Thursday, September 10, 2015

Lessons from Tropic of Capricorn

Tropic of Capricorn is one of the books that changed the way I looked at literature.  I read it back in 2012.  Tropic of Capricorn is a fictionalized account of Henry Miller’s life.  Although the book was published in Paris in 1939, it was banned in the U.S. until 1961.  That’s how I came to read the book.  I was curious as to why it had been banned.  Why were the reviews I’d read so polarized?  People either adore the book or abhor it.  Well, now I understand. 

The main protagonist is, quite simply, loathsome.  He’s a white male who cheats on his wife and resents marriage, fatherhood and humanity in general.  You can’t get a more unsympathetic, unlikeable character than Henry Miller.  I hate this fucker!  The fact that Miller named the fictional character after himself only annoys me more.  He, the character and quite likely the author, is a dick wad, a ho, a racist fuck, a sexist douchbag! 

Despite this, I was (and am) riveted by this book!  I cursed myself for reading it.  I’m pretty sure my moral IQ dropped to zero just by allowing Miller’s words to enter my retinas and transmit signals to my brain, yet when I left the book to sleep or work, I could think of nothing else.  I dreamt about the Western Union shop.  I kept wondering, Why can’t I stop reading this damn book?  Even after I finished Topic of Capricorn, all I could think about was Henry Miller and the contempt he projected.  He’s such a fuckhead that I hate the secondary and tertiary characters in the book because they associate/have sex with him.  How can anyone say those things about black people?  And how can a person have sex with so many women…while he had a wife and baby at home, no less?  His poor wife!  That poor baby!  I mean, if you want to stick your dick into any remotely-moist hole you can find, why get married in the first place? 

I rolled this book over in my head for days after I had finished it, and finally, I understood why I felt consumed by and finished a book that I hate (yes, hate).  I don’t need to like a book.  I don’t need to like its plot.  I don’t even need to like its characters, but I do need to read books that stimulate my mind even if they push my buttons and piss me off, and I need to feel passionately about whatever book I read.    

I passionately hate Henry Miller.  I passionately hate damn near everything he does in the book.  I passionately hate (almost) everything he represents, except one thing—the thing that makes this book so pivotal in my reading life and my life as a writer—honesty.  This book affirmed that I have the right to be honest in my work, brutally honest if I choose.  Miller is honest as a motherfuck!  Dude don’t like black people.  He don’t like women or their tendency to love and hold those they love close.  I don’t think he likes anyone, but he loves hisself some pussy, and he loves writing, and there you have it. 

The protagonist (or antagonist depending on how you look at it) doesn’t want to lie about who he is any more (Who the hell can’t relate to that?).  The central conflict of this book is man versus society.  Henry Miller (racist, sexist, whore extraordinaire) versus a wife who wants him to be loyal and make good money so that she and the baby can have a comfortable life; versus a job that he hates; versus black people in general; versus women in general; versus an entire nation that tells him to pretend that he wants the wife (and no other women), the kid, the job, racial equality, and gender equality.  On the one hand, you could say Henry Miller’s acceptance of himself is a coup; on the other, you could say it’s a failure for social equity.  Some reviewers espouse that Miller has a spiritual awaking by book’s end.  I need y’all to stop!  Ain’t nothing spiritual about this fool!  He has a penial awakening and a literary awakening, but that’s it.  I do think this book offers a great analysis of maleness and whiteness in America.  Tropic of Capricorn is Miller’s ode to base-level, low-brow white-American masculinity.  Miller is every feminists’ worst nightmare.  He’s the Paul Gauguin of American literature.  He’s the literary white-American P.I.M.P.!   

As for the 3C’s, I rate this book as follows:

Competent Writing: 2
Miller’s writing style is clipped and utilitarian.  He creates a strong sense of urgency, but his writing style is nothing special, at least not for anyone born after the 1960’s.  I can see how this writing style may have blown people’s minds back then, though.

Character Development: 3
Miller conveys the characters’ actions, motivations and desires well.  I felt vested in the characters and, despite hating them, I believed them.

Content: 3.5
The plot is competent, and his tone is powerful.  The book is definitely multi-thematic.  It addresses: age, gender, race, economics, sense of self, sense of duty or lack thereof, and many more themes.

Total 3C’s Score: 8.5/12  
So yeah, even though I hate this book, I’m recommending it to writers (I know.  I’m somewhat ashamed as well.), but the deal is if you’re gonna write, you gotta be honest.  You gotta write fearlessly, not recklessly, but fearlessly.  You gotta say, Fuck, everybody else and be you (Naturally, this requires you to know who and what you are, which is no easy feat).  If you’re insightful enough to know this already (like know it for real, for real in your core) then there’s no need to read the book.  If you’re scared to bleed on the page like I was in 2012 and all worried that people are gonna think you’re crazy, you should check this book out.  

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