ANAÏS NIN: EXERPTS FROM THE DIARY
It is night, yet in the library lights cast a soft, relaxing glow around the room. People settle themselves comfortably on the cushions of couches or chairs. They are well-nourished, still aflame from the wine. Anaïs is to read to us. She sits before us quietly chatting, wearing a long, sleek gown, looking very lovely. We wait, preparing for the pleasure of hearing her voice bring to life her work. If this Weekend can be compared to a work of art itself, then as Adele says:
ANAÏS IS THE CANVAS, WITHOUT WHICH THE PAINT CANNOT HOLD. SHE IS QUIET BUT IT IS AS IF SHE IS THE HOUSE, THE MEAL, THE FLOWERS, THE POETRY, THE GARDEN, THE CARDINALS, THE PERFUME, THE INTIMACY AND THE FRIENDSHIPS. SHE IS THE LIVING PERSONIFICATION OF A WAY OF BEING THAT IS TRANSMITTED TO EVERYONE IN THE ROOM AND TRANSFORMED INTO THAT SEPARATE PERSON’S ESSENCE IN A REAL AND PERMANENT WAY.
ANAÏS: I feel like a troubadour, waiting to know what you would like to hear. What part of The Diary would you like? This will be your last chance to ask me what’s not in The Diary!…. I will read about a night – dedicated to women – the night when I decided I was going to write differently from men.
Quoted from Anaïs’ reading of pages 231-7 in Volume II of The Diary, August 1937)…
“Beautiful flow between Durrell, Henry, Nancy and me. It is while we talk together that I discover how we mutually nourish each other, stimulate each other. I discover my own strength as an artist, for Henry and Durrell often ally themselves against me. Henry’s respect is also reawakened by Durrell’s admiration for me. My feeling for woman’s inarticulateness is reawakened by Nancy’s stutterings and stumblings, and her loyalty to me as the one who does not betray woman but seeks to speak for her.
“They suddenly attacked my personal relation to all things, by personification of ideas. I defended myself by saying that relating was an act of life. To make history or psychology alive I personify it. Also everything depends on the nature of the personal relationship. My self is like the self of Proust. It is an instrument to connect life and the myth. I quoted Spengler, who said that all historical patterns are reproduced in individual man, entire historical evolutions are reproduced in one man in one lifetime. A man could experience, in a personal way, a Gothic, a Roman, or a Western period. Man is cheating when he sits for a whole evening talking about Lao-Tze, Goethe, Rousseau, Spengler. It would be closer to the truth if he said, instead of Lao-Tze, Henry-instead of Goethe, some poet we now know-instead of Rousseau, his contemporary equivalent. It would be more honest if Larry said that it is Larry who feels irritation because symbolical wine does not taste as good as plain wine.
“When they discussed the problem of my diary, all the art theories were involved. They talked about the geological changes undergone with time, and that it was the product of this change we called art. I asserted that such a process could take place instantly.
“Henry said: ‘But that would upset all the art theories’.
“I said: ‘I can give you an example. I can feel the potentialities of our talk tonight while it is happening as well as six months later. Look at the birth story. It varies very little in its polished form from the way I told it in The Diary immediately after it happened. The new version was written three years later. Objectivity may bring a more rounded picture, but the absence of it, empathy, feeling with it, immersion in it, may bring some other kind of connection with it.!
“Henry asked: ‘But then, why did you feel the need of rewriting it?’
“‘For a greater technical perfection. Not to re-create it.’
“Larry, who before had praised me for writing as a woman, for not breaking the umbilical connection, said: ‘You must rewrite Hamlet.’
“Why should I, if that is not the kind of writing I wish to do.?’
“Larry said: ‘You must make the leap outside of the womb, destroy your connections.’
“‘I know’, I said, ‘that this is an important talk, and that it will be at this moment that we each go different ways. Perhaps Henry and Larry will go the same way, but I will have to go another, the woman’s way.’
…”All I know is that I am right, right for me. If today I can talk both woman’s and man’s language, if I can translate woman to man and man to woman, it is because I do not believe in man’s objectivity. In all his ideas, systems, philosophies, arts come from a personal source he does not wish to admit. Henry and Larry are pretending to be impersonal.
…”As to all that nonsense Henry and Larry talked about, the necessity of ‘I am God’ in order to create (I suppose they mean ‘I am God, I am not a woman’). Woman never had direct communication with God anyway, but only through man, the priest. She never created directly except through man, was never able to create as a woman. But what neither Larry nor Henry understands is that woman’s creation far from being like man’s must be exactly like her creation of children, that is it must come out of her own blood, englobed by her womb, nourished with her own milk. It must be a human creation, of flesh, it must be different from man’s abstractions. As to this ‘I am God’, which makes creation an act of solitude and pride, this image of God alone making sky, earth, sea, it is this image which has confused woman. (Man too, because he thinks God did it all alone, and he thinks he did it all alone. And behind every achievement of man lies a woman, and I am sure God was helped too but never acknowledged it.)
“Woman does not forget she needs the fecundator, she does not forget that everything that is born of her is planted in her. If she forgets this she is lost. What will be marvelous to contemplate will not be her solitude but this image of woman being visited at night by man and the marvelous things she will give birth to in the morning. God alone, creating, may be a beautiful spectacle. I don’t know. Man’s objectivity may be an imitation of this God so detached from us and human emotion. But a woman alone creating is not a beautiful spectacle. The woman was born mother, mistress, wife, sister, she was born to represent union, communion, communication, she was born to give birth to life, and not to insanity. It is man’s separateness, his so-called objectivity, which has made him lose contact, and then his reason. Woman was born to be the connecting link between man and his human self. Between abstract ideas and the personal pattern which creates them. Man, to create, must become man.
“Woman has this life-role, but the woman artist has to fuse creation and life in her own way, or in her own womb if you prefer. She has to create something different from man. Man created a world cut off from nature. Woman has to create within the mystery, storms, terrors, the infernos of sex, the battle against abstractions and art. She has to sever herself from the myth man creates, from being created by him, she has to struggle with her own cycles, storms, terrors, which man does not understand. Woman wants to destroy aloneness, recover the original paradise. The art of woman must be born in the womb-cells of the mind. She must be the link between the synthetic products of man’s mind and the-elements.
“I do not delude myself as man does, that I create in proud isolation. I say we are bound, interdependent. Woman is not deluded. She must create without these proud delusions of man, without megalomania, without schizophrenia, without madness. She must create that unity which man first destroyed by his proud consciousness.
…”Man today is like a tree that is withering at the roots. And most women painted and wrote nothing but imitations of phalluses. The world was filled with phalluses, like totem poles, and no womb anywhere. I must go the opposite way from Proust who found eternal moments in creation. I must find them in life. My work must be the closest to the life flow. I must install myself inside of the seed, growth, mysteries. I must prove the possibility of instantaneous, immediate, spontaneous art. My art must be like a miracle. Before it goes through the conduits of the brain and becomes an abstraction, a fiction, a lie. It must be for woman, more like a personified ancient ritual, where every spiritual thought was made visible, enacted, represented.
“A sense of the infinite in the present, as the child has.
“Woman’s role in creation should be parallel to her role in life. I don’t mean the good earth. I mean the bad earth too, the demon, the instincts, the storms of nature. Tragedies, conflicts, mysteries are personal. Man fabricated a detachment which became fatal. Woman must not fabricate. She must descend into the real womb and expose its secrets and its labyrinths. She must describe it as the city of Fez, with its Arabian Nights gentleness, tranquillity and mystery. She must describe the voracious moods, the desires, the worlds contained in each cell of it. For the womb has dreams It is not as simple as the good earth. I believe at times that man created art out of fear of exploring woman. I believe woman stuttered about herself out of fear of what she had to say. She covered herself with taboos and veils. Man invented a woman to suit his needs. He disposed of her by identifying her with nature and then paraded his contemptuous domination of nature. But woman is not nature only.
“She is the mermaid with her fish-tail dipped in the unconscious. Her creation will be to make articulate this obscure world which dominates man, which he denies being dominated by, but which asserts its domination in destructive proofs of its presence, madness.
“Note by Durrell: ‘Anaïs is unanswerable. Completely unanswerable. I fold up and give in. What she says is biologically true from the very navel strings’.”
Trew: I watch for Anaïs to falter but she never does.
Adele: All the times and hours I read from those Diaries and now the person who wrote them is reading and I am back again at that point outside the event aware of the dream when it comes true – too intense a feeling for any words. A fourth dimensional event – time telescoped and expanded all at once.
Someone asks for a part from Volume III about creation and guilt in woman. Written five years after the previous excerpt, there is a startling relationship between them.
ANAÏS: When I came back from Europe in 1940, I had a studio in the Village, and the custom in the Village was that people came in all day to your place. It wasn’t like France where you wouldn’t dare go to the artists, writers’ studios, because in the first place you knew you would see them in the evening in the cafe, but also there was an understanding that nobody visited anybody during the day because you were working. So I found myself in the Village where everybody came to your place early in the morning or any time at all. I was swamped by young writers who needed care, who would help themselves-in the icebox and take away my typewriter. I called it my cafeteria. Finally I got myself in so deeply that I had to go and see a young woman, named Martha Jaeger. We talked over this problem of my trying to mother the entire world.
(Taken from p. 240-1 in Volume III Winter 1942)
“…I abandoned myself to her care and felt less hurt and less confused. It was as if I had been given absolution and the permission to rest, relax, and give up my burdens. She was amazed at all I had taken on.
“…she explained the urge that had driven me into this superhuman effort. ‘Woman communicates with the cosmos, the cosmic, through the earth, through her maternal self. So you became the all-mother, giving out endlessly. You attempted to take care of everyone. You attempted the infinite with a finite human body.’
“Each time she mentions this I see the enormous loves growing immense and finally crushing me. And all this immense effort is reduced, simplified, and I stand naked and free of the giant task, a child again, relaxed and insouciant.
“This is a new drama. The father is absent from this drama. This one is the drama of the mother, of woman. I have been drawing closer to all women, lately, aware of their particular tragedy. I had been reading about the three stages of consciousness. Woman is only now becoming aware of her individuality. But also, as Jaeger said, of her different way of relating to the cosmos. It is a difficult, a deep problem for woman to commune with the cosmic. She can only achieve it by a universal motherhood or else the priestess-prostitute way.
“l crumbled because of the immensity of the burden. And the emotional substance I used for it, the psychic and emotional expenditure. For it is not only protection which obsessed me, but the giving of strength, spiritual and psychic nourishment. Jaeger made all this clear.
“It is strange how I turned to the woman and the mother for understanding. I have had all my relationships with men, of all kinds. Now my drama is that of the woman in relation to herself-her conflict between selfishness and individuality, and how to manifest the cosmic consciousness she feels.
“There are depths I have not yet entered, which I struggled to express when I argued against Henry and Durrell and wrote about woman in creation. I reread this tonight and only begin to understand it now because of what Jaeger said about the cosmic life of woman running underneath.”
Anaïs is asked to read her farewell to Paris before she left in ’39.
ANAÏS: It was Paris at night, all black out. The war had begun in Europe and I was just about to leave and everybody was saying goodbye. We were so many foreigners and nationalities. When the war came to France, an Announcement came requesting that whoever wasn’t born in France to please leave because there were too many mouths to feed. The Consulate paid for the poor artists who couldn’t afford trips home and sent everybody back to South America or wherever they belonged.
That’s when I also had to leave.
(Taken from p.348-9 in Volume II, Sept. 1939)
“…I knew I could not separate myself from the world’s death, even though I was not one of those who brought it about. I had to make clear the relation of our individual dramas to the larger one, and our responsibility. I was never one with the world, yet I was to be destroyed with it. I always lived seeing beyond it. I was not in harmony with its explosions and collapse. I had, as an artist, another rhythm, another death, another renewal. That was it. I was not at one with the world, I was seeking to create one by other rules. And therefore how could I die in tune with it? I could only die in my own time, by my own evolutions. I did not belong to any epoch, for I had made my home in man’s most active cells, the cells of his dreams. Through love, compassion, desire, you get entangled and confused. But the artist is not there to be at one with the world, she is there to transform it. (S)he cannot belong to it, for then (s)he would not achieve his/her task, which is to change. The struggle against destruction which I lived out in my intimate relationships had to be transposed and become of use to the whole world.”
Anaïs also reads a section from Volume I about Antonin Artaud and his interest in the theatre. There are pleas for more but Anaïs gratefully accedes to a respite in which we see the films of Ian Hugo.
We view Hugo’s film about his artistic progress from the medium of copper-engraving to film-making, called “Ian Hugo: Engraver and Filmmaker”, also “Bells of Atlantis” which is based on Nin’s House of Incest, and “Through the Magiscope,” showing women reflected and refracted in sculptured glass and acrylic as part of an allegory.
Trew: Hugo’s films are way beyond the present moment. Such intelligent brilliance and such beautiful steady hands. It is rare that the two go together so completely.
One of the participants, David Williams, also shows us footage of a film, which he shot at the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Hauntingly, it contains a symbol of a woman standing behind a vertical slab with arms outstretched, which is similar to one used by Hugo in “Bells of Atlantis”. Perhaps the image exemplifies how the mind’s collective unconscious works, produced as it was by artists, working unknown to each other at different times, different places.