Movement, sensation, and perception: the wanderings of the artist and the emergence of modern urbanity.
--Michel De Certeau
The Modern City and the Modern Man.
These two entities have drawn the intellectual efforts of many honorable men and women. Already in the 19th century, when both terms were in their embryonic state, they inspired the perceptive minds of artists and later, as usually occurred, those of theorists. The representation of the urban environment has always been a common topos in Western artistic expressions; from the Middle Ages onwards, cities became the cultural, economic, political and social environment where the individual human existence shared its own experience with collectivity. In the primordial era of urbanism, cities were represented and conceived as inert prosthetic emanations of human social aggregation, derived as intellectual projections of the artistic mind. Indeed, urban landscapes were frequently depicted as allegories, metaphors or metonymies, with their consequentiality to human individual and collective experiences, presupposing an inactive position. They transparently reflected our nature, serving as terms of substitution for artistic expressions. This derivative nature implied a distance between the citizens and the city: they were separated entities, with a clear hierarchical and ordered relationship. During the centuries that lead history towards Modernity, the dichotomy lost its rigidity, progressively blurring the limits that separated these entities; if earlier the urban environment appeared just as derivative and consequential to human nature, the technological and physical development of the cities in the Industrial Revolution balanced the dynamic that relates humans and their social and architectural environment. The modern dynamism inherent in the relation that connects humans to urbanism was not suddenly perceived at the outset by literature, as it was by other artistic forms. Indeed, for instance, while Naturalism was dominating the novelistic form, depicting urban life and society in static and dichotomous representations, Impressionism was subverting pictorial conventional norms, by confusing the representation of the perceived time and space. Even in the literary field, it is possible to detect the seeds for the emergence of the complicated connection between singular experiences and modern urbanity; the decadent movement and the pioneering works of artists such as Thomas De Quincey highlighted a certain awareness of the mutual interference between the two entities. It is not by chance that one of the first essays centered on the modern life was written by the sensitive hand of the forefather of the Decadent movement in Europe, Charles Baudelaire. Despite his well known problematic relationship toward Modernity widely expressed in Le Fleurs du Mai, Baudelaire offered a lucid and impersonal examination of the aesthetic and ethical consequences derived through the new dynamic concerning the singular existence, performed by the artist's creative perception, and the city, constituting the conditions of artistic expressions, in his short essay Le Peintre de la Vie Moderne.
Baudelaire depicts the artist, "un homme singulier" (687), as a modern Chimera. One of its heads is constituted by I'homme du monde, as Baudelaire names it, "c'est-a-dire homme du monde entier, homme qui comprend le monde et les raisons mysterieuses et legitimes de tous ses usages" (689). The second is I'homme defoules, the curious, convalescent man who, merging his thoughts with the wandering city crowd that floats around him, leaps into the crowd in the quest for an unknown physiognomy. Finally the third head is the one of Venfant that shares curiosity and convalescence with the man of the crowd, since the artist as an enfant retrouve is constantly inebriated by the continuous novelty of sensitivity. The natural habitat of this tria capita creature is the street and its peculiarity is movement; through this activity the wandering artist shapes himself and the surrounding, apparently rigid, environment. Its passion and profession is to join the crowd; wandering, it dwells "dans le nombre, dans l'ondoyant, dans le mouvement, dans le fugitif et l'infini"(691). Viewing the world, the artistic Chimera exposes itself to it, and, simultaneously hides from it, "[c]'est un moi insatiable du non-moi, qui, a chaque instant, le rend et 1'exprime en images plus vivantes que la vie elle-meme, toujours instable et fugitive" (692; Baudelaire's emphasis).
Hence, the modern artist, this solitary and imaginative creature, walks and runs through le grand desert d'hommes (694), seeking to emerge in movement. It is not by chance that Baudelaire uses the comprehensive appellative of peintre referring to the artistic singularity; indeed, as the emergence of Impressionism may suggest, painting seemed the quicker art form to perceive and reflect modern acceleration. By hastening the pictorial strokes on the canvas, it seemed to express the artistic necessity to affirm the emergence of singular perceptions in the flow of the dynamic transitoriness that characterized modern cities where the rigidity of old notion such as time and space tended to collapse. New principles, more or less manifestly, regulated artistic objects: expressing movement through movement and in movement, resonating in change, continuity, transitoriness, allows to make fluid the rigid dichotomies between the body and its architectural projections, materiality and ideology, singularity and collectivity. After all, with Baudelaire, "[l]a modernite, c'est le transitoire, le fugitif, le contingent, la moitie de l'art, dont l'autre moitie est I'eternel et l'immuable. [...] Cet element transitoire, fugitif, dont les metamorphoses sont si frequentes, vous n'avez pas le droit de le mepriser ou de vous en passer" (695)1. Viewed in this light, Baudelaire's sensitive text seems creatively to pre-announce the subverting reflection upon body, movement, time and perception that the French philosopher Henri Bergson condensed in his book Matter and Memory written in 1896. This brilliant work perceptively criticized the rigid and radical position assumed by Idealism and Materialism or by psychology and physiology in the late 19th century, since they tended to highlight the extreme positions that emerge from reality, body and spirit, rather than to emphasize the relation between those terms that composed reality itself; with Bergson, "because we have fallen into the habit of emphasizing the differences and, on the contrary, of slurring over the resemblances" (187).
Bergson conceived the material world as an ensemble of moving images, among which the body constitutes itself as a determined and positioned image. In this sense, the singularity of the body appears as a moving point that absorbs the action of external images into its corporeality, and, simultaneously, reflects its agency on these external objects. Hence, the material and present world is proposed as constituted by the relation of movement (images) and action (singular body). In this sense, the body conceived as an object destined to move other moving objects, is incapable of representing the images that surround it, since the process of representation presupposes the freezing of these dynamic and present images in a static and past position. Hence, which faculty is it that allows human beings to represent these external objects? Bergson identifies it as perception.
Indeed, perception is neither unconscious nor dynamic: since, if the ensemble of moving images constitutes the material and present world, perception corresponds to these same images "referred to the eventual action of one particular image, my body" (Bergson 8, emphasis added) and the transitoriness of the material world is mediated and stabilized by the individual perception. Therefore, the body itself as any other image is a center of indetermination however it conceives determined objects through perceptions; this process does not completely draw and capture the fluidity of reality since it tends to freeze the moving objects in a specific point in space; it is only able to represent their original and dynamic nature. In this, perception is a reflective phenomenon since it operates by way of selection and eliminates from objects what is not strictly useful to our functions. Hence, by selecting particular images in determined positions, perception constitutes a sort of block of experience since it immobilizes the continuous flux of active materiality in positioned representations. Stressing the functionality and utility of representation for human life, Bergson succeeds in blurring the dichotomy between Idealism and Materialism, without drawing any hierarchical order, since action (present, dynamic and corporal) is inevitably related to perception (past, static and spiritual) and vice versa. In fact, the distinction between body and spirit does not reside in the spatial domain, but rather in the temporal, that finds place through the union of spirit - contemplative, perceptive and representational - and body - moved, dynamic and active.
Subsequently, Bergson affirms that if perception corresponds to reflection, on the other hand affect is the absorption of reception; the necessity of affect ensues the existence of perception. Indeed, affect internalizes perception, transforming the virtual perceptive action into a real and personal action. To summarize: "Consider the system of images which is called the material world. My body is one of them. Around this image is grouped the representation, i.e. its eventual influence on the others. Within it occurs affection, i.e., its actual effort upon itself. Such is indeed the fundamental difference that every one of us naturally makes between an image and a sensation. When we say that the image exists outside us, we signify by this that it is external to our body. When we speak of sensation as an internal state, we mean that it arises within in our body" (59).
Although images are external, while perception is an internal process, the two entities do not exist as separate objects, while they coexist in relation to each other. In fact, images would not be perceived without sensation, and, simultaneously, sensation would not arise without images. The conceptualization of such a system allows Bergson to dynamize the rigidity of binary debates, without disregarding the extreme positions of body and spirit that Materialism and Idealism conceived. Indeed, Bergson does not deny the validity of such analysis, but rather he depicts it as consequential and derivative in respect to the notion of movement and relation.
In fact, if reality corresponds to an ensemble of moving images that constantly determine their own indetermination through a process of reflection and absorption, the rigid limits that differentiate matter from idea, singularity from collectivity, contingency and immutability, tend to merge and emerge one into each other. Therefore, movement constitutes the fundamental relation between different singularities. The French philosopher conceives movement as indivisible since it is a passage from one state of rest to another; our conscience transmits to us the sensation of a continuity between these two positions, while our perception, mediated through sight, represents this passage in the form of a line that connects two extremities, a line that is inevitably decomposable. The supposed divisibility of the line implies the distance between the two entities that appear in their determined alterity rather than in continuity one to each other. In the artificial coincidence between the trajet (movement) and the trajectory (representation of movement) lies the fundamental error that inevitably influences the temporal dimension as well, since we isolate from the continuous stream of duree a specific instant wherein the mobile occupies a specific position.
Baudelaire's creative essay and Bergson's philosophical digression suggest the necessity of re-thinking the relation between subjects and objects, along with spatiality and temporal dimension, which arises from the dynamic interchangeability of these entities. Movement is relation, and it should not be recognized as derivative of the existence of the extremes that constitute its limit, while it has to be reckoned as intrinsically fundamental to the existence itself of these limits. If we apply this concept to the relation between the modern city and the singular experience, heralded by the artist, we can deduce how the actual and creative movement in the reticulum of streets that characterized the experience of modern imaginary bodies, cannot be merely considered an effect of modern convulsive life, but rather as the ontogenetic source of modernity.
The tendency to disconnect in a binary mirroring, the architectural and social discourse of modern buildings with the individual subject which is supposed to act in this environment and to be affected by this environment, identified by Bergson in Materialism and Idealism or in the oppositional positions of physiologists and psychologists, is detectable in one of the most important texts on modern urbanism, The Metropolis and Mental Life (1903) by Georg Simmel. From the incipit, "[t]he deepest problems of modern life flow from the attempt of the individual to maintain the independence and individuality of his existence against the sovereign powers of society." (11) Simmel's brilliant analysis depicts an economic-psychological modern intellectual man who reacts to the profound disruption caused by the innumerable modifications of metropolitan life, by creating a mental predominance through an intensified consciousness. Simmel ascribes the responsibility for this non-emotional reaction to the economic system through which urban life is organized; concepts like punctuality, exactness and calculability are conducive to the exclusion of irrational, instinctive traits that colored other human life forms. Thus, the convulsive and innumerable modifications to which the individual is subjected in the metropolis tend to cause indifference, a blase attitude, that "would be an unnatural immersion into a chaos" (15); hence it is transformed into antipathy toward the others by the actual antagonism of this economic system. Simmel detects an increase of movement and interactions caused by the spatial and numeral enlargement offered by modern cities in respect to villages; the substantial and individual freedom reflects itself on the others, since in the metropolis "a person does not end with the limits of his physical body or with the area to which his physical activity is immediately confined but embraces, rather, the totality of meaningful effects which emanates from him temporally and spatially" (17). On the other hand, the economic system seems to impose on the individual a further differentiation or specialization as a worker or a consumer: paradoxically, striving for the most individual forms tends to relate to quantitative differences rather than qualitative peculiarities--instead of difference, city individuals seek being different. Modern people are specialized as consuming individuals, but simultaneously they are generalized as subjects since they particular goals and desires converge into commonsen-sical objectives.
Although Georg Simmel recognizes the inextricable dynamic interconnectivity between moving bodies that characterizes modern urban life, he focused his attention on the psychological/mental consequences derived from the growing economic-social system of the metropolis. Moreover he posed in a divergent parable the relation between what he called objective culture--institutional formations--and subjective culture. Therefore, he considered the body and movement as minor elements in urban life with respect to the mental and objectified positions. Obviously, it would be ungenerous with regard to this acute philosopher to impute to him the absence of consistent considerations on movement and corporeality, considering the precocity of his study of metropolitan urbanism in the first years of the 20th century, combined with the inevitable influence of psychological theories on his work. In Simmel's depiction of modernity and in concepts such as social sovereignty, institutionalized powers and individualization, we can clearly detect the seeds of post-structuralist conceptualizations of the relation between singularity and collectivity. (2)
Studying the numerous theories on the city and the artist, it seems to me that scholars have focused their efforts mostly on the extremities of this relation, rather than on the relation itself. For instance Desmond Harding's Writing the City, Urban Visions and Literary Modernism (2003), Robert Alter's Imagined Cities (2010) and the collection Writing the City (1994) edited by Peter Preston and Paul Simpson-Housley, despite their different theoretical aims and sources, all analyze the relationship between the artist, as the sensitive delegate of human experience, and the city by considering the positioned effects of this relation, rather than the relation itself. Harding correctly interprets the representation of the city specifically depicted by James Joyce and John Dos Passos as a textual code that symbolizes the cultural, social, economical and political changes forced by urban modernism. On the other hand, Alter interprets the relation from the perspective of the creative minds of the artist; hence by considering the city as constructed by their sensations and experiences, architecture becomes a projection of human emotions; a similar point of view is assumed also by Preston. All these examples focus their efforts on interpreting the results of the relation between human experience and the city, without clarifying the nature of this relation and its implications in the cultural, economical, political or social consequences that derive from it. I am not trying to delegitimize the validity and the importance of these analyses; however, I argue that it is equally necessary to specify the inherent characteristics of the dynamic that connects the artistic experience with urban modernism and not merely its ultimate effects. These theorizations are undeniably productive with respect to the socio-political environments in which modern human life emerges; however, by experiencing the encounter with artistic and creative imagines of urban modernity, I have perceived that such theories seem to underestimate a constitutional component of these artistic expressions: movement.
Limiting my analysis to the modern novel form, I will consider three works that I conceive as forming a continuous aesthetic, thematic and historic trajectory: Knut Hamsun's Hunger (1890), James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), and Henry Miller's dyptich Tropic of Cancer-Tropic of Capricorn (1934/1939). It is unnecessary to stress the critical and public acknowledgement of these works as benchmarks in modernist literary history. Indeed, beside the prominent position that they shared in the history of the novel, these works manifest some other contingent relations, such as the progressive influence of one author on the others, or the quasi-historical exponential extension of the cities depicted--from the small-sized Kristiania to metropolises like Paris and New York passing through the bourgeois mediocrity of Dublin. In this sense, the novels and their authors appear as the prototypical exemplification of the Modernist approach to urban life. They all tell the moving experiences of young sensitive minds and bodies that experience the singular repulsion and attraction to the other extremity of the relation that we are examining, the city. Although this relation has been depicted also by many other literary works, such as Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, John Dos Passos' Manhattan Transfer or Franz Kafka's The Trial, the novels that I have selected share a communal trajectory, by depicting the monoperspectival experience of a young, bourgeois, white man moving in his theoretically most congenial habitat. Moreover, they seem to manifest more profound and continuous resonances: firstly, the depiction of the artist emerging in and through the city, secondly the choice of the autobiographical form, an aspect which leads us to the third analogy, the kinesthetic and synaesthetic composition of reality, and finally, the constitutionality of movements as the ontogenetic relation from which the artist and the city emerge as different, but related entities.
The autobiographical nature of these texts does not merely affect their aesthetic or thematic aspects, but implies a different role for the artist himself. Indeed, he is not just the mediator of the modern urban experience, but he is also a moving witness of this reality. Hence, he assumes the characteristics depicted by Baudelaire in his essay, since he merges himself with the city's human flow, without simply representing it, but rather living it, shaping his own singular experience by the sensitive creativity of his artistic mind. Hamsun, Joyce, and Miller constantly emerge and disappear in the urban chaos they describe, and, simultaneously, the modern city itself arises from their writing, changing, mutating and transforming according to the movement that connect it to the artistic sensitivity. From Hamsun's primordial city experience to the depiction of metropolitan life by Henry Miller, we perceive movement as the constitutional characteristic that connects the artist to the architecture that surrounds him. The streets are progressively transformed in dynamic and continuously changing connections that merge the singular experience with the apparent rigidity of the city. The centrality of movement detectable in these three novels is not merely reflected by the content of these works, but also by their aesthetic form. Indeed, if in Hunger the transition from the commonsensical "reality" to its dynamic reflection is sharply defined by Hamsun's style of writing, in Joyce's technique the limits that separate the static dimension of reality with that of movement, tend to be less clear, and, finally, they completely disappear in Miller's convulsive style, where reality arises from dream and vice versa. Hence, I consider these three novels and their authors as the fundamental exemplifications of the heterogeneous trajectory that has characterized the Modern novelistic form, that progressively left the certainties of Naturalist aesthetic conceptions in order to problematize the position of the artist in respect to collectivity and modernity. Hence, by analyzing these works I expect to evince the constitutional characteristic of the relation between the artist and the city, which constitutes one of the fundamental aspects of Modernist novels and life.
As manifested by the perceptive essay of Baudelaire, creative and artistic singularities seem to frequently anticipate theoretical or philosophical analysis, which suffer from a unique sensitive tardiness in respect to art. The imaginative and chaotic world that the artist create perceptively anticipates the theoretical, analytical thought structured by philosophers or critics that intend to analyze the same world depicted by the artists. Thus, my efforts will focus on reading those masterpieces of the modernist novel in the light of the contemporary conception of movement, body and sensation proposed by Canadian philosopher Brian Massumi in his work Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (2002). Massumi's book resonates with the theories of Deleuze, whose A Thousand Plateaus Massumi translated in 1987, and, consequentially also with those of Bergson. Following their trajectory, Massumi develops his personal terminology on movement and sensation of which, despite its philosophical density, I will attempt, probably vainly, to offer a short account.
What does my body do? "It moves. It feels" (Massumi 1). Massumi immediately connects body, movement and sensation, suggesting how this relation generates a further term, change. Massumi, with his characteristic prose, argues that the cultural theories of the last two decades have suspended the middle terms (movement/sensation) in order to center its concern on the extremities of this relation. "Culture occupied the gap between matter and systemic change, in the operation of mechanisms of 'mediation'" (1). Although those theories recognized the body as the site of resistance against power structures, it was inevitably a mediated, "discursive" body. In this sense the body as a non-moving entity corresponded to the position that it occupied in the systemic structured grid, i.e., "an oppositional framework of culturally constructed significations: male versus female, black versus white, gay versus straight, and so on"(2). (3) This idea of positionality presupposed the stasis of the body in a cultural freeze-frame depiction, considering the subtracted movement secondary and subordinated to the position occupied in the grid. By these concepts, movement lacks any qualitative potential of transformation since it merely corresponds to a quantitative displacement of the body. Therefore, Massumi argues that without neglecting post-structuralist positions, we need to re-articulate movement and sensation as the relational terms that connect the body to change, i.e. to approach the matter as Bergson suggested.
Just like in Bergson's analysis of movement, we should not confuse the trajet (movement) with the trajectory (line of movement); indeed, according to Massumi, movement is not mediated by positioning, since "when a body is in motion, it does not coincide with itself, it coincides with its own transition: its own variation" (4). Hence, movement constantly unfolds itself, it does not pre-exist to itself as a Platonic Idea. It is abstract, yet real: virtual. The moving body coincides with its indeterminacy, with its potential and incorporeal dimension; just like energy and matter correspond to "mutually convertible modes of the same reality" (5), body-movement ontologically differentiates itself from the static-body, since the former is the body's potentiality to vary, while the latter is the body as variety. In this sense, movement presupposes that the body is never statically positioned in any point in the grid, but rather is constantly passing through it. By conceiving movement as in continuous transition through different positions, even
the space where the moving activity unfolds itself must be re-conceptualized. Indeed, if we freeze-frame the moving-body in a determined position we consequentially think of space as measurable, extensive and divisible, cutting out the continuity and dynamic unit of its movements. Therefore, spatiality is conceivable in two different ways: the extensive space where the positioned object emerges qualitatively from movement, and the intensive space where the undetermined and virtual body coincides with movement itself. However, this process does not constitute a binarism; they are not arrayed in an ontological hierarchy, but they are ontogenetic. Indeed, while positional theories presuppose ontological differences between specific points on the grid, since they conceive bodies as stable expressions of variety, the movement theory does not ontologically differentiate the positioned entities and the moving-bodies, but rather it conceives them in relation; the latter, potentially, enfolds all the possible variations that emerge in different positions, without corresponding to any one of them. Hence, in this sense, movement is ontogenetic, since it, effectively, produces and presupposes ontological differences. "If passage is primary in relation to position, processual indeterminacy is primary in relation to social determination. Social and cultural determinations on the model of positionality are also secondary and derived. [...] Passage precedes construction" (8).
This consequentiality presupposes that the back-formation of a path in not only a retrospection, but also a production by feedback of new movements. Therefore, even though cultural determinations are secondary, this does not exclude the re-production of new movements arising from positionality, i.e., the "cultural" and the "natural" feed fold into each other. For this reason we cannot consider the derivative "cultural"--static and positioned--as ontologically different from the "natural"--dynamic and in movement, since the former unfolds from the latter, but producing new movements, it simultaneously enfolds potential dynamism. As the movement coincides with the passage through multiple positions, sensation corresponds to the resonation between different entities. Massumi explains the complexity of the notion of sensation comparing it to an echo, which consists in the resonation between two walls, it is not on the walls, but rather it fills the emptiness between them. It is different from distance since the latter refers to measurability and extension, while the former converts this extension into intensity, transforming a quantity into a qualitative relation. According to Massumi, intensity, and hence sensation is what constitutes experience since it is the conversion of distance fulfilled by the potential/incorporeal dimension of the body, the materiality of the body becomes event. (4) By defining sensation as the resonating relation in-between sensory surfaces, Massumi differentiates it from the concepts of perception and affect. The former is selective, since it tends to actualize the virtual potentiality of resonation, for instance the perception of a flower differs in respect to the perceptive creature related to it, a man perceives the actuality of the flower differently from an insect; however the virtual sensation that emanates from the flower is the same for both of them. On the other hand, affect has to be intended as the synaesthetic actualization, perspectivation or interiorization of the virtual experience. Similarly to Bergson it coincides with the absorption, the interconnection between the external moving images and internal reactions.
In this complex and multiple composition, the artistic activity is represented as the most intense and sensitive singular experience. Indeed, the artist is the perceptive creature, that, consciously, merges and emerges from the flux of reality. (S)he does not manipulate the matter as the Platonic demiurge, hence, (s)he does not construct its creation by the recombination of positioned objects that surround his/her imaginary. On the contrary, the artist composes and modulates the moving transitoriness of reality, unfolding it in a coherent artistic expression. "Yielding to the complexity of variation, the artist's activity joins the confound, through experienced zones of synaesthetic and spatio-temporal indistinction" (173, Massumi's emphasis).
The artist conceived as the singular who joins the confounded, is associable to Baudelaire's definition of the artistic creature, who finds itself in the floating crowd, in the fugitive instant. The conscious action of merging himself in the flux of movement is the faculty that allows the artist to emerge from it and to express his experience through a determined artistic work. This consciousness is what differentiates the artistic singularity from the others, since (s)he is capable of creating a positioned world through his/her art. Its creative action, according to Massumi, renders the artist a cosmogenetic singularity, since (s)he composes a coherent aesthetic form from the unformed transitoriness of movement and sensation. Art as cosmogenesis.
Then, by this definition, if we consider the particular situation, whereby the artist wanders in the city, we can interpret the relation between the creative singularity and modern urbanism in a different manner in respect to the theories that I have mentioned above. Indeed, it is undeniable that also Hamsun, Joyce, and Miller also express in their novels the post-structuralist problematic of social, political and cultural rejection that Modernity, symbolized by the rigidity of the architecture, imposed to human beings. However, as Massumi affirms, I argue that these culturally positioned reactions are consequential in respect to the experience of the modern reality by the artist. In the three novels, the authors are autobiographically subjected to movement, and they consciously merge into dynamism and emerge from it through their creative faculties. Therefore, it is possible to detect in their works the constant presence of movement that allows the artist to create his coherent aesthetic world. Then, since in these novels the world that the artist creates and through which the artist himself emerges is the modern city, I conceive the artistic creature represented by Hamsun, Joyce, and Miller as politosgenetic.
Anonymity in movement, Knut Hamsun's Hunger
"It was in those days when I wandered about hungry in Kristiania, that strange city which no one leaves before it has set its marks upon him" (3).
From the very first lines of his novel, Knut Hamsun indicates the aesthetic tone that supports the entire text. The urban experience depicted by the Norwegian author is marked by violence, desperation, rejection and struggle. The book was published in 1890; however, it is not merely its historical collocation that has determined the recognition of Hunger as a sort of "manifesto of Modernism" (Rossi 419), as "one of the great novels of urban alienation" (Ferguson110) or as "a true novel of disillusionment" (Kittang 296). The relation and simultaneously, the reaction to the Naturalist aesthetics manifested mainly by the conversion of old realist ideas into a new form, since the novel consists of all the basic elements of naturalist representation of the everyday. "It introduces a typical naturalist protagonist, a man of mediocrity who, despite his ambitious aims to become a writer has fallen into misery and poverty and become an outsider" (Rossi 420).
Even the metafictional topos of the writer who writes the story of an artist enabled to express his art will later be developed as one of the most common plots in Modern literature. Moreover, the creation of an unreliable narrator along with the absence of a story that may fill the narration that instead is focused merely on the expression of the singular experience, constitute prototypical features of the new novelist form. Therefore, the novel seems to herald many of the peculiar characteristics of Modern prose, in this sense even the presentation of the novel in the form of a "veiled autobiography of Hamsun's experience during his desperate sojourns in Kristiania and Chicago" (Rossi 422) and the centrality of the creative consciousness seem reliable to the fundamental position the singular experience of the artist will occupy in Modern novels. Hamsun himself admitted that by writing his novel he was trying to express different aesthetic aims with respect to the Naturalist narrative rules.
"My book must not be regarded as a novel. There are enough people who write novels when they want to write about hunger--from Zolato Kielland. They all do it. And if it is the lack of this kind of novel, which perhaps makes my book monotonous, then that is quite simply a commendation, in that I had determined quite deliberately not to write a novel" (Letter to Georg Brandes, Knut Hamsun: Selected Letters 114). By this sort of rejection of the novel, Hamsun more than the form itself, seems to contest the dominant aesthetic limits established in the 19th century. Indeed, the innovative potentiality contained in the novel was already perceived by prominent writers, who (as Hamsun was doing) were expressing the transition from the certainties of 19th century and of Naturalism in particular. For instance August Strindberg in a letter to Georg Brandes praised how the novel depicts with openness and frankness the suffering of the individual, while the French writer Andre Gide, in the preface of the first French translation of Hunger, wrote: "Ah! Combien toute notre litterature parait, aupres d'un tel livre, raisonnable. [...] ce qui se deplace lentement ce n'est point tant la limite de connaissances [...], mais plutot celle de l'ostracisme [...], de la pudeur, [...] de l'obscenite" (V).
This passage summarizes the disruptive violence that Hamsun's prose expressed. Moreover, Gide sensitively recognized where we can detect this potentiality in Hunger; indeed, by affirming that its innovation resides not in the domain of connaissance, namely the cultural and aesthetic knowledge, but rather in its narration of the obscenite, Gide suggests how Hamsun's narrative innovation is first and foremost related to the expression of what concerns the sensitive experience perceived by the artistic mind and body and secondly to the psychological and symbolic conditions that sensation caused in the artist creative mind. Indeed, as Gide affirms, in Hamsun's novel there is "aucune intrigue, aucune histoire", it actually tells anything more that the wanderings through the streets of Kristiania of an anonymous young creative mind and body that through the physical and spiritual suffering of hunger experiences various form of rejection and isolation: sexual, as in his relationship with the young girl that he named Ylajali; physical, as in his continuous necessity of food; social, as in his quest for a bed and a room; political, as in his frictions with authorities and policemen.
During the years, many scholars have attempted to interpret Hamsun's novel, focusing their efforts on the subjectivist, modernist, commercial and psychological aspects of Hunger. For instance Dolores Buttry in her article "Down and out in Paris, London, and Oslo: Pounding the Pavement with Knut Hamsun and George Orwell," compares, perhaps too rigidly, the connections between the two works and the inherent differences between the social and political aims of Orwell and the anti-social and strictly subjectivist perspective given by Hamsun. It is not my purpose to criticize this narrowing interpretation of Hunger. However, I need to stress how this analysis tends to underestimate the relation between the social and the singular that characterizes the Modern novel; indeed, as Massumi affirms in respect to his theorization, the sensation-based aesthetic is not simply reducible to a subjectivist relativism, which leads to a sort of solipsist expression, but rather to an unmediated "naive subjectivism" (2), which does not exclude its relation to sociality.
As I have noted, I will attempt to analyze Hunger through this naive subjectivist perspective, which presupposes the singularity of the sensitive experience, but, paradoxically not that of the Subject, as it is understood in its commonsensical psychological notion, namely the Ego.
One of the most interesting articles on Hamsun's novel is Atle Kittang's Knut Hamsun's Suit: Psychological Deep Structures and Metapoetic Plot, which perceptively dissects Hamsun's novel in order to propose a Lacanian interpretation of the text. Indeed the article interprets the physical affection that hunger causes in the body as a "metaphor, signifying a more fundamental lack of emptiness, which is a central aspect of the psychological deep structures investigated by the writer" (295, emphasis added). Thus, Kittang explores Hamsun's novel in respect to the notion of a psychological consciousness that is constantly expressed through the symbolic narration of the wanderings of the unnamed protagonist in the streets of Kristiania. According to this interpretation, the experience of hunger hides the symbolization of the experience of separation, distance and alienation that in a Lacanian mirror stage, presupposes the unification in the existential integrity of the Ego of the disrupted and disintegrated parts of the protagonist's corporal and spiritual dimension, "a harmonious identity between mind and body which enables the hero to mirror himself in the separate part of his body" (Kittang, 299). Although this analysis is undoubtedly fascinating and convincing, I consider it derivative and consequential to an interpretation of Hunger that conceives the psychological representations present in the novel as consequences that emerge from Hamsun's expression of the sensitive experience of movement that is related to a pre-identity or pre-Ego stage, whereby the artistic consciousness is singular, but not individual.
During Hamsun's narrative we witness the emergence of the protagonist's psychological identity and behaviors from the undetermined city's modern flux that he is experiencing and to which he is subjected. The streets that "had already begun to get noisy, tempting me to go out" (Hamsun 4), sensually lure the protagonist that merges and emerges as an individual from their convulsive topography. During the entire narrative, the sensitive aspect of this experience is constantly remarked by the wandering protagonist: "nothing that was taking place around me escaped my perception. [...] Nothing escaped my attention, I was lucid and self-possessed, and everything rushed in upon me with a brilliant distinctness" (14-15). While this passage recalls the psychological interpretation that Kittang proposes, effectively it is preceded in the text by this affirmation: "Gradually I began to have an odd sensation of being far away, in some other place; I vaguely felt that it wasn't I who was walking there on the flagstone with bowed head" (13-14, emphasis added).
Moving through the street, hence, presupposes the sensation of vagueness and indetermination that preexists the ego stage and the formation of identity. The protagonist seems to join, in a Bergsonian sense, the stream of other moving images, among which he is not yet an individual, but it is a virtual it that through perception emerges as a unified and positioned Ego. The vagueness of this confound does not merely concern the creative consciousness, but is reflected also in the surrounding objects, "her color comes and goes, her face changes from one expression to another" (14). Movement itself is not directed or oriented. Since Massumi and Bergson differentiate the trajet (movement) and trajectory (representation of movement), Hamsun expresses the trajet of movement since the spatiality in the novel is neither the Cartesian space nor merely a spiritual domain; the corporal sensation of hunger causes the expression of movement as neither measurable nor representable since it unfolds and enfolds itself: "I could clearly perceive a gradually increasing weakness, I seemed to have become too feeble to steer or guide myself where I wanted to go; a swarm of tiny vermin had forced its way inside me and hollowed me out" (19). According to the words of Peter Kirkegard quoted by Mark Sandberg, "[t]he author wanders the same path over and over again, but the spatial location is arbitrary, not linked to him, except in a negative, absurdist way; he walks in circles, in a labyrinth." (268). In this sense his movement through the city streets does not seek its ontological cause in the actual representation of the space that he walks, but rather movement ontogenetically enfolds the emergence of an actual trajectory from the potential virtuality of its dynamism. Indeed, Hamsun's movement is neither directed nor oriented; it is not measurable since it defines a trajet and not a trajectory. However, we do not have to intend it just as a movement of the mind, since it is actual yet abstract, sensitive not corporeal. Only when the protagonist mediates the moving sensations through a static dimension is he able to connect this overwhelming experience to his own identity, representing that process mirroring and unification that Kittang correctly detected in the novel: "I sit up halfway and look down at my feet, and at this moment I experience a fantastic, alien state I'd never felt before; a delicate, mysterious thrill spreads through my nerves, as though they were flooded by surges of light. When I looked at my shoes, it was as I [...] got back a torn-off part of me: a feeling of recognition trembles through all my senses" (22).
The experience to which the modern city subjects the artist, whereby the sensitive space is occupied by rumbles, light, colors, odors and noises, presupposes the constant relation of the singular with "all the little fortuitous things that crossed" (Hamsun 6) his trajectory. This connection and perceptive contact with different objects is the causal principle that provokes the individuation and the emergence of the Ego of the protagonist. Even writing itself appears as a faculty which the author shares with the undetermined flux that surrounds him, "other scenes, actions and dialogue well up in my brain, and a wonderful sense of pleasure takes hold of me. I write as if possessed. [...] [My thoughts] continue to crowd in on me, I am full of my subject, and every word I write is put in my mouth" (34). Therefore, the vagueness of movement and determination of position and identity constantly seem to unfold and enfold one into each other and the artist's task consists in creating a sensitive and alternative dimension in respect to the "real" world, he is "looking [...] from another world" (157), that emerges with the features of the urban environment.
In this vague architectural habitat where people "kept running into one another" (179), the sensitive experience of hunger overcomes the spiritual and corporal boundaries established by psychological identification and physical materiality converts itself into a transitory and primordial dimension. "Suit's solitary hero, however, fails in both eating and affection, and this self-sufficiency in human relationships suggests a refusal of all fixed and preset schemes of identity" (Rossi 427).
Hence, the autobiographical aesthetic choice and the anonymity of the protagonist appear as formal consequences of the central object of Hamsun's novel; as the identity simultaneously merges and emerges from the indetermination of movement, the autobiographical accounts refer themselves to an unnamed and non-identified protagonist and vice versa. Indeed, "not once in the entire novel does its narrator draw attention of his present, narrating self by adding information, opinions, or judgments that were not his during his past experience" (Cohn 155).
The protagonist of the novel is not the "narrated I", as Kittang correctly affirms, but rather this consciousness without name and biography that wanders in a sensitive space, where "fantasy, imagination, creativity and true writing are necessarily preconditioned by nothingness." However, there is not a dialectic between this moving and undetermined "nothingness" and the artistic consciousness, since the dialectic process prefigures a relation already mediated by fixed signifieds, but rather it presupposes a dynamic relation based on interchangeability between the extremities that compose this connection. Throughout the novel, indeed, the entities depicted are never static nor representable in a stable image; both the artist and the city are constantly vague and ambiguous. For instance the latter is expressed as the milieu of rejection, where the artist "stands like a solitary buoy in the middle of the ocean, surrounded on all sides by surging, roaring waves" (43), as "a white beacon in the midst of a turbid human sea with floating wreckage everywhere" (48) or the place of rejection: "I fell up against the wall [...] and I felt I was about to pass out. [...] I stretched out my hands and pushed myself back from the wall; the street was still whirling with me" (211).
On the other hand the streets are expressed also as comforting spaces for the artist, who takes shelter in them, for instance when the institutionalized threat brought by the arrival of a policeman and the consequential reclusion are prevented by the shuffling of the protagonist "into a side street" (103). Indeed, in the changing city equally resides the possibility to experience the sensitive relation between consciousness and the moving images of the objects that surround it: "The passion quivering in every moment of the passersby. The dim light of the street lamps, the tranquil, pregnant night--it was all beginning to affect me." (117)
Similarly to the depiction of the city's interchangeable materiality, the human corporeality in Hamsun's novel is, alternatively, the vehicle through which the perception of the material world is affirmed and the continuously dissolving evidence of the mutability of this "real" world. Indeed, the reality of the body oscillates from the commonsensical perceptive experience of the external world to the disintegration of the body itself provoked by hunger. The artist's corporeal dimension vanishes through extreme attempts of self-phagocytosis, "Finally I stuck my forefinger in my mouth and took to sucking on it. [....] Without a moment's hesitation I squeezed my eyes shut and clenched my teeth together" (123). Or in other circumstances, the dissolution of the body is expressed in its merging with the architectural object that, in this sense, appears in a physical continuity with the human corporeality, and the artist's subjectivity resonates in the building surfaces that simultaneously absorb some human features: "I am greatly absorbed by the tiny hole in the wall by my bed. [...] I feel it, blow into it, try to guess its depth. That was no innocent hole, not by any means, it was a very intricate and mysterious hole that I had to beware of" (74). The complexity of reality is interiorized by the architecture that assumes adjectives and uncanny epithets such as innocent, intricate or mysterious. In this sense Hamsun seems to express a sensitive virtual world whereby the city is architectural yet pre-urban, and the humanity itself is something human yet pre-human.
The virtuality that resonates in the aesthetic world created by Hamsun manifests itself also in the linguistic component of the novel. As the expression of the singular experience as primordial to the individual or that of the body beyond its mere corporeality, Hamsun attempts to create a language that is simultaneously pre-linguistic, yet communicative. This linguistic experiment, as we will later testify, constitutes one of the fundamental aspects of the Modern novel, and hence also of the prose of Joyce and Miller, who will take it to the extremes. The problematization of communication operated by Hamsun, "parallels Joyce's technique of 'cannibalization' of language, [...] [i.e.] fusing language and by enacting a linguistic assimilation, recycling] and digesting] its own kind, creating a kind of stylistics of 'mumbling'" (Rice 27-28); in this sense Hamsun interiorizes the linguistic commonsensical and established structures in order to back-form an alternative communicative system that would better coincide with the variability of the moving reality that it tried to express. In the novel this experimental technique is manifest in the partial blurring of the limits and in the imperceptible transition from "realist" descriptions to the expression of hallucinatory and dream states, but also in a particular episode experienced by the unnamed protagonist, the creation of the word Kuboaa. "I lay back to try and fall asleep [...] I kept listening for footsteps in the street for a while [...] Ha! I imagined I had found a new word. [...] It doesn't exist in language [...] Kuboaa. It does have letters like a word...The word was really suited to mean something spiritual, a feeling, a state of mind" (75-76, emphasis by Hamsun).
In this passage it is possible to recognize at least two fundamental aspect that are typical of literary modernism in general. Firstly the "new" word that seems suggested by the external and apparently separate world, it is something original yet common, since it has letters like common words, but at the same time it overcomes the limit imposed by normal language (5). On the other hand, it is not merely its signifier that carries this virtuality, since its signified must communicate something spiritual, with Hamsun's words, hence something corporeal, "a feeling", yet potentially "a state of mind". As this specific episode suggests, Hamsun's creative language seems to re-enact the dynamic of virtuality proposed by Massumi, where the abstract is concrete, the cultural is natural and the actual is potential. In the same manner as sensation in Massumi's and Bergson's notion connects the multiplicity and the potentiality of an object with the actual perception of this object operated by another entity, the creation of the word kuboaa expresses the attempt to shape the language on the dynamic virtuality of the modern city life. Indeed, the signified of the word is unstable and mutable, it oscillates between the abstract domain of language and its concrete actualization.
"[T]he hero is furthermore presented through his powerful force of imagination, appearing as a breeding place of myriads of fantasies: erotic and sensual daydreams, exotic flights from reality, hallucinations of food, love, and music, visions of colors and forms, strange adventures and identities" (Kittang, 302). Hence, through my analysis I have tried to stress the innovative aspects of Hamsun's novel, that will be later traceable and expanded by Joyce's and Miller's works, and that characterized the importance of this text in the transitive period from a Naturalist to a Modern aesthetic.
The moving maturity of the creative singularity in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
"And the glimmering souls passed away, sustained and failing, merged in a moving breath" (Joyce 165).
The connections between Hamsun's Hunger and James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Portrait) appear both directly and indirectly in these works. The influence and the admiration of Joyce for Scandinavian literature, and particularly for Henrik Ibsen is well known, indeed the Irish author constantly honors the Norwegian dramatist, for instance with his Ibsenian play Exile. As accurately expressed by Kristian Smidt in his article "'I'm not Half Norawain for Nothing': James Joyce and Norway," Joyce precociously perceived the potentialities of the innovative Scandinavian innovative literary phenomenon that became a benchmark for his works. He personally knew the Norwegian lyricist Olaf Bull and according to Sylvia Beach, during the International Protest of 1926 against Samuel Roth's piracy of Ulysses, Joyce "was particularly anxious to get the signatures of the Scandinavians" (185-86). Both Bull and Hamsun signed the protest.
This superficial connection between Joyce and Hamsun is not of course fundamental, but it can suggest the recognition of a sort of commonality between the two writers. For this reason, I assume that Portrait exemplifies the continuation of the trajet of modernist novel since it is not entirely detachable, as Hunger itself, from the 19th century literary aesthetic, and simultaneously it distances the modernist novel from the naturalist poetic. Portrait is a modernist Kiinstlerroman, since it tells the process of philosophical, aesthetic, sensual, religious and socio-political maturity of the young and sensitive Stephen Dedalus; however, Joyce transfers the usual plot of this genre into a modernist aesthetic. Effectively, this sub-genre generally particularizes the aspect of growth of a young personality inherent in the Bildungsroman, focusing its attention mostly on the controversial relation of a particular subject, the young artist, and his conflicts with the values of the society wherein (s)he grows (6). In this sense Joyce's work differs from the usual development of the Kiinstlerroman since the artistic growth of the character is not only realized by his friction with the stable apparatuses of society, but rather the society and the city emerge along with the protagonist, they grow with him, although they still represent an obstacle to his full realization as a subject.
Firstly, Joyce, as Hamsun did in Hunger, establishes a monoperspectival narration, which is monopolized by the thoughts, acts and perceptions of the creative singularity of the artist, which is a communal and fundamental feature of the Kiinstlerroman. However, Joyce, although he adopts a third-person narration, strengthens the process that was primordially proposed in Hunger, namely the coincidence between the author sensitive experience and that of his fictional alter ego. Therefore, Joyce does not occupy the usual position of the narrator of 19th century, who dominates the fate of his character as a scientist apparently controls the elements during an experiment; Joyce ironically tells Stephen's story as Dedalus himself or someone sharing the same sensitive creativity looked back to his juvenile wanderings and artistic maturity. Indeed, if Hamsun conceals the identity of the protagonist through anonymity, Joyce advances a step forward reducing the distance between the author and his creation, by using the pseudonym of Stephen Dedalus, in which several autobiographical references are contained. This progressive coincidence between autobiographical and fictional elements that Andreas Huyssen (brilliantly) detected in the short stories of modernist authors as Rainer Maria Rilke or Franz Kafka, is shared in a similar way also by the modernist novelists analyzed in this essay. Indeed, from Hamsun to Miller, passing through Joyce, the limits between personality and sociality, reality and fiction, "subjective imaginary" and "objective world", are constantly crossed, to such an extent that "[t]he human subject becomes grammatical object; the empirical object becomes grammatical subject" (Huyssen 34). Hence, even the dichotomy between narration and experience disappears, i.e. "the temporal dimension of erzahlen 'to narrate' and the spatial aspect of erfahren 'to experience'" (Huyssen, 29). Therefore, Joyce's Portrait differently from Hamsun's Hunger does not use the corporeal affection of hunger as a stylistic or symbolic vehicle of social rejection or isolation. While Hamsun uses experience--hunger--to produce and symbolize narration, Joyce tends to merge these two elements one into another, narration and experience are simultaneous and opposite sides of the dynamic dimension perceived by the sensitivity of the artist. The increasing syntony and synchrony between these elements allow the artist to annul the ontological process whereby one entity is the cause and the other is the effect: rather they are ontogenetic, alternatively being cause and effect, natural and artificial, real and fictional. Hence, the Irish writer renders the sensitive corporeal perception as the cause and the consequence of his marginal position within the social domain. Stephen's maturity is marked by the interpenetration of the sensitive realm and spirituality, that is initially overturned by the sensual aggression of the empirical world, which is exemplified also by the continuous association of "spiritual and physical" terms, as identified by J. L. Borges in Pierre Menard's expression "dolorous and humid Echo" (49). For instance, in the first pages of the novel Joyce describes the smell perceived in a chapel by Stephen first as "cold night smell" and later, as a "holy smell" (37). Although these associations are constantly reiterated by Joyce throughout the novel, I will leave this example as a hint instead of listing other similar occurrences in Portrait in order to focus my efforts on more fundamental aspects, as the formal choices and the content of the novel, in which this interpenetration is equally expressed.
As I noted before, Portrait was still connected to the 19th century literary tradition; hence, even the style adopted by Joyce is inherently a part of this association. "The general characteristics of Joyce's style in Portrait are those of the late Victorians and the Decadents: the sensual and violent imagery of Swinburne, the colors of the Pre-Raphaelites, the use of repetition and alliteration, the pervasive air of Weltschmerz, and so on" (Naremore 334).
However, Joyce dynamized this writing technique in order to reflect the movement of the protagonist in his personal growth and his actual mobility through the spatial domain of the city, which surrounds his maturity. This mobile language adheres to the unpositionality of the creative singularity. For instance, in the well-known incipit of the novel Joyce attempts to reproduce the linguistic naivety of children's communicative structures, but his choice is not merely an aesthetic artifice, but rather constitutes the expression of the reluctant attitude of the artist towards commonsensical imposed linguistic structures. Indeed, in the first pages, Stephen questions on a number of different occasions the stability of language, relating the origins of words with their sensitive and acoustic domain. Indeed, the "queer" word "suck" is related to the sound produced by the water that slowly "went down through the hole in the basin" (30) after Stephen's father had pulled the stopper up. Or, in a similar way, the word "kiss" is generated by "the tiny little noise" (34) emitted by the touch of Stephen's mother's wet lips on his cheeks. It seems that in his childish naivety, the young Stephen could not recognize the positioned and determined action that these two words identify; words in this sense appear similarly to Massumi's interpretation of these elements, in fact they seem as strange "invisible yardsticks" and the artistic child seems "too close to the confound to match what [he is] seeing by the wordly measure" (169).
If these first attempts appear very simple according to their childish nature, the linguistic problematic evolves with the protagonist mind. The dynamic interpenetration between sensible and abstract domain is exemplified by Stephen's perception of the continuity and resonance of different words in their connection within the dynamism of the sentence, as the harmony of the notes in a musical chord: "- A day of dappled seaborne clouds. The phrase and the day and the scene harmonized in a chord. Words. Was it their colors? He allowed them to glow and fade, hue after hue. [...] No, it was not their colors: it was the poise and the balance of the period itself" (192).
The mutual coincidence between the day, the scene and the phrase is the cause and the consequence of the artist linguistic and social rejection since he perceives their dynamic association, but he is still consciously unable to accept it and to re-create it. Indeed, throughout the novel Joyce ironically mocks the awkward and vain attempts operated by Stephen to position reality, art language and himself in a determined representation. As James Naremore notes "Joyce's style not only takes us into Stephen's rather florid imagination, it also, by means of subtle parody, gives us a clue to the attitude Joyce has toward his hero" (335).
Especially in the aesthetic statements pronounced by Stephen, Joyce stresses the inherent contradiction of his artistic immaturity derived from the friction between the socio-political, positioned world and the dynamism and interchangeability of reality. Indeed, Stephen attempts to ignore this opposition affirming that art itself, just like sociality, arrests, captures the mind that "is raised above desire and loathing" (232) that on the contrary produce "kinetic emotions" and therefore "improper arts." Inspired by the rigid aesthetic theorizations of Thomas Aquinas, Stephen constructs a static depiction of art and of artistic genres, theoretically divided in three forms: the lyrical form, related to the representation of the artistic personality; the epical form, where the artist depicts the mediated representation to the others; the dramatic form, where the relation with the others is immediate. However, suddenly after this rigid statement Joyce ironically makes him affirm: "art [...] does not present the forms I spoke of distinguished clearly one from another" (242), since the personality of the artist moves and reflects the dynamic reality. Despite Stephen's efforts to immobilize the artistic expression, he is affected by the chaotic nature of art that he physically experiences, "[t]he instant of inspiration seemed now to be reflected from all sides at once from a multitude of cloudy circumstance of what had happened or of what might have happened" (245; emphasis added).
Inspiration constitutes the perceptive moment where the artist, as Massumi affirms, sensitively reflects the virtuality and the potentiality inherent in the moving reality, which is actual "what had happened" yet also potential "what might have happened." The creative artistic singularity merges itself into virtuality and expresses the substanceless durationless moment of epiphany; therefore in Joyce's novel Stephen continuously reacts to this moving chaotic reality that confounds the sensible world with his spirituality, erroneously associating its disorienting dynamism with religious guilt and sin, "[i]t was his own soul going forth to experience, unfolding itself sin by sin, [...] quenching its own lights and fires. They were quenched: and the cold darkness filled chaos" (126). Stephen's Catholic sense of guilt is ironically told by Joyce as a sort of immature misunderstanding of the artist of his creative sensitive singularity. Stephen as both an artist and a young man, oscillates between his artistic nature and the dread of its consequences; however, in the epiphanic experience that resembles an ineluctable force, he "swoons into some new world, fantastic, dim, uncertain as under the sea, traversed by cloudy shapes and beings" (199, emphasis added). His creativity allows him to glimpse the dynamic reality that surrounds him to sense this new world, that effectively is primordial and ontogenetic in respect to the positioned reality regulated by sociopolitical structures; in this sense the alternative world literally destroys the consequential commonsensical reality, "the world for all its solid substance and complexity no longer exist[s] for his soul save as a theorem of divine power and love and universality" (Joyce 175). The creation of an alternative world wherein the artistic mind is simultaneously the regulator element and the regulated object, is referable to the modernist attempt to replace its contingent source of being, namely its artistic predecessors, with its own aesthetic; in this sense Joyce, as Massumi suggests in his notion of the figure of the artist, is "trying to give birth to himself inasmuch as he is seeking to be his own progenitor or father" (Boysen, 162). The artist becomes an equivalent of God, since by joining the confound he is able to shape himself and the reality which surrounds him. It is not by chance that Joyce in Ulysses writes: "After God, Shakespeare has created the most" (1028-29), openly expressing his conception of the creative power of the artistic imaginary.
Stephen's natural growth emerges through and with his urban experience of Dublin that seems to reflect the artistic and personal contradictions of Stephen Dedalus himself. As Kristiania for Hamsun, Joyce's Dublin constitutes both the environment where the socio-political structures impose a marginal position to the artist and the virtual milieu where Stephen consciously becomes an artist. "Dublin was a new and complex sensation" (Joyce 87). The city is simultaneously the realm of becoming--movement--and belonging position (Massumi, 71). Dublin is told by Joyce as a transforming creature, which changes along with Stephen, as language or art did. Stephen Dedalus's creative mind perceives Dublin as unstable, in such extent to define the city as a "dull phenomenon" (100, emphasis added). As Jon Hegglund affirms "by presenting Dublin not as an organic community but as a series of individual itineraries bound only by their coincidence in space and time, Joyce suggests that the cartographic image of space is less an authoritative representation of the boundaries of community than a heuristic tool to unify conceptually what is necessarily multiform and disparate" (169). Although Hegglund is referring to the spatiality in Ulysses, this urban conception is shared also by Portrait. Indeed, the awareness of the socio-political rejection against Stephen arises as a consequence of his sensitive singularity that is constituted by the perception of the dynamic reality exemplified by modern urbanity. When Stephen interacts with moving objects through the artistic epiphany, he perceives them not as determined and positioned individualities but rather as forms "that passed this way and that way through the dull light. And that was life" (135, emphasis added). In that epiphanic movement life reveals itself in its dynamic reality, paradoxically Stephen becomes an artist in this perfectly conscious detachment from the positioned individualities that emerge as ever-changing images or figures. Even the sensual experiences that characterized the shift from childhood to maturity are perceived by the creative sensitivity in their multiplicity and virtuality: "It was not thought nor vision though he knew vaguely that her figure was passing homeward through the city" (262).
Therefore, the urban environment naturally expresses a sort of aesthetic and physical reflection of the modern reality; hence, Joyce's streets appear as a sort of response "to a world in flux, always in the unmaking, a kind of spatial kaleidoscope" (Kearns 108). Dublin, as Stephen himself, is constantly shifting through temporal and spatial positions, it avoids any possibility of being immobilized by Joyce in a static representation; it is not an individual, but rather it is Dublin in its material actuality, while it potentially contains alternative innumerable emergences. In Joyce's words, "he walked onward swiftly through the dark streets. There were so many flagstones of that street and so many streets in that city and so many cities in the world. Yet eternity had no end." (164). In this sense, to quote John Rickard: "The city rises in bits, not in masses" (142). Joyce oscillates between the commonsensical narration of Stephen's personal and artistic maturity and the dreamlike expression whereby the positioned dimension of the city is fragmented into alternative "snapshots," as Huyssen would call them, that do not capture its representation in a chain of consequential tableaux, but rather that coexist in the multiple transitoriness and simultaneity of movement. As David Spurr notes, "of the various formal elements of urban space, the most important for Joyce is that of circulation, the constant movement of persons and objects in all directions within a defined space" (32); however, as the oscillating expression of Dublin proposed by Joyce seems to demonstrate, the space is not any more defined, it is a virtual element of the circulation, it is not merely a surface or a support for movement, but it is movement itself.
Dublin, as in a symbiotic connection, doubles and reiterates Stephen's physical and natural movement, allowing him to become conscious of the complex reality, and, subsequently, of his artistic capacity. Indeed, the city constitutes the environment where the virtuality of the new world, as Joyce named it, emerges and where Stephen through the sensitive resonances between his singularity and that of Dublin awakes "from a slumber of centuries" (123). Indeed, initially Stephen positioned himself as the logical and progressive continuity of the rationalized chain of the commonsensical sociopolitical world:
Class of Elements
Clongowes Wood College
The Universe" (34)
On the other hand, when he personally experiences by his artistic maturity the consequential nature of this positional structure, which tended to immobilize Stephen and Dublin itself in a determined point of the socio-political grid, he sensitively reacts by a creating an alternative and primordial world, wherein this logical chain is interrupted by the dynamic expression of multiplicity and transitoriness, instead of positionality. However, Joyce's dynamic reflection does not underestimate the autobiographical and fictional consequences that the recognition of the arbitrariness of the positioned and static world provokes in respect to the artist life. Stephen's sensitive liberation allows him to appreciate his singularity that exceeds his univocal identity as member of a determined family, living in a specific country of the world; on the other hand this liberation causes the estrangement from the terms involved. Therefore, Stephen, just like the anonymous protagonist of Hunger, losing his identification as a positioned individual of society in favor of a multiple, creative singularity, is not recognized any more as part of the rationalized chain. However, while Hamsun's character physically and spiritually suffers this social rejection, Joyce's Dedalus seems to be more conscious of the potentialities that this alienation may produce in his artistic and biographical life. Indeed, if Hunger's protagonist is forced to leave Kristiania, Stephen deliberately decides to distance himself from his static past, in order to emerge as a creative singularity. In the final section of Portrait where Stephen's will to leave is realized, Joyce adopts the aesthetic form of a diary, annulling the final rampart that separated fiction from reality. The shift of the narration from a third person singular to a narrative "I" completes the coincidence between Joyce's personal life and Stephen's fictional reality; his artistic dynamic creation resonates in his autobiographical life in which it merges and from which it emerges:
[Mother] prays now, she says, that I may learn in my own life and away from home and friends what the hearts is and what it feels. Amen. So be it. Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race. (282)
The use of the diary form, the shift from the third person narration to the "I" of the first person and the biographical story of Joyce who actually left Dublin in 1904 at the age of 22, reinforce the topical need of the modern artist to abandon his roots, origin and identity in order to find his creative singularity. He deliberately decides to leave his mother, symbol of family and origins, who "prays" him, a verb that obviously reminds the religious influence that had oppressed Joyce in his youth. In this sense the rupture of social relations such as religion, family, friendship and Dublin that have shaped Stephen's subjectivity are inevitable for the complete formation of the artist. Finally, he can join life, the multiplicity of reality and the sensitive experiences that emanate from it.
Metropolitan chaos and creative movement in Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn
From their publication respectively in 1934 and 1939 by the Obelisk Press in Paris, both Tropic of Cancer (ToC) and Tropic of Capricorn (ToCap) provoked a sudden and divergent reaction of the social and of the artistic environment. While they were immediately banned in all English-speaking countries, these two novels received praise from major artists of the modernist period including T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Lawrence Durrell. For instance, Samuel Beckett defined them as "a momentous event in the history of modern writing."
These contradictory reactions along with the obscene content of the novels has rendered the figure of Henry Miller as one of the most representative among modernist authors, especially for his influence on the sexual and artistic protest of the sixties. As Miller became a prominent example for younger authors, in his writing he constantly refers to innumerable predecessors who inspired his works. Miller first of all presents himself as a reader who admires the masterpieces of Celine and Bergson, of Nietzsche and Rimbaud, of Rableais and Jarry. Bergson especially represents a fundamental inspiration for Miller; as he openly affirms the influence of Creative Evolution, saying that he "had never understood a thing which was written in this book, [...] [but he] had preserved the memory of one word, creative, [that] is quite sufficient" (199; Miller's emphasis). Hence, Miller's perceptive and philosophical thought inherently presupposes the influential presence of Bergson's notion of the body, sensation and movement. Obviously, the connection with Bergson is not merely contingent as this episode might appear. Indeed, Miller's narrative aesthetic, like Bergson's philosophy, implies the conception of a prose that avoids the representative nature of the temporal divisions; hence, Time becomes an ontological limit that confines the writing in a illusory environment separated from the natural dynamism of reality. For this reason Miller expresses in his works the "paradoxical idea that even though he interrupts the chronological movement of his anecdotes with details from earlier incidents, he nevertheless progresses at all times" (Decker 23); the cancer of the title of the first novel becomes Time that limits, divides, corrodes modern existence, so that in the first lines of the novel Miller's "hero is not time but timelessness" (9).
In the same novel, by mentioning his novel Mysteries he praised also Knut Hamsun, who along with August Strindberg represents the central reference for Miller of the solipsist expression of the artistic life. On the other hand, although in the two novels Miller does not make any reference to James Joyce, his relationship with the latter's works appears much more controversial. Sam Bluefarb analyses this connection in his article "Henry Miller's James Joyce: A Painful Case of Envy," wherein, as the title suggests, he suggests that Miller's critique was due to a sort of artistic envy in respect to the talented prose of Joyce. Bluefarb affirms that Miller harshly "criticizes Joyce for substituting art for life" (462) to such an extent that he called Ulysses "the most triumphant monument to disillusionment that has ever been erected" (The World of Lawrence 104). Although Bluefarb is partly right in detecting this artistic envy of Miller towards Joyce, he underestimates the narrative continuity between their works and their aesthetic; indeed, as George Orwell notes in his essay "Inside the Whale," the two authors share a similar sensitive and artistic capacity to affect the reader as if they knew his/her deepest thoughts and feelings, as if they knew "all about you though [they have] never heard your name, that there some world outside time and space in which you and them are together" (495). Hence, despite Miller's rejection of any commonality between his aesthetic vitality and Joyce's artistic elitism, the works of these authors resonate in a similar sensitive communicative feature. In this sense, Miller's reaction towards Joyce's writing appears as a similar phenomenon to Joyce's attempt to detach himself from the literary tradition of the 19th century in order to become "his own progenitor or father" (Boysen 162).
If we approach Miller's novels, it is suddenly detectable a resonance of the poetic and aesthetic of the Irish writer. Indeed, the American author continues the itinerary marked both by Hamsun and Joyce, whereby the apparent distance between the biographical and the fictional, life and reality is progressively annulled. Despite the fact that Miller criticized Joyce for favoring art in respect to life, he operates a similar choice by making both elements coincide in his novels: "Miller ultimately weaved a deceivingly complex web of narratives in which the unsuspecting reader is inclined to conflate the writer with the author" (Masuga 115). For, while his novelistic diptych are novels "in first person, or autobiography in the form of a novel" (Orwell 493), both Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn are considerable fictional realities, wherein it is a vain attempt to distinguish what is real and what is fictional, although some critics, such as Katy Masuga in "Henry's Miller and Henry's Paris," reject this impossibility. Effectively, Miller himself seems to dissuade us from seeking the limits between these realms, by using a quote of Ralph Waldo Emerson in order to introduce Tropic of Cancer:
These novels will give way, by and by, to diaries or autobiographies--captivating books, if only a man knew how to choose among what he calls his experience, and how to record truth truly.
Throughout the two novels, Miller take to the extreme the process of coincidence between artistic reality and personal life; he was not Henry Miller the individual and Henry Miller the artist, but rather Henry Miller as an artist; he lived, "therefore, between two boundaries, the one real, the other imaginary" (ToCap 195; emphasis added). In Miller's novels, Joyce's Dedalus seems to complete his maturity, by becoming sensitive, conscious of his creative singularity, which creatively reacts to the static rigidity imposed by modern society. (7)
Miller perceives the squalor and despair that surround human beings, who are inserted in the rational, commonsensical socio-economic chain of production; effectively, he is alone among walking dead who are subdued by the modern machine: "[p]eople already dead are trying frantically to mount the gallows, but the wheel is turning to fast" (ToC 70). Especially in Tropic of Capricorn where Miller tells of the frustrating working years spent in New York before his arrival in Paris, he expresses his problematic attempt to insert himself as a stable individual and component of the modern life. However, thanks to this vain attempt, just like Stephen did in Joyce's Portrait, he emerges as the creative singularity who through his art creates an alternative world that coincides with the dynamic movement that ontogenetically produces it.
Urban life in New York imposes on Miller the recognition of his singularity since in this environment he "had never done what [he] wanted and out of not doing what [he] wanted to do there grew up inside [him] this creation which was nothing but an obsessional plant, [...], which was expropriating everything, including life itself, until life itself became this which was denied but which constantly asserted itself, making life and killing life at the same time" (ToCap 49). By identifying the city with the organic nature of a plant, Miller reinforce the sense of instability inherent in modern urban life that as in a process of phagocytosis incorporates and normalizes life, that simultaneously appears as the affirmation and the negation of itself. Indeed, what characterizes the urban modern life resonates in the creative singularity of the artist as an artificial construction that disguise itself as a natural process, a plant; hence, the logic chain whereby the artificial derives from the natural seem interrupted and confused, since the artificial becomes the natural and vice versa. On the other hand, the complication of this relation presupposes also the re-thinking of the generative process since the city vegetal as we will see later has no roots; it does not arise from the feeding of a stable soil but at the same time it is not Self-generated. Rather, it is the ontogenetical emergence of the relation between the artist and the architectural environment.
According to Miller's definition, it is possible to detect in modernity the cause and the effect of artistic creation since it stimulates the emergence of Miller as "a thing apart, a non-useful member of society" (ToCap 50) that reacts to the individualization requested by modernity to human beings in order to be accepted in its domain, since "[t]o be accepted and appreciated you must nullify yourself, make yourself indistinguishable from the herd" (ToCap 52). As I will later explain, the nullification of the human beings, as conceived by Miller, does not presume the disappearance of the individual as an Ego, but rather the emergence of men as coherent entities derived from the abolition of humanity. Modernity, indeed, imposes the representation of the dynamic singularity of human beings as positioned individuals who act and think as apparently separate entities, while they are profoundly standardized by society where everyone "become automatically the personification of the whole human race, shaking hands with a thousand of human hands, [...], applauding, whistling, crooning, soliloquizing, [...] and so on forth" (ToCap 89). Therefore, Miller, just as the protagonist of Hamsun's Hunger, emerges in his singularity by expressing an alternative and primordial world where he is not him-Self as a positioned entity in the grid, but rather as a transitory reflection of the fluid artistic reality. Hence, he realizes "that what governs life is not money, not politics, not religion, not training, not race, not language, not customs, but something else, something you're trying to throttle all the time and which is really throttling you" (ToCap 278).
Hence, the perception of the inherent contradiction of modernity, that sense of unreality or unnecessity that reveals the fallacy and the instability of social structures, urges the creative mind to overcome individuality, as the construction of a coherent and close Self, and humanity itself, as the positioned notion of human being in its sociality. In order to do that, he needed to recognize another sensitive surface which could resonate in the eventness of movement; then, as with Joyce's and Hamsun's novels, Miller finds this counterpart in the city which in 1930s is neither a town, like Kristiania, nor a bourgeois city, like Dublin, but rather is a metropolis, like New York and Paris. These two cities are ever-changing entities, Paris is sometimes "an eternal city" where "the streets were my [Miller's] refuge" (ToC 186), while other times is a "whore" that makes Miller "feel empty and disgusted with myself" (ToC 211). In a similar way New York is "cold, glittering, malign. The buildings dominate. [...] [Yet] [s]tupendous. Bizarre. Baffling. A tremendous reactive urge, but absolutely uncoordinated" (ToC 74). By detecting the controversial, unstable nature of modern urbanity, Miller recognizes his own uncoordination since, as Masuga notes, "Miller was attracted to the very lifestyle of his contemporaries but also heavily rejected it, he took it upon himself to reimagine and thereby re-create a Paris that included his often contradictory model, both incorporating and fundamentally rejecting its literary tradition" (115).
However, Masuga conceives Miller's expression of Paris as a static representation that constitutes a sort of support that "sustains its dreaminess" (118), while the experience of urbanity resonates in a dynamic movement of the author through the streets and buildings that actually emerge along with Miller. "The city sprouts out like a huge organism" (ToC 47), in Miller's words, where other objects share a communal movement, everything is "vibrant" or "palpitant" (ToC 317). In order to move along with the city, Miller needs to physically wander through the veins of the organism, "prowling around aimlessly" (ToC 44); his movement is neither directed, nor oriented, it has no beginning and no end, as the city itself, wherein "[t]he streets twist and turn, at every angle a fresh hive of activity" (ToC 45). Through his wandering Miller emerges as a sensitive and creative singularity that recognizes its dynamic diversity in respect to the static structures of social context. Therefore, in the moving streets Miller declares: "I don't need to ponder my shame and my despair in seclusion. I need the sunshine and the paving stones of the street without companions, without conversation" (ToC 72). Although the streets themselves seem to communicate with Miller, they are not a surface, but a moving entity that tell human misery and failure through a "sad, bitter language" (ToC 188). Miller's trajets, where he is "unknown" and "alone," constitute the sensitive moments wherein he perceives the "process of metamorphosis [that] takes place, just as in a dream" (ToCap 198). This sort of entr'acte of existence between the material and the spiritual world is the alternative dimension where both the city and the artist as the politosgenetic object emerges. Indeed, the kinetic and synaesthetic experience of reality provides the virtual potentialities of artistic expression, since Miller as a creative singularity, can fully perceives this dynamic. Just like Hamsun's anonymous protagonist, Miller's wandering overcomes the material and spiritual limits of the Self through perception: "My mind is curiously alert; it's as though my skull had a thousand mirrors inside it. My nerves are taut, vibrant! [...] Nothing escapes me, not even the tiniest pin falling. It's as though [...] every pore of my body was a window and all the window open and the light flooding my gizzards" (ToC 81). Therefore, only in the epiphanic, dreamlike, sensitive moment the artist actually merges and emerges from the confound, he can feel the curves of the light over and inside his body, they resonate in movement, they are communicative surfaces related from the sensitive void that separates them; only when he stops "the windows are closed and [his] organs drop back into place" (ToC 81). Miller, as like Hamsun and Joyce before him, reacts to the dichotomous separation between ideas, as positioned structures, and living, as material world, by connecting these extremities with the perceptive action wherein Ideas are wedded in action and they resonate in vitality and sex, they do not exist in a mental vacuum, "Ideas are related to the living: liver ideas, kidney ideas, interstitial ides, etc" (ToC 243).
The creative process that force Miller to live as an exile, just as Stephen Dedalus and Hamsun's anonymous narrator, presumes the simultaneous overcoming of the notion of humanity as determined by the static structures of society; in order to become a "writing machine" (ToC 34) that expresses the flowing things, Miller needs to distance from his positioned Self, he needs to be "neutral" (ToC 57). Indeed, the moving objects that compose the structured and ordered world conceive humanity as a stable and univocal system; on the other hand the artist considers himself inhuman since, goaded by unknown impulses, he demolishes the "imaginative individual", limited by "moralities and codes" (ToC 257) by creating an alternative, primordial world "of natural fury, of passion, action, drama, dreams, madness" (ToC 258). Hence, the commonsensical impulse "to create the human integer, the figure one, one and indivisible" (ToCap 58) is rejected by Miller in favor of a decomposed singularity, "variable as the molecule, durable as the atom" (ToCap 71). By this alternative singularity, Miller achieves a dynamic unity composed by the perception of all mobile, unnatural things surrounding him. He moves with them with no destination, he is not in a measurable trajectory, he has no root and no future, he is "a rootless self." Since "the aimless wandering is sufficient unto itself" (ToCap 207), he adheres to movement, rather than to identity; the artist separate from the phantom ego produced by position, he constitutes his own origin. In this sense, he constantly liquidates personality and by doing that he distances himself also from family, commonly praised as the social incubator of identity. Indeed, Miller's mother is perceived as "a complete stranger" and his sister is a "harmless monster," to whom it was impossible to be a brother. This ironic distance continues the itinerary of exile that concludes Joyce's Portrait whereby Stephen/Joyce leaves his country and the family, despite the prayers and the reprimands of his mother. The reaction to the social and positioned identity symbolized by family allows the artist to merge into his sensitive creation and reality where unity is produced through and in movement: "I love everything that flows: rivers, sewers, lava, semen, blood, bide, words, sentences. [...] [E]verything that has time in it and becoming, that brings us back to the beginning where there is never end. [...] All that is fluid, melting, dissolute and dissolvent, [...] that loses its senses of origin" (ToC 259). Hence, the dissolution of the unitary and positioned Self is necessary to the sensitive maturity of the artist that is free from determined forms and structures and that merges into the chaotic dynamic of reality. Even the structure of the commonsensical novel text is altered and fluidized by Miller, indeed he decided to eliminate chapters and sections in order to reflect the dynamic content of his books, so that the content could shift from page to page, oscillating randomly through the text; as Finn Jensen remarks "the chaotic order of the novel is very much like a rhizome, a set of relations without a center [...] in constant movement" (69).
In his metropolitan diptych Miller reflects in his writing style his perception of reality. If already in Hamsun's and Joyce's novels the transition between positioned reality and dynamic movement was rather fluid and the reader hardly perceived the limits between reverie and naturalism, in Miller's narration the dreamlike state continuously and confusedly merges and emerges from his relation with realist descriptions. Hence, Miller, unlike his predecessors, openly expresses the chaotic reality wherein his creative mind resonates. "From the beginning it was never anything but chaos" (ToCap 9): an "eternity which has nothing to do with time or space" (ToCap 258), "the score upon which reality is written" (ToC 10). This flux is meaningless, a confusion that resides "behind the word" (ToC 18), it moves directionless. As Massumi defined sensation as the filled distance that separates different perceptive entities, Miller's artistic creativity expresses the chaos as an entr'acte, a vacuum wherein singularity perceives movement. However, we do not have to confuse vacuity with nothingness since "vacuity is a discordant fulness, a crowded ghostly world in which the soul goes reconnoitering" (ToCap 179; emphasis added). The use of the adjective "discordant" marks the otherness of this world in respect to the commonsensical reality; here, the artist dominates with his own language that, just as in Hamsun's novel, is communicative, yet not structured and ordered. Miller literally creates and is created as a singularity by this chaotic dynamic: "My language, my world, is under my arm. I am the guardian of a great secret" (ToCap 201). As Donald Pizer affirms in his article "The Sexual Geography of Expatriated Paris," the act of writing expresses "a powerful and productive union of the forces present in sexual desire and in creative energy or in other terms, body and spirit" (174); in this sense writing and language, just as sensation, occupy a synthetic position between positioned, separate identities that social structures derivatively imposed on perceptive singularities. The text in Miller's poetic coincides with the life of the author, in a similar way in respect to Derrida's natural writing that "is immediately united to the voice and breath" (17). As James Decker notes, Miller "has always thought of his narratives as a means of comprehending his place in the cosmos and destroying the barriers between self and text" (60). This coincidence is not merely textual, but it reflects the resonance of the dynamic sensitive urban experience that generates the text and simultaneously is generated by the text.
Therefore, the two apparently unitary objects that emerge from flux, the city and the artist, express a singular resonance of this chaotic ontogenesis, which itself merges into these consequential entities. Indeed, in a particular passage of Tropic of Capricorn Miller describes the chaotic reality in which he moves through architectural connotations. He walks in this "stone forest the center of which is chaos"; however, the center is constantly moving, it is a "peripheral" that eludes any possibility of representation, "no page could be written which would have meaning" (ToCap 63). In order to express this alternative world, the novelistic narration must lose the last vestiges of naturalist style; Miller does not communicate a meaning that would reflect an ordered life in dichotomous opposition to the dynamic reality he perceived. This assumption, however, must not be considered as merely a particular aspect of the content of modernist novel, since it resonates only in the formal structure of these works. Indeed, as Massumi affirms, language oscillates between two levels of expression. The former is the expectation where language expresses and reflects the positioned structures that self-generates its own rules; the latter is the suspense where it emerge from the dynamic sensitive event. Hence, the expectation presumes a temporal, naturalist, oriented narration that logically proceeds though space and time, a linear narration. On the other hand, the suspended language creates a chaotic narration whereby the concepts of time and space collapse generating a disoriented and de-centered superlinear narration. (8) In this sense, the compelling necessity to adhere to the chaotic reality forces Miller to tend to a superlinear composition, wherein the narration and the structure of the novel itself proceeds with no direction, wherein it seems that it does not begin and does not end. As Gide described Hamsun's novel, Miller works have "aucune histoire, aucune intrigue," the linear naturalist narration that reflected the rational logics of cause and effect, action and reaction, past and future, dissolve in the transitoriness and multiplicity of Miller's works; his innovative aesthetic resonates in a modernity wherein "the cancer of time" eats us away, hence in his novels the hero is not more the linear "Time, but Timelessness" (ToC 9), which tend to the superlinear language. Reflecting Bergson's conception of time and of linearity, Miller "explodes the linear and replaces it with a flexible temporality capable of doubling or tripling back on itself" (Decker 7). Hence, the alternative chaotic world, conceived through urban modernity, constitutes a non-spatial atemporal dimension, in which past and future are not annulled as different entities, but rather ontogenetically enfold from it, in such extent that Miller's narration and life reside "exclusively in the gerundive" (ToCap, p.180), the Latin tense of Presentness and of transitoriness. Therefore, in Miller's diptych, the artist continues the itinerary marked by Hamsun and Joyce, whereby his creative singularity merge into movement in order to emerge and then generate his fictional world that is contaminated by the dynamic flux in which it flows. Through this movement the artist consciously reaches a sensitive awareness of his sensitivity; he understands the necessity of expressing himself through the generative act of writing, "something which is parallel to life, of it at the same time, and beyond it" (ToCap 13).
His atomic life is confused with the artistic fictional action, it is a "reflection of the outer chaos" (ToCap 65) that, just like a sensitive current, runs through it. Although the moving flux nullifies the artist as a stable individual, it does not annul his singularity, but rather it allows him to perceive the multiplicity of vacuity, to overcome oppositional dichotomies. The sensitive movement through the palpitant streets of the city does not produce a nihilist nothingness; on the contrary, it differentiates Miller from the amorphous identities shaped by static social positions, it compels him to never sit down on a point in the grid: "Better to keep circulating. [...] Don't sit down ... keep moving.[...] Keep moving Henry!" (ToCap 95).
Finally, the artistic mind merges and emerges from a moving reality in which it becomes and to which it belongs, unfolding the static aesthetic product in the form of the novel by enfolding in it the dynamic transitoriness of chaos. In this affirmative world, Miller as a politosgenetic artist is no more in exile, he does not have to leave it, but he has simply to join it.
In the final lines of Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller ironically defines his contemporary human beings a "strange fauna and flora", a sort of artificial natural creatures that "more than anything [...] need to be surrounded with sufficient space--space even more than time" (318). In my essay, I have attempted to analyze how modern urban space has been inversely expressed by Hamsun, Joyce, and Miller in their novels. Indeed, their artistic creations seem to reject this need of a positioned space that is shared also by several academic interpretations. Although their novels consequentially represent the social, cultural, economic and political context, symbolized by modern urbanity, wherein their individualities suffer the material and spiritual marginality and isolation; on the other hand, their works generates and expresses a primordial, virtual and dynamic reality that resonates in their content and in their form. For this reason, I argue that urban modernity represents one of the fundamental characteristics of modernist novels; however, its central position must not be intended as primordial to the artistic singularity nor consequential. Indeed, the city in its material and ideal reality does not produce artistic creation and at the same time it is not constructed by it, urbanity is neither merely a metaphorical support for creativity nor a symbolic consequence of it; on the contrary, in the novels analyzed, the architectural reality of modernity merges and emerges from the sensitive moving world in which the artist himself is confounded. Obviously, only through the creative artistic singularity the urban environment emerge, but, on the other hand, is precisely in this process of becoming that the singular emerge himself as an artist. Hence, as Bergson argues, the sensitive relationality between moving entities allows the possibility of the emergence of a coherent representational image that respectively correspond in this case to the city and to the artist as separated objects.
From the primordial attempt of Knut Hamsun's Hunger, to Henry Miller's diptych, passing through James Joyce's The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the modernist novelistic form shapes and differentiates itself from the dominant naturalist aesthetic of the 19th century. In the passage between these three author the trajet of modern novels is traced and simultaneously the role of the artist emerges as Charles Baudelaire had intuitively imagined the chimeric artistic creature in his essay. The modern artist is the sensitive singularity lost in the city crowd, wandering through the streets, between the tall buildings, perceiving the chaotic, virtual and alternative world in which the positioned notion of modernity and humanity generates itself. If the artist is certainly rejected by the social grid, while at the same time his marginality presupposes his emergence as a creative mind, he consciously differentiates himself as singular: "the task which the artist implicitly sets himself is to overthrown existing values, to make of the chaos about him an order which is his own, to sow strife and ferment so that by the emotional release those who are dead may be restored to life" (ToC 254). He actually generates the creative, urban world in which he is actual, hence physical, material and affective, yet abstract, hence potential, ideal and perceptive. Through the sensitive movement he oscillates as dynamic virtuality between these extremities. Therefore, as the artist moves beyond identity and humanity, the city itself joined his movement overcoming the limits of symbolization and Cartesian spatiality; it is not stable, measurable, divisible, rather it constantly becomes, it is indivisible, interchangeable and multiple.
By creating the sensitive and moving world, the positioned consequential limits that influenced both the form of the content of 19th century literature progressively dissolve. In the novels analyzed, the separation between artificiality and naturalness, fiction and reality, art and life increasingly collapse; however, as Miller and Massumi repeatedly affirm, this constitutional demolition does not presume a complete nullification into an undetermined nothingness, on the contrary it virtually and potentially provides the actualization of apparent, oppositional entities. Hence, the modern urbanized artist does not simply dominate and overlook his creation like the positivist literary scientists of naturalism, but he breaks the confinement walls that limited his creative action by merging and emerging from the chaotic flux since, as Miller notes, "[c]onfusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood" (ToCap 159).
The lyric yet concrete prophecy foretold by Baudelaire in Le Peintre de la Vie Moderne finds its realization in the heroic, sensitive figure of the modern novelists, des hommes singuliers, as the French poet would have presumably called them. Their artistic singularities enfold from the urban crowd in which they confound themselves; in and with the city they move, they wander, they feel, they sense, they merge and emerge, they are virtual, they are insatiable entities that fluidly overcome the limits of identity. Finally, the moving creative modern singularity adheres to the flux to which it belongs and in which it becomes, it ineluctably dwells "dans le nombre, dans l'ondoyant, dans le mouvement, dans le fugitif et l'infini."
(1) In order to have a theoretical and philosophical depiction of the urban environment in which Baudelaire's essay was conceived, see Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project, a collection of essays on the city life of Paris, namely the habitat of the artistic flaneur.
(2) Regarding the socio-political post-modernist conception of the relationship between the artist and the city and its philosophical and theoretical consequences, Henri Lefebvre's The Production of Space (1974) offers a Marxist perspective whereby space becomes a social product that affects spatial practices and perceptions. This argument implies the shift of the research perspective from space to processes of its production; the embrace of the multiplicity of spaces that are socially produced and made productive in social practices; and the focus on the contradictory, conflictual, and, ultimately, political character of the processes of production of space. Similarly Fredric Jameson suggests a critique of contemporary western society in Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1984). On the other hand, the American urban planner Kevin Lynch in The Image of the City (1960) conceives this relationship from the perspective of the users that form predictable mental maps of the cities through five particular elements: paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks.
(3) Cfr. Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter. New York: Routledge Classics, 2011. In her brilliant text, Butler does not want to "fix bodies as simple objects of thought" (viii), and effectively she seems to anticipate the ontogenetical analysis proposed by Massumi. Her dissertation on the performativity of the body--i.e., "the reiterative and citational practice by which discourse produces the effects that it names" (xii)--inherently presupposes the presence of sex as one of the norms that qualifies the body within the cultural domain. In this sense her analysis conceives the perceptive nature of the body as derivative to the gendered power discourse on sex, while for Bergson and for Massumi the dynamic heterogeneity of the body preexists to its production as a gendered object. Hence, Butler positions sex as a normative discourse that actually rules the performativity of the body, while Massumi on the other hand identifies in movement a primordial condition that lately positioned itself in a specific and structured gendered condition.
(4) Regarding a further acknowledgement of contemporary positions in respect to the issues of materiality, embodiment and subjectivity see Rick Dolphijn & Iris van der Tuin's New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies. Interviews with scholar such as Rosi Braidotti, Karen Barad, Manuel DeLanda and Quentin Meillassoux offer the possibility for the re-thinking of binary and hierarchical positions and their relationship with their actual practice.
(5) The reflection upon the limits of language occupies a fundamental position in literary and philosophical modernism. From the primordial linguistic investigations undertaken by Ferdinand de Saussure and Sigmund Freud to Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logicus-Philosophicus (1922), theoretical modernist debate recognized the necessity for a re-thinking of the linguistic theory; obviously, this necessity was expressed also by the artistic works of this period, indeed artist such as Alfred Jarry, Hugo von Hofmannstahl, and Rainer Maria Rilke, in the late years of the 19th century, developed an aesthetic conception whereby the linguistic aspect was conceived as a concrete artistic attempt to criticized modernity itself.
(6) For a complete description of the Bildungsroman and its prototypical features Mikhail Bakhtin's essay "The Bildungsroman and its Significance in the History of Realism" offers an interesting perspective whereby the development of this particular genre is connected to the emergence of the bourgeois society in the 18th and 19th century. In a similar way Franco Moretti in The Way of the World. The Bildungsroman in European Culture identifies the Bildungsroman as the genre through which capitalist imposition of homogeneity, agreement, and consensus on the subject is expressed. Indeed, the singular appears as an independent individual who freely decides to join the commonsensical society, while this choice is determined by the structures of society itself. In the book Human Rights, Inc. Joseph Slaughter develops this notion, analyzing the use of this particular genre by contemporary authors who live or describe third-world countries.
(7) The composition of anecdotes, fiction and prose has been analyzed by James Decker's Henry Miller and Narrative Form, in which Decker defines Miller's heterogeneous technique as a "spiral form" that is an actual deformation of the commonsensical autobiographical technique, allowing Miller to simultaneously be himself and juxtapose other narrative perspectives.
(8) Cfr. Brian Massumi, Parables, 26-27.
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|Publication:||Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2016|
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