This section contains 11,229 words
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Jane A. Nelson
SOURCE: "Fragmentation and Confession in Tropic of Cancer," in her Form and Image in the Fiction of Henry Miller, Wayne State University Press, 1970, pp. 19-49.
Nelson is an American critic and educator. In the following excerpt, she analyzes the structure of Tropic of Cancer using Jungian theories of unconscious, primitive archetypes and Erich Neumann's writings on ancient myths about the "primordial Great Mother."
The demonic, obsessive quality of the erotic experience in Henry Miller's fiction has been sufficiently recognized, as have the Medusa characteristics of his women. This recognition, however, has not led his critics to examine the formal functions these darker aspects of the erotic have in his work. Kingsley Widmer in his remarks on Miller's obsession with the Dark Lady even asserts the contrary, arguing [in his Henry Miller, 1963] that this important theme does not provide a significant measure of concentration in individual works. Instead, in a chapter devoted to an analysis of Tropic of Cancer, he finds the disorder of Miller's world the only important ordering principle:
If the discrete fragments, as in the first two chapters of Tropic of Cancer, seem beyond order, then the very disorder, by imitative form, gives the quality of his "anecdotal life."
Probably the term fragmentation best describes what happens in these first two chapters of Cancer, but not in the sense Widmer intends when he charges that this and the following sections have no formal unity. The moments sharply and brutally created by the imagery are not as entirely discrete as Widmer finds them. Many of them are part of a constellation of images revealing the outlines of a single archetypal image. The presentation of these images may be described as an attempt to dramatize the hero's confrontation with the archetypal and primordial figures of the Terrible Mother, the negative aspect of the Great Mother archetype described by Jung and others from their studies of myth, literature, religion, and clinical phenomena. Erich Neumann's account of the psychological process of fragmentation [in The Origins and History of Consciousness, 1954] suggests the parallel literary process in Tropic of Cancer through which this archetypal figure begins to emerge:
The power of the primordial Great Mother archetype rests on the original state where everything is intermingled and undifferentiated, not to be grasped because ever in flux. Only later do images emerge from this basal unity, forming a group of related archetypes and symbols revolving about this indescribable center. The wealth of images, qualities, and symbols is essentially a product of the fragmentation effected by a consciousness which perceives, discriminates, divides, and registers from a distance. Determinatio est negatio. The multiplicity of images corresponds to a multiplicity of possible attitudes and possible reactions of consciousness, contrasted with the original total-reaction that seizes upon primitive man.
The overpowering dynamism of the archetype is now held in check: it no longer releases paroxysms of dread, madness, ecstasy, delirium, and death. The unbearable white radiance of primordial light is broken up by the prism of consciousness into a multicolored rainbow of images and symbols. Thus from the image of the Great Mother the Good Mother is split off, recognized by consciousness, and established in the conscious world as a value. The other part, the Terrible Mother, is in our culture repressed and largely excluded from the conscious world.
The archetype appears in groups of symbols, some human, some not:
Delayed reaction and de-emotionalization run parallel to this splitting of the archetype into groups of symbols. The ego ceases to be over-whelmed as consciousness becomes more capable of assimilating and understanding the individual symbols. The world grows clearer, orientation is more possible, and consciousness is enlarged. An anonymous and amorphous primal deity is inconceivably frightful; it is stupendous and unapproachable, incomprehensible and impossible to manipulate. The ego experiences its formlessness as something inhuman and hostile, if indeed it ever tackles the impossible task of experiencing it. So we often find an inhuman god at the beginning in the form of a beast, or some horrid anomaly and monster of miscegenation. These hideous creatures are expressions of the ego's inability to experience the featurelessness of the primal deity. The more anthropomorphic the world of gods becomes, the closer it is to the ego and the more it loses its overwhelming character. The Olympian gods are far more human and familiar than the primeval goddess of chaos.
I am making extensive use of this convenient correlation between mythology and psychology for two reasons. First, Neumann's explanation of the fragmentation of the archetype describes one significant and controlling aspect of form in Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer: the movement from a vaguely defined and surrealistically expressed representation of the Terrible Mother to a more sharply focused but stylized description of human figures who represent the archetype and establish the patterns by which the I can become aware of its relationships to these chthonic forces. Second, Neumann's description of the process by which the contents of the psyche are made available to consciousness defines and reveals precisely the nature of confession and anatomy as Miller employs these forms.
Many readers of Miller's fiction have understood that they were reading an account of the author's life, close to actual in some instances. His intimate disclosures of sexual activity are still dear to the cultist who wishes to attack American puritanism. But it is necessary to take seriously his comments on Tropic of Cancer in The World of Sex: "Liberally larded with the sexual as was that work, the concern of its author was not with sex, nor with religion, but with the problem of self-liberation." To define the nature of this self-liberation is more difficult than seems immediately apparent.
The question of Miller's form, moreover, becomes important if one recognizes in his work an unmasking of the contents of the unconscious. Simon O. Lesser suggests [in Fiction and the Unconscious, 1957] that Miller fails as a writer because he fails to "disguise and control" his revelations. His fictional unconscious brings us too close to the real:
In its zeal to do justice to our repressed tendencies fiction is in constant danger of overstating the case for them. Particularly if it does this too directly, with a minimum of disguise and control—we think at once of such a writer as Henry Miller—it is likely to arouse aversion rather than pleasure. But it is not always easy to say whether a work of fiction or a reader is responsible for a failure of this sort. A work which in the perspective of time may seem well balanced may cause us to recoil because it insists on telling us more of the truth, above all more of the truth about ourselves, than we are prepared to accept.
The control and disguise exercised by form will not be recognized in Miller if one approaches his fiction expecting the conventions of novel and romance. Even George Orwell, whose essay on Miller ["Inside the Whale"] remains one of the best, insists that the tempo and narrative method of Cancer are those of the novel. He does recognize that Cancer is fiction, however, not autobiography.
Kingsley Widmer castigates Miller for failing as a novelist, objecting to the weakness of Miller's narrative patterns and to his lack of narrative coherence. He finds the surrealistic episodes simply escapes from reality lacking relevance in structures of individual works. He objects to characterization which does not provide sufficient "past, future, and depth" for the characters. Nor can he accept Miller's own shady moral character.
For several reasons, such a response to Miller must miss or distort whatever formal elements might be available to analysis. Widmer, for example, overlooks the significance of the seasons in Cancer, the descent into winter and the return to spring, which serve to organize the work more than may be immediately apparent. One cannot insist on a past or a future for his characters, moreover, because many are deliberate abstractions identified by stylized analyses of their weaknesses. Others are images of archetypes. His surrealistic episodes are not an escape from the reality of a dirty Paris and the everyday monotony of Bohemian existence (a reality which is not external at all—Paris, for example, has only symbolic existence), but a movement into an inner reality in which certain images bring us close to the archetypes Jung described. Here the fragmentation described by Neumann is especially operative.
In neither confession nor anatomy, as Northrop Frye has pointed out [in The Anatomy of Criticism, 1957], is narrative pattern the important means of organization; hence, to insist on sustained narrative in Miller is irrelevant. In confession, the coherence of the author's character and attitudes and his integration of the significant events in his life provide the fictional pattern. In anatomy, moreover, people are not people, but representatives of mental attitudes. To insist on realistic characterization in such a form is also irrelevant. In neither form is the actual structure of society a concern, as it is for the novelist. Much more remains to be said on all these points in connection with Cancer. But at the beginning it is necessary to consider formal devices not usually identified with the analysis of the novel. Fragmentation is such a device.
The fragmentation of the Archetypal Feminine permits Miller to present or bring into "consciousness" the chthonic forces of the unconscious which are, according to Jung, symbolized by the feminine. Miller's I must come to terms with these forces before it can be liberated or integrated. In fact, it is by means of this fragmentation that the events in the "author's" life are integrated and the requirements of the confession form are met. The literary presence of the Great Mother figure is manifested not only in human forms, but in almost all congeries of images in Cancer, including the inorganic and animal. These elemental symbols of the Archetypal Feminine are more important in Tropic of Cancer than in Capricorn, in which a later stage in the process of the integration of the I is dramatized.
The central symbol of the Archetypal Feminine in Cancer is not a human figure but Paris itself. Miller's world is a city world. But his harlot-thronged streets and filthy alleys do not provide the reader with a tourist's guide to a Paris nether world. In passage after passage the symbolic significance of the city emerges with such insistence that a real Paris never appears. This characteristic led one of Miller's critics [Homer K. Nicholson, Jr.] to complain [in his Ph.D. dissertation "O Altitudo: A comparison of the writings of Walt Whitman, D. H. Lawrence, and Henry Miller," 1957] that Miller is incapable of developing a sense of place:
So extreme is this defect that it is often difficult to remember which of the Tropics deals with Paris, and which one with New York. When Miller describes a scene, he injects so many of his personal intellectual responses that the scene scarcely exists as a visual entity any longer.
Frank Kermode, who recognized that Miller's Paris is pointedly symbolic, saw the city [in Puzzles and Epiphanies, 1962] as representative of twentieth-century American and European civilization, especially (and oddly) the "puritan cultures" of the North. However, his subsequent insight—the basic situation is that of the artist in a slum civilization—is too narrowly sociological. Interpretations which see Miller's nightmare city-world as symbolic of the diseased cultures of an unfortunate century do not explain why his descriptions of this city-world reproduce it almost exclusively in images and symbols that are traditional representations of the Archetypal Feminine.
Womb, cave, underworld, city, house, abyss, sea, and fountain are elemental symbols of the Archetypal Feminine. As a maternal symbol, the city is the harborer of her inhabitants But the faithful city can also become a harlot, the diseased organism that Miller describes:
The city sprouts out like a huge organism diseased in every part, the beautiful thoroughfares only a little less repulsive because they have been drained of their pus.
Miller's Paris is also a womb, the belly of the whale into which the artist must descend before he can be reborn or transformed:
After leaving the Pension Orfila that afternoon I went to the library and there, after bathing in the Ganges and pondering over the signs of the zodiac, I began to reflect on the meaning of that inferno which Strindberg had so mercilessly depicted. And, as I ruminated, it began to grow clear to me, the mystery of his pilgrimage, the flight which the poet makes over the face of the earth, and then, as if he had been ordained to reenact a lost drama, the heroic descent to the very bowels of the earth, the dark and fearsome sojourn in the belly of the whale, the bloody struggle to liberate himself, to emerge clean of the past, a bright, gory sun god cast up on an alien shore. It was no mystery to me any longer why he and others (Dante, Rabelais, Van Gogh, etc., etc.) had made their pilgrimage to Paris. I understood then why it is that Paris attracts the tortured, the hallucinated, the great maniacs of love.
The journey into the belly of the whale is fraught with danger, for the female figure is terrible as the representative of death for the individual. For Jung the belly of the whale is the land of the dead where the monster Mother figure must be conquered before transformation or rebirth can occur.
The Feminine is the belly-vessel as woman and also as earth. She is the vessel of doom, guiding the nocturnal course of the stars through the underworld; she is the belly of the "whale-dragon," which, as in the story of Jonah, swallows the sun hero every night in the west; she is "the destroyer at eventide."
The Great Mother as Terrible Goddess of the earth and of death is herself the earth, in which things rot. The Earth Goddess is "the devourer of the dead bodies of mankind" and the "mistress and lady of the tomb." Like Gaea, the Greek Earth Mother, she is mistress of the vessel and at the same time the great underworld vessel itself, into which the dead souls enter, and out of which they fly up again. [Erich Neumann, The Great Mother, 1963]
Such is the significance of the remainder of the passage in Cancer in which Miller compares his sojourn in Paris to the journey into the belly of the whale:
One walks the streets knowing that he is mad, possessed, because it is only too obvious that these cold, indifferent faces are the visages of one's keepers. Here all boundaries fade away and the world reveals itself for the mad slaughterhouse that it is. The treadmill stretches away to infinitude, the hatches are closed down tight, logic runs rampant, with bloody cleaver flashing. The air is chill and stagnant, the language apocalyptic. Not an exit sign anywhere; no issue save death. A blind alley at the end of which is a scaffold.
An eternal city, Paris! More eternal than Rome, more splendorous than Nineveh. The very navel of the world to which, like a blind and faltering idiot, one crawls back on hands and knees. And like a cork that has drifted finally to the dead center of the ocean, one floats here in the scum and wrack of the seas, listless, hopeless, headless even of a passing Columbus. The cradles of civilization are the putrid sinks of the world, the charnel house to which the stinking wombs confide their bloody packages of flesh and bone.
The first descriptions of the city to appear in Cancer are found in section one, in what may fairly be called intense, separate, and distinct moments.
But there is a substratum to be explored in these first two disorderly sections of Cancer. We are moving in a twilight world of semi-consciousness, and symbolic relationships among the numerous images can be mapped.
In the first two descriptions of Paris, for example, the traditional symbols of the Archetypal Feminine appear and hence the forces of the unconscious which the Feminine represents. In the first of these passages the city is realized as a watery, darkening world in which spider web and serpent figures are dimly suggested:
Twilight hour. Indian blue, water of glass, trees glistening and liquescent. The rails fall away into the canal at Jaurès. The long caterpillar with lacquered sides dips like a roller coaster. It is not Paris. It is not Coney Island. It is a crepuscular melange of all the cities of Europe and Central America. The railroad yards below me, the tracks black, webby, not ordered by the engineer but cataclysmic in design, like those gaunt fissures in the polar ice which the camera registers in degrees of black.
The theriomorphic emblem of the spider appears throughout Cancer associated with the female figure: "… I could no more think of loving Germaine that I could think of loving a spider; and if I was faithful, it was not to Germaine but to that bushy thing she carried between her legs." Elsewhere Miller describes "the great sprawling mothers of Picasso, their breasts covered with spiders, their legend hidden deep in the labyrinth." Erich Neumann discusses the symbolism of spider and web in connection with the witch characteristics of the negative Mother: "Net and noose, spider, and the octopus with its ensnaring arms are here the appropriate symbols." He points out that these images appear in situations in which an individual is struggling to free himself from the Great Mother. Jung, commenting on the significance of this symbol, fixed its meaning for the passage we have been examining: "The center of the unconscious process is … often pictured as a spider in its web, especially when the conscious attitude is still dominated by fear of unconscious processes" [The Collected Works, Vol. XII: Psychology and Alchemy, 1953]. An example of this symbolism in Jung's text is similar to the formation of the symbol in Miller's passage; a section from the frontispiece of a collection of Brahminic sayings is reproduced, showing a web encircled by the uroboros, the figure of the snake biting its tail. The parallel is not as important here as the observation that serpent, water, and spider—traditional symbols of the Archetypal Feminine—are the symbols chosen for the first impression of Paris and are symbols which appear again and again in connection with the city. Whenever the movement in Cancer is toward a "surreal" description of events or psychic states, these symbols and other equally important ones emerge. And they are related to the movement toward the frozen, motionless world of ice developed at great length in the episode when Miller visits Dijon, the penultimate episode of the book.
In the second passage describing Paris in the first section of Cancer equally significant images appear:
Indigo sky swept clear of fleecy clouds, gaunt trees infinitely extended, their black boughs gesticulating like a sleepwalker. Somber, spectral trees, their trunks pale as cigar ash … For the moment I can think of nothing—except that I am a sentient being stabbed by the miracle of these waters that reflect a forgotten world. All along the banks [of the Seine] the trees lean heavily over the tarnished mirror; when the wind rises and fills them with a rustling murmur they will shed a few tears and shiver as the water swirls by. I am suffocated by it. No one to whom I can communicate even a fraction of my feelings….
The mixed figures of speech destroy any illusion of an actual scene, and it is only in context that the river described can be identified as the Seine. The scene is experienced entirely in terms of the observer's reactions to images of sky, water, trees, and wind. These images produce a sense of isolation and of suffocation. The I is aware of feelings which cannot be communicated. But the symbols have important traditional values which are unmistakably involved here. [In The Collected Works, Vol. IX, Part I: The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, 1959] Jung has identified water as "the commonest symbol of the unconscious. The lake in the valley is the unconscious, which lies, as it were, underneath consciousness, so that is often referred to as the 'subconscious'…." Water is also one of the most persistent archetypal symbols of the maternal and the feminine. The Archetypal Feminine is identified by Jung with the positive forces of the unconscious: "The water that the mother, the unconscious, pours into the basin belonging to the anima is an excellent symbol for the living power of the psyche." But the unconscious is also the terrifying and destructive Terrible Mother.
In the passage in which Miller walks along the Seine, he is walking along a dreadful river—a tarnished mirror, lined by somber and spectral trees, trees that shiver in the wind that rises and fills them. Jung has described the archetypal pattern of such experience as the apprehension of the autonomous nature of the spirit rushing over dark waters. The mirror at the bottom of the water is the unconscious into which consciousness must look. Jung comments on the need for this experience in the symbolically impoverished twentieth century:
Whoever has elected for the state of spiritual poverty, the true heritage of Protestantism carried to its logical conclusion, goes the way of the soul that leads to the water. This water is no figure of speech, but a living symbol of the dark psyche.
The appropriateness of these comments for Miller's quest, although their language is perhaps too religious or vaguely "mystical" for literary analysis, is confirmed by the over whelming repetition of such experience in Cancer.
The city scenes of Cancer represent only one group of symbols which make the figure of the archetypal Terrible Mother available to the consciousness of the I. The process of fragmentation also produces monstrous female figures which combine animal and human features or coalesce with the streets and buildings of the city itself. The symbolic role of the city as representative of the Archetypal Feminine is verified in these figures, for the identification of the two permits them to coalesce, the parts of the female revealing the feminine significance of the city. Such almost human figures belong to the grotesque iconography of Miller's world, and in their archetypal dimension are interchangeable with images of the city scene:
Tania is a fever, too—les voies urinaires, Café de la Liberté, Place des Vosges, bright neckties on the Boulevard Montparnasse, dark bathrooms, Porto Sec, Abdullah cigarettes, the adagio sonata Pathétique, aural amplificators, anecdotal seances, burnt sienna breasts, heavy garters, what time is it, golden pheasants stuffed with chestnuts, taffeta fingers, vaporish twilights turning to ilex, acromegaly, cancer and delirium, warm veils, poker chips, carpets of blood and soft thighs.
The destruction of spatial barriers between entities is even more apparent in the description of Llona:
She had a German mouth, French ears, Russian ass. Cunt international. When the flag waved it was red all the way back to the throat. You entered on the Boulevard Jules-Ferry and came out at the Porte de la Villette. You dropped your sweetbreads into the tumbrils—red tumbrils with two wheels, naturally. At the confluence of the Ourcq and Marne, where the water sluices through the dikes and lies like glass under the bridges. Llona is lying there now and the canal is full of glass and splinters; the mimosas weep, and there is a wet, foggy fart on the windowpanes.
Several of these visually fragmented female figures appear in the twilight consciousness of section one in Tropic of Cancer. By different names—Tania, Irène, Llona—they are manifestations of a devouring, castrating, chthonic Aphrodite, fascinating and deadly aspects of the Terrible Feminine. But their effect on the I can be positive: Tania is equated with chaos, which is destructive but also the source of the writer's inspiration. Her "Jewishness" makes her both fascinating and hateful. Irène is another deadly figure: "The trouble with Irène is that she has a valise instead of a cunt. She wants fat letters to shove in her valise." The letters here are creative efforts, productions, aspects of the individual which are devoured. Of Llona:
Men went inside her and curled up…. She would cut off your prick and keep it inside her forever, if you gave her permission…. her tongue was full of lice and tomorrows. Poor Carol, he could only curl up inside her and die. She drew a breath and he fell out—like a dead clam.
The roles of these figures as wives and mistresses in the Bohemian fringe world Miller appears to inhabit are incidental to their function as symbols of the unconscious. They share this function with the city.
Like the whores and hags which throng the streets of Miller's Paris, these women are stylized by terms which insist on outlining their sexual functions. Scientific or discreet references to human anatomy could scarcely serve as effectively to underline the sexual characteristics of the human figure. Such stylization emphasizes their symbolic possibilities as efficiently for the contemporary reader as did the crude reproductions of the female exposing herself carved on the doorways of Irish churches or the ritual exhibitionism of an Etruscan goddess for those in other ages. The terms used are not those of the medical textbook, which would suggest a dead world of clinical abstractions. On the contrary, in certain circumstances they are quite ordinary and would pass unnoticed. Only in a literary context from which they are ordinarily excluded can they serve to effect the kind of stylization needed to render the significance of these half-realized figures. For the figures themselves are taboo.
The Gorgonesque quality of the chthonic feminine is clearly recognized in the figure of Mona, a character of even greater significance in Tropic of Capricorn. She never becomes a realistically developed character, for it is the outline of her symbolic role that is important. In her manifestation in Cancer, she belongs to the same configuration of images as the other female figures and the city. Like Aphrodite, she rises
… out of a sea of faces and embraces me, embraces me passionately—a thousand eyes, fingers, legs, bottles, windows, purses, saucers all glaring at us and we in each other's arms oblivious. I sit down beside her and she talks—a flood of talk. Wild consumptive notes of hysteria, perversion, leprosy. I hear not a word because she is beautiful and I love her and now I am happy and willing to die.
The "sea" from which she rises is itself created from a number of non-human symbols of the Feminine. In a later passage her Gorgonesque nature is revealed:
I wake from a deep slumber to look at her. A pale light is trickling in. I look at her beautiful wild hair. I feel something crawling down my neck. I look at her again, closely. Her hair is alive. I pull back the sheet—more of them. They are swarming over the pillow.
The figure of the Gorgon is one of the most familiar representations of the Terrible Mother in ancient mythology, and the symbolism of this figure is intimately related to the significance of the other symbols I have pointed out:
Among the symbols of the devouring chasm we must count the womb in its frightening aspect, the numinous heads of the Gorgon and the Medusa, the woman with beard and phallus, and the male-eating spider. The open womb is the devouring symbol of the uroboric mother, especially when connected with phallic symbols. The gnashing mouth of the Medusa with its boar's tusks betrays these features most plainly, while the protruding tongue is obviously connected with the phallus. The snapping—i.e., castrating—womb appears as the jaws of hell, and the serpents writhing round the Medusa's head are not personalistic—pubic hairs—but aggressive phallic elements characterizing the fearful aspect of the uroboric womb. The spider can be classified among this group of symbols, not only because it devours the male after coitus, but because it symbolizes the female in general, who spreads nets for the unwary male. [Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness]
The crawling vermin in Mona's hair, the serpents and spiders, the lice and bedbugs of the "filthy" scenes of Tropic of Cancer represent only a few of the important theriomorphic images in the book, but images peculiarly appropriate to the demonic world of the Terrible Feminine. [In The Grotesque in Art and Literature, 1963] Wolfgang Kayser has noted their appearance as one of the distinguishing motifs of grotesque literature:
Certain animals are especially suitable to the grotesque—snakes, owls, toads, spiders—the nocturnal and creeping animals which inhabit realms apart from and inaccessible to man. Partly for the same reason (to which their uncertain origin is added) the same observation applies to vermin.
The appropriateness of the images is clear if we remember Kayser's final definition of the grotesque as "an attempt to invoke and subdue the demonic aspects of the world." It is the power and scenery of this world that Miller's fragmentation is attempting to describe in Tropic of Cancer. The demonic underworld is inescapable. It is another "fragment" in which the Archetypal Feminine, the persistent symbol of the unconscious and its dangerous but fecund character, appears.
Often the filthy world in which these vermin thrive erupts, like the autonomous and powerful unconscious, into the world of cleanliness and order, as in the opening section of Cancer:
I am living at the Villa Borghese. There is not a crumb of dirt anywhere, nor a chair misplaced. We are all alone here and we are dead.
Last night Boris discovered that he was lousy. I had to shave his armpits and even then the itching did not stop. How can one get lousy in a beautiful place like this? But no matter. We might never have known each other so intimately, Boris and I, had it not been for the lice.
The filthy world is necessary to the "sterile world," for without it, fertility, creation, and life are impossible. At the end of the first section, Mona and Miller leave the "filthy" Paris hotel for the Hôtel des Etats-Unis: "No more bedbugs now. The rainy season has commenced. The sheets are immaculate." But encounters with the demonic world are dangerous and unpleasant. Just before an important scene in which the hero confronts the surrealistically developed figure of the Terrible Feminine, the filthy world is described in terms which register his fear and aversion:
When I sit down to eat I always sit near the window. I am afraid to sit on the other side of the table—it is too close to the bed and the bed is crawling. I can see bloodstains on the gray sheets as I look that way, but I try not to look that way. I look out on the courtyard where they are rinsing the slop pails.
The crawling vermin belong to the archetype of the Terrible Mother, clearly apparent in the serpentine hair of the Gorgonesque Mona.
Much of the animal imagery also belongs to the primordial world of the Great Mother archetype and thronging animal images in Tropic of Cancer are one of the means by which Miller dramatizes twilight states of consciousness. Even the theriomorphic significance in the title of the book is appropriate to its thematic concerns. Cancer, the crab, is first of all a feminine sign in the zodiac. It is the sign in which the sun begins to retreat and the days grow shorter, a cold sign. Jung speaks of its significance in astrology as "feminine and watery." Cancer is also the house of the moon, Luna, believed to secrete the dew or sap of life, and when all the planets are in Cancer, the end of the world by water will occur.
Not all of the animal images in Tropic of Cancer delineate or belong to the archetypes of the Great Mother or the Terrible Mother, however. The animal figures or images can also be the symbolic carriers of the archetype of the self, Jung's "supraordinate personality" which includes the unconscious as well as the "ego":
Because of its unconscious component the self is so far removed from the conscious mind that it can only be partially expressed by human figures; the other part of it has to be expressed by objective, abstract symbols. The human figures are father and son, mother and daughter, king and queen, god and goddess. Theriomorphic symbols are the dragon, snake, elephant, lion, bear, and other powerful animals, or again the spider, crab, butterfly, beetle, worm, etc. Plant symbols are generally flowers (lotus and rose). These lead on to geometrical figures like the circle, the sphere, the square, the quaternity, the clock, the firmament, and so on. The indefinite extent of the unconscious component makes a comprehensive description of the human personality impossible. Accordingly, the unconscious supplements the picture with living figures ranging from the animal to the divine, as the two extremes outside man, and rounds out the animal extreme, through the addition of vegetable and inorganic abstractions, into a microcosm. These addenda have a high frequency in anthropomorphic divinities, where they appear as "attributes."
However, among those which appear in section one of Cancer—and the list is long—many symbolize or "decorate" the world of the Archetypal Feminine. In the following passage, for example, the lion is emblematic of the forces which destroy the figure of the over-intellectualized Jew who refuses to recognize their reality:
There are people who cannot resist the desire to get into a cage with wild beasts and be mangled. They go in even without revolver or whip…. [The Jew's] courage is so great that he does not even smell the dung in the corner. The spectators applaud but he does not hear. The drama, he thinks, is going on inside the cage. The cage, he thinks, is the world. Standing there alone and helpless, the door locked, he finds that the lions do not understand his language. Not one lion has ever heard of Spinoza. Spinoza? Why they can't even get their teeth into him. "Give us meat!" they roar, while he stands there petrified, his ideas frozen, his Weltanschauung a trapeze out of reach. A single blow of the lion's paw and his cosmogony is smashed.
As a primordial image of powerful forces—forces which oppose the independence of consciousness—the lion is a primitive symbol frequently associated with the figure of the Great Mother, often in her terrible aspect as goddess of night, evil, and death. To single out one image for comment, however, only draws attention to the entire complex of animal images in Miller's prose and their significance for the process of fragmentation in Miller's development of the confession.
The male figures of Tropic of Cancer are the subject of later discussion except that I wish to point out here that their significance in Cancer is not in their social roles of Jewish intellectual or Bohemian playboy but in their relationship to the chthonic feminine. Castration, dismemberment, and mutilation are the motifs which define this relationship in the descriptions of Paris and the accounts of various male "characters." The narrator draws attention to A Man Cut in Slices, the title of a book placed in a Paris shop window. In a dream he sees Van Norden, one of the important male figures, "about to walk away when suddenly he notices that his penis is lying on the sidewalk. It is about the size of a sawed-off broom-stick." Paris streets "remind one of nothing less than a big chancrous cock laid open longitudinally."
It is the relationship with a smothering, castrating, dismembering aspect of the Terrible Feminine that is important in Miller's description of Moldorf, who appears briefly in sections one and two. The archetypal nature of this relationship is underlined by the characteristics of Moldorf: Moldorf, Miller writes, is God. He is a dwarf: "Moldorf, multiform and unerring, goes through his roles—clown, juggler, contortionist, priest, lecher, mountebank." His fate is to be symbolically dismembered in a fantasy scene in section two which ends when his wife Fanny consumes him: "There is something inside her, tickling, and tickling." The entire scene, the figure of the dwarf himself, produces a curious melange of images and events that appear to justify one critic's characterization of Miller's fiction as an "overflowing surrealist cocktail" [Isaac Rosenfeld, "Henry Miller," in An Age of Enormity, 1962].
But reduced to its elements, the archetypal pattern emerges. The devouring destructive Feminine is represented in Moldorf's life by a domestic and conventional wife. But she shares with her whorish sisters in Cancer a destructive role described in almost the same terms as the others I have mentioned. Moldorf's "fate," his dwarf's stature, his designation as "God"—even perhaps Miller's choice of the sacred dung-beetle image to describe him (the Egyptian scarab was the emblem of the sun as the God who begets himself)—suggest an archetypal pattern familiar in the mythology of the Great Mother. Moldorf is the companion God of the Great Mother:
The young men whom the Mother selects for her lovers may impregnate her, they may even be fertility gods, but the fact remains that they are only phallic consorts of the Great Mother, drones serving the queen bee, who are killed off as soon as they have performed their duty of fecundation.
For this reason these youthful companion gods always appear in the form of dwarfs. The pygmies who were worshiped in Cyprus, Egypt, and Phoenicia—all territories of the Great Mother—display their phallic character just like the Dioscuri, the Cabiri, and the Dactyls, including even the figure of Harpocrates. [Neumann, The Origins of Consciousness]
The young God-dwarf was killed or castrated as soon as he performed his function of fecundating the Great Mother:
Death and dismemberment or castration are the fate of the phallus-bearing, youthful god. Both are clearly visible in myth and ritual, and both are associated with bloody orgies in the cult of the Great Mother.
Moldorf's experience is similar to Van Norden's:
"I tell you, when she climbs over me I can hardly get my arms around it. It blots out the whole world. She makes me feel like a little bug crawling inside her." [Tropic of Cancer]
Moldorf is the traditional homunculus, belonging, as does the satyr Van Norden, to the figure of the Terrible Mother and representing one of the "human" figures in terms of which the power of the Terrible Goddess is demonstrated.
I have been speaking somewhat indiscriminately of the Great Mother and the Terrible Mother archetypes as representation of the Archetypal Feminine. Although they are related, these figures should be separated insofar as their "literary presence" is important for an analysis of the fragmentation of archetypes in Tropic of Cancer. For the Jungian psychoanalyst, the archetype an sich cannot be visually represented, and I am describing only the "perceptible, actualized representation or 'archetypal image." The attempts to make the archetype perceptible to consciousness through a variety of images is called fragmentation, a term I have borrowed to describe the proliferation of
Yet such focus and "unity" are familiar formal characteristics of works of literature. If at the end of this study the reader is convinced that the images and experiences analyzed can be described acceptably in Jungian terms, then he may also be willing to see in the total form of Miller's work a unified allegorical structure. Miller's technical problem was one of making archetypal processes and experiences plausible to his audience. This he accomplishes in part by creating the illusion of a twentieth-century city world in which his isolated protagonist wanders on an endless "quest." The nature of this city world, however, is clearly archetypal, rendered in images which reveal the character of the Archetypal Feminine, the most inclusive term of those I have used. In Tropic of Cancer these images are traditionally those which have symbolized the archetype in myth, dreams, literature, and art. They appear in several strata.
The least ordered of these projections produces the archetype in elemental terms:
The world around me is dissolving, leaving here and there spots of time. The world is a cancer eating itself away…. I am thinking that when the great silence descends upon all and everywhere music will at last triumph. When into the womb of time everything is again withdrawn chaos will be restored and chaos is the score upon which reality is written. You, Tania, are my chaos. It is why I sing. It is not even I, it is the world dying, shedding the skin of time. I am still alive, kicking in your womb, a reality to write upon.
The symbolism of this passage is that of the Great Round, the womb of chaos; even the figure of the circular snake that bites its own tail is suggested in the cancer eating itself away and the world that sheds its skin of time. Spatial entities do not exist in the "womb of time." This chaos is fertile for the self, "the score upon which reality is written."
This symbolism develops into the differentiated symbolism of the Archetypal Feminine, which has both negative and positive significance: tomb and womb, underworld and cave; symbols of containing and protection such as shield, veil, bowl, grail, earth, and water. When human forms, however monstrous, begin to emerge in the symbolic representations of the Feminine, the Terrible Mother appears in the Gorgons and other destructive goddess figures; the Good Mother appears in quite different projections. All of these projections are manifestations of aspects of the transpersonal unconscious, especially the negative forces of the unconscious, which are seen as feminine antagonists to the efforts of consciousness to free itself. Moreover, these figures are alternately frightening and fascinating. From the unconscious, with its intermingling of positive and negative forces, must flow not only what is evil, but what is vital. The integration of the individual, the transformation of the artist "in the belly of the whale," the confrontation of the deadly aspects of the Feminine and the escape from them—these are the patterns into which the images of Miller's confession are arranged.
The I cannot escape confrontations with the deadly aspects of the Archetypal Feminine. In Cancer, the androgynous, Gorgonesque figure at the center of Paris, who first appears in Miller's description of the Lesbian Madame Delorme, reappears in a later surrealist episode unmistakably parallel to the first. In his encounter with Madame Delorme, he must penetrate deep into a palace in the city:
How I ever got to Madame Delorme's I can't imagine any more. But I got there, got inside somehow, past the butler, past the maid with her little white apron, got right inside the palace with my corduroy trousers and my hunting jacket—and not a button on my fly. Even now I can taste again the golden ambiance of that room where Madame Delorme sat upon a throne in her mannish rig, the goldfish in the bowls, the maps of the ancient world, the beautifully bound books; I can feel again her heavy hand resting upon my shoulder, frightening me a little with her heavy Lesbian air.
All the symbolic possibilities of this scene are realized in the later episode:
Standing in the courtyard with a glass eye; only half the world is intelligible. The stones are wet and mossy and in the crevices are black toads. A big door bars the entrance to the cellar; the steps are slippery and soiled with bat dung. The door bulges and sags, the hinges are falling off, but there is an enameled sign on it, in perfect condition, which says: "Be sure to close the door." Why close the door? I can't make it out. I look again at the sign but it is removed; in its place there is a pane of colored glass. I take out my artificial eye, spit on it and polish it with my handkerchief. A woman is sitting on a dais above an immense carven desk; she has a snake around her neck. The entire room is lined with books and strange fish swimming in colored globes; there are maps and charts on the wall, maps of Paris before the plague, maps of the antique world, of Knossus and Carthage, of Carthage before and after the salting. In the corner of the room I see an iron bedstead and on it a corpse is lying; the woman gets up wearily, removes the corpse from the bed and absent-mindedly throws it out the window. She returns to the huge carven desk, takes a goldfish from the bowl and swallows it. Slowly the room begins to revolve and one by one the continents slide into the sea; only the woman is left, but her body is a mass of geography.
Miller's familiarity with the experiments of surrealism may have influenced his choice of images here, but the relationship with the earlier scene would argue against considering it an irrelevant literary exercise. The symbols clearly outline the archetype of the Terrible Feminine:
The terrible aspect of the Feminine always includes the uroboric snake woman, the woman with the phallus, the unity of child bearing and begetting, of life and death. The Gorgon is endowed with every male attribute: the snake, the tooth, the boar's tusks, the out-thrust tongue, and sometimes even with a beard.
In Greece the Gorgon as Artemis-Hecate is also the mistress of the night road, of fate, and of the world of the dead. As Enodia she is the guardian of crossroads and gates, and as Hecate she is the snake-entwined moon goddess of ghosts and the dead….
… As Good Mother, she is mistress of the East Gate, the gate of birth; as Terrible Mother, she is mistress of the West Gate, the gate of death, the engulfing entrance to the underworld. Gate, door, gully, ravine, abyss are the symbols of the feminine earth-womb; they are the numinous places that mark the road into the mythical darkness of the underworld. [Neumann, The Great Mother]
This is the enthroned, androgynous, frightening figure that Miller descends to meet symbolically in the cellar of a Paris courtyard. A mistress of the dead, deep in cave or palace, behind doors, a figure that can coalesce with continents that slide into the sea (itself one of the most persistent symbols of the Feminine)—here in many of its manifestations is the archetypal figure of the Terrible Feminine. The motif of swallowing underscores the deadliness of this figure for the I is symbolized by the fish in its womb-like vessel. Another ancient symbol of the self, the eye, appears in this passage. In the "courtyard," however, the eye is inadequate—a glass eye that sees only half the world.
Miller's ubiquitous mistress of the dead, her body a mass of geography, is a figure of fantasy; her symbolic trappings belong to the surreal world. But in the passages immediately preceding the cellar scene, the androgynous figure is suggested by the "character" Olga, apparently a part of the "real" world, the filthy Paris which both attracts and repels the I, filled as it is with the odors of rancid butter and halitosis, crawling with vermin and misshapen human figures. It is a Paris in which Miller sees Notre Dame rising like a tomb from the water.
The figure of Olga is unmistakably marked by masculine characteristics and even plays a masculine role in the filthy world, although the maternal, providing role of the Archetypal Feminine figure—its positive aspect—is more apparent than the destructive:
It was just a few days ago that Olga got out of the hospital where she had her tubes burned out and lost a little excess weight. However she doesn't look as if she had gone through much suffering. She weighs almost as much as a camelbacked locomotive; she drips with perspiration, has halitosis, and still wears her Circassian wig that looks like excelsior. She has two big warts on her chin from which there sprouts a clump of little hairs; she is growing a mustache.
The day after Olga was released from the hospital she commenced making shoes again. At six in the morning she is at her bench; she knocks out two pairs of shoes a day…. If Olga doesn't work there is no food.
The "Madame Delorme" fantasy scene is an inner experience of the Archetypal Feminine. The external world in Cancer reveals a less direct (because it is projected on the outside world) but nevertheless similar relationship between the I and aspects of the Archetypal Feminine outlined in this analysis. The movement between this inner and outer world is part of the action of the book.
Appropriately, at the center of Paris the I finds an androgynous symbol of the elemental Feminine. In Cancer, moreover, elemental symbols dominate. In the later Capricorn, Mona/Mara appears in almost human form and dominates the symbolic structure. New York (the negative Feminine) is not quite as important in Capricorn as Paris is in Cancer. And the difference should be noted, for Paris, although deadly and destructive, is also a city of creation and birth. The negative and positive aspects of the Feminine lie side by side.
Although the confrontation of the negative can occur in Paris itself, Paris is contrasted with an entirely negative city in Cancer: Dijon. Winter is the season in which the hero of Cancer leaves Paris for Dijon, where he has secured a position as teacher of English. The stay in Dijon is a "descent into Hell," into a winter land where he confronts most directly the images which haunt the book. Only by such a descent and confrontation, however, can the I be truly integrated. Isolation drives him far into himself, where he must meet the implications of the archetypal experience:
Who am I? What am I doing here? I fall between the cold walls of human malevolence, a white figure fluttering, sinking down through the cold lake, a mountain of skulls above me. I settle down to the cold latitudes, the chalk steps washed with indigo. The earth in its dark corridors knows my step, feels a foot abroad, a wing stirring, a gasp and a shudder. I hear the learning chaffed and chuzzled, the figures mounting upward, bat slime dripping aloft and clanging with pasteboard golden wings; I hear the trains collide, the chains rattle, the locomotive chugging, snorting, sniffing, steaming and pissing. All things come to me through the clear fog with the odor of repetition, with yellow hangovers and Gadzooks and whettikins. In the dead center, far below Dijon, far below the hyperborean regions, stands God Ajax, his shoulders strapped to the mill wheel, the olives crunching, the green marsh water alive with croaking frogs.
Miller finds himself in the dark corridors of the earth. The archetypal labyrinth is suggested by these dark corridors, and by the corridors through which the I must grope every night, seeking his room in darkness. Its image belongs to the Archetypal Feminine:
The labyrinthine way is always the first part of the night sea voyage, the descent of the male following the sun into the devouring underworld, into the deathly womb of the Terrible Mother. This labyrinthine way, which leads to the center of danger, where at the midnight hour, in the land of the dead, in the middle of the night sea voyage, the decision falls, occurs in the judgment of the dead in Egypt, in the mysteries both classical and primitive, and in the corresponding processes of psychic development in modern man. Because of its dangerous character, the labyrinth is also frequently symbolized by a net, its center as a spider.
In the rites of Malekula, the monster Le-hev-hev, as negative power of the Feminine, is also associated with the spider; with the mandevouring "mythical ogress," "the crab woman" with two immense claws; with the underworld animal, the rat; and with a giant bivalve that when opened resembles the female genital organ, and in shutting endangers man and beast. [Neumann, The Great Mother]
We are often in a similar world in Cancer. In descriptions of Paris, for example, the web of the spider appears in scenes where it is not deliberately emphasized:
The railroad yards below me, the tracks black, webby, not ordered by the engineer but cataclysmic in design, like those gaunt fissures in the polar ice which the camera registers in degrees of black.
In the Dijon episode, Ajax labors at the negative wheel of life, for the mill and loom are symbols of fate and death; this symbol has appeared before in Cancer when it is clearly at the center of the land of the dead:
In the middle of the street is a wheel and in the hub of the wheel a gallows is fixed. People already dead are trying frantically to mount the gallows, but the wheel is turning too fast….
In Dijon Miller comes to a sterile dead world that is figuratively his "voyage to the land of the dead," the winter world into which he must descend before he can obtain the equilibrium he reaches in the last section of the book. Here he recognizes that he has to live "separate," not separate from others, but separate from the psychic pull of the unconscious, the symbol of which is the Archetypal Feminine:
Going back in a flash over the women I've known. It's like a chain which I've forged out of my own misery. Each one bound to the other. A fear of living separate, of staying born. The door of the womb always on the latch. Dread and longing. Deep in the blood the pull of paradise. The beyond. Always the beyond. It must have all started with the navel. They cut the umbilical cord, give you a slap on the ass, and presto! you're out in the world, adrift, a ship without a rudder. You look at the stars and then you look at your navel. You grow eyes everywhere—in the armpits, between the lips, in the roots of your hair, on the soles of your feet. What is distant becomes near, what is near becomes distant. Innerouter, a constant flux, a shedding of skins, a turning inside out. You drift around like that for years and years, until you find yourself in the dead center, and there you slowly rot, slowly crumble to pieces, get dispersed again. Only your name remains.
The eyes that he grows everywhere are symbols of the self, the inner self, the Purusha, "thousand-eyed," the Rudra with eyes on all sides, symbols of consciousness and of the creative powers of the soul, hence separate from the Great Mother, which in her devouring, paradisaical aspect is deadly, and destroys the individual. The I finds himself in the dead-center of winter Dijon, the land of the dead. In this penultimate section of Cancer he has reached the bottom. With spring he returns to Paris, and finally (after an episode in which he encourages and assists his young friend to escape from a predatory French girl) he reaches the equilibrium of the final section of the confession:
After everything had quietly sifted through my head a great peace came over me. Here, where the river gently winds through the girdle of hills, lies a soil so saturated with the past that however far back the mind roams one can never detach it from its human background…. So quietly flows the Seine that one hardly notices its presence. It is always there, quiet and unobtrusive, like a great artery running through the human body. In the wonderful peace that fell over me it seemed as if I had climbed to the top of a high mountain; for a little while I would be able to look around me, to take in the meaning of the landscape.
Human beings make a strange fauna and flora. From a distance they appear negligible; close up they are apt to appear ugly and malicious. More than anything they need to be surrounded with sufficient space—space even more than time.
The sun is setting. I feel this river flowing through me—its past, its ancient soil, the changing climate. The hills gently girdle it about: its course is fixed.
Its course is fixed to the sea. One has only a brief time on the mountain. The river here seen is positive, fecundating, flowing, connecting the individual with the past, especially the human past. But the I has achieved a certain independence and equilibrium in this last scene in Cancer: a considerable transformation has occurred. The flowing of the river through his body suggests that the creative power of the unconscious is now available to him, whereas in Dijon all was frozen and dead.
The flowing imagery of Cancer, one of the most important of the non-human forms into which the Archetypal Feminine is fragmented, is complex and polysemous. These images belong to the water symbolism associated with the Great Mother. They are among the most primordial representations of her essential nature, and reflect the ambivalent response of man to the forms and powers of his unconscious. As "water" she is the source of life and—in dissolution—transformation and death.
Neumann has summarized the forms taken by this figure in ancient mythology and religion:
The Great Goddess is the flowing unity of subterranean and celestial primordial water, the sea of heaven on which sail the barks of the gods of light, the circular life-generating ocean above and below the earth. To her belong all waters, streams, fountains, ponds, and springs, as well as the rain. She is the ocean of life with its life—and death—bringing seasons, and life is her child, a fish eternally swimming inside her, like the stars in the celestial ocean of the Mexican Mayauel and like men in the fishpool of Mother Church—a late manifestation of the same archetype.
Such images of the Great Mother may be fearful and repellent at times, dangerous to the individual consciousness. Yet they are incestuously attractive in the promise of a womb-like release from the shocks sustained by consciousness.
The images of flowing have been noticed by most readers of Cancer, as have the womb symbols. But for the most part, Kingsley Widmer's comment on the meaning of these symbols is typical. They have been considered emblems of the flux of the events in life, an interpretation which can explain the river imagery but which seems inadequate if one considers the traditional meanings associated with fountain, urine, sweat, menstrual blood—in fact all flowing, fluid substances in Miller. Widmer's reading, moreover, does not explain the ambivalence of the I toward this imagery, and the different relationships the I establishes with it. His comments [in Henry Miller] on the relationship between the central imagery of flowing and the events of Cancer illustrate my point:
Miller seems defeated by the sordidness of the place [Dijon], the futility of teaching, the loneliness of the displaced bohemian among the pedants, and even by a childish fear of the dark and the foreign. His exuberance falters; he recognizes "a fear of living separate, of staying born." Though the message throughout Cancer turns on the acceptance, even embracement, of the flowing chaos of life, here the "constant flux" brings the shipwrecked sailor of the American voyage to "dead center, and there you slowly rot." Unable to accept the flux in its ordinary round of misery or to continue shouting King of the Hill from the top of the quite unmiraculous pile of everyday excrement, Miller abruptly flees Dijon and goes back to Paris where he can play the artist as burlesque and apocalyptic confidence man. The meaningless world can best be accepted in romantic and rebellious terms, as an artistic-religious vision, and not as the ordinary substance of life. Perhaps partly in spite of himself, Miller makes a striking confession in this episode which just precedes the final chapter of the book and which helps explain his culminating refusal to return to ordinary American life: the excremental absurdity of life demands that one have a rebellious role as the outsider abroad.
If one considers the archetypal significance of Miller's images, he reaches quite different conclusions.
These conclusions affect the reader's recognition of Miller's form. The essential formal element of confession, according to Northrop Frye, is that the author's "mind" be integrated on subjects that are introverted but intellectualized in content. Hence the passages in which the "inner" meaning of the Dijon episode is examined by Miller and the relationship of the self to the images in which the archetype appears are central. Just before the Christmas holidays (again, it is in the winter of the year that the "hero" leaves for Dijon) Miller had visualized in brutal sexual imagery the obscenity of contemporary experience—paralysis, inertia, and the attempt to make the earth into an "arid plateau of health and comfort." These are obscenities because they indicate that the source (the crater—the familiar womb symbol, feminine symbol of the unconscious) is dry:
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.
(Toads, bats, and homunculi are the familiars of the grotesque world, for the unconscious must have negative as well as positive aspects.) Even if the dark forces produce only the demonic, at least we are in touch with the sources of "reality." It is not the impermanence of life, filled with horror and hell as well as heaven, that dismays the hero, but the denial of its source and the loss of its vitality.
The I must free for himself the "flow" of the unconscious, by challenging its threat to overwhelm consciousness (the desire to return to the womb) and by confronting its negative as well as its positive character:
"I love everything that flows," said the great blind Milton of our times. I was thinking of him this morning when I awoke with a great bloody shout of joy: I was thinking of his rivers and trees and all that world of night which he is exploring. Yes, I said to myself, I too love everything that flows: rivers, sewers, lava, semen, blood, bile, words, sentences. I love the amniotic fluid when it spills out of the bag. I love the kidney with its painful gallstones, its gravel and what-not; I love the urine that pours out scalding and the clap that runs endlessly; I love the words of hysterics and the sentences that flow on like dysentery and mirror all the sick images of the soul; I love the great rivers like the Amazon and the Orinoco, where crazy men like Moravagine float on through dream and legend in an open boat and drown in the blind mouths of the river. I love everything that flows, even the menstrual flow that carries away the seed unfecund. I love scripts that flow, be they hieratic, esoteric, perverse, polymorph, or unilateral. I love everything that flows, everything that has time in it and becoming, that brings us back to the beginning where there is never end: the violence of the prophets, the obscenity that is ecstasy, the wisdom of the fanatic, the priest with his rubber litany, the foul words of the whore, the spittle that floats away in the gutter, the milk of the breast … all that is fluid, melting, dissolute and dissolvent, all the pus and dirt that in flowing is purified, that loses its sense of origin, that makes the great circuit toward death and dissolution. The great incestuous wish is to flow on, one with time, to merge the great image of the beyond with the here and now. A fatuous, suicidal wish that is constipated by words and paralyzed by thought.
All symbols of creative power in this passage acknowledge the fecundity of the "crater," the womb, the great Feminine Archetype of the unconscious. But the lines in italics point out the danger facing the self: the powerful, incestuous wish. The "acceptance" without differentiation of this flow and flux leads to "death," and the wish for such dissolution is primordial. Here is a clear statement of the intellectual recognition of the nature of the fecund depths of the individual, and of the necessity of avoiding the "fatuous, suicidal wish." The relationship described is elemental (certainly all the images in the passages support such an interpretation) and dangerous: the incest described suggests the uroboric incest outlined in Neumann's analysis of the elemental representations of the Great Mother archetype, along with the problem of "transformation" on the elementary level which faces the development of the individual consciousness.
The life feeling of every ego consciousness that feels small in relation to the powers is dominated by the preponderance of the Great Round that encompasses all change. This archetype may be experienced outwardly as world or nature or inwardly as fate and the unconscious. In this phase the elementary feminine character, which still contains the transformative character within it, is "worldly"; natural existence with all its regular changes is subservient to it. The central symbol of this constellation is the unity of life amid the change of seasons and the concurrent transformation of living things…. the death character of the material-maternal is an expression of this archetypal domination of nature and the unconscious over life, and likewise over the undeveloped childlike, or youthfully helpless, ego consciousness. In this phase the Archetypal Feminine not only bears and directs life as a whole, and the ego in particular, but also takes everything that is born of it back into its womb of origination and death. [Neumann, The Great Mother]
When the narrator speaks of the incestuous wish to dissolve in the flow, he is not advocating a simple acceptance of the flow of life; he is speaking of what has been described as uroboric incest:
Uroboric incest is a form of entry into the mother, of union with her, and it stands in sharp contrast to other and later forms of incest. In uroboric incest, the emphasis upon pleasure and love is in no sense active, it is more a desire to be dissolved and absorbed; passively one lets oneself be taken, sinks into the pleroma, melts away away in the ocean of pleasure—a Liebestod. [The Origins of Consciousness]
Neumann is not speaking of the personal mother:
This incest reflects the activity of the maternal uroboros, of the Great Mother archetype, mother of life and death, whose figure is transpersonal and not reducible to the personal mother. [The Origins of Consciousness]
Miller's desire to escape the Mother, a theme which pervades his fiction, is a desire to escape the dissolution of the self that surrender to the unconscious would demand.
The relationship with the "flow" that the I must establish if it is to become independent and escape the frozen wastes of the "dead center" requires an assertion of independence and at the same time a winning of creative energy from the unconscious. Equilibrium, or integration of the I, establishes just such a relationships, although it is only temporary. No real end to the glittering and deadly power of the unconscious exists, nor would such an end be desirable.
Only by experiencing the archetype through the images into which it is fragmented and arriving at conscious or intellectual recognition of "divisions" of the Archetypal Feminine is the I "born." And this integration and intellectualization provides the integrated pattern which identifies the confession form.
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