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The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934 Paperback – March 19, 1969
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Nin, the daughter of Cuban pianist Joaquin Nin and singer Rosa Culmell, started keeping a diary when, as a young girl, she traveled with her mother and brother to New York from Europe after her father abandoned the family for one of his mistresses. On the ship she began a letter to her father describing their experiences, which was never sent and instead marked the beginning of a lifelong project of meticulously documenting her life.
At the beginning of this diary, in 1931, Nin is back in France, where she was born, and has just finished her biography of D.H. Lawrence, whose writing she felt had so profoundly changed her life that she wanted to pay homage to him. She writes:
"You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book (Lady Chatterley, for instance), or you take a trip...and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death."
Soon after this she meets Henry Miller, and the beginning of a relationship that would last decades, long after each of their marriages had ended (and others still lay ahead). They inspired each other in part because their writing was so vastly different: his stark, brutal and crude, hers veiled and baroque, but both probing and sensual in their own fashions.
Towards the end of the diary, in 1933-34, Anais becomes fascinated with psychoanalysis, which as a practice and theory had steadily become more popular in the decades since Freud. It seems a natural progression for a woman who had spent so many years scrutinizing the lives and experiences of everyone around her to finally turn the mirror around on herself, and she does this in a way that is admirable without being punishing or overly neurotic. The way she examines herself is unflinching but not melodramatic:
"My greatest fear is that people will become aware that I am fragile, not a full-blown woman physically, that I am emotionally vulnerable, that I have small [...] like a girl. And so I cover all this up with understanding, wisdom, interest in others, with my mind's agility, with my writing, my reading: I cover the woman up, to reveal only the artist, the confessor, the friend, the mother, the sister."
"I have always been tormented by the image of multiplicity of selves. Some days I call it richness, and other days I see it as a disease, a proliferation as dangerous as cancer. My first concept about people around me was that all of them were coordinated into a WHOLE, whereas I was made up of a multitude of selves, of fragments. I know that I was upset as a child to discover that we had only one life."
Through analysis she also finally faces the deep trauma her father's abandonment had caused and its influence on her adult life. Although they had actually become quite close as adults, she realized that they had forever lost something irretrievable:
"My father comes when I no longer need a father. I am walking into a Coney Island trick house. The ground gives way under my feet. It is the ironies which swallow the ground and leave one dizzy and stranded. Irony of loves never properly timed, of tragedies that should not be tragedies, of passions which miss each other as if aimed by blind men, of blind cruelties and even blinder loves, of incongruities and deceptive fulfillments. Every realization is not a culmination but a delusion. The pattern seems to come to an end and it is only another knot. My father comes when I have gone beyond him; he is given to me when I no longer need him, when I am free of him. In every fulfillment there is a mockery which runs ahead of me like a gust of wind, always ahead."
As this volume ends she has begun her own brief career as an analyst, but soon realizes that she wants to concentrate full-time on her writing. Miller's `Tropic of Cancer', considered his magnus opus and something Nin was deeply involved with (she was Miller's primary muse and editor), has just been accepted for publication, and this inspires her further. She writes intensely and painfully about a pregnancy and stillbirth experience, and makes plans to return to New York to work with Otto Rank, the famed analyst under whom she'd first been a patient, then a student. Volume Two picks up at this point.
I'm not usually quite so verbose with my reviews. I was just very moved by Nin's writing and her way of expressing herself, which could so easily come across as neurotic but never does because she never exudes self-pity or obsesses narcissistically about herself. She just is who she is, and I love the way she doesn't want to miss anything, refuses to draw a box around herself, lives a life outside of conventional norms, and isn't afraid to face her own demons. Or rather, she might be afraid, but does it anyway.
Yes, I know this will be marked down as unhelpful. I do that to less than positive reviews too. But I am a disappointed fan.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
She displays a character that one doesn't encounter these days. I wish I'd known her.Read more