This volume in the Collected Writings of Robert Duncan series gathers a far-reaching selection of Robert Duncan’s prose writings including most of his longer and more well-known essays along with other prose that has never been widely available. Ranging in original publication dates between 1940 and 1985, the forty-one titles reveal a great deal about Duncan’s life in poetry—including his impressions of poets whose work he admires, both contemporaries and precursors. Evocative and eclectic, this work delineates the intellectual contexts and sources of Duncan’s poetics, and opens a window onto the literary communities in which he participated.
Robert Duncan Collected Essays and Other Prose
An Embryo for God: Tropic of Capricorn
Tropic of Capricorn is part of Miller's great work, the endless book of his life. Two earlier volumes, Tropic of Cancer and Black Spring, with others gathering together shorter pieces of writing, letters, notes and drawings-everything goes into the process. But it is in this third volume and in the writing which has been published from time to time toward a work The World of Lawrence, that Miller gains his full powers; the last dross is cast away; and he has cut clear thru to the inner world where everything takes place. To do that he has become naked so that the rest of us shied from him. He has become honest, even an honest liar, so that we feared him. He has cast his weapons and defenses from him; he has nothing to protect so that we cannot destroy him. Only to such a man would a revelation such as Tropic of Capricorn be possible. For it is only with understanding that the mask of the idiot-ego could be so worn, that the last surface of dignity could be stripped away and the reality uncovered.
Two elements are present everywhere in the book. The first is the process of this awakening in Miller, the blind earth compulsions which grow in him, the miracle taking place. It is the birth of Lao-Tse's man who moving ahead in Tao seems to be going back. For Miller flowers here in the dark chaotic center of human blindness where the last pretense of sight has been long since cast overboard; he lives on the Line of Fuck which lies between the last outpost of the great American night and the first outpost of the countries of God. From the meridian of Dada Miller has moved into the free world. He is a revolutionist who holds no betrayal, for he has no desire to replace the prison which he has destroyed with another prison which he likes better. Politically he has no politics. Having come at last into the real world he is an anarchist. Anyone reading over the foregoing passage will see clearly why the Marxist surrealists are afraid of Miller.
The second element of the book is the country. It is America from Delancey St. north, east, south, and west. It is the grinning soulless crazy automaton of the United States. It is the last sinkhole of the world. And it is here that the crossing over is made.
When men gather together consecrated only to their security, their property, their protections and successes, there grows over their common hostilities, a hostility which is the nation. Here, where for three hundred years the battle for property has been going on, from the concentrated progress a great dweller of darkness has grown over the country. It is manifested everywhere, in the lynchings, in the better business, in the American Way, in their wars, their exploitations and their persecutions. "In America," Miller writes, "the destruction is complete, annihilating. There is no rebirth, only a cancerous growth, layer upon layer of new, poisonous tissue, each one uglier than the previous one."
In this world Miller plays his most amazing role as an artist, for he moves like a traitor in a perfect disguise-the perfect disguise of nudity which is so astonishing to those around him that only the fellow traitor suspects that Miller too is observing the alien territory, that he is a fifth columnist from the legions of God.
Like Noah, he walks among the people and they are all talking about him and all afraid to believe what he says, to believe what they themselves see everywhere. Like Noah, he may be at last neglected. They will all stand around jeering at the lunacy of the man who builds an ark of vulnerability, of the man who cries out-the new deluge. Let us scrap all our protections and enter the world like a fish in the flood.
Because Miller's books are a God-blast on human dignity and unawareness, they are condemned by the United States censors. However in New Directions 1939 there are some excerpts from Tropic of Capricorn which no one who is concerned with the spiritual awakening of man should neglect.