TROPIC OF CANCER – HENRY MILLER

1. We are all alone here and we are dead. (p.9)

2. The weather will continue bad, he says. There will be more calamities, more death, more despair. Not the slightest indication of a change anywhere. The cancer of time is eating us away. Our heroes have killed themselves, or are killing themselves. The hero, then, is not Time, but Timelessness. We must get in step, a lock step, toward the prison of death. There is no escape. The weather will not change. (p.9)

3. I like Van Norden but I do not share his opinion of himself. I do not agree, for instance, that he is a philosopher, or a thinker. He is cunt-struck, that’s all. And he will never be a writer. Nor will Sylvester ever be a writer, though his name blaze in 50,000-candle-power red lights. The only writers about me for whom I have any respect, at present, are Carl and Boris. They are possessed. They glow inwardly with a white flame. They are mad and tone deaf. They are sufferers. (p.12)

4. At night when I look at Boris’ goatee lying on the pillow I get hysterical. O Tania, where now is that warm cunt of yours, those fat, heavy garters, those soft, bulging thighs? There is a bone in my prick six inches long. I will ream out every wrinkle in your cunt, Tania, big with seed. I will send you home to your Sylvester with an ache in your belly and your womb turned inside out. Your Sylvester! Yes, he knows how to build a fire, but I know how to inflame your cunt. I shoot hot bolts into you, Tania, I make your ovaries incandescent. Your Sylvester is a little jealous now? He feels something, does he? He feels the remnants of my big prick. I have set the shores a little wider. I have ironed out the wrinkles. After me you can take on stallions, bulls, rams, drakes, St. Bernards. You can stuff toads, bats, lizards up your rectum. You can shit arpeggios if you like, or string a zither across your navel. I am fucking you, Tania, so that you’ll stay fucked. And if you are afraid of being fucked publicly I will fuck you privately. I will tear off a few hairs from your cunt and paste them on Boris’ chin. I will bite into your clitoris and spit out two franc pieces…. (p.13)

5. No one to whom I can communicate even a fraction of my feelings…. (p.14)

6. Cunt international. (p.15)

7. Paris! Meaning the Café Select, the Dome, the Flea Market, the American Express. Paris! Meaning Borowski’s canes, Borowski’s hats, Borowski’s gouaches, Borowski’s prehistoric fish – and prehistoric jokes. (p.24)

8. Old, crumbling walls and the pleasant sound of water running in the urinals. Men licking their mustaches at the bar. Shutters going up with a bang and little streams purling in the gutters. (p.27)

9. (…) while he was cleaning his teeth this morning Elsa was giving me an earful about Berlin, about the women who look so attractive from behind, and when they turn around – wow, syphilis! (p.30)

10. Everywhere the same thing, she says. Everywhere a man, and then she has to leave, and then there’s an abortion and then a new job and then another man and nobody gives a fuck about her except to use her. All this after she’s played Schumann for me – Schumann, that slobbery, sentimental German bastard! Somehow I feel sorry as hell for her and yet I don’t give a damn. (p.31)

11. I have informed them where to sit, what to do. I ask them politely if I shall be disturbing them, but what I really mean, and they know it well, is – will you be disturbing me? No, you are blissful cockroaches, you are not disturbing me. You are nourishing me. I see you sitting there close together and I know there is a chasm between you. Your nearness is the nearness of planets. I am the void between you. If I withdraw there will be no void for you to swim in. (p.35)

12. She knows by the very caliber of my excitement that her value is reduced to zero. (p.35)

13. Paris is the cradle of artificial births. (p.35)

14. Rocking here in the cradle each one slips back into his soil: one dreams back to Berlin, New York, Chicago, Vienna, Minsk. Vienna is never more Vienna than in Paris. Everything is raised to apotheosis. The cradle gives up its babes and new ones take their places. You can read here on the walls where Zola lived and Balzac and Dante and Strindberg and everybody who ever was anything. Everyone has lived here some time or other. Nobody dies here….. (p.36)

15. They are talking downstairs. Their language is symbolic. The word “struggle enters into it. Sylvester, the sick dramatist, is saying: “I am just reading the Manifesto.” And Tania says – “Whose?” Yes, Tania, I heard you. I am up here writing about you and you divine it well. Speak more, that I may record you. For when we go to table I shall not be able to make any notes…. Suddenly Tania remarks: “There is no prominent hall in this place.” Now what does that mean, if anything? (p.36)

16. We are too gay for this sickroom atmosphere. (p.39)

17. He falls on her lap and lies there quivering like a toothache. He is all warm now and helpless. His belly glistens like a patent-leather shoe. (p.42)

18. Hotels and food, and I’m walking about like a leper with crabs gnawing at my entrails. (p.45)

19. For her were meant those terrible words of Louise-Philippe, “and a night comes when all is over, when so many jaws have closed upon us that we no longer have the strength to stand, and our meat hangs upon our bodies, as though it had been masticated by every mouth.” (p.51)

20. And while it’s all very nice to know that a woman has a mind, literature coming from the cold corpse of a whore is the last thing to be served in bed. (p.54)

21. She was a whore all the way through – and that was her virtue! (p.54)

22. I’m a bit retarded, like most Americans. (p.56)

23. But what’s just it! In Europe one gets used to doing nothing. You sit on your ass and whine all day. You get contaminated. You rot. (p.56)

24. You can’t put a fence around a human being. It ain’t done anymore…. (p.66)

25. You don’t know how palatable is a polluted woman, how a change of semen can make a woman bloom! (p.66)

26. Through the cracks in the shutters strange figures peer out at me…old women with shawls, dwarfs, rat-faced pimps, bent Jews, midinettes, bearded idiots. (p.68)

27. (…) the odor of wet leaves sops in (…) (p.69)

28. At midnight, after the spectators have saturated the hall with perspiration and foul breaths, I return to sleep on a bench. The exit light, swimming in a halo of tobacco smoke, sheds a faint light on the lower corner of the asbestos curtain; I close my eyes every night on an artificial eye…. (p.69)

29. Standing in the courtyard with a glass eye; only half the world is intelligible. (p.69)

30. In the corner of the room I see an iron bedstead and on it a corpse is lying; the woman gets up wearily, removes the corpse from the bed and absent-mindedly throws it out the window. She returns to the huge carven desk, takes a goldfish from the bowl and swallows it. Slowly the room begins to revolve and one by one the continents slide into the sea; only the woman is left, but her body is a mass of geography. I lean out the window and the Eiffel Tower is fizzing champagne; it is built entirely of numbers and shrouded in black lace. The sewers are gurgling furiously. There are nothing but roofs everywhere, laid out with execrable geometric cunning. (p.70)

31. The books he read – at eighteen! Not only Homer, Dante, Goethe, not only Aristotle, Plato, Epictetus, not only Rabelais, Cervantes, Swift, not only Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, Baudelaire, Villon, Carducci, Manzoni, Lope de Vega, not only Nietzche, Schopenhauer, Kant, Hegel, Darwin, Spencer, Huxley – not only these but all the small fry in between. This on page 18. Alors, on page 232 he breaks down and confesses. I know nothing, he admits. I know the titles, I have compiled bibliographies, I have written critical essays, I have maligned and defamed….I can talk for five minutes or for five days, but then I give out, I am squeezed dry. (p.71)

32. “I am a free man – and I need my freedom. I need to be alone. I need to ponder my shame and my despair in seclusion; I need the sunshine and the paving stones of the streets without companions, without conversation, face to face with myself, with only the music of my heart for company. What do you want of me? When I have something to say, I put it in print. When I have something to give, I give it. Your prying curiosity turns my stomach! Your compliments humiliate me! Your tea poisons me! I owe nothing to any one. I would be responsible to God alone – if He existed!” (p.72)

33. It was not your ideas they wanted, it was only your corpse! (p.73)

34. When I think of New York I have a very different feeling. New York makes even a rich man feel his unimportance. New York is cold, glittering, malign. The buildings dominate. There is a sort of atomic frenzy to the activity going on; the more furious the pace, the more diminished the spirit. A constant ferment, but it might just as well be going on in a test tube. Nobody knows what it’s all about. Nobody directs the energy. Stupendous. Bizarre. Baffling. A tremendous reactive urge, but absolutely uncoordinated. (p.74)

35. They walk along like blind geese and the searchlights spray their empty faces with flecks of ecstasy. (p.75)

36. I like him thus. (p.83)

37. He arrested himself. A great mistake, in my humble opinion. Art consists in going the full length. (p.83)

38. He has been to America and he has been contaminated by the cheap idealism of the Americans, contaminated by the ubiquitous bathtub, the five-and-ten-cent store bric-a-brac, the bustle, the efficiency, the machinery, the high wages, the free libraries, etc., etc. (p.100)

39. The girls who are unoccupied are sitting placidly on the leather benches, scratching themselves peacefully just like a family of chimpanzees. (p.101)

40. And out of the endless torment and misery no miracle comes forth, no microscopic vestige of relief. Only ideas, pale, attenuated ideas which have to be fattened by slaughter; ideas which come forth like bile, like the guts of a pig when the carcass is ripped open. (p.103)

41. For weeks and months, for years, in fact, all my life I had been looking forward to something happening, some intrinsic event that would alter my life, and now suddenly, inspired by the absolute hopelessness of everything, I felt relieved, felt as though a great burden had been lifted from my shoulders. (p.103)

42. Nothing that had happened to my thus far had been sufficient to destroy me; nothing had been destroyed except my illusions. (p.103)

43. It seemed to me that the great calamity had already manifested itself, that I could be no more truly alone than at this very moment. I made up my mind that I would hold on to nothing, that I would expect nothing, that henceforth I would live as an animal, a beast of prey, a rover, a plunderer. Even if war were declared, and it were my lot to go, I would grab the bayonet and plunge it, plunge it up to the hilt. And if rape were the order of the day then rape I would, and with a vengeance. (p.104)

44. I have found God, but he is insufficient. I am only spiritually dead. Physically I am alive. Morally I am free. (p.104)

45. This morning the whole world ought to be changed, for bad or good, but changed, radically changed. (p.114)

46. “It’s four days now since I’ve had a good shit. There’s something sticking to me, like grapes….” (p.120)

47. “I wouldn’t give a fuck about the medals – they could keep the medals. All I’d want is a good wheelchair and three meals a day. Then I’d give them something to read, those pricks.” (p.122)

48. “It’s like I’m two people, and one of them is watching me all the time.” (p.135)

49. “There’s something perverse about women…they’re all masochists at heart.” (p.135)

50. If she could only make me believe that there was something more important on earth then myself. Jesus, I hate myself! But I hate these bastardly cunts more – because they’re none of them any good. (p.136)

51. He’ll be carrying his delicate little obituary around with him for months, praising the shit out of himself for the way he handled the situation. (p.142)

52. We just stood there and listened with a murderous, silent contempt. (p.142)

53. Anything to throw a little reflection on themselves; they’d make him out to be a big shit if they could. (p.143)

54. It’s like a man in the trenches again: he doesn’t know any more why he should go on living, because if he escapes now he’ll only be caught later, but he goes on just the same, and even though he has the soul of a cockroach and has admitted as much to himself, give him a gun or a knife or even just his bare nails, and he’ll go on slaughtering and slaughtering, he’d slaughter a million men rather than stop and ask himself why. (p.148)

55. As I watch Van Norden tackle her, it seems to me that I’m looking at a machine whose cogs have slipped. Left to themselves, they could go on this way forever, grinding and slipping, without ever anything happening. (p.148)

56. It’s like being in a lunatic asylum, with permission to masturbate for the rest of your life. (p.150)

57. A man can get to love shit if his childhood depends on it, if his happiness is involved. (p.152)

58. In this chthonian world the only thing of importance is orthography and punctuation. (p.153)

59. Over there you think of nothing but becoming President of the United States some day. Potentially every man is Presidential timber. Here it’s different. Here every man is potentially a zero. If you become something or somebody it is an accident, a miracle. The chances are a thousand to one that you will never leave your native village. (p.155)

60. (…) now and then a rat scurries past our feet or a cockroach descends the wall in front of us, moving nimbly and gingerly on his delicate legs. (p.156)

61. There are days, nevertheless, when the sun is out and I get off the beaten path and think about her hungrily. Now and then, despite my grim satisfaction, I get to thinking about another way of life, get to wondering if it would make a difference having a young, restless creature by my side. (p.157)

62. Everything that belongs to the past seems to have fallen into the sea; I have memories, but the images have lost their vividness, they seem dead and desultory, like time-bitten mummies stuck in a quagmire. (p.157)

63. To walk from the Rue Lafayette to the boulevard is like running the gauntlet; they attach themselves to you like barnacles, they eat into you like ants, they coax, wheedle, cajole, implore, beseech, they try it out in German, English, Spanish, they show you their torn hearts and their busted shoes, and long after you’ve chopped the tentacles away, long after the fizz and sizzle has dried out, the fragrance of the lavabo clings to your nostrils – it is the odor of the Parfum de Danse whose effectiveness is guaranteed only for a distance of twenty centimeters. One could piss away a whole lifetime in that little stretch between the boulevard the Rue Lafayette. Every bar is alive; throbbing, the dice loaded; the cashiers are perched like vultures on their high stools and the money they handle has a human stink to it. (p.162)

64. A man who can walk through the Faubourg Montmartre at night without panting or sweating, without a prayer or a curse on his lips, a man like that has no balls, and if he has, then he ought to be castrated. (p.163)

65. In the blue of an electric dawn the peanut shells look wan and crumpled; (…) (p.165)

66. Everything is slowly dribbling back to the sewer. For about an hour there is a deathlike calm during which the vomit is mopped up. Suddenly the trees begin to screech. From one end of the boulevard to the other a demented song rises up. It is like the signal that announces the close of the exchange. What hopes there were are swept up. The moment has come to void the last bagful of urine. The day is sneaking in like a leper…. (p.165)

67. Suddenly it began to rain. (p.166)

68. Standing on the threshold of that world which Matisse has created I re-experienced the power of that revelation which had permitted Proust to so deform the picture of life that only those who, like himself, are sensible to the alchemy of sound and sense, are capable of transforming the negative reality of life into the substantial and significant outlines of art. (p.167)

69. With the close of day, pain rising like a mist from the earth, sorrow closing in, shuttering the endless vista of sea and sky. Two waxen hands lying listlessly on the bedspread and along the pale veins the fluted murmur of a shell repeating the legend of its birth. (p.168)

70. I tried to look earnest, but I only succeeded in looking pathetic. (p.176)

71. And maybe, when they were left alone with themselves, when they talked out loud in the privacy of their boudoirs, maybe some strange things fell out of their mouths too; because in that world, just as in every world, the greater part of what happens is just muck and filth, sordid as any garbage can, only they are lucky enough to be able to put covers over the can. (p.180)

72. And the funny thing is again that I could travel all around the globe but America would never enter my mind; it was even further lost than a lost continent, because with the lost continents I felt some mysterious attachment, whereas with America I felt nothing at all. (p.182)

73. One can live in Paris – I discovered that! – on just grief and anguish. (p.184)

74. One walks the streets knowing that he is mad, possessed, because it is only too obvious that these cold, indifferent faces are the visages of one’s keepers. Here all boundaries fade away and the world reveals itself for the mad slaughterhouse that it is. The treadmill stretches away to infinitude, the hatches are closed down tight, logic runs rampant, with bloody cleaver flashing. The air is chill and stagnant, the language apocalyptic. Not an exit sign anywhere; no issue save death. A blind alley at

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