Tropic of Cancer | Critical Essay by Leon Lewis

This literature criticism consists of approximately 37 pages of analysis & critique of Tropic of Cancer.
This section contains 11,027 words
(approx. 37 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Essay by Leon Lewis

SOURCE: "Tropic of Cancer: The Journal of a 'Year' in the Surreal City," in his Henry Miller: The Major Writings, Schocken Books, 1986, pp. 75-103.

In the following excerpt, Lewis provides an overview of the major themes of Tropic of Cancer.

Henry Miller's first book, Tropic of Cancer, remains startling and unique. The radiant spirit and exuberant anger which Miller projected from the opening sentences of Cancer are as alive now as the day when they were released. Twenty-five years after its first publication in the United States, and half a century after Miller began his final revisions on the manuscript, Cancer is one of the best exemplars of Pound's definition of literature: News that stays news. Many writers have taken advantage of Miller's victories in the war against censorship and suppression, but Miller does not look like a pioneer who is interesting only as a precursor.

In an age when nothing is "outrageous" any more, Miller still has the power to out rage almost anyone writing today. As Mailer notes, "a revolution in style and consciousness" was taking place in Cancer, and like any real revolution, it has not been entirely absorbed. Tropic of Cancer is still threatening and elusive, perhaps more so than works by Miller's famous contemporaries. Miller, in Cancer, is still at least a little dangerous, still strangely exciting, still curiously liberating.

The mock invocation with which Miller opens Cancer seems dreadfully timely in the mid-1980s amidst economic uncertainty, international tension, political incompetence and social disintegration—is it the 1930s come back to haunt us in a terrible new form? Instead of cringing in fear, Miller, his own "rebellion" giving him the will to declare himself, snarls: "This then? This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty … what you will." This, indeed, is a declaration of human necessity, a prophetic demand that man must resist all the so-called "solutions"—the neat, packaged answers of the advertising world, the offers of all the salesmen and spokesmen who represent official versions of religion, politics, business and culture. It is an attack on what purports to be scientific rationality (educational science, managerial science, and so forth) and it leads to a countercommitment to mystery and ecstasy, anticipating and inspiring the social delirium of the 1960s. It is also, in somewhat less obvious terms, an exhortation to preserve the principle of free inquiry and to reject the security of any totalitarian system. Because Miller hardly provides a conventional argument in analytic steps, this is generally overlooked, but what Miller has done is less familiar and more effective. Cancer is not a tract but a demonstration, an exhibition of psychic survival.

When he crossed the Atlantic, Miller must have entertained some picture of Paris as an international refuge for the eager artist, but instead of finding a community of kindred spirits, Miller found a city crawling with the detritus of America's spiritual decay. The fabled City of Light was there too, but it took him quite a bit longer to find it. As the book opens, the artist/hero who is Miller's narrator and protagonist has given up the idea of living in any sort of conventional manner and has become a kind of Dostoevskian underground man. We see him first in Cancer prowling through the bottom strata of a civilization in decomposition, recording disasters to which he remains immune. His rage cuts through the lachrymose posturing of his fellow expatriates like a sword, while his dream/vision is drawn around him like a shield. His isolation is his protection, but it has its costs. He has no real friends (how different from the corporeal Henry Miller!), just acquaintances he spends time with, gets drunk with, gets laid with and so on, and his relationship with women is ghastly. But Tropic of Cancer is not a cosmos—it is a picture of a time and a place from the perspective of a person who is so delighted to feel and show his strength that everything else is secondary. The book is a product of careful calculation, and some sacrifices have been made. Because Miller knew that Cancer was just the beginning, a part of a larger story, he made his artist/hero, as Nin pointed out, mostly sex and stomach, although there is plenty of heart too, if one looks closely. And of course, the book is relentless in its refusal to put a good face on anything.

It is this tone of absolute candor that originally upset so many people. To a world that had shut its ears to all accounts of sexual adventure in fear that it might be reminded of its own inclinations, Miller gleefully raised his voice to sing, just as Allen Ginsberg, to a world deteriorated somewhat further, felt compelled to Howl. "I am going to sing for you," Miller boasts, "a little off key perhaps, but I will sing…. To sing you must first open your mouth. You must have a pair of lungs, and a little knowledge of music. It is not necessary to have an accordion, or a guitar. The essential thing is to want to sing. This then is a song. I am singing." But this is not a "Song of Himself," that will come later, in the Rosy Crucifixion. Here, Miller's most active and intense personal reactions are primarily contemplative or fantastic since he is basically an observer. His reverie about Tania, his muse of "chaos," is typical: "I will ream out every wrinkle in your cunt, Tania, big with seed. I will send you home to your Sylvester with an ache in your belly and your womb turned inside out. Your Sylvester! Yes, he knows how to build a fire, but I know how to inflame a cunt…. I will tear off a few hairs from your cunt and paste them on Boris' chin. I will bite into your clitoris and spit out two franc pieces." Although there is a sense of the immediate about these promises (or threats), Miller's artist/hero is contemplating what he will do (or what he has done), not what he is doing. The "song" that runs through the book is a song of the world, and the most erotic verses involve the damaged men and women who live in that world, desperate and weakened creatures who resort to sexual frenzy to reclaim the life they are losing. Passages like the address to Tania are crude and vicious, but they are designed to establish Miller's fierce, defiant stance toward the culture that has been responsible for this human erosion. Unlike Tania, Boris, Sylvester and the others, Miller is not a citizen of this world, although he moves easily there and knows it well. He is more like an explorer, and the bitter humor with which he describes it is a reflection of his disengagement:

Llona—a wild ass snuffing pleasure out of the wind. On every high hill she played the harlot—and sometimes in telephone booths and toilets. She bought a bed for King Carol and a shaving mug with his initials on it. She lay in Tottenham Court Road with her dress pulled up and fingered herself. She used candles, Roman candles, and door knobs. Not a prick in the land big enough for her … not one. Men went inside her and curled up. She wanted extension pricks, self-exploding rockets, hot boiling oil made of wax and creosote. She would cut off your prick and keep it inside her forever, if you gave her permission. One cunt out of a million, Llona! A laboratory cunt and no litmus paper that could take her color. She was a liar too, this Llona. She never bought a bed for King Carol. She crowned him with a whiskey bottle and 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.

This is a hard passage to read without experiencing a feeling of uncertainty. Is this the only way Miller's artist/hero sees women? Is it true, as Kate Millett claims [in Sexual Politics, 1970], that Miller "is a compendium of sexual neuroses, and his value lies not in freeing us from such afflictions, but in having had the honesty to express and dramatize them." I believe that Millett's comments might be most appropriately applied to a discussion of the books in the triad, "The Formation …," because the distance between author and "character" is considerably narrowed there. In Cancer, as I hope will become more apparent, both the men and the women Miller spends time with are treated with similar harshness. The contempt, disgust and fear which Miller exhibits in the passage on Llona is matched by equally contemptuous descriptions of men throughout Cancer. The element of fear is another matter, and it lends credence to Millett's claims. I will refer to this aspect of Miller's attitude while examining the triad, but it should be mentioned here that because of Miller's determination to maintain the tone of great confidence in his "I" narrator, some very significant facets of his life are purposefully excluded.

The point of the passage about Llona and King Carol is that the social landscape is very bleak. The women seem to have magic powers locked in their bodies but the men lack the proper keys. The myth of the fertile, life-giving earth/mother female figure has been distorted so that woman is now an insatiable, self-absorbed, castrating whore. The myth of the male as a noble warrior and a pillar of dignity, integrity, justice and reasoned discourse has been distorted so that man is now a frightened, egoinflated phallus without feeling or wisdom. The film of Cancer by Joseph Strick had Rip Torn play Miller's artist/hero as this kind of man—all cock and no heart. But Miller's "I" narrator is not like these men. He can step out of the cancerous domain at any time. Between the passages on Tania and Llona, the artist/hero, sounding like Joyce Cary's Gulley Jimson, sees another "world" altogether:

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. A silence supreme and altogether European. Shutters drawn, shops barred. A red glow here and there to mark a tryst. Brusque the façades, almost forbidding; immaculate except for the splotches of shadow cast by the trees. Passing the Orangerie I am reminded of another Paris, the Paris of Maugham, of Gauguin, Paris of George Moore. I think of that terrible Spaniard who was then starling the world with his acrobatic leaps from style to style. I think of Spengler and of his terrible pronunciamentos, and I wonder if style, style in the grand manner, is done for. I say that my mind is occupied with these thoughts, but it is not true; it is only later, after I have crossed the Seine, after I have put behind me the carnival of lights, that I allow my mind to play with these ideas. 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 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.

This is the Paris of Henry Miller—a timeless realm of wonder which the artist/hero can share with no one else, except perhaps the eternal company of artists with whom Miller wishes to establish kinship. This Paris is like the prelapsarian America of his imagination, but it is something more at the same time, a place which he can actually observe and enjoy. There is a certain sadness about this Paris too, because he cannot enjoy it with his "friends" ("No one to whom I can communicate…."), but that makes it a kind of sanctuary for him, a refuge from the rot. He is sustained in his pleasure and wonder at this world by his confidence that one day he will be able to join the land of light to the rest of his existence, but in Cancer, the two worlds stand apart. And for the moment, that is sufficient, especially since he is comfortable in both of them. With his identity as the man with the most extreme passion staked out and secure, the artist/hero walks through both worlds, one dying and the other "busy being born" (in Bob Dylan's words), his outlook in very sharp contrast to all the inhabitants of the dying land:

Walking along the Champs-Elysées, I keep thinking of my really superb health. When I say "health" I mean optimism, to be truthful. Incurably optimistic! Still have one foot in the nineteenth century. I'm a bit retarded, like most Americans. Carl finds it disgusting, this optimism. "I have only to talk of a meal," he says, "and you're radiant!" It's a fact. The mere though of a meal—another meal—rejuvenates me. A meal! That means something to go on—a few solid hours of work, an erection possibly. I don't deny it. I have health, good solid, animal health.

Although Miller means "meal" literally, since he often didn't know until it appeared where the next one was coming from, his appetite is clearly for experience itself, and his optimism is based on his belief that any experience will be nourishing for the artist/hero. While Cancer describes a world that is perishing, Miller sees beyond it to a time when art ("a few solid hours of work") will give man his soul, and love (unavailable here, only an "erection" is a possibility now) will give him his heart. In order to survive until that time comes, in fact to work to make it happen, the artist/hero needs the strength to live through the cancerous time of his life, and as Martin points out [in Always Merry and Bright: The Life of Henry Miller—An Unauthorized Biography, 1978], "at the end of the book the man who can write the book is born." In other words, Cancer is a record of Miller's resistance to the squalor which he could easily have slipped into. He is susceptible to the various disorders that have infected the people of Cancer—has, as a matter of fact, been infected himself throughout most of the previous decade—and he needs all of his devices (scorn, casual cruelty, the withdrawal of sympathy) to remain relatively healthy ("good solid, animal health"). His relationships with both men and women should be seen in this light. Without this "health" as a base, Miller could never get out of the Villa Borghese, where, as he says on the first page, "We are all alone here and we are dead."

Cancer is divided into fifteen "sections" but they are not chapters, just as Cancer is definitely not a novel. Rahv speaks of the "dissolution of genre" in Miller, but he is not particularly specific about what this amounts to. Cancer is really a mutant of sorts, a journal that resembles a diary, a packet of sketches, a rough collection of essays, an assemblage of anecdotes—"what you will," as Miller says. The narrative consciousness of the artist/hero gives it some continuity, but it does not have any real character development, a chronological linear progression, a plot one could outline, or any dramatic denouements or even a "conclusion" that ties things up. The word novel confuses the issue and tends to induce expectations that are not satisfied, as Miller may have sensed when he disagreed strongly with Edmund Wilson's review of Cancer. I think the word journal is most useful, and it might be helpful to call Cancer a journal of the surreal city, with its implications of a kind of newspaper that has many departments or features reflecting different concerns and modes of activity, especially if one also recognizes a parallel with the so-called "new journalism" of the 1970s. This journal, however, is not a "daily" in any sense, or regular in its record. The span of time which is covered is very elastic, and the edges are purposely hazy, as are the various divisions. It opens during the "fall of my second year in Paris," which we discover is 1929, and seems to end in the spring of 1931, but those "years" might be months, or decades. The entire concept of a calendar is burlesqued as Miller starts sections by saying, out of nowhere and with no further point, "Easter came in like a frozen hare"; or "I think it was the Fourth of July"; or "It was close to dawn on Christmas Day." One of the points behind this technique is that the artist/hero has very little to do with the demarcations of a conventional society. There are other rhythms in his life, and they gradually become apparent.

Within each of the fifteen sections, four motifs are repeated with varying emphasis. They are:

  1. Rage at "a world crumbling and polished like a leper's skull," expressed sometimes as loathing, sometimes as hilarity.
  2. Male bonding, including passages of men together eating, drinking, debating, scheming, fighting and fornicating.
  3. Lust, primarily from the point of view of the conventional male narrative consciousness, with women as its object, but also as its inspiration.
  4. Quasi-philosophical excursions about art, nature, religion and cosmology, including some fairly powerful lyric "poetry."

These four motifs occur to some extent in each section, and are like four threads interwoven in complementary fashion throughout the book. Whichever one is used to begin the section, the fourth motif is employed in its conclusion in nine of the last ten sections. A systematic analysis of the entire book following this pattern would be possible, but it would become dreary after awhile, just a recitation of the already understood. A brief outline of the fifteen sections, followed by a closer examination of four representative ones, will suffice. The separate sections of Cancer are organized in the following manner [the page references are from the 1961 Grove Press edition]:

I (1-19): The scene, mood and style of the book are set. Tania, Llona ("a wild ass snuffing pleasure out of the wind"), Carl and Boris, writers like Miller ("They are possessed. They glow inwardly with a white flame. They are mad and tone deaf. They are sufferers"), and Moldorf ("Thyroid eyes. Michelin lips. Voice like pea soup") are introduced. Mona's departure for America is recalled as a cutting of ties, the removal of connections to previous concerns.

II (20-33): Domestic chat; cultural baggage recorded in homes of people where artist/hero cadges meals, a bed, social contact. Attack on America as cause of rot everywhere.

III (34-43): Germaine, the whore the artist/hero finds most compatible.

IV (44-48): Carl and Marlowe, neurasthenic expatriate Americans defeated by life in Paris; Marlowe returning to America directly, Carl looking for a pension or similar sinecure ("I hate Paris!… All these stupid people playing cards all day … look at them!").

V (49-62): More domestic conversation; the artist/hero finds various households stifling, his distaste for acquaintances is growing, his sense of himself as an artist is clarified ("The artist, I call myself. So be it.").

VI (63-71): He is grateful for help offered by a fellow he meets, but is obliged to reject the companionship of this boring if well-meaning person whose mattress for the artist/hero is "a morgue for lice." Attends a concert, reflects on aesthetic experience of music, its hold on the audience, and what the audience might do if the artist (Ravel) did not hold back at some point.

VII (72-90): A somewhat sympathetic but also destructively comic account of young Hindu man visiting brothel with Miller as guide; parody of Dante, parody of any religious commitment, debunking of blind faith, spiritualism as a solution to the mess and filth of world.

VIII (91-150): Fabulous description of Van Norden, the anti-Colossus of Cancer, a polar-opposite of the Hindu of the previous chapter; the nonspiritual man as mechanical monster and something of a psychic double for Miller's worst impulses.

IX (151-167): Tentative effort at liaison with Tania—no real relationship develops; he recalls life with Mona through prism of selective nostalgia, and recognizes an irrevocable commitment to the present in Paris and suffers momentary depression.

X (168-188): He attempts to overcome depression with booze, brawls, broads in company of men—much brutality.

XI (188-197): No satisfaction with whore who offers interesting persona when dullness beneath mask becomes apparent. Tends to equate unsatisfactory woman with city of Paris, dwelling on disappointment. Fails, momentarily, to see how one's outlook colors incidents and locations.

XII (199-215): The artist/hero is living with Fillmore, another desperate expatriate. Fillmore's crudity and ugliness point toward dead end inherent in the artist/hero's worst behavior with women.

XIII (216-233): Grand apostrophe to art and life: A reemergence from chaos, the lowest point of Cancer now firmly in permanent past.

XIV (234-259): Visit to Dijon as commitment to art, work, the possibility of viable community. Dijon episode mostly unsuccessful, but effort is worthwhile in itself.

XV (260-287): Fillmore's pathetic return to America. A man who has been crushed, returning in ruin. Artist/hero helps him on his way, recognizes his own survival, emerges from "year" in world of cancer stronger and fitter.

The four sections I will examine more carefully each concentrate on one of the four motifs I have described, although the others are still present as a kind of muted background. Section III deals primarily with lust, VIII with the male impulse at its worse, XIII is Miller's most serious attempt at a prolonged metaphysical discourse and XIV is concerned with the social order Miller despises.

Kate Millett calls Germaine "the archetypal French prostitute of American tourism," and quotes eight passages out of context in which woman is assigned to a "mindless material capacity." Although I would suggest that the artist/hero and the corporeal Henry Miller are not quite equal entities here, and that all of Cancer presents people living under circumstances of considerable nastiness which Miller describes to illustrate things as they ought not to be, Millett makes a pretty convincing case that Germaine is treated, like so many other women in Miller's work, with "anxiety and contempt." And yet, there is Norman Mailer arguing [in Genius and Lust: A Journey through the Major Writings of Henry Miller, 1976] that lust "takes over the instinct to create life and converts it to a force," and that Miller "captured something in the sexuality of men as it had never been seen before, precisely that it was man's sense of awe before woman, his dread of her position one step closer to eternity (for in that step were her powers) which made men detest women, revile them, humiliate them, defecate symbolically upon them, do everything to reduce them so that one might dare to enter them and take pleasure of them." Although Mailer wrote his essay on lust almost as a direct response to Millett's attack on his thinking in Sexual Politics, the two are not listening to or talking to each other at all. Mailer's conclusion is that passages like those that Millett condemns are "screams [of] his barbaric yawp of utter adoration for the power and the glory and the grandeur of the female in the universe." When they are read separately, both arguments seem convincing. But "utter adoration" is surely nothing like "anxiety and contempt." A close look at the section in Cancer where Germaine appears is in order.

The section begins with the artist/hero pretending not to be hungry so as to avoid disturbing the Cronstadts (actually the family of Walter Lowenfels) who are sitting down at a special meal just as he arrives. He mockingly calls himself "delicat" in his pretense, but adds poignantly, "On the way out I cast a lingering glance at the bones lying on the baby's plate—there was still meat on them." As he walks down the Rue de Buci, he notices "The bars wide open and the curbs lined with bicycles. All the meat and vegetable markets are in full swing." The streets are seething with life, "a fresh hive of activity. Long queues of people with vegetables under their arms, turning in here and there with crisp, sparkling appetites." Amidst the people rushing to satisfy their appetites, the artist/hero is both delighted by the motion and color and troubled by his own persistent hunger. The dual nature of his reaction is caught by his comparison of the Square de Furstenberg as he sees it now "at high noon" and as he saw it, "the other night when I passed by … deserted, bleak, spectral." He compares the trees at night to T. S. Eliot's poetry, calling them "intellectual," trees with their roots in stone, bare branches not yet in bloom. Images of aridity are overcoming the artist/hero's delight in the sensuality of the world.

As the day continues and the artist/hero wanders on through the streets, "guts rattling," it begins to rain and the light and joy of the city are replaced by images of confusion and disease. In a bookstore window, he sees the title, A Man Cut in Slices and recognizes its applicability to his life since he is often so completely occupied with the tasks of finding food, lodging, good company that he cannot see any larger picture of things. The title suggests food again, but the food seems to be spoiling now, less enticing since he can't get it anyhow. The street begins to look like a wax reproduction of organs "eaten away by syphilis," suggesting the reversal in Hamlet where the prince describes Polonius at supper, but where he is "food" for maggots.

The "beautiful day" has turned 180 degrees, and the artist/hero pauses "a few minutes to drink in the full squalor of the scene." Food has become repulsive as he describes "a clump of decrepit buildings which have so rotted away that they have collapsed on one another and formed a sort of intestinal embrace. The ground is uneven, the flagging slippery with slime. A sort of human dump heap which has been filled with cinders and dry garbage…. There is the shrill squawk of children with pale faces and bony limbs, rickety little urchins marked with the forceps. A fetid odor seeps from the walls…." The images here are of rot, starvation, indigestion and waste. But it is not just the visible world that has been spoiled. The artist/hero turns away from the Place du Combat, and his mind "reverts to a book I was reading the other day." The book describes a town in a shambles, "corpses, mangled by butchers and stripped by plunderers, lay thick in the streets; wolves sneaked from the suburbs to eat them." The town is Paris during the days of "Charles the Silly," and the artist/hero mentions that he has "thought long and ruefully over the sad fate of Charles the Silly. A half-wit, who prowled about the halls of his Hôtel St. Paul, garbed in the filthiest rags, eaten away by ulcers and vermin, gnawing a bone, when they flung him one." A debased monarch, without proper food, eaten away by his own hunger, reminding the artist/hero of his need for nourishment. And then, in a typical application of associative logic, the artist/hero mentions the main "diversion" of Charles the Silly, "card games with his 'low-born companion' Odette de Champdivers."

Here, then, is a picture of a man in an ugly world who is a little desperate and very hungry. "It was a Sunday afternoon, much like this, when I first met Germaine," he recalls. Miller has spent several pages showing how one of the most basic of the natural appetites has been perverted. It would be nice to be able to choose one's food, not to have to scramble for it and accept what you can get. It would also be nice to be able to develop a relationship with a woman under ideal conditions, but in the world of Cancer, both the men and women Miller knows are operating under less than ideal conditions. Maybe it is arrogant to condemn the behavior of these people from the comfort of an academic cloister. In a landscape where one is either starving or being "eaten," there are different orders of primacy. And even in this setting, Germaine stands out among her "colleagues."

The artist/hero remembers that he was walking on the Rue du Pasteur-Wagner, on the corner "of the Rue Amelot which hides behind the boulevard like a slumbering lizard," when he sees, continuing the image of eating; "a cluster of vultures who croaked and flapped their dirty wings, who reached out with sharp talons and plucked you into a doorway. Jolly, rapacious devils who didn't even give you time to button your pants when it was over." "Germaine was different," he says, although, "There was nothing to tell me so from her appearance." What distinguishes her is the fact that amidst a clearly commercial transaction ("It was not difficult to come to terms"), she notices and responds to those things which make a person distinct as an individual, "she liked the knickerbockers I was wearing. Très chic! she thought." Just the sort of statement to make a person feel a bit special, although that could be construed as part of her "job." However, when Germaine presents herself to the artist/hero, he describes her pride in herself as an aspect of a kind of dignity that cannot be demolished by the rude manners of others. "There was something about her eloquence at that moment and the way she thrust that rose-bush under my nose which remains unforgettable." Germaine's pride in her sexuality is very sad in that she has nothing else that the world values, but her courage is impressive. And whether it is lust alone, or something more, the artist/hero says, "That Sunday afternoon, with its poisonous breath of spring in the air, everything clicked again." The starving man has found food. After their assignation, the artist/hero is ready to look on her with his cold, discerning eye again, but in spite of his defensive stance, some humane instinct has been ignited in both of them:

As we stepped out of the hotel I looked her over again in the harsh light of day and I saw clearly what a whore she was—the gold teeth, the geranium in her hat, the run-down heels, etc., etc. Even the fact that she wormed a dinner out of me and cigarettes and taxi hadn't the least disturbing effect upon me. I encouraged it, in fact. I liked her so well that after dinner we went back to the hotel and took another shot at it. "For love," this time.

The artist/hero is not prepared for much more than a satisfying of appetites, but he is forced to admit that he liked Germaine's sexuality and that he liked her too. "I liked them separately and I liked them together," he says. When she discovers the artist/hero's "true circumstances," she offers him food and a kind of friendship, and it is at this stage of the narrative that Kate Millett begins to quote Miller's final estimation of Germaine. I would suggest an alternative interpretation. The words which describe Germaine as "a whore from the cradle," and refer to "her whore's heart which is not really a good heart but a lazy one." are an indictment of the artist/hero at this point in the narrative. He has been rendered unfit to judge the nuances of a person's motivation because of his own reduced vision. All he can admire in Germaine are those things which he values in himself—guts, fire, stamina, courage and cunning. That she may have more to offer, a complex, caring, sharing side; possibly a reflective, even philosophic inclination, distresses the artist/hero because he has become accustomed to regarding sex as he regards food—the answer to a physical urge to be satiated however possible. In comparing Germaine to Claude, another prostitute, the artist/hero mentions to Germaine's "credit" that "she was ignorant and lusty, she put her heart and soul into her work. She was a whore all the way through—and that was her virtue." Claude troubles the artist/hero because she "had a soul and a conscience; she had refinement, too, which is bad—in a whore. Claude always imparted a feeling of sadness; she left the impression, unwittingly, of course, that you were just one more added to the stream which fate had ordained to destroy her." Without any explanatory message, Miller has made it pretty clear that the artist/hero, at this early point in the narrative, has shut down a vital part of his sensory apparatus because he is not capable of dealing with a woman beyond certain prescribed, formulaic rituals of passion-plus-commerce. Millett claims that this is Miller "giving voice to certain sentiments which masculine culture had long experienced but always rather carefully suppressed." I would disagree to some extent, and suggest that within the context of the entire section, Miller is not just "giving voice" to these sentiments, but criticizing them by showing the narrowness and fear of the person who is delivering them. The dismissal of Germaine's qualities as a person at the end of the section are not the words of a person we can trust on this subject, but of someone who has been temporarily warped by the accumulated pressures of living "down and out" in an urban wasteland.

Miller's attitude toward this kind of man becomes more clear in the section (VIII) that presents the bizarre Van Norden, a character with many discomforting similarities to the artist/hero at his worst. The long section is one of the most vivid in Cancer. What kind of a country, what kind of a civilization could produce such a monster, it almost demands to know? Van Norden is not a murderer in the conventional sense, but he is a killer of the soul, and his homicidal tendencies extend to everyone he meets, including himself. The fact that he goes unpunished, that he is not even discouraged in any way, is a clear indication that something is drastically wrong. This man is, in Millett's words, the one who "yearns to effect a complete depersonalization of woman into cunt," and the one who turns sex into "a game-fantasy of power untroubled by the reality of persons or the complexity of dealing with fellow human beings." The opening paragraphs of the section introduce him and also establish at the outset a separation between him and the narrator:

At one-thirty I called on Van Norden, as per agreement. He had warned me that if he didn't answer it would mean that he was sleeping with someone, probably his Georgia cunt.

Anyway, there he was, tucked away comfortably, but with an air of weariness as usual. He wakes up cursing himself, or cursing his job, or cursing life. He wakes up utterly bored and discomfited, chagrined to think that he did not die overnight.

The artist/hero often gets angry or discouraged, but he invariably wakes up in high spirits and stays that way until worn down by some problem. He never curses "life."

The first few pages of the section are taken up entirely by a rambling monologue in which Van Norden makes his attitude toward women all too clear. These pages are a masterful example of gruesome comedy, and the comedy is at Van Norden's expense. His pathetic self-centeredness and his simplistic reduction of everything make him a parody of a man. Miller does not have to comment at all as Van Norden is condemned in his own words:

"My teeth are all rotten," he says, gargling his throat. "It's the fucking bread they give you to eat here." He opens his mouth wide and pulls his lower lip down. "See that? Pulled out six teeth yesterday. Soon I'll have to get another plate. That's what you get working for a living. When I was on the bum I had all my teeth, my eyes were bright and clear. Look at me now! It's a wonder I can make a cunt any more. Jesus, what I'd like is to find some rich cunt…."

Vain, stupid, consumed by self-pity—and in Paris, he doesn't like the bread! And lacking in both ideals and faith: "'The married ones! Christ, if you saw all the married cunts I bring up here you'd never have any more illusions. They're worse than the virgins, the married ones. They don't wait for you to start things—they fish it out for you themselves. And then they talk about love afterwards. It's disgusting. I tell you, I'm actually beginning to hate cunt!'" In their basic outlook, Van Norden and the artist/hero are at polar opposites, and even though they share each other's company and go whoring together, this should be apparent immediately. If the tone of Van Norden's whining doesn't get the point across, then his incredible statement, "Would you believe it, I've never been to the Louvre—nor the Comédie-Française. Is it worth going to those joints?", must separate him from Miller whose reactions to the work of painters approaches reverence.

Miller listens to Van Norden rather noncommittally, but when Van Norden starts to invite him to various social engagements, the artist/hero begins to demur ("I can't tomorrow, Joe. I promised to help Carl out …"), and when Van Norden proposes they "share" a mother and daughter, his reluctance is apparent ("Listen, Joe, you'd better find somebody else …"). At this point, Van Norden becomes almost desperate, practically pleading with the artist/hero for companionship: "'What do you do with yourself all day? Don't you get bored? What do you do for a lay? Listen … come here! Don't run away yet … I'm lonely. Do you know something—if this keeps up another year I'll go nuts. I've got to get out of this fucking country. There's nothing for me here. I know it's lousy now, in America, but just the same….'" Van Norden's monologue concludes, and during the next few pages, the same theme is played again with minor variations as Carl tells the artist/hero about his visit to a woman named Irene whom he has been courting by letter for months. Miller mentions at one point that as Carl headed for Irene's apartment, "he threw me a last despairing glance, one of those mute appeals which a dog makes when you put a noose around its neck. Going through the revolving door I thought of Van Norden…." Carl's hesitancy and confusion as he relates the details of their meeting become steadily more preposterous and then gradually pitiful:

"And that's not all. I promised her a letter in the meantime. How am I going to write her a letter now? I haven't anything to say…. Shit! If only she were ten years younger. Do you think I should go with her … to Borneo or wherever it is she wants to take me? What would I do with a rich cunt like that on my hands? I don't know how to shoot. I am afraid of guns and all that sort of thing. Besides, she'll be wanting me to fuck her night and day … nothing but hunting and fucking all the time … I can't do it!"

Both Carl and Van Norden are cases of arrested development, adolescents who need constant reassurance because they have so little sense of who they are. Miller is wryly sympathetic, almost like an older brother ("Maybe it won't be so bad as you think. She'll buy you ties and all sorts of things…."), but Carl is a defeated man, and his last words have the stuff of horror about them: "'That's it—that's the best solution for a writer. What does a guy want with his arms and legs? He doesn't need arms and legs to write with. He needs security … peace … protection…. All I'd want is a good wheelchair and three meals a day. Then I'd give them something to read, those pricks.'" Obviously, Miller himself does not believe "that's the best solution for a writer." And similarly, he does not share Van Norden's view of women, even if there is some overlapping. The first fifteen pages of this section show plainly that Miller does not endorse Van Norden's rampant sexism or Carl's pitiable retreat from life. On the other hand, he does not quite condemn them either. His attitude is somewhat ambiguous because he has experienced several crises himself that have brought him, momentarily, rather close to their psychic states. What interests Miller is the way they behave, and the world which must be partially to blame for this kind of behavior.

As I have noted previously, Miller is an observer in this book. Following Carl's account of his night with Irene, Van Norden tells Miller the whole story again, repeating the details that Carl told him. The next few pages are as imaginatively pornographic as anything Miller has written, and they present an interesting double perspective because Carl is inclined to put a romantic gloss on things while Van Norden has a fixation for specific anatomic detail. Neither man can see the woman herself: In Carl's case she is lost in fantasy, while in Van Norden's she is never more than a collection of erotic accessories. Although Miller does not attempt to psychoanalyze Van Norden, there is one very revealing moment when Van Norden, in a moment of "overwhelming futility," confesses, "I want to be able to surrender myself to a woman…. I want her to take me out of myself. But to do that, she's got to be better than I am; she's got to have a mind, not just a cunt. She's got to make me believe that I need her, that I can't live without her." Of course, such a woman will never exist for Van Norden. He does not know how to share any part of himself with anybody, much less "surrender," and he has such an inflated sense of his own "qualities" and such a superficially critical view of all women that he would never admit one is "better" than he is. Miller does not tell us any of these things, but Van Norden's words make it all apparent. (In this section, the artist/hero hardly ever ventures an opinion on anything and rarely explains character except to say why Van Norden cannot write at all.) By the time Van Norden expounds upon the limitations of all women, it is obvious he is not speaking either for the narrator of Cancer or for its author, as Millett claims. His "philosophy" is presented as the false gospel of a failure:

The thing is this—they all look alike. When you look at them with their clothes on you imagine all sorts of things; you give them an individuality like, which they haven't got, of course…. Listen, do you know what I did afterwards? I gave her a quick lay and then I turned my back on her. Yeah, I picked up a book and I read. You can get something out of a book, even a bad book … but a cunt, it's just sheer loss of time….

What follows this bit of wisdom is one of the most harrowing scenes in modern literature, an emblem of an age much like Chaplin's berserk assembly line in Modern Times. Van Norden has persuaded Miller that they should pick up a whore, and the artist/hero, once again the observer, watches "with a cool, scientific detachment":

As I watch Van Norden tackle her, it seems to me that I'm looking at a machine whose cogs have slipped. Left to themselves, they could go on this way forever, grinding and slipping, without ever anything happening. Until a hand shuts the motor off. The sight of them coupled like a pair of goats without the least spark of passion, grinding and grinding away for no reason except the fifteen francs, washes away every bit of feeling I have except the inhuman one of satisfying my curiosity. The girl is lying on the edge of the bed and Van Norden is bent over her like a satyr with his two feet solidly planted on the floor. I am sitting on a chair behind him, watching their movements with a cool, scientific detachment; it doesn't matter to me if it should last forever. It's like watching one of those crazy machines which throw newspaper out, millions and billions and trillions of them with their meaningless headlines…. As long as that spark of passion is missing there is no human significance in the performance. The machine is better to watch. And these two are like a machine which has slipped its cogs. It needs the touch of a human hand to set it right. It needs a mechanic.

For Miller, the "mechanic" is the artist, the person who can see the infinite variety of the cosmos, the endless intricacy of the human heart and mind—what a piece of work is man. After several more pages commenting on the great richness of Paris and his almost relentless desire to see, to know, to contemplate (à la Whitman), Miller concludes the section by showing just how far from Van Norden he is. If the world of Cancer is to be "drawn back again to the proper precincts of the human world," then it is artists like Matisse (and Miller himself) who will be instrumental in the process. Miller describes the effect of Matisse's work on his own sensibility (an effect that Van Norden and the other damaged figures in Cancer could not feel) in terms of light versus darkness, one of the most prevalent patterns of his writing. The light is a symbol of creative energy, and when it is present, the full range of imaginative possibility of the human mind is brought into play so that everything is seen as marvelous and fascinating. For Matisse, the world could never be boring.

The artist/hero enters the art gallery on the Rue de Sèze as if he were entering a genuinely new world. He has come from what he calls "the world of men and women whose last drop of juice has been squeezed out by the machine—the martyrs of modern progress." The transition from the cancerous world of Van Norden, Carl and the others to "a world so natural, so complete, that I am lost"—the world of Matisse's paintings—is literally staggering: "On the threshold of that big hall whose walls are now ablaze, I pause a moment to recover from the shock which one experiences when the habitual gray of the world is rent asunder and the color of life splashes forth in song and poem." Miller attempts to find verbal equivalents for Matisse's images, knowing that there is no real substitute for seeing the paintings, but trying to capture the spirit behind their creation in his writing. It is the attempt that is most significant, because by his own efforts here he is displaying the active response and total involvement that an artist hopes for but rarely receives from his "public." In doing this, Miller is trying to show that, like Matisse, he can also see a world alive with color and light; and he is also trying to indicate that his own real audience is composed of people who share his knowledge of and appreciation for what Matisse has accomplished. All of these ideas are a part of his strategy to separate himself momentarily from his existence amongst the damaged people he lives with in Cancer, the people to whom he can't "communicate even a fraction of" his feeling.

For several paragraphs, Miller engages in what might be called an appreciative participation in Matisse's art: "Vividly now I recall how the glint and sparkle of light caroming from the massive chandeliers splintered and ran blood, flecking the tips of the waves that beat monotonously on the dull gold outside the windows. On the beach, masts and chimneys interlaced, and like a fuliginous shadow the figure of Albertine gliding through the surf, fusing into the mysterious quick and prism of a protoplasmic realm, uniting her shadow to the dream and harbinger of death." Beneath or beyond the paintings themselves, Miller sees the figure of Matisse, an emblem for the artist as one who is "capable of transforming the negative reality of life into the substantial and significant outlines of art." "He stands at the helm peering with steady blue eyes into the portfolio

Henry Miller's list of streets and places in Paris.Henry Miller's list of streets and places in Paris.
of time. Into what distant corners has he not thrown his long, slanting gaze?… He is a bright sage, a dancing seer who, with a sweep of the brush, removes the ugly scaffold to which the body of man is chained by the incontrovertible facts of life." The section concludes with several images of women in Matisse's work, women who are seen with an awe and wonder diametrically opposite from Van Norden's view. It is true that Miller is not writing with sympathy and understanding of one particular woman, but his evocation of Matisse is a part of a vision that is as exalting as Van Norden's is degrading. For the artist/hero, women are never interchangeable, they do not "all look alike":

But in Matisse, in the exploration of his brush, there is the trembling glitter of a world which demands only the presence of the female to crystallize the most fugitive aspirations…. I stumble upon the phantom odalisques of Matisse fastened to the trees, their tangled manes drenched with sap…. Even as the world falls apart the Paris that belongs to Matisse shudders with bright, gasping orgasms, the air itself is steady with a stagnant sperm, the trees tangled like hair….

What is missing from Cancer until the Dijon section, the next to last one, is even the most tentative suggestion that the artist/hero can operate anywhere between the tremendous extremes of the hell of "the incontrovertible facts of life" and the heaven of "the significant outlines of art." This may be seen as a weakness, but Cancer has been conceived of as a book of absolutes, and its lack of a subtle investigation of human relationships in the middle ground is a part of its character and design. I will reserve comment on Miller's failure to deal with these matters effectively until I examine those books of the triad, "The Formation …" in which they become the central subject. What is important here is to continue to investigate Miller's vision of the world of art as an antidote, or a redemptive force, to be employed against the nightmare of a machinelike people locked into a sterile land. The paean to Matisse is like many of the concluding passages to the separate sections of Cancer, a rhapsodic celebration of not only the life-giving powers of art, but also of what Charles Feidelson has called the "symbol-making intelligence" of the human consciousness. It is the ability to see with wonder the endless phenomena of the universe and the desire to try to find language to convey this feeling of "wonder" that marks Miller's sensibility here. It is his relish for naming things and for placing them in bizarre juxtapositions which create new and unusual harmonies that keeps Miller's artist/hero inviolate in the worst sectors of Cancer's awful blight.

It is in his passages of "impure poetry" that Miller comes closest to actually offering a "philosophy" of existence, and because his writing is much closer to the form of poetry than traditional philosophic discourse, to consider it in terms of philosophic strictures can only lead to misunderstanding and even condemnation. These passages are not logical arguments but attempts to create a mood in which some idea might be seen, or felt or understood. They work, if at all, by the strength and originality of their imagery, by the establishment of a certain ethos through the use of rhythm and structure and by their ability to generate a kindred emotion in the reader. They are, obviously, dependent on the willing participation of a reader with similar sympathies, and as such, their appeal is much more to the mystical than the rational. In other words, they have the very personal, singular and difficult to defend attributes of much contemporary poetry. The section (XIII) which precedes the Dijon trip offers some of this "poetry" at its best and worst.

Miller opens the "poem" with a statement of the conditions that led to its genesis:

And now it is three o'clock in the morning and we have a couple of trollops here who are doing somersaults on the bare floor. Fillmore is walking around naked with a goblet in his hand, and that paunch of his is drumtight, hard as a fistula. All the Pernod and champagne and cognac and Anjou which he guzzled from three in the afternoon on, is gurgling in his trap like a sewer. The girls are putting their ears to his belly as if it were a music box. Open his mouth with a buttonhook and drop a slug in the slot. When the sewer gurgles I hear the bats flying out of the belfry and the dream slides into artifice.

The time, the place, the company, the activity, all these are inducements to shut down the mind and turn up the skin/senses; but not for Miller. The artist/hero is seemingly inspired to mental intensity by just those things which encourage sensual abandon for most people, which is a partial explanation of his "philosophy"—a kind of emotional reasoning that parallels a heightened sensory indulgence; a progression by instinct and a building of the argument by repetition of related images in increasing intensity.

The subject of this "poem" is woman, and how she contains the mystery of life. Millett uses it to suggest that Miller is reducing women to sexual apparatus, Mailer to prove that Miller is a genius. I would suggest that it is an extraordinary series of images, a catalog of passionate responses like the lists of Rabelais, and in terms of "meaning," a tribute to a sort of Lawrentian life force and a prayer of appreciation for Blake's God of Energy as Eternal Delight. My temptation is to quote ten full pages of it, but instead, here are some selections of what I feel are the most effective "stanzas" with a few comments.

First, blending art, literature, archetype and inspired nonsense, Miller indicates his awe at woman as the living incarnation of some universal power:

I see again the great sprawling mothers of Picasso, their breasts covered with spiders, their legend hidden deep in the labyrinth. And Molly Bloom lying on a dirty mattress for eternity. On the toilet door red chalk cocks and the madonna uttering the diapason of woe. I hear a wild, hysterical laugh, a room full of lockjaw, and the body that was black glows like phosphorus. Wild, wild, utterly uncontrollable laughter, and that crack laughing at me too, laughing through the mossy whiskers, a laugh that creases the bright, polished surface of the billiard ball. Great whore and mother of man with gin in her veins. Mother of all harlots, spider rolling us in your logarithmic grave, insatiable one, fiend whose laughter rives me!

Then, like chaos swirling into shape, Miller narrows the focus and makes one mode, the mathematical, the controlling vessel in which to concentrate the rampage:

When I look down into that crack I see an equation sign, the world at balance, a world reduced to zero and no trace of remainder. Not the zero on which Van Norden turned his flashlight, not the empty crack of the prematurely disillusioned man, but an Arabian zero rather, the sign from which spring endless mathematical worlds, the fulcrum which balances the stars and the light dreams and the machines lighter than air and the lightweight limbs and the explosives that produced them.

One wishes that Miller had followed Pound on the principle of condensare, because the "poem" is surrounded by sentences of murky theorizing and awkward expostulation. At times, it lapses back into mere argument, and these tend to destroy the mood because, as Mailer pointed out, "his polemical essays read like sludge." But then the poem picks up again, extravagantly extending the image of woman still further:

The earth is not an arid plateau of health and comfort, but a great sprawling female with velvet torso that swells and heaves with ocean billows; she squirms beneath the diadem of sweat and anguish. Naked and sexed she rolls among the clouds in the violet light of the stars. All of her, from her generous breasts to her gleaming thighs, blazes with furious ardor. She moves amongst the seasons and the years with a grand whoopla that seizes the torso with paroxysmal fury, that shakes the cobwebs out of the sky; she subsides on her pivotal orbits with volcanic tremors.

This is a classic apostrophe to great Venus, the goddess of love, and it is very specifically from a male point of view. Perhaps Miller realized that it was a bit superficial, because the next "stanza" describes woman in her sorrow:

And then her sorrow widened, like the bow of a dreadnought and the weight of her sinking flooded my ears. Slime wash and sapphires slipping, sluicing through the gay neurons, and the spectrum spliced and the gunwales dipping. Soft as lion-pad I heard the gun carriages turn, saw them vomit and drool: the firmament sagged and all the stars turned black. Black ocean bleeding and the brooding stars breeding chunks of fresh-swollen flesh while overhead the birds wheeled and out of the hallucinated sky fell the balance with mortar and pestle and the bandaged eyes of justice.

Miller might have actually set this as a poem if he hadn't been bound by the typological barriers of typeset prose. Consider this arrangement:

       And then her sorrow widened
       like the bow of a dreadnought
       and the weight of her sinking
       flooded my ears
       Slime wash and sapphires slipping
       sluicing through the gay neurons
       the spectrum spliced and the gunwales dipping
       Soft as lion-pad
       I heard the gun carriages turn
       saw them vomit and drool:
       the firmament sagged [and]
       all the stars turned black
       black ocean bleeding
       and the brooding stars breeding
       chunks of fresh-swollen flesh
       Overhead the birds wheeled [and]
       out of the hallucinated sky fell the
       balance with mortar and pestle [and] the
       bandaged eyes of justice

A few "ands" have been removed, but essentially, this is the "stanza" that Miller wrote. It reminds me of Hart Crane, particularly The Bridge, which was composed about the same time as Tropic of Cancer.

From page 228 through the middle of page 231, the "poem" hovers on a back burner while Miller delivers some more "argument," but then it concludes with some of his best and most powerful writing. Here, he is no longer talking about woman, but about an aspect of women's nature, and about its significance in the world for both men and women. The mood is regenerated by a rhapsody on rivers as the symbolic carriers of life—indeed, the water of life:

I want a world of men and women, of trees that do not talk (because there is too much talk in the world as it is!) of rivers that carry you to places, not rivers that are legends, but rivers that put you in touch with men and women, with architecture, religion, plants, animals—rivers that have boats on them and in which men drown, drown not in myth and legend and books and dust of the past, but in time and space and history. I want rivers that make oceans such as Shakespeare and Dante, rivers which do not dry up in the void of the past.

Then, Miller shifts from the specific, water, to one of its basic properties. Beginning with a generous nod to Joyce (an invocation to the muse?), Miller sings in his most powerful voice of a world at once awful and wondrous; a world in which the artist/hero can thrive and his art can prosper:

"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 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 and the bitter honey that pours from the womb, 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.

As Mailer says, "No, there is nothing like Henry Miller when he gets rolling."

Cancer concludes with two sections, one almost an interlude and the other as close to a summary of his faith as Miller gets. The interlude (IXV) involves the artist/hero taking a job at a lycée where he is supposed to teach French schoolboys the English language. The section is something of a practical demonstration of how one can actually work toward the realization of a community that has its roots in the life-flow Miller loves. It is set in Dijon, significantly outside Paris, and Miller uses the school as a model for the world he has just left. The dull, oafish, small-minded professors stand for the mind-numbing establishment wisdom which has led to a cultural catastrophe. The boys are still young enough to be saved, and Miller is a guide to and exemplar of an alternative life vision. He attempts to wake the boys up, to make them aware of the world and of themselves. "Here I was," he says, "the emissary of a corpse who, after he had plundered right and left, after he had caused untold suffering and misery, dreamed of universal peace":

What did they expect me to talk about, I wonder? About Leaves of Grass, about the tariff walls, about the Declaration of Independence, about the latest gang war? What? Just what, I'd like to know. Well, I'll tell you—I never mentioned these things. I started right off the bat with a lesson in the physiology of love. How the elephants make love—that was it! It caught like wildfire. After the first day there were no more empty benches. After that first lesson in English they were standing at the door waiting for me. We got along swell together. They asked all sorts of questions, as though they had never learned a damned thing. I let them fire away. I taught them to ask still more ticklish questions. Ask anything!—that was my motto. I'm here as a plenipotentiary from the realm of free spirits. I'm here to create a fever and a ferment.

Miller doesn't really save the boys, possibly because he is too busy trying to save himself. Since Dijon offers him no excitement, he must flee back to Paris to stay alive, but he has made his mark and other forays will follow.

On the last pages of Cancer, the artist/hero seems to step permanently away from the dying people and the doomed culture of the surreal city and into a landscape of gentle hills rising serenely above a great river. First, Miller helps poor Fillmore onto a boat headed back to England and then America. Fillmore has succumbed and is returning to his home a beaten man. In contrast, Miller has survived, and thus can feel at home anywhere. Although he feels sorry for Fillmore, he can't help noticing that his own strength has been proven in a dangerous combat zone that has produced many casualties. After the dark, depressing winter world in Dijon, "Paris had never looked so good to me," he says. With money meant for Fillmore's pregnant mistress divided in two shares so that he might have a reward for his good offices, the artist/hero calls for a cab and magnanimously tells the driver to go "anywhere…. Go through the Bois, go all around it—and take your time, I'm in no hurry." The cab cruises around Paris for awhile, and Miller eventually directs it toward the Seine. As he looks at the great river, he experiences a sense of peace that is unlike anything he had known anywhere in Cancer. For the first time, he has actually succeeded in transcending the terrors of the immediate present and is able to turn off the tremendous flow of energy that has been driving him. And in doing this, with his defensive network not acting as an impedance, the artist/hero is able to merge for a moment with a much greater energy flow—the river of light from the natural world. The moment may not last, but it augurs well for the future:

Christ, before my eyes there shimmered such a golden peace that only a neurotic could dream of turning his head away. 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.

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