspection and constipated by delicate mental meals,this brutal exposure of substantial body comes as a vitalizing current of blood. The violence and obscenity are left unadulterated, as manifestation of the mystery and pain which ever accompanies the act of creation.

The restorative value of experience, prime source of wisdom and creation is reasserted. There remains waste aeas of unfinished thought and action, a bundle of shreds and fibers with which the overactive may strangle themselves.Referring to his Wilhelm Meister Goethe once said: "People seek a central point: that is hard and not even right. I should think a rich, manifold life, brought close to our eyes would be enough without any express tendency; which, after all, is only for the intellect."

The book is sustained on its own axis by the pure flux and rotation of events.Just as there is no central point, so also there is no question of will, but only an obedience to flow.

The gross caricatures are perhaps more vital, "more true to life", than the full potraits of the conventional novel for the reason that the individual today has no centrality and produces not the slightest illusion of wholeness. The characters are integrated to the false,cultural void in which we are drowning; thus is produced the illusion of chaos, to face which requires the ultimate courage.

The humiliations and defeats,given with a primitive honesty,end not in frustration, despair, or futility, but in hunger, an ecstatic, devouring hunger - for more life.The poetic is discovered by stripping away the vestiture of art; by descending to what might be styled "a preartistic level", the durable skeleton of form which is hidden in the phenomena of disintegration appears to be transfigured again in the ever-changing flesh of emotion. The scars are burned away- the scars left by obstetricians of culture.Here is an artist that restablishes the potency of illusion by gaping at open wounds, by courting the stern,pyschological reality which man seeks to avoid through recourse to the oblique symbolism of art.Here the symbols are laid bare, presented almost naively and unblushingly by this overcivilized individual as well as by the well rooted savage.

It is no false primitivism which gives rise to this savage lyricism.. It is not a retrogressive tendency, but a swing forward into unbeaten areas. To regard a naked book such as this with the same critical eye that is turned upon such diverse types as Lawrence, Breton, Joyce and Celine is a mistake. Rather let us try to look at it with the eyes of a patagonian for whom all that is sacred and taboo in our world is meaningless.For the adventure which has brought the authour to the spiritual ends of the earth is the history of evry artist who, in order to express himself, must traverse the intangible gridirons of his imaginary world. The air pockets, the alkali wastes, the crumbling monuments, the putrescent cadavers, the crazy jig and maggot dance, all this forms a grand fresco of our epoch. done with shattering phrases and loud,strident, hammer strokes.

If there is here revealed a capacity to shock, to startle the lifeless ones from their profound slumber, let us congratulate ourselves; for the tragedy of our world is nothing any longer is is capable of rousing it from its lethargy. No more violent dreams, no refreshment, no awakening. In the anaesthesia produced by self-knowledge, life is passing, art is passing, slipping from us: we are drifting with time and our fight is with shadows. We need a blood transfusion.

And it is bloog and flesh which are here given us. Drink, food,laughter,desire,passion,curiosity, the simple realities which nourish the roots of our highest and vaguest creations.The super structure is lopped away. This book brings with it a wind that blows down the dead and hollow trees whose roots are withered and lost in the barren soil of our times.The book goes for the roots and digs under, digs for subterranean springs.
-Anais Nin, 1934

Some say Miller himself penned the above just crediting it to Anais Nin. Either way its pretty powerful. But if you like the man Orwell like I do then you sure would take the following to heart and go buy the book

Miller's books are published by the Obelisk Press in Paris. What will happen to the Obelisk Press, now that war has broken out and Jack Kathane, the publisher, is dead, I do not know, but at any rate the books are still procurable. I earnestly counsel anyone who has not done so to read at least Tropic of Cancer. With a little ingenuity, or by paying a little over the published price, you can get hold of it, and even if parts of it disgust you, it will stick in your memory. It is also an 'important' book, in a sense different from the sense in which that word is generally used. As a rule novels are spoken of as 'important' when they are either a 'terrible indictment' of something or other or when they introduce some technical innovation. Neither of these applies to Tropic of Cancer. Its importance is merely symptomatic. Here in my opinion is the only imaginative prose-writer of the slightest value who has appeared among the English-speaking races for some years past. Even if that is objected to as an overstatement, it will probably be admitted that Miller is a writer out of the ordinary, worth more than a single glance; and after all, he is a completely negative, unconstructive, amoral writer, a mere Jonah, a passive acceptor of evil, a sort of Whitman among the corpses. Symptomatically, that is more significant than the mere fact that five thousand novels are published in England every year and four thousand nine hundred of them are tripe. It is a demonstration of the impossibility of any major literature until the world has shaken itself into its new shape.

-George Orwell

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

what's with the fluctuating between blogs? you might at least give advance warning!!!!