chapter  5
8 Pages

Conclusion: Henry Miller and the American Literary Tradition

While most critics of the late modernist period completely ignore Miller, his achievements in autobiographical fiction-particularly spiral form-merit him a more permanent place in the pantheon of American literature. More than seventy years after its publication, Tropic of Cancer, read but not taught, lacks academic canonization. Despite this, Miller extended the bounds of American literature in a meaningful and influential fashion through his use of the radically subjective spiral form. By employing spiral form, Miller created a truly organic novel that exploded previous thematic and narratological constraints and established a protean, antimimetic mode for exploring subjectivity and its relation to “Truth.” Despite this feat, many American critics view Miller either as a historical oddity or a misogynist ogre, a phenomenon perhaps arising from Miller’s own distaste for academics, revealed in statements such as “the most boring group in all communities were the university professors,” during the era when the modernist canon began to take its current shape (1945: 19).1 Neither perspective captures the complex ideas that contributed to Miller’s autobiographical romances, and, despite Miller’s still enormous popular following, such misguided interpretations threaten to reduce the writer to critical oblivion.2 Thus, one must trace Miller’s current place in the American literary tradition and then suggest the inadequacy of that reputation.