Clown in a circus arena | Daily News

Clown in a circus arena

“Whatever I do is done out of sheer joy; I drop my fruits like a ripe tree. What the general reader or the critics makes of it is not my concern. I am not establishing values; I defecate and nourish. There is nothing more to it.”

These words of Henry Miller (1891 – 1980) as jotted down in his work The Wisdom of the Heart reverberated in my mind as I went on reading his short novel titled The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder (1966). The reader may feel that it is neither a short novel in the strict sense of the term nor a long short story as commonly known in the literary canons.

This is a short parable-like narrative that revolves around the life of a circus clown, who makes the onlookers feel relaxed as they watch the main happenings. The narrative takes different trends in the flow of events when the clown named Auguste has to leave the profession due to reasons beyond the grasp.

Different moods

He leaves the profession in search of his mind wandering from place to place in a more relaxed mood. But he encounters another group of circus people. He meets another clown of his calibre named Antoine. Both of them are created in the pages of Miller in two different moods and dimensions. They too have likes and dislikes. Auguste gets the chance of changing their roles. As such, Auguste gets into the position held by Augustine. But things change inevitably.

Henry Miller stayed in the United States for a long time but travelled on and off. He is noted for his candid treatment of sex and exposure of the natural man.

The circus clown, Auguste, becomes aloof and gets into a garb of a thinker as he walks alone. He dreams of his past glory, the laughing audience and encounters with various types of people from various walks of life. The parable-like narrative has no determined end or a conclusion. The reader feels that Auguste is living beside him as a prophet.

In the epilogue to the narrative, Miller states that of all the stories he has written this is perhaps the most singular. Then he writes that he took him months after he had got an invitation from a certain celebrated artiste who wanted to illustrate the narrative. Miller is seen as a sensitive observer of almost everything in the circus world.

Henry Miller stayed in the United States for a long time but travelled on and off. He is noted for his candid treatment of sex and exposure of the natural man. His two main contributions, in this direction, are Trope of Cancer (1934) and Tropic of Capricorn (1939). The works were banned, branded as obscene in the US until 1961. The other books include the trilogy Rosy Crucifixion (1949 – 1960),

The impact and the influence of Miller’s writings are seen in most works of the beat generation of writers in the US. Miller is said to have obtained a mint of money from his writings. But he was at the same time possessed a certain degree of a spiritualistic outlook. In this direction, he is said to have been influenced by Zen writings of China and Japan.

Interlocutor style

In this rare narrative, Miller comes out with a poetic vision as a stream of thoughts emerging from the mind of the character of the clown he creates. Augustes the clown who retires from the formal duties of a professional at times is seen as an interlocutor of a vision held by the writer himself.

How simple it was, he thinks, that to be nobody or anybody or everybody did not prevent him from being himself. (37pp).

The meeting point of the two circus clowns, the protagonist Auguste and Antoine is depicted as one sees himself in a mirror. In the actual level of experience, they are two individuals. But the portrayal of one seeing another in the sublime point of illumination in the narrative. As such, the structure of the narrative rests on several planes of creativity.

Miller states in his work The Heart of Wisdom:

I am developing the ability to perceive, apprehend, analyse, synthesis, categorise, inform, articulate – all at once.

This becomes a visual reality in the narrative. It is also observed that Miller, like in most of the creative works, takes the function of the folk storyteller and moulds the same into a contemporary narrative line. This phenomenon perhaps elevated the embedded human experience to a higher level of expression.

Miller’s prophetic vision on choosing a circus arena is given as follows. I have found the lines more poetic and prophetic than a mere description. I wish to include that as a reward to the reader:

The circus is a tiny closed off arena of forgetfulness. For space, it enables us to lose ourselves to dissolve in wonder and bliss to be transpired by mystery. We come out of it in a daze, saddened and horrified by the everyday world, the world with which we imagine ourselves to be only too familiar, is the only world, and it is a world of magic inexhaustible. Like the clown [Auguste] we go through motions, forever stimulating postponing the grand event.