Archive for September, 2011

Anais Nin: A Legend of Journal Writing

September 6, 2011

Passionate, intense, emotional, deep, lyrical, magical,  intuitive, highly perceptive of the subtleties of human behavior, deceptive, sensuous, exotic, erotic…these are all adjectives I would use to describe the writings of Anais Nin, queen of the diary.  There are so many complexities to her life that Anais Nin will remain forever a tantalizing mystery to her biographers, as I suspect she was during her life to her friends and lovers.  One of her favorite words was “labyrinth.”  Nin was a labyrinth! I have read that no one is lukewarm about Nin or her writings.  You either love her or hate her.  Put me on the side of love.

In 1971, in a dusty used bookstore in Point Reyes Station, California, I reached for a slim volume of prose: Under a Glass Bell.  In that moment I connected with the woman who was to become a major influence in the way I thought about women writers and the diary.   At the time, I scarcely knew there were women writers, and I had been keeping my own diary only eight years.

Under A Glass Bell (published in 1944) was an astonishing discovery for me.  Even in 1971, women writers were rarely acknowledged and their work and their way of seeing the world was dismissed as frivolous, rarely admitted as serious literature.  I know because I was an English lit major and we read only male writers.  In a college course in 1968, my textbook of 100 poets had only one woman poet, and that was, of course, Emily Dickinson.

As for keeping a diary, such writing was considered of little merit, particularly if you were a woman, were not a famous artist or writer, and were not involved in a historic event.  Until the early seventies, and the dawn of the Women’s Movement and the promotion of women’s writing, I don’t believe diaries were  even considered a “genre” of writing.

It is still a struggle to find acceptance for this style of writing.  Keeping a diary is frequently believed to be more of a self-indulgence than a serious attempt to deepen life and expand the boundaries of experience.    Just try saying, if you are among a group of writers and are asked what you write,   “I am a diarist,” without being met with a dismissive indifference or superiority.

Anais Nin liberated my thinking.  I soon found her diaries and began devouring them.  I was in my early twenties and I wanted to be Nin. (My own diaries began changing – deeper, more explicit. )  I was most impressed with her analysis of people and relationships and the way she described the nuances of interaction and the layers of meaning in experiences.    Next I read her continuous novel: Cities of the Interior.  In my 40s I returned to Nin and read her pornography, and then Henry and June, the unexpurgated version, (made into a very erotic movie  with look-alike Maria de Medeiros.) Last of all, I read her thought-provoking essays and lectures (she was a popular speaker on college campuses).

I deeply regret that I was never able to meet her.  (I do have an inscribed copy of Cities of the Interior.)  Recently I listened to a tape of an interview she did in 1971 with Studs Terkel.  What a beautiful voice.  There are many interviews available on the internet.

For those already familiar with Nin, I have found A Cafe in Space: The Anais Nin Literary Journal, online.  I think most of her books are available as ebooks as well as real books.

There are websites devoted to Anais Nin quotes.  As a collector of quotes over many years, here are some favorites:

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”

“There is not one big cosmic meaning for all, there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.”

“…Beware…love never dies of a natural death.  It dies because we do not know how to replenish its source, it dies of blindness and errors and betrayals.  It dies of illness and wounds, it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings, but never a natural death.  Every lover could be brought to trial as the murderer of his own love.”

“War is the great pleasure of people whose love is atrophied, who need war to feel alive, who find in violence and clash a semblance of relationship.  Relationship by hatred.”

So, here is my second favorite published diarist, and if you have never experienced her writings before then you are missing a truly unique writer who can transport you to the “cities of the interior.”

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