Henry Miller and Narrative Form: Constructing the Self, Rejecting Modernity (Contexts and Genre in English Literature)
James M. Decker
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
In this bold study James M. Decker argues against the commonly held opinion that Henry Miller’s narratives suffer from ‘formlessness’. He instead positions Miller as a stylistic pioneer, whose place must be assured in the American literary canon.
From Moloch to Nexus through such widely-read texts as Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, Decker examines what Miller calls his ‘spiral form’, a radically digressive style that shifts wildly between realism and the fantastic. Drawing on a variety of narratological and critical sources, as well as Miller’s own aesthetic theories, he highlights that this fragmented narrative style formed part of a sustained critique of modern spiritual decay. A deliberate move rather than a compositional weakness, then, Miller’s style finds a wide variety of antecedents in the work of such figures as Nietzsche, Rabelais, Joyce, Bergson and Whitman, and is viewed by Decker as an attempt to chart the journey of the self through the modern city.
Henry Miller and Narrative Form affords readers new insights into some of the most challenging writings of the twentieth century and provides a template for understanding the significance of an extraordinary and inventive narrative form.
texts, Miller draws heavily from material that would eventually infiltrate his more mature work. In Moloch, for example, Miller recounts his career at Western Union, while in Crazy Cock he describes his life with June and her lesbian confidante, Jean Kronski (née Martha “Mara” Andrews).1 Although Miller later asserted that “they were no good,” citing the novels’ conventionality—“the ‘Writer’ with a capital ‘W’”—he locates neither Moloch nor Crazy Cock in any Brooklyn dawn 2 27 definite
self-knowledge. Although with his story about Cora he contributes nothing to the plot in terms of action, Miller creates in the figure—as with all of his characters—a device for measuring the protagonist’s vision of himself, the potential being referred to in The World of Sex. Miller reveals through his treatment of Blanche—Moloch’s shrewish wife, who contrasts dramatically with Cora—how he utilizes several aspects of spiral form, including how he unfolds his anecdotes, how he employs sexuality
Sexus. With this “cataract of words,” Miller describes Moloch deluging his friends on a multiplicity of topics, ranging from phallic worship to Brown-Sequard to a Russian anecdote, with his “funambulesque exhibition sans parasol” (137). Spirally, Miller conveys in this diatribe, and others like Brooklyn dawn 43 it, a sense of Moloch’s diverse interests, and he also attempts to recreate the intensity of feeling within the character. With verbal flights such as Moloch’s table discussion with
uses a variety of traditionally “fictional” techniques—transforms the chaos of raw experiential data into a manageable, and stylistically self-contained, unit of thought. The various stylistic choices inherent in such a transformation make autobiographers negotiate yet another level of introspection because the narrative method they ultimately select will color their audience’s perceptions to a great degree. No matter how writers perceive themselves, certain modes of style will necessarily carry
that he cannot do her justice because he “remembers too much” (230). Reflecting both Mara’s hypermutability and his own awareness of the fallacy of objective Truth, Miller leaps from impression to impression in an effort to pin down momentarily her essence. Among a vast number of other objects, Miller compares Mara to a Mithraic Bull (229), a ventriloquist (230), a succubus (231), a jaguar (233), a volcano (235), and a moon (239). Peeling away layer after layer of Mara’s otherness, Miller