Margot Beth Duxler, Ph.D. Seduction, A Portrait of Anaïs Nin (CO: EdgeWork Books ’02) spiral paperbound 225 p.
This is a highly subjective text by “a clinical psychologist extensively trained in psychoanalytic theory and practice…(who) has also worked as a film editor…and fiction writer.” The title is intended to “seduce” the reader although Entrapment might have been more candid.
Part 1 Finding Anaïs begins with the critic’s initial youthful opinion of Anaïs Nin, “a woman who celebrated sensuality, creativity, inquiry, adventure.” (Duxler, 7) That impression is overturned with the thesis that Anaïs’ life is more remarkable “for her relentless courage to resolve the abuses of her childhood, integrate her many personae, and free herself to live a full and meaningful life.” (15)
However, the perspective of Seduction…is equally paradoxical since A Brief Biography (17-105) and much of the text relies heavily on Deirdre Bair’s judgmental biography, Anaïs Nin… (Putnam’s Sons ’95) as well the similarly titillating Anaïs: The Erotic Life of Anaïs Nin by Noel Fitch (Little, Brown & Co ’93) since Anaïs Nin gained more popularity among the masses with the release of Delta of Venus issued in l977, a year before her passing. (She and other writers and their publishers know that sex sells to the masses.)
Part III Understanding Anaïs does posit,
The less obvious seduction (in Anaïs’ life) has to do with her own needs…by creating a self, or seducing into being through an act of will, a creature of such perfection…(to) triumph forever over loss and abandonment…. Her motivation was to seduce, charm, win over, and transform the unlovable person she experienced herself to be… with the diary serving as blueprint for the creation of the ideal woman. (108-109)
Nonetheless, Duxler, as so many critics who fail to see the art in all of Nin’s Diaries, takes everything literally in both the published-in-Nin’s-lifetime volumes 1-7 plus the posthumously-released Diaries, rather than absorbing them as the “blueprint of an ideal woman,” ie. “the conflict between her (Anaïs) wishes to be a good ‘selfless’ wife and her impulse to be bad, meaning self centered and imaginative.” (43)
In Part IV After Anaïs, Duxler admits being “concerned at times that I would lose track of Anaïs and begin to see her as a collection of symptoms.” (152). Unfortunately, that’s what Seduction…is, albeit Duxler admits in Part V Dear Diary that “The portrait I have presented of Anaïs Nin is necessarily skewed,” adding that she formulated “the ‘case’ of Anaïs Nin…chaotic, violent childhood (little proof), early and serious illness, abuse (a harsh word) and rejection by a sadistic, seductive father, guilt about and responsibility for an unhappy mother.” (155)
To accomplish this, Duxler summarizes Thomas Mallon’s 1984 A Book of One’s Own wherein seven psychological categories are classified for diary-keeping. However, Anaïs (amazingly) fits into each of these as chronicler, traveler, pilgrim, creator, confessor, apologist and prisoner. Duxler then presents The Object Relations Theory of D. W. Winnicott, “a British pediatrician turned psychotherapist” whose writings in the Fifties and Sixties posit the mother-child relationship which Duxler believes is the impetus for Anaïs’ “diary-writing, general creativity.”
The lengthy Winnocott theory is clinical balderdash (especially to artists and writers) which is included to support Duxler’s thesis as well her profession. Basically, Duxler believes Anaïs’ art and life were fantasies made real. “An individual in this state (of isolated illusion), such as Anaïs, cannot access potential creativity.” (193)
Notwithstanding, Duxler gives the painter Edvard Munch (The Scream, a painting) praise since “Munch’s art operated as a function of transitional phenomena, allowing him to deal with reality by sufficiently altering it with personal meaning.” (214) But, Anaïs is disparaged. “She used her diary as a highly sophisticated fairy tale to pretend to herself and to others that she was penitent, moral, honest, creative, desirable, intelligent, and uninhibited.” (221)
Of course, Duxler neglects to mention that Anaïs also often said she was the opposite of all these attributes, “even a demon.” (This is most apparent when Anaïs immortalizes the father who abandons his family for a younger woman as beyond a womanizer, rather “incestuous.”)
That is what Duxler and other biographical/psychological critics fail to truly understand in all of Anaïs’ Diaries, a deft mixture of fact and fiction as the young artist struggled unconsciously and then consciously to create new genres of non-fiction as creative non-fiction (current term) and the new novel of the future with Winter of Artifice (initially begun in the early Thirties) preceding Diaries 1-7.
Rupert Pole and her editor Gunther Stuhlman were responsible for publication of subsequent Diaries after Anaïs’ passing in 1973. It’s a tragedy that Pole titled “The Journals of Love” Incest and thereby initiated the many misinterpretations of entries therein that myself and others believe are fiction. “As I write all this I recognize the dime-novel quality of it. If I had read more cheap novels I might have recognized it immediately.” (Incest 147)
The early diary should be studied as Anaïs’ desire to “experience…the need of making it (the journal) more artistic, or a notebook for creation.” (79) “I too will leave a scar upon the world” (91) in reference to becoming as known as D. H. Lawrence and Henry Miller whose first published work she helped initiate.
…the schema of my lyrical book burst into crystallization.Death. Disintegration. Perversion. Spencer’s prophecies unraveled: lesbianism, June…(aka House of Incest and an earlier segment of Winter of Artifice) incest….if we could understand the significance of the sexual symbol—from the sexual root, the imaginary world—as, for instance, incest does not mean only possession of the mother or sister, womb of woman—but also of the church, the earth, nature. (Incest 51-52)
Duxler notes how Anaïs fleshed out her original entries even as a child when she began Linotte as a letter to her father since her mother never gave the reason the family (oldest daughter and two younger brothers) were leaving France for America when Anaïs was only eleven. In the Aug 12 (1914) entry, the narration is plebeian, “Yesterday we reached New York.” (Linotte 222) which was transformed almost a year later by a twelve year old girl on Apr 11 (1915) to include:
Suddenly we were wrapped in a thick fog. A torrential rain began to fall, thunder rumbled, lightning flashes hit the heavy black sky…(222-223)
If a sensitive adolescent can revise with such mastery, couldn’t a more experienced writer later on do the same while omitting names and events to protect herself and others? Would she not have then had to semi-fictionalize her journals, especially The Journals of Love (Incest)?
Quotes from this “notebook of creation” would have served Anaïs and subsequent critics/readers better had Rupert Pole named the imaginative journal, Artifice, instead of the titillating Incest. Then the journal could have been studied as a work in progress, consciously and unconsciously, by Anaïs, who was busy creating fiction in a new way (not to mention creative non-fiction simultaneously).
“My Father comes when I have lived out the blind cruel instinct to punish; he comes when I have gone beyond him; he is given to me when I don’t need him, when I am free of him.” (Incest 152) This is part of the in-progress Winter of Artifice. “It is easy for us to yield…That is my true unconscious female amorality; the great inexorable will which prevents me from doing what is false.” (183)
“I withdrew into myself and began a secret life in my diary. I turned away from real life.” (199). This quote refers to Anaïs seeing her father a month before in May (1933) after not seeing him for twenty years and reveals how the “incest” event that is depicted in June 23 (1933) is imagined, i.e. “Yes, the evil I do not act out, I write out.” (203) followed by “First day of Father story…(204) which was reconstructed in July 8 (1933).
“All this incestuous love is still veiled and a dream. I want to realize it, and it eludes me.” (227) Anaïs wants to realize it in her fiction, “Winter of Artifice” just begun. She is struggling with the novel. “The work has begun…moral or journal? What does the world need—the illusion I gave in life or the truth I gave in writing?” (232) As is customary with Anaïs, she loved puns and double entendre as a writer/woman “with a thousand faces.”
“Nobody is more truthful than I am when I admit I am a liar.” (256) A writer has to be a good liar to create the diary as creative non-fiction while creating the novel of the future.
“I betray men because men are treacherous. Think if I had wholly given myself to my Father, how I would be suffering now…” (341) Anaïs said this to her cousin Eduardo who understood her perfectly. “Art. Slowly, by art, I will fuse the two women” (343) Anaïs is referring to her two sides as all of us have if we’re honest, the angel and the devil, the good woman/person and the naughty one.
Her primary goal as an artist was to become known as a truly inventive and memorable writer. “Her (June’s) inventions and my mad fantasies through which nobody can trace the fact….” (144) This is early “Winter of Artifice” as well “House of Incest” and later Diary Vol 1
If Bair and Fitch, Anaïs’ major biographers, along with psychoanalytical critics such as Duxler, had spent more time and energy studying Anaïs the writer as woman and vice versa, through her imaginative work, readers would be more apt to return to Anaïs’ Diaries and novels as forerunners of contemporary literature. After all, her Novel of the Future critical book in the late Sixties preceded what has come to be published in America in the last twenty-five years, ie. memoir as novel; non-fiction as fiction and vice versa, all genres blending as in Duxler’s own Seduction…
Critics would then study The Diaries not as records of Anaïs’ life per se but as creative notebooks for her art while she was simultaneously shaping her life as an artist/woman who probably was unaware she was bipolar. (See my Anaïs Nin: An Understanding of Her Art (1997).
Finally, it’s important to note that Anaïs who loved astrology must have been aware that her Saturn sign was Aquarius. Thus, her tasks would have been “to know disillusionment with people, see the disintegration and change of goals…” (Lutin, 45) With an Aquarius Saturn sign, Anaïs could not abide “the restriction of freedom.” She had to be free. (45)
That she, who originally created her Diary in French before switching to English for a larger audience, accomplished in her life and her art so much in spite of her past (Catholic upbringing; eccentric musician father); her undiagnosed bipolarity and a marriage of convenience to rescue a single mother, is phenomenal.
review/essay by Rochelle Lynn Holt
Duxler, Margot Beth. Seduction, a portrait of Anaïs Nin. (CO: EdgeWork Books’02)
Holt, Rochelle Lynn. Anaïs Nin: An Understanding of Her Art. (IL: Scars Publications & Design ’97)
Lutin, Michael. Saturn Signs…(NY: Delacorte Press ’79)
Nin, Anaïs. Incest. (NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich ’92)