It is a semi-autobiographical novel first published in Paris in 1938.
The novel was subsequently banned in the
The novel is set in 1920s New york, where the narrator 'Henry V. Miller' works in the personnel division of the 'Cosmodemonic' telegraph company.
Although the narrator's experiences closely parallel Miller's own time in
Often paired with Cancer, Capricorn is in fact strikingly different in narrative and even tone.
·for the most part, is
·Far Rockaway and the beaches beckon from the near distance, promising sexual escapades and one-night trysts.
Miller does not treat sex as purely physical:
-He takes sex seriously, for it opens up avenues of perception and consciousness that other activities do not.
-his writing is always laced with a heavy dose of self-parody, but he does seem to view sex as one of the few truly meaningful physical activities still open to humans, a way of forging connections with the material world.
-Since spirituality is, for him, to be found in the physical, the
act of sex is a way of reaching toward that spirituality – toward the truth that Miller so actively seeks.
The self – finding it, defining it, coming to terms with it – is the ultimate objective.
He references various pseudonyms – Gottlieb Leberecht Muller, Samson Lackawanna – and we know that in reality he penned many of his earlier works under the names Cecil Barr or Basil Carr.
All this jumbling of names is a way of suggesting the difficulty of defining oneself in the modern world.
Miller strives to fashion his own identity:
-drifting from job to job,
-diving into torrid affairs,
before he seems to discover himself, via writing and the creative act.
It can be read as Miller’s answer to Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:
-it tells the story of Miller, lost in his twenties,
-he tries writing a book, but fails, and pulls himself back up,
-he reads voraciously (particularly Dostoevsky), and keeps writing,
-he finds he is unable to control what is coming out of his pen,
-he has an epiphany of sorts,
-and finally he emerges as close to a fully-formed writer.
Miller suggests that one must be crushed in order to rise back up as an artist,
Miller argues that
Here, the new not only replaces the old but it obliterates it.
Miller writes of all “vestiges” of his old
-a European, despite that continent’s war-torn history, cannot understand that kind of effacement.
-In other words, American change is different from change anywhere else.
By positing this separation, Miller suggests that there is a uniquely American identity, one founded in a constant expunging of the past – just as the Native Americans were ruthlessly decimated.
The “sour rye” that Miller describes serves as a metaphor for the losses that accompany adulthood:
- loss of innocence,
- a greater loss of meaning.
Paychecks, employment, the “automatic process” of adult life, ruin the clear-headed philosopher that is a child.
Miller is surprisingly tender when describing his childhood, and evokes summer idylls, first loves, and excited conversations with loving detail.
Miller describes “drowning” himself in the
Rather than advocating killing oneself, however, Miller is arguing for a kind of spiritual rebirth.
The cycle of death and rebirth is crucial to artistic creation, and the end is simply a new beginning – as Miller suggests by concluding Tropic of Capricorn with the following words: “Tomorrow, tomorrow…” true art springs from the death/rebirth dynamic. Genius lies in resurrection”.