One of the features of Nin’s work is that the reader must fully participate with the central character’s explorations, never knowing what moment or what place will lead away from death to the moment of rebirth. The not knowing or the cloud of unknowing is essential to the harmony of psychological process. Knowingness or analysis retards the movement toward renewal. In House of Incest Nin has the image of a woman, without arms, dancing, appear before the characters, which is precisely the way psychological process works. After all the stress in searching has gone as far as it is going to an image presents itself to the mind. And this image is endowed with an intense energy because it is the product of deep inner striving. In the image a woman, dancing, listens to music they could not hear. Her arms
were taken away from me, she sang. I was punished for clinging…I clutched at the lovely moments of life…My arms were always tight and craving to embrace…And I strained and held so much that they broke. Everything eluded me then. I was condemned not to hold…I could not bear the passing of things. All flowing, all passing, all movement choked me with anguish…And she danced; she turned with the earth turning, like a disk, turning all faces to light and to darkness evenly, dancing toward daylight.
The wisdom shown this woman is that she must not hold onto experience or people she loves. She has to let them be. She has to allow emotion to go from pain to joy with acceptance. She has to understand that the changes of dream and involvement with the world and people, of love and hate, are as permanent and cyclic as the earth turning on its axis. This rhythm is spoken of in Eastern philosophy and depth psychology; it is described as centering, being here now, letting life flow through one without judgement, without seizing it in any attempt to impose order, as if one were transparent. In Nin’s first thoughts about this image, she wrote:
When I ran through the fields in the winter, I put my arms around the trees because they were sighing. When it was warm I flung my arms in the air to embrace the warm light. When I was joyous I danced with my arms and I awoke in the morning with undulations of my arms, like incantations. I wanted to rock pain and caress and heal and surround and encompass. When people suffered I put my hand on their knees but also if they were full of life I tried to put my arm around their life. I was all a circle. I circled, I tried to close until I was punished.
She learned not to hold, but to give with abandon, and to allow herself to be permeated by all feelings. The image of the woman who opens herself to give, without holding, is also a dancer. And dancing is the movement of a person in relation to life. The movement also suggests making art from life. It is done to music that is only heard to herself, which means that it comprises her unique growth, her own fears, laughter and breathing. It is the indiscernible unique destiny dwelling in all things. In the early version of this work, Nin summarized her ideas further in the unification of the Alraunes.
The idea is that Alraune III (woman-creator) swallows both I and II in meeting the paralytic and modern Christ (Artand) which represent neurotic love experience. In meeting of dancer and becoming of dancer Alraune III flows into pure movement again-something comparable to flow of birth-that is, because life, being neurotic love, being too difficult, she dances or writes-movement glorified because it is impossible to make movement of life equal to movement of imagination. The failure of the life flow, making creation flow.
Thus, in House of Incest one significant result is the synthesis of woman and artist. Art is the creative spirit’s response to life. The line between life and art is not clear, for Nin learned that much of her understanding of life came through the contemplative act of her writing. Sometimes it seemed as if the most intense living took place in the writing -for example, when the power of insight took over and washed away angry frustrations. Furthermore, Nin perceived that life is not just a sad reality as she mused in the childhood diary but life is the process of movement between joy and pain. Life seen as movement from feeling to feeling, rather than to other individuals, Nin discovered in writing the John novel. In House of Incest the fluctuation is shown to be as much a law as the cyclic turning of the earth between night and day. Life is not free of opposites. There is no permanent euphoria, no everlasting freedom, but there is movement and the opportunity for creation.House of Incest is akin to the work of serious philosophical and literary masters. Critics who are unfamiliar with psychological cycles and symbolic gestures do not immediately comprehend Anaïs Nin’s far-reaching implications as a writer. Nin focused on the inner adventures of the self and selected only germane, rather than mundane details for use in her fiction. She is a psychological realist, concerned with the forces that motivated people’s actions. One of her resources for House of Incest had been dreams. She did not just piece dreams together, as on a chain, a method Henry Miller used to lesser effect in Black Spring at the same time as Nin wrote House of Incest. Missing in Miller’s approach was the context of events, pressures, and relationships. Nin knew that such imagery meant nothing and had no emotional value when used alone. It must be seen in context of the full human drama.
Nin’s literary style evolved to suit her material. In House of Incest can be seen a collage technique in the structuring of important segments. In a collage only the most vivid and outstanding pieces are selected, shaped, and placed in juxtaposition with others to build up a whole picture. The final image may be more or less abstract; the only thing it does not employ is a continuous line just as Nin’s work does not have a conventional plot line. This form Nin used in her later novels and it most successfully represents the interior happenings of the mind. Nin believed that writing should sing, shout, cry, laugh, make love, etc. Music, color, texture, sculpture have been sources of inspiration.
With the inherent rhythm and emotional quality in words Nin hoped to penetrate people’s minds. By engaging their emotions she hoped to influence people. Thus, she explored and reproduced subtle shades of feeling, carried even to the utmost personal confusion. The significant breakthrough that House of Incest represented for Nin the writer is that she wrote it with her whole self. There is no holding back, only refinement for clarity and beauty. The feelings rush through her words, like the sound of water crashing over rocks.
If Nin’s passion is contagious, then others will take responsibility for their lives and psyches. She hopes people will become less afraid to examine their personal imagery and large emotions. Nin believed that repression of the contents of the psyche was a major cause of society’s ills, its international wars and destruction. As C.G. Jung said, the source of all the evil in the world is found in the human psyche. People present the greatest danger to the world and themselves. Nin felt that through writing she could express the naked truth, which is unbearable to most, and overcome people’s resistance to truth. Her politics were to attack ugliness, cruelty, despair, anger at their psychological roots and supplant them with moral, physical, and aesthetic beauty. This urgent social desire animating Nin’s writing is like a strong wind blowing through our modern crises.
It seems as though House of Incest stands at a pivotal point in Nin’s literary career. Nothing else before or after it is quite like it; and writing it seems to have given Nin new confidence in the direction of her future work. In the seven novels that followed Nin presented the psychological struggles of other women in their relationships and life experience. Nin wrote in Novel of the Future that her later novels were to be the constant description of going into life and back into the dream to seek the self when it lost its way. In a sense, I continued to say: the dream is the key, the source, the birthplace of our most authentic self. This method and philosophy of Anaïs Nin are the treasures brought back from her season in hell, the writing of House of Incest. The wisdom and passion wrested from the experience of that book produced many flaming embers that burned for a long time afterward. There was so much that went beyond the scope of one book, so many aspects to explore and characters to create- Djuna, Sabina, Lillian, Stella, Jay. So many questions to pursue in quieter moments, when living permitted the possibility for more of the magic of writing.