Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Day 69: Tropic of Cancer

OYLPA Day 69: Tropic of Cancer, originally uploaded by klodhie.
Almost done reading Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, a novel that the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune in 1961 called, "'The literary bomb that has been contraband in the U.S. since 1934...'" (quoted on the back of this contraband book). Still cannot decide how I feel about it. If I say that I thoroughly enjoyed it, or that I was not at times offended by the overt racism and sexism (even though it may have all been in sarcasm), I'd be a liar; if I said that I felt the narrator's graphic depiction of his and others' sexual adventures were brilliantly linked to his disgust of the world being "raped" by the "machine" of progress, I'd probably be exaggerating quite a bit. While I found some passages worded exquisitely, the narrator's self-involvement was, frankly, annoying (many of you may of course argue that it was not self-involvement, but rather quite the opposite). Let's see how this thing ends...

I think I'll need a good old Austen novel after this "scandalous" read.
Some of my favorite quotes from Tropic of Cancer:

"There is only one thing which interests me vitally now, and that is the recording of all that which is omitted in books. Nobody, so far as I can see, is making use of those elements in the air which give direction and motivation to our lives. Only the killers seem to be extracting from life some satisfactory measure of what they are putting into it. The age demands violence, but we are getting only abortive explosions. Revolutions are nipped in the bud, or else succeed too quickly. Passion is quickly exhausted. Men fall back on ideas, comme d'habitude. Nothing is proposed that can last more than twenty-four hours. We are living a million lives in the space of a generation. In the study of entomology, or of deep sea life, or cellular activity, we derive more..." (Miller, 14).

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"The young Hindu, of course, is optimistic. He has been to America and he has been contaminated by the cheap idealism of the Americans, contaminated by the ubiquitous bath-tub, the five and ten cent store bric-a-brac, the bustle, the efficiency, the machinery, the high wages, the free libraries, etc., etc. His ideal would be to Americanize India. He is not at all pleased with Gandhi's retrogressive mania. Forward, he says, just like a Y.M.C.A. man. As I listen to his tales of America I see how absurd it is to expect of Gandhi that miracle which will deroute the trend of destiny. India's enemy is not England, but America. India's enemy is the time spirit, the hand which cannot be turned back. Nothing will avail to offset this virus which is poisoning the whole world. America is the very incarnation of doom. She will drag the whole world down to the bottomless pit," (Miller, 89).

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"I call him Joe because he calls me Joe. When Carl is with us he is Joe too. Everybody is Joe because it's easier that way. It's also a pleasant reminder not to take yourself too seriously," (Miller, 96)

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"If now and then we encounter pages that explode, pages that wound and sear, that wring groans and tears and curses, know that they come from a man with his back up, a man whose only defense left are his words and his words are always stronger than the lying, crushing weight of the world, stronger than all the racks and wheels which the cowardly invent to crush out the miracle of personality. If any man ever dared to translate all that is in his heart, to put down what is really his experience, what is truly his truth, I think then the world would go to smash, that it would be blown to smithereens and no god, no accident, no will could ever again assemble the pieces, the atoms, the indestructible elements that have gone to make up the world," (Miller, 226).


  1. They say, where there is smoke, there is fire but still racism is strange and something highly contagious. Virtually undetectable, perhaps a Cancer. Albert Einstein have a better explanation of Mr. Miller's condition...

    "Reading, after a certain age diverts the mind too much from its creative persuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking"

  2. Anonymous, you make an important point when you say that "racism is strange and something highly contagious" and unfortunately, as your Einstein quote states, not enough people use their own mind in making ethical decisions on things like racism and sexism.

    I would be hesitant, though, to claim that Miller "has a condition," in other words that "Miller is a racist/sexist." I hesitate to say that because the novel is both a fiction and an autobiography, and unless we have known Miller personally (and maybe not even then), it is very difficult to say which aspects of the novel are complete fiction and which are not. Author and Narrator are often mixed up (which is part of the enjoyment of literary analysis I think).

    The Einstein quote you brought up intrigues me! We are so often told to "Read read read!" that this quote that suggests otherwise, came as a shock to me. The balance between 1)seeking out knowledge and considering the wide variety of others' ideas through reading and 2)using ones own brain power for problem solving, "creative pursuits" etc. is so important, and far, far lacking in society today. If you are familiar with the Pakistani community (within Pakistan), would you agree that the majority of Pakistanis these days tend to complete neither (1) nor (2)? Sadly, it often seems that way to me.