LITERATURE: Tropic of Cancer – Deeper than Dirt

So in between the writing I’m trying to catch up on my reading and have once more picked up Miller’s novel and opened to this:

It looks as though it were finished, my life at the Villa Borghese.  Well, I’ll take up these pages and move on.  Things will happen elsewhere.  Things are always happening.  It seems wherever I go there is drama.  People are like lice–they get under your skin and bury themselves there.  You scratch and scratch until the blood comes, but you can’t get permanently deloused.  Everywhere I go people are making a mess of their lives.  Everyone has his private tragedy.  It’s in the blood now–misfortune, ennui, grief, suicide.  The atmosphere is saturated with disaster, frustration, futility.  Scratch and scratch–until there’s no skin left.  However, the effect upon me is exhilarating.  Instead of being discouraged, or depressed, I enjoy it.  I am crying for more and more disasters, for bigger calamities, for grander failures.  I want the whole world to be out of whack, I want everyone to scratch himself to death.  (p. 12)

Wow.  I love the honesty, the insightful acknowledgement of what is really the nature of man as it persists through his evolution (and dissolution by civilization, I might add). 

Close to the cliche’ that people ‘get under your skin’, it is more, it is man’s inability to live as an island, foregoing contact and thus caring for another human being or even for the human race as he "scratches until there’s no skin left."  Problems–no, the inevitability of problems–will always torture man’s mind and soul, and how he perceives them and eventually handles them is what the narrator is describing here.

The narrator is also a writer so his taste for drama and extremes will be part of that search for the best, the worst, the most dangerous, most lustful and sinful of experiences.

After already having described the world as "a cancer eating itself away," this likening to human beings as lice is very likely what put many in a frame of mind to dislike this novel.  Somehow I don’t see the back cover review by William H. Gass (The New York Times) as accurate just yet. Part of his statement is "There is an eager vitality and exuberance to the writing which is exhilarating…"  Yes, it’s written with almost a mad exuberance, an all encompassing determination yet at this point, it is still, for me, a downer. 

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2 Responses to LITERATURE: Tropic of Cancer – Deeper than Dirt

  1. Lisa Kenney says:

    Knowing Miller’s reputation, I am pretty dubious about the back cover blurb too 😉

  2. Creechman says:

    Or maybe a mosquito just got loose in his room at night and he invites her to bite him.

    Quite deranged.

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