House of Incest

by Anaïs Nin

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Much of Nin's House of Incest centers on the idea of being isolated, separate, apart from everyone and everything else, sometimes even our own selves, and how that sense of isolation causes us such pain that it can become debilitating. The narrator explains that she remembers her birth as well as the time before it. Being in the womb was a completely peaceful and painless experience, the last she has ever known. She was able to drift along on the waters inside her mother, fed and cared for, not having to think or consider anything, and enjoying the most near-perfect physical union anyone can experience. Of this time before birth, she says,

There were no currents of thoughts . . . the endless bottoms of peace. I do not remember being cold there, nor warm. No pain of cold and heat. The temperature of sleep, feverless and chilless. I do not remember being hungry. . . . I do not remember weeping.

Thus, there was no pain then, but as soon as she was born, everything began to change. The speaker recalls seeing Sabina's face and feeling compelled to begin to choose the parts of herself. She feels that she is the other half of Sabina, and though they go together they can never possess the kind of union that would bring them peace. They try, sexually, but it is not the same. Neither feels complete or whole. Further, Sabina's lies are ultimately isolating, as are all lies according to the narrator, despite them being Sabina's attempt to create a less painful reality. The narrator continues to describe

THE FISSURE IN REALITY. The divine departure. I fall. I fall into darkness after the collision with pain, and after pain the divine departure.

There is this sense that the narrator longs for this divine departure, a break or a place where she might slip through reality—perhaps by dying—in order to conclude her experiences with pain. If before life, she experienced an absence of pain, then it stands to reason that such a state would characterize death, after life is over, as well. This seems to be her goal, as well as the goal of Sabina and Jeanne: to find a way to escape pain. The modern Christ describes how sensitive he is, the result of his skinlessness, recounting a dream he had. He says,

All the pores open and breathing the softness, the warmth, and the smells. The whole body invaded, penetrated, responding, every tiny cell and pore active and breathing and trembling and enjoying. I shrieked with pain. I ran. And as I ran the wind lashed me, and then the voices of people like whips on me!

Life is pain and an overwhelm of feeling, of feeling either painfully denied or painfully experienced. This is all there is, and though it hurts, it is the price of living, one supposes, and it can be no other way.

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