CHAPTER SEVEN (cont.)
EVELYN J. HINZ: THE CREATIVE CRITIC
The second question that I think Nin brings out and makes all of us face is the question of social responsibility. We hear so much these days about the critic and the artist being socially responsible. Indeed when I showed the first draft of my study of her works to a colleague, he said, “Not only is she irresponsible but you’re promoting her irresponsibility.”
But, Nin asks, “What is social responsibility?” Before society can be put into order, the individual has to be put in order. Otherwise, simply what we are doing is rationalizing our own inadequacies rather than asking where does the inadequacy itself reside. Because, after all, society is only made up of individuals. And consequently to evoke or suggest a change in platform and to believe this is going to change the human being is entirely naive.
This relates to the mirror image, which I brought to the title of my book. What Nin wants to do is get, as she says, to the roots. What are the roots of the matter? So in each of her works of fiction this is what she is looking for specifically. What is the natural character before civilization imposed a form upon it? And in making us ask this question, that is, to consider what we believe social reality and responsibility to be, I think Nin provides a corrective today. She especially makes us examine when we pay allegiance to a political movement whether we understand ourselves before we decide on this move. Are we simply compensating for a problem of our own or do we really believe this means is going to be the most effective solution?
Now with respect to her Diary itself, I’d like to point out what I think is unique. Nin doesn’t write down things in the Diary simply because they happened during the day, nor to collect facts for future stories. If you read her Diaries you realize her writing down everything is in order to find out, “Who am l? Why did this particular thing appeal to me? What does that reveal about me?” In House of Incest, you remember, she begins one of her chapters-“Does anyone know who I am?” We can give our social answers: My name is Evelyn Hinz and I work at the University. But that’s not me, that’s the kind of clothes I happen to be wearing today. What’s going to happen if I take the mask off or am I ready to take the mask off?
The second thing about Nin’s writing the Diary is that she writes down not just the incident but does it immediately so she expresses her response before she has time to become self-conscious about it. The great value of that writing, of course, is not only that it keeps you writing every day but that you are spontaneous about it. It’s different from sitting down to write a book and describing an incident with all the craft you can. Yet the experience that is written spontaneously can still be retrieved for a story. But it has not been couched in an artificial form or forced into a certain mold.
This brings me to a question I would like to ask you, Anaïs, if it would be all right? Since your Diary has become public and widely known, do you find that you still write a Diary?
Anaïs Nin: This year I haven’t, in all honesty, because of the nature of my correspondence. It was like an addition to the Diary or an answer to it. I would receive Diaries from others. They were not letters; they were parts of Diaries. I felt that answering them might be for the moment the natural flowering of the Diary. There would be a dialogue between Diary and confessional letters and personal letters. So I stopped this year but I’m not sure that that is the final metamorphosis. Once the Diary is opened and shared, it seemed there should be an answer.
Evelyn Hinz: Do you think the fact that you now know that your Diary is being published will affect your writing?
Anaïs: No, because I kept the secret so long. I had such a habit of secrecy from the age of 11 until the time that I published it — a long time — that I believe in my power to keep a secret. I tell others that what I write today nobody will want to see, which helps me to maintain that continuity and truthfulness. I would like to ask you a question. Why, since the Diaries have come out, do people understand the fiction? I am not sure that I understand why reading the Diaries makes the fiction clearer.
Evelyn Hinz: In the Diary people can see the character or the incident you are describing in a context. I think it was the fact that you said you are working in the world of the dream, the edifice without dimension, in your fiction that caused an uneasy feeling. One doesn’t know where to begin, where exactly one is.
Anaïs: So the Diary gave them…?
Evelyn: Context. In a way the Diary is the medium between both old and new writing. It has the qualities of a novel but it also has the realities of the old way of writing. The Diary is a bridge of understanding to the novels.
Anaïs: Did the Diary persuade everyone that I was a realist?
Evelyn: I think it gave them a context for the unusualness of your fiction.
Anaïs: Fiction was a destination. They were missing elements which the Diary filled in. Then they could believe it.
Adele: To me, as a painter, I think the fiction was very related to the creation of painting. A natural kind of thing, as in a painting you leave this out or that out to build an image. That’s the same kind of process that people aren’t used to seeing in writing.
Evelyn: That’s right. Anaïs has used that image of her writing as the canvas, saying … The missing elements on the half empty canvas were important because they were the only space in which the human imagination could draw its own images.
You see, what Anaïs is trying to do in fiction is to allow you to come with your whole emotional subconscious response too. Now if she describes your characters or gives you too concrete a setting, you would know automatically that you couldn’t fit in there because your house happens to be blue and this one happens to be green, that syndrome. But leaving spaces out, pursuing just the essentials, allows the reader to fill in the gaps with her own responses and identification.
Daisy Aldan: I think a person who was accustomed to reading and writing poetry would respond immediately to the novels and not need the Diaries as a bridge. But a person has to learn the language of poetry, which Anaïs’ fiction is. The Diaries were an illumination of the distilled and concise language of the novels, the poetic prose that was more difficult to understand.
Evelyn Hinz: That’s true. The words ‘poetic novel’ are very good, except that there are so many built-in connotations of what the word ‘novel’ means that I’d like to throw the term out altogether. Somehow in the convention of prose fiction, rather than poetry, we demand to know exactly where we are. Of course the novel started in the 18th century as history.
Anaïs Nin: Do you remember how Dreiser wrote about what the characters paid for rent, how old they were, where they lived, what street… ?
Evelyn: Not only that, he described in Sister Carrie, a very exciting getaway. The characters have stolen a lot of money and are rushing for the train which is to leave in five minutes, and all of a sudden, one of them makes a phone call from a telephone booth. Dreiser spends three pages describing the telephone booth, how it was the first in America, and I’m sure that if the character was really trying to catch this train he missed it!
Elaine Streitfield: People say there is no reality in Nin’s interior writing, but artists and poets have long felt that the deeper reality is in the interior of a person.
Moira Collins: What I always thought was that people who do not think she deals with reality feel threatened by her because they do not face their interior lives. They prefer to relegate her as unreal.
Anaïs: A person is not alive without emotional reality, which is feeling what is happening to me. I never spoke of escaping reality, I simply spoke of the relation of our beings to our emotional reality.
Beatrice Harris: Where does the emotional reality develop? From something external which elicits emotion within you, so they’re connected. It isn’t that one has an emotional reality without the external reality. They’re there together, inter-acting.
Daisy Aldan: People sometimes get the impression that Anaïs just lets exquisite language flow out of her. I think her lasting value as an artist is her skill with words and imagery. Her craft is not just automatic writing, but involves a tremendous conscious effort and intelligence in working the feelings into an integral part of the work. One of the great and almost indefinable things of her work is the style, which comes through even in foreign languages.
Evelyn: Proust said that style is not a matter of technique but of vision. I think Anaïs suggests that the emotions direct how our perceptions are formed. Henry Miller thought that everything should be written down as it came and not given artistic form or polish. In the first volume of the Diary Anaïs says that things have to be cut in order to produce gems. I see her fiction as work of art in this sense.
In The Novel of the Future the first chapter begins, “Proceed from the dream outward.” You have to begin with an understanding of what you are like but to remain disoriented from the world is to her most unfortunate. Earlier today Valerie asked Anaïs whether she intended not to have her women characters find fulfillment in their work. Anaïs made the point that in the fiction she was exploring women who had problems, not ones who had resolved their problems. In presenting Sabina, Lillian, Djuna, and Stella, Nin is not saying this is the way all women are, unresolved in their conflicts, but that these are some of the conflicts that women have to come to terms with.
Anna Balakian: Actually in French, the word for novel, ‘roman‘ comes from the word ‘romance‘, which means prose written in the vernacular as opposed to things written about unreality. Therefore, it is a very appropriate word because it means that it is about life — reality, not realism — the total reality of this earth in opposition to spiritual writings about another earth or world, metaphysical world.
Anaïs: But the word ‘novel‘ in English is taken from the Italian ‘novella‘, meaning “the never experienced before.” So we have two sources for the novel.
Anna Balakian: When you go through the history of the novel right through the 19th century which was supposed to be realistic, the novels of that era did create a relationship between the subjective and the objective. Even today, what remains of Zola is the fact that for moments he was a poet. If he had followed strictly the theories of the naturalistic novel, he’d be dead as a doornail the way some of the others who followed him and his precepts, rather than his realizations, have died.
Daisy Aldan: The naturalistic novel is out of favor because it is false. People now in their developing consciousness are beginning to realize that the human being is not just a physical body but an entity, a balanced entity between the spiritual and physical. People see that the physical body is an empty shell, a corpse, without the feelings and strivings, the other side of human nature, to fill and balance it.
Evelyn Hinz: It is significant that the artists and the young people have become Nin’s favorite audience. The young people are not yet acclimatized to their social roles and the artists have always recognized that we need more than a mirror of ourselves in terms of realism.
Adele: I felt Evelyn’s effort to be able to speak like that in front of a group. Her passionate interest in Anaïs gave her the strength, not ego. She became lost in her talk, radiated and transcended her subject Evelyn seemed to me deeply passionate but all inside. She was like looking at hot lava pressing against strong transparent wails of lucite. Everything contained, nothing spilled over, but I could see all the surging.