It turns out Tropic of Cancer rewards the patient (and, yes, desensitized) reader. The last fifty pages of TOC were some of the most beautiful and strangely introspective pages I've read. Then again, maybe that's like someone lost in a desert finding an oasis and calling it the sweetest water she's ever tasted... Miller certainly forces you to work for these last few pages.
The book picks up when Miller defects from Paris to take up a position as a professor of English in Lyon. He doesn't take the post seriously, of course.
"It was one of those Franco-American amity arrangements which is supposed to promote understanding and good will between sister republics... a job for a rich man's son."
But he has a brief moment of revelation. Miller is alone at the 'penitentiary'. He's not getting along with the other teachers, he has no one to drink or generally carouse with and he gives us this one beautiful passage on the bottom of p.287. By this time the passage is abrupt for its lack of coarseness. The way that readers of TOC might have found the C word abrupt on p10, but had no choice but to be inured to it on p.210.
Here it is:
"Going back in a flash over the women I've known. Its like a chain which I've forged out of my own misery. Each one bound to the other. A fear of living separate, of staying born. The door of the womb always on the latch. Dread and longing. Deep in the blood the pull of paradise. The beyond. Always the beyond. t must have all started with the navel. THey cut the umbilical cord, give you a slap on the ass, and presto! you're out in the world, adrift, a ship without a rudder. You look at the stars and then you look at your navel. You grow eyes everywhere- in the armpits, between the lips, in the roots of your hair, on the soles of your feet. What is distant becomes near, what is near becomes distant. Inner outer, a constant flux, a shedding of skins, a turning inside out. You drift around like that for years and years, until you slowly rot, slowly crumble to piece,s get dispersed again. Only your name remains. "
It's as if Miller is telling us the whole 262 odd pages prior to the revelation (aside from a few strange, out of place segues on Manet) he is making a choice. A choice to show baseness and debauchery over the Paris of say Hemingway, a Paris of "gently winding" rivers through the "girdle of hills".
The rest of the book is dedicated to (what else) Miller's subsequent rejection of revelation which he does with great aplomb. But his rub with morality imbues the text with a newfound relevance. It modernizes Miller's plight. And almost makes you want to go back and read the whole thing again. Almost.