Tropic of Capricorn - by Henry Miller

What was most annoying was that at first blush people usually took me to be good, to be kind, generous, loyal, faithful. Perhaps I did possess these virtues but if so it was because I was indifferent: I could afford to be good, kind, generous, loyal, and so forth, since I was free of envy. Envy was the one thing I was never a victim of. I have never envied anybody or anything. On the contrary, I have only felt pity for everybody and everything.

At a time when others were getting themselves comfortable berths I was taking one miserable job after another, and never enough in it to keep body and soul together. Almost as quickly as I was hired I was fired. I had plenty of intelligence but I inspired distrust. Wherever I went I fomented discord - not because I was idealistic but because I was like a searchlight exposing the stupidity and futility of everything. Besides, I wasn't a good ass-licker. That marked me, no doubt. People could tell at once when I asked for a job that I really didn't give a damn whether I got it or not. And of course I generally didn't get it. But after a time the mere looking for a job became an activity, a pastime, so to speak.

For a man of my temperament, the world being what it is, there is absolutely no hope, no solution. Even if I could write the book I want to write nobody would take it -I know my compatriots only too well. Even if I could begin again it would be no use, because fundamentally I have no desire to work and no desire to become a useful member of society.

With the sour rye the world was what it is essentially, a primitive world ruled by magic, a world in which fear played the most important role. The boy who could inspire the most fear was the leader and he was respected as long as he could maintain his power. There were other boys who were rebels, and they were admired, but they never became the leader. The majority were clay in the hands of the fearless ones: a few could be depended on, but the most not. The air was full of tension -nothing could be predicted for the morrow. This loose, primitive nucleus of a society created sharp appetites, sharp emotions, sharp curiosity. Nothing was taken for granted: each day demanded a new test of power, a new sense of strength or of failure. And so, up until the age of nine or ten, we had a real taste of life - we were on our own. That is, those of us who were fortunate enough not to have been spoiled by our parents, those of us who were free to roam the streets at night and to discover things with our own eyes. What I am thinking of, with a certain amount of regret and longing, is that this thoroughly restricted life of early boyhood seems like a limitless universe and the life which followed upon it, the life of the adult, a constantly diminishing realm. From the moment when one is put in school one is lost: one has the feeling of having a halter put around his neck.

Immediately upon being introduced to him, I felt that I was in the presence of a being such as I had never known before. I had prepared, through MacGregor's description of him, to meet a rather "strange" individual, "strange" in MacGregor's mouth meaning slightly cracked. He was indeed strange, but so sharply sane that I at once felt exalted. For the first time I was talking to a man who got behind the meaning of words and went to the very essence of things. I felt that I was talking to a philosopher, not a philosopher such as I had encountered through books, but a man who philosophized constantly - and who lived this philosophy which he expounded. That is to say, he had no theory at all, except to penetrate to the very essence of things and, in the light of each fresh revelation to so live his life that there would be a minimum of discord between the truths which were revealed to him and the exemplification of these truths in action.

I have met thousands of people and none of them were alive in the way that Grover was. Most of them were more intelligent, many of them were brilliant, some of them were even famous, but none were alive and empty as Grover was. Grover was inexhaustible. He was like a bit of radium which, even if buried under a mountain does not lose its power to give off energy. Grover was the only truly joyous being I ever met in my life and this, therefore, is a little monument which I am erecting in his memory, in the memory of his joyous certitude. It is a pity that he had to use Christ for a crutch, but then what does it matter how one comes by the truth so long as one pounces upon it and lives by it?

There are times when one must break with one's friends in order to understand the meaning of friendship. It may seem strange to say so, but the discovery of this book [Henri Bergson - Creative Evolution] was equivalent to the discovery of a weapon, an implement, wherewith I might lop off all the friends who surrounded me and who no longer meant anything to me. This book became my friend because it taught me that I had no need of friends. It gave me the courage to stand alone, and it enabled me to appreciate loneliness. I have never understood the book; at times I thought I was on the point of understanding, but I never really did understand. It was more important for me not to understand. With this book in my hands, reading aloud to my friends, questioning them, explaining to them, I was made clearly to understand that I had no friends, that I was alone in the world. Because in not understanding the meaning of the words, neither I nor my friends, one thing became very clear and that was that there were ways of not understanding and that the difference between the non-understanding of one individual and the non-understanding of another created a world of terra firma even more solid than differences of understanding. Everything which before I thought I had understood crumbled, and I was left with a clean slate. My friends, on the other hand, entrenched themselves more solidly in the little ditch of understanding which they had dug for themselves. They died comfortably in their little bed of understanding, to become useful citizens of the world. I pitied them, and in short order. I deserted them one by one, without the slightest regret.

What was there then in this book which could mean so much to me and yet remain obscure? I come back to the word creative. I am sure that the whole mystery lies in the realization of the meaning of this word. When I think of the book now, and the way I approached it, I think of a man going through the rites of initiation. The disorientation and reorientation which comes with the initiation into any mystery is the most wonderful experience which it is possible to have. Everything which the brain has laboured for a lifetime to assimilate, categorize and synthesize has to be taken apart and reordered. Moving day for the soul! And of course it's not for a day, but for weeks and months that this goes on. You meet a friend on the street by chance, one whom you haven't seen for several weeks, and he has become an absolute stranger to you. You give him a few signals from your new perch and if he doesn't cotton you pass him up - for good. It's exactly like mopping up a battlefield: all those who are hopelessly disabled and agonizing you dispatch with one swift blow of your club. You move on, to new fields of battle, to new triumphs or defeats. But you move! And as you move the world moves with you, with terrifying exactitude. You seek out new fields of operation, new specimens of the human race whom you patiently instruct and equip with the new symbols. You choose sometimes those you would never have looked at before. You try everybody and everything within range, provided they are ignorant of the revelation.

The day wore on like that, with lots to eat and drink, the sun out strong, a car to tote us around, cigars in between, dozing a little on the beach studying the cunts passing by, talking, laughing, singing a bit too - one of many, many days I spent like that with MacGregor. Days like that really seemed to make the wheel stop. On the surface it was jolly and happy go lucky; time passing like a sticky dream. But underneath it was fatalistic, premonitory, leaving me the next day morbid and restless. I knew very well I'd have to make a break some day; I knew very well I was pissing my time away. But I knew also that there was nothing I could do about it - yet. Something had to happen, something big, something that would sweep me off my feet. All I needed was a push, but it had to be some force outside my world that could give me the right push, that I was certain of. I couldn't eat my heart out, because it wasn't in my nature. All my life things had worked out all right - in the end. It wasn't in the cards for me to exert myself. Something had to be left to Providence - in my case a whole lot. Despite all the outward manifestations of misfortune or mismanagement I knew that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. And with a double crown too. The external situation was bad, admitted - but what bothered me more was the internal situation. I was really afraid of myself, of my appetite, my curiosity, my flexibility, my permeability, my malleability, my geniality, my powers of adaptation. No situation in itself could frighten me: I somehow always saw myself sitting pretty, sitting inside a buttercup, as it were and sipping the honey. Even if I were flung in jail I had a hunch I'd enjoy it. It was because I knew how not to resist, I suppose. Other people wore themselves out tugging and straining and pulling; my strategy was to float with the tide.

My mind was filled with wonderful treasures, my taste was sharp and exigent, my muscles were in excellent condition, my appetite was strong, my wind sound. I had nothing to do except to improve myself, and I was going crazy with the improvements I made every day. Even if there were a job for me to fill I couldn't accept it, because what I needed was not work but a life more abundant. I couldn't waste time being a teacher, a lawyer, a physician, a politician or anything else that society had to offer. It was easier to accept menial jobs because it left my mind free.

I realize quietly what a terribly civilized person I am - the need I have for people, conversation, books, theatre, music, cafes, drinks, and so forth. It's terrible to be civilized, because when you come to the end of the world you have nothing to support the terror of loneliness. To be civilized is to have complicated needs. And a man, when he is full blown, shouldn't need a thing.

When I woke up to the fact that as far as the scheme of things goes I was less than dirt I really became quite happy. I quickly lost all sense of responsibility. And if it weren't for the fact that my friends got tired of lending me money I might have gone on indefinitely pissing the time away. The world was like a museum to me: I saw nothing to do but eat into this marvelous chocolate layer cake which the men of the past had dumped on our hands. It annoyed everybody to see the way I enjoyed myself. Their logic was that art was very beautiful, oh yes, indeed, but you must work for a living and then you will find that you are too tired to think about art.

About the big issues I was clear, but confronted by the petty details of life I was bewildered. I had to witness this same bewilderment on a colossal scale before I could grasp what it was all about. Ordinary men are often quicker in sizing up the practical situation: their ego is commensurate with the demands made upon it: the world is not very different from what they imagine it to be. But a man who is completely out of step with the rest of the world is either suffering from a colossal inflation of his ego or else the ego is so submerged as to be practically non-existent.

Sometimes, in the ceaseless revolutions of the wheel, I caught a glimpse of the nature of the jump which it was necessary to make. To jump dear of the clockwork - that was the liberating thought. To be something more, something different, than the most brilliant maniac of the earth. The story of man on earth bored me. Conquest, even the conquest of evil, bored me. To radiate goodness is marvelous, because it is tonic, invigorating, vitalizing. But just to be is still more marvelous, because it is endless and requires no demonstration. To be is music, which is a profanation of silence in the interests of silence, and therefore beyond good and evil. Music is the manifestation of action without activity. It is the pure act of creation swimming on its own bosom. Music neither goads nor defends, neither seeks nor explains. Music is the noiseless sound made by the swimmer in the ocean of consciousness. It is a reward which can only be given by oneself. It is the gift of the god which one is because he has ceased thinking about god. It is an augur of the God which every one will become in due time, when all that is will be beyond imagination.