CHAPTER ONE (cont.)
THE COSMOS OF ANAÏS NIN
A close relationship exists between her Diaries, novels, and critical works. The Diaries, her “laboratory”, capture the immediate flow of her experiences. The novels are more consciously formal, containing much material “distilled” from the Diaries. The critical works explain her innovative literary theories in depth. She favors the content of the Diaries, finding them closer to the courses of true feeling. Too much awareness without accompanying experience is a skeleton without the flesh of life. She always writes in the language of emotion and the senses, which is different from that of the intellect.Reading the novels is often like reading poetry in prose. Complex, sensuous rhythms and imagery are set up. Structure is often symphonic. Objects are symbolic. All work toward a larger revelation of characters in their relationships. Anaïs presents her characters at the heightened moment when people reveal themselves most fully. She dwells on essences, rather than outward manifestations of character. She tries to show her characters as they act, reflect, feel and suffer simultaneously. Leaving out what does not contribute, she lets the form of her writing erupt by itself from the inner direction. She does not try to fit her work into any literary mold; she has used her ideas and artistry to produce an innovative body of literature.
Even though Henry Miller had opposed Anaïs’ writing the diaries (as had Allendy and Rank), she feels that because she was challenged by him to defend herself, he had a beneficial influence on her. But wasn’t she more considerate and stimulating to the creativity of Miller, for instance, than he was to her? She answers that he didn’t understand women and knowing how he distorted real persons in his fiction, she asked him not to write about her. Her most satisfying relationships have always been with artists and students because they are more interested in the personal and more accepting of women’s expansion. Europeans, she thinks, are more understanding than Americans; the latter have been done-in by Puritanism.
Just as friction is what makes the pearl of an oyster, so the pain in her relationship with her father started Anaïs on her famous Diary. And, despite her attitude toward her father’s criticisms of her, his fickleness for women, his unfair solicitations of her as an adult, she gave him love, sympathy and attention when he asked for it. For the sake of intimate communion with others she was to follow the same pattern with June, Gonzalo, Frances, Robert and others. Silencing her thoughts, she praised the incorrigibly lazy Gonzalo’s capacity to enjoy life, let him burn her books, gave Miller her typewriter, Robert Duncan her bottom dollar. Sometimes the sacrifices literally made her ill. She would fear that her work was being destroyed. She often wondered how some of her friends could be so cruel to her, but she never turned against them. She knew how to feel personally responsible for others in a cold and often inhuman world. If all of us acted in unison as I act individually there would be no wars and no poverty.
Although Anaïs used familiar people in her novels, she maintains that her writing is not autobiographical. Readers of the stories and novels can find her maid in “The Mouse”, Conrad Moricand as “The Mohican”, Jean Carteret in the “The All-Seeing”, June Miller as Sabina in House of Incest and Spy in the House of Love, but know that these people have been “alchemized” by the quality of Anaïs’ writing. When Anaïs uses her own experiences for material, such as in the story “Houseboat” or “My Own Labyrinth”, her objective is to poetically evaluate the emotions involved and attain a universal meaning, which is the highest form of objectivity. This relation between life and art is expressed perfectly in her preface to House of Incest:
This morning I got up to begin this book I coughed. Something was coming out of my throat: it was strangling me. I broke the thread which held it and yanked it out. I went back to bed and said: I have just spat out my heart. There is an instrument called the quena made of human bones. It owes its origin to the worship of an Indian for his mistress. When she died he made a flute out of her bones. The quena has a more penetrating, more haunting sound than the ordinary flute. Those who write know the process. I thought of it as I was spitting out my heart.
Only I do not wait for my love to die.
Suddenly the aroma of burning coffee fills the air, and it seems strange to watch Anaïs hurry out to tend to it. Actually for all her adventuresome life she has never been freed from domestic duties. Unlike Henry Miller who would work non-stop on his writing if the mood seized him, she only had a few times in her life when she could devote up to four straight days to uninterrupted writing. A big difference between most men and women, Anaïs believes, is that a man will leave a woman for the sake of his work, but a woman will leave her work for the man. She describes how two writers whom she knew married, and the husband immediately insisted upon having a studio outside the house, leaving the wife to work in the home with the hubbub of the house, guests and children.One of the most important forces infusing Anaïs’ work is her desire to speak for all women. She thinks that men are fearful of exploring women, and women fearful of saying what they feel. Applying this to the male literary critic when he reviews the books of women writers, the male appears to focus unduly on sexual encounters, to make moralistic judgments and useless personal comments rather than offer an interpretation of the work and an appreciation of its literary mode. A certain jealousy distorts the vision.
To Anaïs, woman is the grand lover of the world. Woman represents creativity and union, the physical and spiritual link between unconscious and the objective. Man is too abstract, because he denies the personal roots of all his thought. Women need to find a sensitive balance with man to meet the problems of the world. They need to find more ways to relate to the cosmos than just as the universal Mother and Priestess-Prostitute.
In her writing Anaïs desires to express the drama of woman in relation to herself, her conflict between selfishness and individuality, and how to make manifest the cosmic consciousness she feels. In the novels she creates an archetypal heroine through the use of four major woman characters. Briefly, Anaïs writes that Djuna is to represent perception, Stella the blind and suffering, Sabina the free woman, Lillian one who seeks liberation in aggression. Moreover, as Evelyn Hinz writes in The Mirror and the Garden, in addition to elaborating on this collective heroine, Anaïs sees woman as more elemental than man, and since it is the restrictions civilization imposes upon natural man and the consequences which concern Anaïs, the female figure is a poetically necessary vehicle.
Anaïs avoids the explicit use of sex, although her writing is heavy with sensuality and love. To her mind D.H. Lawrence began using the language of sex but she takes us further into the feelings of woman’s sexual ecstasy, hunger, jealousy and guilt. Love in her books is freely bestowed, a fact that went long unperceived perhaps because she has been too daring in revealing the truth.
Today Anaïs is carrying on a long, marvelous dialogue with the world. Thousands of letters, many of them long and confessional, have poured in over the years. She is happy about the attention her work is receiving and gives her time generously to lectures, readings and visits with admirers.
Anaïs Nin combines Old World European and New World American values. Cherishing the civilized mores, art and beauty of all cultures, she also loves action and adventure. Especially she cultivates the arts of introspection and friendship.
She has no yen to be rich, makes no distinction among classes or races of people. She is sensitive to the individual and how he/she is symptomatic of the whole world. She doesn’t drink, prefers the use of imagination to drugs, accepts the poetry of astrology. Many men and women have considered her decades ahead of her time in articulating the world we live in.
Many people, too, have found in her personal relationships, hard work and struggle to write, the reassurance that things can be done that way. “Unblocking” people is part of her power. Women who see in her a reflection of themselves, concern for the same problems and fears, feel a new freedom to develop their gifts. She creates a climate of intimacy wherein persons can expand themselves anew.
In the novels Anaïs has presented us with a composite woman, a portrait of the feminine archetype that sprang from the visions she had from going down into the unconscious self and bringing them back to life. In the Diaries the heroic voyager is Anaïs, struggling to turn destructive forces into constructive ones. She has always felt that to counter the poisons of impotent, passive despair in the world, a cosmic consciousness which solved dualities and divisions was needed. Through the intensive examination of her biological and psychic impulses, an unmasking of her human self, she revealed these cosmic truths, with which both male and female identify. She achieved universal understanding and communication.
Woman, Anaïs wrote, is the mermaid with fish-tail dipped in the unconscious. So Anaïs, born Pisces, seems like the creator-goddess of Sumerian myth, Tiamat, who appeared out of the sea as a flesh-and-blood woman to instruct people in all things that tended to soften manners and humanize their lives.
She concludes our visit with an embrace.