The Unique Anais Nin
I have heard the beast pound
in the breath of a bird...
and felt in its feathers the fire.
I have hated with passion
the gathering herd
and the weight of its common desire.
Ah, but no rest for weary terrestrial wings
in beating oppressive air;
they long for the strength
of celestial things
like the essence of myrrh in her hair.
was a highly unconventional individual; I stress the term individual here, since she was not someone who was easily swayed by herd-think and convention. Among her many notable quotes one will find: You have a right to experiment with your life. You will make mistakes. And they are right too.
Not even her naitivité and childhood were ordinary. She was born near Paris in 1903 to a Catalanese-Spanish pianist/composer, Joaquin Nin, and a Danish-French mother, Rosa Culmell; both of whom had been born in Cuba. She spent her childhood in a number of different European locales untill she was 11, when her father abandoned the family and left for America. This prompted the mother to move to New York with her daughter and two sons, where Anais began to write her journals. She began to work at 15 as a model and dancer. Having lived amongst Spanish and Cuban relatives for much of her childhood, she was an adept flamenco dancer, as well as excelling at various other styles.
When Anais was about 20, she married Hugo Guiler. In the mid-1930s they moved from New York to Paris. She worked as a lecturer/teacher in addition to her dancing and modeling, and later as a psychoanalyst under Otto Rank. Anais and Hugo supported a number of avant-garde artists, including Henry Miller, with whom Anais began a torrid love affair. Just before the outbreak of WW II she and Hugo moved back to New York. Anais divided her time between New York and Los Angeles, and also between Hugo and a much younger lover, Rupert.
She came to be something of a cult figure of the early feminist movement, but gradually rose to fame and distinction in literary circles. In 1973 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Philadelphia College of Art and in 1974 she was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. She died in 1977.
During her literary career, she wrote a number of novels and a surrealist prose poem. The most famous of these works is the novel A Spy In The House Of Love
, but it is for her amazing collection of diaries that she is best known. These were written in order to improve her writing skills as well as to effect a synthesis of her self as both artist and woman. They are no ordinary diaries; they display masterful writing skill and are often deeply moving and/or profoundly insightful as art.
Though the diaries she became famous for are the ones beginning from about 1931, one can hardly believe, when perusing her earliest journals from the teens and 20s, that one is reading the work of an adolescent girl. She is already so mature at this stage of her life, she is like a little woman; even when writing of the relatively normal boy-crazy infatuations of the average teenaged girl.
As she progresses through the years into maturity, these diaries become increasingly unabashed in their exposure of every nerve-ending of her experience, right down to the juicy details of intimate sexual congress, but it is never anything to be construed as pornographic. It is art of a very fine caliber which considers no aspect of life unworthy of its attention. In fact, she and Henry Miller were once approached by a somewhat kinky, wealthy collector who offered them a dollar a page to write some erotic fiction for him. They obliged, but the man was greatly displeased with the results, even though they were very graphic, and complained: Im not paying for literature!
As an example of this mode of Nins art, take this selection from one of her diaries
The entire mystery of pleasure in a womans body lies in the intensity of the pulsation just before the orgasm. Sometimes it is slow, one-two-three, three palpitations which then project a fiery and icy liqueur through the body. If the palpitation is feeble, muted, the pleasure is like a gentler wave. The pocket seed of ecstasy bursts with more or less energy, when it is richest it touches every portion of the body, vibrating through every nerve and cell. If the palpitation is intense, the rhythm and beat of it is slower and the pleasure more lasting. Electric flesh-arrows, a second wave of pleasure falls over the first, a third which touches every nerve end, and now the third like an electric current traversing the body. A rainbow of color strikes the eyelids. A foam of music falls over the ears. It is the gong of the orgasm. There are times when a woman feels her body but lightly played on. Others when it reaches such a climax it seems it can never surpass. So many climaxes. Some caused by tenderness, some by desire, some by a word or an image seen during the day. There are times when the day itself demads a climax, days of which do not end in a climax, when the body is asleep or dreaming other dreams. There are days when the climax is not pleasure but pain, jealousy, terror, anxiety. And there are days when the climax takes place in creation, a white climax. Revolution is another climax. Sainthood another.
That is almost like having one yourself, yet at no time are you aware of anything risqué. She rises above the mundane into a realm of beauty and veracity. That she also indulged in a sort of creative lie in various places throughout her journals has been much discussed, but has been vindicated admirably by Anais herself, promoting them as a viable way of dealing with the many lies which are entwined throughout the reality of the mind. The Diaries of Anais Nin
are a journey through an actual life which is embellished by the fantastical in such a way as to further illuminate the truth of the characters who populate these books.
And these characters are amazing: Henry Miller and his wife, June, of course, but also all manner of known artist, actor, dramatist, writer, musician, analyst, philosopher, etc. from the golden eras of Art Deco, Dada, Surrealism, Jazz, Existentialism, bohemianism of the beatnik variety... right up through the wild 60s, when Anais herself experienced LSD and other mind altering drugs. I can remember idly picking up a copy of one of her diaries in the home of a friend some years ago and reading of Anais and some acquaintances going to a small trailer in a gypsy encampment to hear the great Belgian gypsy guitarist, Django Reinhardt, play his brand of fiery jazz. I couldnt believe it, page after page of incredible anecdotes involving many of the great artists of the 20th century. All this intertwined with the interior mindscape of a fascinating woman, revealed with stunning frankness and finesse of writing style as well as a dreamlike, teasing, womanly mysteriousness that makes you wonder about what she is actually doing to you.
It is somewhat discouraging that, of late, certain proponents of feminism have called into question Anais viability as a representative of the female perspective, since she had no aversion to taking a somewhat un-feminist stance at times. But this is how she was a true individualist a free being, unafraid of any experience, even that of fear. Isnt that what we all long to be, male and female alike? Is this not what liberation is all about? As the great woman herself has said: We dont see things as they are, we see things as we are. It is only that the charisma of her living physical presence is no longer with us which allows this sort of thing to happen.
At any rate, you owe it to yourself to check out her diaries at least, if not her novels, erotic literature, poetry, and essays. They are all well worth reading, though I speak from limited exposure (having read only some of the journals and bits of her erotic works as well as a few short stories and essays), and almost anything by her that you come across will be worth the investment. You will become intimate with one of the most intriguing females you have ever encountered... one who you will find as thought provoking as she is alluring.