ANAIS NIN

the search for god / invention of a woman (fragments)

 ‘I do not think I am looking for a man, but for a God. I am beginning to feel a void which must be the absence of God. I have called for a father, a guide, a leader, a protector, a friend, a lover, but I still miss something; it must be God. But I want a God in the flesh, not an abstraction, an incarnated God with strength, two arms, and a sex.’ (p. 261)

It is impossible for me now to read only as a reader, I read as a reader, writer, student; frustrated to be able to be only the one at a time. Once were days when I could read purely, sentence after sentence in the unadulterated pleasure of reading, but now, as I read The Diary of Anaïs Nin, my head is already filling up with notes, if my pen or pencil scribbles a few notes in margins or in notebooks, and I essay also in my head as I read on.

Impossible now for me to write about Anaïs Nin in an objective fashion. Reading her diary I say, I love her and would have liked to have met and known her – I feel I have much in common with her. But then again, no; no because just as she might once have lived close to D. H. Lawrence but never called on him, likewise I have nothing to offer; I am very pale still, and still unformed. Yet reading her I feel that I do know her, that we are friends here between the lines in what lives on, and that reading her is conversation. I feel her diary is a book that I might read many times because it is very deep and I haven’t the capacity to absorb and properly reflect on all of it this first time, and who could? I feel that she would be pleased to know that her diary has the power to penetrate still, that she gave it life, and words with no concern for time and space and even death.

This time, reading, I enjoy particularly the vibrant descriptions of her milieu and the exotic characters who comprise it. As a writer I wonder how I could possibly give such life and depth and subtlety to characters that I will write. Then, in an academic way, I enjoy her engagement with psychoanalysis, and notes on fate, coincidence, translation, deferral, the unconscious, the oceanic (masculine and feminine?) sink quietly into the outer layers of my mind, like they did in the best seminars when I was aware that I was not yet ready to understand all or make sense of it, but that one day I would. No fully formed thoughts then; only fragments waiting to be assembled in the right conditions to go from something nebulous to something else more concrete.

Meanwhile I enjoy reading, understanding, between the lines, her love for Henry, and his for her – a love that she does write* but does not name specifically.

I think about how we can see only what we are ready, already able to see. I looked at the stars one night, where they are bright in the country, and thought that my favourite constellations were firstly the Pleiades, best seen only indirectly, they appear to me like a diamond, and then Orion, the hunter, whose bow and arrow point to the Pleiades, it seems to me. Then I remembered that in fact I knew the names of only two other constellations than these, and I thought how many others are whose names I do not know, and how we are able to see only what is named, and only to love what is named and seen. How strange. I think that what I felt and feel in common with Anaïs is that we want to seeit all.

 —

 ‘I do not think I am looking for a man, but for a God. I am beginning to feel a void which must be the absence of God. I have called for a father, a guide, a leader, a protector, a friend, a lover, but I still miss something; it must be God. But I want a God in the flesh, not an abstraction, an incarnated God with strength, two arms, and a sex.’ (p. 261)

Nin’s diary a rebellion against oversimplification, romanticism, the fairy tale, lies. Her friends considered it to be truly her greatest work, and in some ways greater than a novel can be. The form of a novel is coherence, pattern, meaning. Literature pales beside the tragedy of human life, she writes somewhere; I paraphrase, didn’t mark the page! The diary reveals inconsistency. The deepest love turns to apathy, disappointment, or violence, and then may return to love, as quickly and without consequence as the changing weather. One moment she is wonderfully generous, the next she is jealous and fearful that she has given too much.

‘While I was working, I was in despair. I discovered that I had given away to Henry all my insights into June, and that he is using them…I feel empty-handed, and he knows it, because he writes me that he “feels like a crook.”’ (p. 128)

I remember that when I read Henry & June, Nin’s inconsistency at first frustrated me. But in the end it must be admired because honest, and impossible not to love the character Anaïs Nin because of this weakness, which after all, all of us must recognise. In novels we the reader request consistency, coherence; but here the diary reveals that life is fragmented, people are changeable, nothing is for certain. Apathy, disappointment, violence, love happen. Anaïs Nin wonders which self to bring before Dr. Otto Rank; which will be of sufficient interest that the eminent psychoanalyst will take on her case, her quest to be made whole.

 —

“We know very little about woman. In the first place it was man who invented ‘the soul’…” (Otto Rank. p. 276)

Men and women not ‘created’ (if you will) differently in essence, yet are creations and more than this, are self-creations built into towering and seemingly timeless edifices out of cultural symbols, mythologies (illusions). But while man took control of his destiny, woman relinquished her own creation and role of creator (she was made out of Adam’s rib!)

To seek the truth, to find God, we must tear down these monuments and build ourselves new, both man and woman. Perhaps, though, this is why woman is traditionally seen to be closer and more inclined to spirituality than man. Because man is in love with what he  created, with his self-creation, while woman is not – she never created herself only accepted what was given, was subdued for many centuries. She is aware that she is only playing roles. And she [Anaïs Nin] wants to break down the roles she finds herself constantly playing for others, to discover what the truth and the core of her is. It’s a possibility for the modern woman. Beneath those roles, however, she discovers only more roles, and we her readers are witness to the repetition. She searches for God, in man and in men, in love; in Henry, June, Allendy, her father, and Rank. She is looking for a master, an infallible father, someone who will teach her what it is to be Anaïs Nin and who will explain to her the lies she tells and the roles she plays – more than this, to make the lies and the roles unnecessary. But each attempt fails; eventually she overpowers them all; she sees more than they do, and they are transformed from god and father, to child. The only god she finds, and the only truth that is sacred, is her own self. Nin’s quest for god, the quest for a true self, consistent and whole.

Impossible to live without the roles, though; her quest is doomed from the beginning. What lies beneath all that is too small, too fragmented, too oceanic, to be seen or understood. She finds that the lies are necessary, translation required. With her father:

‘We both started out with the desire to be devoted, complete, human, noble, faithful; but our passions broke the damn, and forced us into lies.’ (p. 238)

To be in the world amongst others the monument and the name is necessary. Oceans of space lie between us, and we can only see and love what we have a name for. Rank’s words are telling when he says that ‘all of us would like to live on an island’. (p. 335) In Black Spring, Henry Miller postulates that we do already all live on islands of our own creations, each one of us a neurotic Robinson Crusoe (BS pp. 41-2). The only possible work is invention of the self. To tear down first all of what was created out of ideas that were not our own, and to build anew in authenticity. And we will build ourselves structures that will look strange to the world, but delightful also.

Finally, then, the first volume closes with the most moving, terrifying passages on childbirth I’ve read. I cried on the floor of the crowded train by the loo where I read and finished the diary, where an old lady watched with curiosity or sympathy. Listen:

‘These legs I opened to joy, this honey that flowed out in joy – how these legs are twisted in pain and the honey flows with the blood. The same pose and the same wetness of passion but this is dying and not loving.’ (p. 344)

 —

Notes:

*at least not in the edition I used. The full diaries have never been published.

The editions I’ve used are The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. One: 1931-1934, ed. Gunther Stuhlmann, (New York: Swallow Press, 1966)

and Henry Miller’s Black Spring (St Albans: Panther, 1965).

For further reading, apart of course from Henry Miller (have already started re-reading Black Spring, much mentioned in the Diary) and the other works she cites, including the works of Otto Rank, Nietzsche, Proust, Lawrence, many others… the name that springs foremost into my mind is Hélène Cixous, for her explorative works into writing, dreams, the feminine, influenced by psychoanalysis and the work of Jacques Derrida, which seem to me incredibly appropriate to Anaïs Nin.

For a taste of Cixous and a little shameless self-promotion on my part, you might try DISTANCE & INTIMACY: Cixous on the telephone

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2 thoughts on “ANAIS NIN

  1. Beautifully done. Fantastic era, that first half of the twentieth century: Proust, Joyce, Mann, Miller,Nin, Wolfe, and countless others. Delving into psychology and mythology, bringing it back into play. Breaking ground for the later forays into emancipation from the sixties on. And yet, is it me, looking around today, has the thread been lost?
    “A certain non-place”, I like that. Reminds me of a cafe I like to frequent.

    1. Ok,
      Forgot I had wrote that, what, six months ago.
      But rereading your post it strikes me that it’s all part of the ‘we have been out of touch’ business. The ‘have’ is crucial. Because it’s something that we are also in the process of redressing. Something that might take generations, as how many generations, particularly women but men as well, have lived their lives stunted, thwarted, unrealized?
      Both Nin and Miller strove with might and main towards a new sense of balance in life, a new way of relating with the world. Successfully? Who are we to say. They played their part on the stage of Life as best they could, and hence are worthy of celebration in my mind.
      Our task is to play our’s to the best of our ability. Maybe then a word or two we put down or say, or a piece of music we create or painting we paint will resonate with others in the days to come.

      Jeff

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