Trew: I have trouble listening to her words because I keep seeing the searing pain in her eyes and I wonder what it is all about … She takes her role as critic and artist very seriously.
Joan: The first thing I notice about Evelyn Hinz is her bright dark eyes.
Adele: Her eyes are full of love and pain.
EVELYN J. HINZ: THE CREATIVE CRITIC
Evelyn Hinz is from a family of 16 children. She is tall, beautiful, and aloof Her critical studies have appeared in “The D. H. Lawrence Review”, “Genre”, “Contemporary Literature”, “Bucknell Review”, “Studies in the Novel” and elsewhere, but her importance for us is in having authored the first complete study of all the published works by Anaïs Nin in a book called The Mirror and the Garden. She had been in touch with Swallow Press, when she had completed the book manuscript, but just at that time Alan Swallow died and the Press underwent a transition of ownership. It was at Alan Swallow’s funeral that William Claire met Anaïs Nin. Thus, another circle of friendship, which had begun long before, was brought out at this Weekend.
Presently Evelyn Hinz is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Manitoba, Winnepeg, Canada. Among other things, she is preparing for publication an edited version of Anaïs Nin’s past lectures.
Evelyn Hinz: My role here today is that of critic. I would like to speak on behalf of the critic because I think generally there is an ingrained feeling that critics cannot be free people, that artists are on one side and critics on the other, and that the critic is a parasite on the artist, that the critic is not pure in his / her own right.
Now, before I came here, “Contemporary Literature” came out, wherein I have a review of Anaïs’ 4th volume of The Diary. This volume, as you know, describes Nin’s battle with the critics, particularly Edmund Wilson. I think the reason for the bad odor that critics have is partly a result of the problem that Nin herself explores in that volume of The Diary, which is the idea that the critic is supposed to be a kind of computer, sitting down and saying what this is all about; tearing a work of art apart and reducing it to the things it came from is a favorite critical past time called “source hunting”. We have too many people going through Nin’s Diaries and fiction, saying, “Now do you know who this person is and how this incident came about?” To me, this is the worst kind of reductivism because this denies the artist the ability to take his / her experience and shape it.
I want to give you some idea of the kind of criticism I hope I represent. As I read Nin’s fiction, I responded by thinking, “there’s nothing like this.” And suddenly I was forced to ask, “If I responded, why did I respond and where did the unusualness of her writing lie?” In the introduction to one of her books, Harry T. Moore wrote, “Anaïs Nin virtually invented a type of novel. To say this is not to say her books of fiction cannot be read like any others, but rather it is said to emphasize her originality.” The question that came to my mind is, “Can you read Nin’s fiction like you can read other fiction, can you approach her work like you approach the traditional novel of the 18th and 19th century?” I came to the conclusion that you couldn’t. And, therefore, when you use the term novel to describe Nin’s works you are really up against a problem because the word novel carries certain connotations.
When we think of a novel we think of one thing in particular and that’s characters in a social setting. Always the emphasis is upon social context and how individuals exist in that context. The individuals are measured-whether or not they measure up. So we always have a social scene in mind. Some of the modern novelists, maybe as a result of Anaïs’ influence, have been moving away from this toward her type of fiction. The question became then, if social character is what a novel is concerned with, what do we think of when we pick up one of Nin’s works? It came to my mind that whereas when you read a novel and say it’s a story about this and this and this, when you pick up, for example, A Spy in the House of Love, we say one thing: “Sabina”. If we pick up Ladders to Fire we say “Lillian” or “Djuna”. And if we look a little more closely, what we see is Nin concerned with character-character first, and then society as it involves that character- as that character is involved.
This led me to consider why is this difference and where does this difference originate? Why do we have Nin focusing upon character and other novelists upon the individual in a social setting? I think I found the answer in her little pamphlet called “Realism and Reality.” According to Nin, reality reflects what the individual sees; whereas because of scientific conditioning most of us think that reality is the objective photographic fact of life. According to Nin, the world is there, but each of us sees the world as it affects the person which determines how the person will act out her life. Furthermore, as Nin dramatizes in her fiction so frequently, the social roles we play very frequently are disguises, which we put on so that we don’t have to reveal what we are really like because we are afraid, afraid we won’t be acceptable.
Sometimes if this goes on for a long enough time we simply become social figures, and no longer recognize what we really feel and consequently become very frustrated, anxious people, blaming our environment. We say if we had a better system, then we’d be happy. Anaïs Nin’s whole point is, before we can change anything, we’ve got to understand what we really are like, what do we really want? So when we say that Nin’s fiction is unique we do not simply mean that she makes an innovation within the novel form but actually that she questions the form of the novel, the whole orientation towards being objective. This is the reason for the difference between her fiction and the kind of thing you usually read.
I’d like now to talk about the novels, about some of the characters, how her point of view makes for the kind of style that she writes. When we were talking yesterday, most of you mentioned that you had read the Diaries but a couple of you told me that you had a little difficulty reading her fiction. Now here I had a fortunate experience in many ways. When I started working on Nin the Diaries weren’t out so there was only the fiction. So I approached the fiction and came to terms with the fiction itself and discovered this theme of “realism and reality” with the aid of her little discussion in the pamphlet. When the Diaries came out, I was, of course, very anxious to read them because my concern was what was she going to say in the Diary and how was it going to be related to what I had interpreted as her message and major themes and techniques in her fiction. Then when The Novel of the Future came out with her critical theory, I had a double fit. Now surely the first part of my book was going to be ruined because she would say something that’s contrary to what I discovered.
I hope I speak correctly when I say that Novel of the Future confirmed what I had discovered rather than in any way forced me to alter it. The format that I set up in my book, The Mirror and the Garden, was to use my interpretations of the novel and her themes and characters and then go to The Novel of the Future and look back. That’s why I call the chapter “Looking Backwards” to see wherein we came to the same perceptions. Now the reason I bring this up specifically is because I want to point out that I came to Nin’s work when there was nothing to rely on but intuition and response. There were no books written on her at that time. The articles that were written called her unrealistic. I found myself in the position of saying, “Well if I responded, what am I responding to, am I being unrealistic?” And I didn’t think I was unrealistic. I thought I was very realistic. So consequently I was forced to define for myself, at the same time that I explained her themes, where my stand was. So, what Nin’s fiction did was force me to say what I believed in, and what my attitude toward reality was. I think this is essentially one of the great values of Nin’s writing, that she does force you to ask yourself this question.
I should think that we could call Nin’s books “character studies” rather than “novels” because in a typical novel, as we were saying earlier, something happens, whereas in Nin’s work we begin with the character and with that point of view. We are not given a story about how she went shopping and then met this marvelous young man and this kind of thing. Rather, the only thing that appears in one of Nin’s works is whatever that character happens to be driven to seeing at that time, and only in the way she sees it. Consequently all the characters, the minor characters in Nin’s works, are there not as fully drawn figures but rather in terms of defining what the central character is thinking and her attitudes. A Spy in the House of Love is beautiful in that way because we have Sabina and five different men. What we get is Sabina’s point of view of each of these, which, because of her very needs may not necessarily give a fully drawn character.
In each of Nin’s works there is a dialogue between the character’s social self and inner feelings, and the conflict between them. So that in her works instead of a progressive movement of a plot, there is this dramatic struggle of the character trying to come to terms with herself, and because Nin dwells consistently in the mind, sometimes there is no resolution. This happens very frequently, for example, in the cases of Stella, Sabina, Djuna and Lillian; there is more in the case of Djuna and Lillian, during which we readers come to some kind of a reconciliation of their roles. So, I think if we approach Nin’s fiction by saying at the beginning, now I’m not going to make any expectations, I am simply going to respond and realize that this is a character, that we want to meet this character, then the difficulties begin to dissolve.
Think how in our own lives things happen very quickly and we don’t take into account anything except the things that happen to ourselves. This is the kind of a movement you see in these fictions. We can move from one place to another very rapidly. And the reason we do is that the mind, of course, the subconscious, is not limited as we are physically to a geographical location and movement.
Another way I think of approaching Nin’s fiction that would be very helpful is to have someone read it to you. Nin’s work is essentially poetic and her use of language is supposed to generate an emotional rather than intellectual reaction. So if you have difficulty getting into a work, I suggest you simply ask someone to read it to you. Somehow when we hear someone speaking we allow ourselves to go along with what’s being said, whereas when we are sitting down reading, we’ve been accustomed to being told exactly where we’re going and how. When we listen to the words we hear how Nin proceeds.
Let me give you an example: Take any one of her works. Immediately you realize that you are dealing with a different kind of reality to which you have to respond emotionally rather than intellectually. From Seduction of the Minotaur:
Some writers have their inception in the blueprint of a dream, some in the urgency of contradicting a dream. Lillian’s recurrent dream of a ship that could not reach the water, that sailed laboriously, pushed by her with great effort, through city street, had determined her course toward the sea, as if she would give this ship, once and for all its proper sea bed.
She had landed in the city of Golconda where the sun painted everything with gold, the lining of her thoughts, the warm valises, the plain beetles, Golconda of the golden age, the golden aster, the golden eagle, the golden goose, the golden fleece, the golden robin, the goldenrod, the golden seal, the golden warbler, the golden wattles, the golden wedding, and the gold fish, and the gold of pleasure, the gold stone, the gold thread, the fool’s gold.
With the first swallow of air she inhaled a drug of forgetfulness well known to adventurers.
Suddenly you are set off and not making any demands anymore. Whereas, if Nin had said Lillian was born in 1932, her father was named Mr. Smith and since she was not getting along very well with her husband, she decided to go away, you see that we’re in an entirely different realm.
Now as I said, I responded to Nin and wrote what I believed in terms of what she believed. If we approach fiction not as something dead but as something alive, then we should be able to have as great and personal a response to a book as we do to another human being. What the artist does is to create something out of her own experience her response to experience. What the critic does, the creative critic, is to create something out of the response to what the artist has done. In both cases we are working with response, with a personal response. And in this sense I think criticism can be as creative as can the work of art itself. All we’ve changed is the medium of expression.
The artist works directly with the experience and I, as critic, work with Nin’s books. Through criticism I express myself as I attempt to explain what her works mean. I might read her works entirely differently from someone else. I could try to be very objective and say I’m only going to count the images here or number of lines, and so forth. Then, of course, I wouldn’t have become involved. When I defend Nin’s practice, for example, and suggest that I agree that realism is a faulty concept and that reality does lie in the individual perception, then I’m expressing my own convictions. Now if I’m an academic critic, and I don’t like Nin, what I’ll do is write pejorative work or else I won’t touch her. Or, I’ll rationalize and say I don’t like her because she’s unrealistic. Then the question to ask is, ‘unrealistic according to whose standard’? Because, unfortunately, we have been programmed to believe that the photograph, science, and statistics constitute the real thing; consequently we try to measure ourselves up to these things with disastrous results. We have emotional lives and we have to admit them and make the most of them.
So I think that the value of Nin then for the artist in particular is that she makes you ask yourself, “Are you really working in an old medium, a worn out mold, or do you recognize the organic significance of the mold in which you’re working?” She’s questioning the very medium that you’re working in just as she rejected the novel format because it reflected a different orientation. The artist should ask herself, “Am I merely reproducing something that has been done, or am I really creating something?” And creation stems from where you place your values.