Nin, Anaïs (Vol. 14)
Nin, Anaïs 1903–1977
Nin, an American novelist, short story writer, and critic, is best known for her diaries. Living in Paris in the 1930s, she became part of several artistic and intellectual circles, where she became acquainted with Antonin Artaud, Henry Miller, and Otto Rank. Her study with Rank, a prominent psychoanalyst, is reflected in both her fiction and her diary, where she explores the power of the subconscious in imagery drawn from dream and myth. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 4, 8, 11, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16, rev. ed.; obituary, Vols. 69-72.)
As I write these lines Anaïs Nin has begun the fiftieth volume of her diary, the record of a twenty-year struggle towards self-realization. Still a young woman, she has produced on the side, in the midst of an intensely active life, a monumental confession which when given to the world will take its place beside the revelations of St. Augustine, Petronius, Abelard, Rousseau, Proust, and others….
The diary is full of voyages; in fact, like life itself it might be regarded as nothing but voyage. The epic quality of it, however, is eclipsed by the metaphysical. The diary is not a journey towards the heart of darkness, in the stern Conradian sense of destiny, not a voyage au bout de la nuit, as with Céline, nor even a voyage to the moon in the psychological sense of escape. It is much more like a mythological voyage towards the source and fountain head of life—I might say an astrologic voyage of metamorphosis. (p. 33)
This diary is written absolutely without malice. The psychologist may remark of this that the pain inflicted upon her by the loss of her father was so great as to render her incapable of causing pain to others. In a sense this is true, but it is a limited view of the matter. My own feeling is rather that we have in this diary the direct, naked thrust which is of the essence of the great tragic dramas of the Greeks. Racine, Corneille, Molière may indulge in malice—not the Greek...
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There is a particular sense in which Anaïs Nin's art is related to the Surrealist ideal of magical creation through combinations of entities drawn from different categories. But her work is not itself Surreal, and it is easier to understand the application of the collage idea in terms of a broad definition. Collage includes all works in which components belonging to separate intellectual or perceptual categories are combined, regardless of the nature of the materials or the techniques used to combine them…. (p. 5)
The degree of displacement in Anaïs Nin's writing is relatively slight, even though there is considerable variety among her works. Her most experimental book, the one in which displacements are the greatest, is Collages itself. The early books. House of Incest and the pieces collected in Under a Glass Bell, display juxtaposition less in a structural sense than in stylistic combinations. Nin's diction is based on collage; she chooses words from a wide variety of sources and is usually successful in achieving a striking yet authentic image, phrase, or descriptive passage. A lover of words as words, Nin uses them if they appeal to her, regardless of standards of usage; she also draws upon far-flung vocabularies…. Guided by the unpredictable lure of free association, Nin combines into a novel the incidents that seem most strikingly to project her characters' inner lives. (pp. 5-6)
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For readers who find it hard to stay with Anais Nin's novels for more than several pages (no, let's be fair: for more than one page), the publication of her collected fiction isn't going to be the major event which Sharon Spencer's introduction would have us suppose. Nin herself described Cities of the Interior as 'an endless novel', and for anyone wading faithfully through 589 pages of such sub-Lawrentian wisdom as 'A breast touched for the first time is a breast never touched before' the description is going to sound all too appropriate. Still, somewhere within all the gushing are a few pleasantly erotic moments. (p. 631)
Blake Morrison, "Looking Backwards," in New Statesman (© 1978 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 96, No. 2486, November 10, 1978, pp. 630-31.∗
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In fiction [Anais Nin] tried to do something new, and she saw it as intricately linked with the fact that she was a woman; she was anti-intellectual, relying on feeling, and she was one of those people who believe that 'It is man's separateness, his so-called objectivity, which has made him lose contact…. Woman was born to be the connecting link between man and his human self.'… She wanted also to be a great artist; what is there in her books for people who do not find psychological guidance in the Diaries, and are not converted to her beliefs about men and women?
She was fond of using music, also painting and dance, as metaphors for writing. She wanted to communicate directly, to make words serve her intuitions that went beyond words. Rather than show you, she tells you, in fantastic, bright, rich images, woven together like a dazzling carpet. She often writes in the imperfect, less often in the past—describing the inner evolution of feelings over a span of time, rather than surface events moment by moment. Repetition is an essential part of the musical effect she wants. Her concern is always to see, to understand clearly the meaning of events for each character…. Because her female characters are all faces of Woman, it sometimes does not seem to matter which woman one is reading about; the characters melt and dissolve into each other, and indeed want to become each other.
By now it must be clear that...
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Anaïs Nin, better known for her diaries but better sold for her pornography ("Delta of Venus"), has left us another peep show in "Little Birds," a volume of 13 short stories that threaten to stir the erotic imagination.
In the preface to "Delta of Venus" she says that it was hunger that drove her and a number of starving writer and poet friends to collaborate on these droll tales….
Her mysterious client had specifications: his orders were to "leave out the poetry and descriptions of anything but sex. Concentrate on sex." Nin felt that it was this exclusion of poetry from his life that forced him to resort to literary aphrodisiacs….
The lubricous and sexually curious might, in time of need, find this volume of nostalgic sexware just the right thing to prod a lazy fantasy life; things are named, yet never become explicit enough to be judged obscene…. One imagines the wealthy gentleman who commissioned this charming curio to be a circumspect and discriminating connoisseur with a penchant for all sorts of erotica, one who would be shocked by today's insistence on the clinical close-up or the use of four-letter words in place of punctuation.
As I read "Little Birds" a common refrain seemed to unite the stories, that of impotence at the very moment it was inopportune to be so. Also rampant was the sadistic withholding of sexual favors, and the preference by males for females who...
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Underneath the coarse brown cover [of Little Birds: Erotica] lies a treasure. Nin awakens the mind and senses with thirteen well-crafted tales. The settings range from a Parisian artist's studio to a moonlit beach. The combinations of lovers and settings mix the exotic with the erotic. Like a haiku poem, Nin captures with one image what other writers explore through endless words. The oriental quality is not surprising, since many of the stories draw upon material from the Kama-Sutra.
Nin was supposedly paid a dollar a page to write erotica. Yet her patron warned her to "leave out the poetry." Her glorious failure to heed his warning is evident. It is as if she wraps hardcore pornographic material in delicate gauze. The sexual gems on each page are rounded out with a luxuriance of detail. Unlike most writers of erotica, Nin's writing defies boredom….
This collection continues the tradition established by the best-seller, Delta of Venus. (p. 43)
Linda Tamkin, "Books in Review: 'Little Birds: Erotica'," in West Coast Review of Books (copyright 1979 by Rapport Publishing Co., Inc.), Vol. 5, No. 4, July, 1979, pp. 43-4.
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