If more writers could write like Richard Hell, I'd be a happier man.
Hell doesn't write very much, or very often. He'll give us one new book of poetry or a slim paperback novel every few years. Godlike, his first novel since 1997's superb Go Now, is an absolute pleasure and a perfect distillation of this unique author's talents.
Godlike purports to be the scribblings of a middle-aged poet named Paul Vaughn who sits in a mental hospital reminiscing about a younger poet named R. T. Wode, but it becomes quickly apparent that Hell is basing the story on the real-life relationship between two 19th Century French poets, Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud. He tells the tale with a light, glancing touch. Imagine if Jim Jarmusch made a movie about Verlaine and Rimbaud, and you get the idea. The Vaughn/Verlaine character also resembles Richard Hell himself, and the story is updated to Lower East Side New York City circa 1971.
But enough about the plot, because when Hell writes I only care about the sentences. I couldn't get through half a page without pausing for a big smile or a grateful sigh of recognition. Hell's writing is pointed, sharp, like a junkyard of broken glass. Surprising connections abound, celebrating random oddness, reaching for beauty or truth:
To give offense was his mission, his meaning ... People say James Dean was the same way, mean and arrogant and competitive. And I remember having this revelation watching Bette Davis on-screen one time. That everything that was magnificent about her in the movie would be impossibly obnoxious in the same room with you ...
Nixon the opposite of Dylan, right? Does that make them creators of each other? What would you do with that? Was there anywhere to go with that? Dylan's name looked like Dylan too ... They both have hanging noses and tense mouths. Richard Nixon -- cross-eyed, his tight downturned lips where the spit leaks out at the corners. What if you switched their names?
Why are soap containers so beautiful? The packaging, I mean. Brillo, Ivory, Tide, Comet. It can't be a coincidence. But the thing I really love to see, that gladdens my heart, is a thick stand of empty two-liter generic soda bottles pressed against each other on the floor. The soft gleanings, the complexity of the light, the humility, the blue labels, the uniform bottle shape in the random blob of the clustering ...
Snot is white blood cells that've died fighting germs.
Some writers are dull at heart, and mask their dullness with literary complexity and intellectual obscurity. I don't like writers like that. Hell is my kind of writer; his sentences are rational, direct, clear as water. It's the ideas behind the words that stand surreal and gather poetic mystery.
Like Paul Verlaine himself, Richard Hell suffuses his writings with images of filth and depravity but expresses, through it all, a surprisingly affirmative and affectionate view of life. As the pages of Godlike progress, we know that Vaughn will have to shoot Wode (without seriously injuring him), that Vaughn will go to prison and that Wode will disappear, reemerge and die. After this all plays out, Vaughn tells us the difference between Wode and himself, which is the difference between Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine:
He looked at emotions as a scientist, but there are things I know more about than he did. I know that love is real."
I think this is also the difference between hundreds of mediocre writers and Richard Hell, a great modern transgressive poet and author who writes about nothing but the joy of our world, and of life.
You know those internet quizzes where you find out what kind of Disney character you are, what root vegetable you are, which flag of the world you are? Well, I don't know if there's a quiz for which classic existentialist text you are, but if there were, I'm pretty sure I would be No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre.
This is a comic play about three recently dead people who find themselves in hell. But hell, in Sartre's vision, has no burning embers or rapacious goat-monsters. Instead, it's a mundane hotel room with a polite servant and Second Empire furniture. The three people, puzzled at their surroundings, begin to converse. They are:
- Garcin, a grand but arrogant alpha male who brags of his courageous service in the French Resistance against the Nazi occupation.
- Inez, a street-smart, world-weary lesbian.
- Estelle, an attractive, somewhat brainless young woman.
The Marquis de Sade, or Comte Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade was born on June 2, 1740 in Paris, France. His work was banned for many years but had an influence on many modern works and Surrealist art. His real life was as terrible and sadistic as the lives he wrote about. He was imprisoned many times for gross sexual acts, one time for masturbating with crucifixes whilst screaming obscenities and for whipping and raping a canoness.
120 Days Of Sodom is a story of four libertines who imprison a selection of whores, young girls and boys and their own wives and perform hideous sexual acts on them. (The word sadism comes from de Sade's name.) The book is divided into day-by-day chapters, each day bringing more grotesque crimes, spurred on by the stories of an old prostitute. The Marquis wrote this book in his last few years of life in a mental asylum on a 45 foot scroll that was carefully hidden inside the tube of a bedpost and was not rediscovered until 1904. Although the book gave me a sick feeling in my stomach and brought the taste of bile into my throat, I could not be torn away from it, my curiosity overcame my disgust and even at times overcame my feelings of contempt for the author. But that is another thing, for even though it is hateful and extreme, one feels one must fight all these feelings and pursue this original work to the end. If you can't read de Sade to the end, you lose. Though, somehow, even if you do read de Sade to the end, you still lose.
Amazingly, de Sade has such a philosophical view of these libertines that all questions of morality and the corruptness of religion are challenging and sometimes have a real truth. Despite the usually monotonous dialogue, the constant depictions of "frigging" and the gratuitous language, one must be stronger than the author, reading until the ending, fighting his 'low' art and emerge feeling more pure and unaffected than before, with a just, analytical viewpoint.
Is de Sade really the anti-Christ? I suggest you pick up one his books and experience the constant flux of emotions it brings and make up your own opinion. "Plaisir a tout prix ": pleasure at any price.
All prophecies are fragile. They are subject to contradiction, to falsity. The false prophet, then, one might consider insane. But how does one interpret the language of prophecy? Is it a language of madness, of hidden truth, of images? Such questions are pertinent when discussing the works of visionary poet William Blake. His prophecies or visions informed his poetic style and language and invested them with a vigor, energy, and substance that reach far beyond the mere meaning or signification of language. He claimed to experience visions of the prophet Elijah (among other visions). So was Blake insane? Blake, certainly, suffered from some type of mental illness. His mood swings, his depressions, and his fervent, inspired productivity have been the subject of much debate. However, does mental illness necessarily detract from the value of his visionary poetry? Or does it contribute something to it? These questions cannot be answered adequately unless address the topic of mysticism as well. Blake was a follower of the esoteric religious doctrines of Emmanuel Swedenborg. The intersection of madness and mysticism is key to the understanding of Blake, if only because it demonstrates that this madness did not signify a necessary degeneration in the faculties of the mind, but rather a passionate commitment to the imagination, the spiritual, and the profound.
"He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee."
-Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
James Douglas Morrison's poetry was born out of a period of tumultuous social and political change in American and world history. Besides Morrison's social and political perspective, his verse also speaks with an understanding of the world of literature, especially of the traditions that shaped the poetry of his age. His poetry also expresses his own experiences, thoughts, development, and maturation as a poet--from his musings on film at UCLA in The Lords and The New Creatures, to his final poems in Wilderness and The American Night. It is my intention in this essay to show Morrison as a serious American poet, whose work is worthy of serious consideration in relation to its place in the American literary tradition. By discussing the poetry in terms of Morrison's influences and own ideas, I will be able to show what distinguishes him as a significant American poet. In order to reveal him as having a clearly-defined ability as a poet, my focus will be on Morrison's own words and poetry. I will concentrate on his earlier work to show the influence of Nietzsche and French poets such as Arthur Rimbaud and Antonin Artaud and the effect they had on Morrison's poetry and style.
We will give our lives completely every day.
FOR THIS IS THE ASSASINS' HOUR."
-Arthur Rimbaud, Drunken Morning
"The revolution was in his poetry from the beginning and to the end: as a preoccupation of a technical order, namely to translate the world into a new language."
"I know nothing more stupid than to die in an automobile accident."--Albert Camus
The last thing in the world Albert Camus wanted was to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. "I'm castrated," the mortified Algerian-born French writer complained upon hearing that he'd won the greatest honor any writer could ever hope for. At that moment in his life, Camus was depressed, ill, and suffering from an enormous writer's block. Now he would be subject to the torture of public exposure, spectacle, and solemnities. Left-leaning Frenchmen led by Jean Paul Sartre had been publicly deriding Camus for being too conservative and for behaving as the high priest of Absolute Morality -- albeit one who carried his own portable pedestal. For conservative Frenchmen, Camus was no conservative at all but a militant radical at a time when the Arabs in Algeria were preparing for revolt. In the press Camus was treated more as a political than a literary figure and was often vilified as a mere writer of illusions. One critic dismissed his work as negative and jeered at the concept of the modern alienated outsider as nothing more than "the hero as vegetable." To his own regret, Camus could ill afford to turn down a Nobel Prize financially or morally, as Sartre later did. Trapped by fame, misunderstood even by his own admirers, and suffering the sting of his adversaries coolly mocking him in the press and in private, Camus wearily made the trip to Stockholm and accepted the award.
Nin's Sabina is a beautiful woman lost in the labyrinth of her own lies. One desperate evening she calls a random number and begins to confess her crimes. The man who answers the phone is not only a stranger, but also a "lie detector". She hangs up on him after learning this but he traces her call and leaves his bed to find her. The lie detector enters a small, darkly lit bar later on that evening and sits in the shadows, scanning the room for the strange woman's voice. There, in the center of the bar, stands a beautiful woman, surrounded by captivated men as she tells them fantastical stories of her life in Marrakesh and of her theater days in London. The lie detector recognizes the woman's voice and drinks in her body, her dark eyes and red and silver dress. Her hand motions are nervous and she keeps smiling during the serious parts of her tales. The lie detector knows she is lying. But he is certain he will find out the truth.
Sabina leaves the tiny Harlem bar and proceeds to hail a taxi home to Greenwich Village. Her husband does not expect her back from Provincetown, Massachusetts for another week, but she can no longer stand being in the city another night without him. She returns home and finds the apartment empty. She runs a bath but before she can clean off the scents of other men's desires in the water she hears her husband's key in the lock. It will be yet another evening of pretending to be someone else for Sabina. She is almost used to it now. She is an actress - but in real life and not on the stage. Earlier this evening she was a downtown seductress and a well traveled actress. In the midst of her performance she had almost lost her character when she called the lie detector. She had nearly told him the whole truth of her life. She had almost destroyed the varied fragments of her disjointed self that made her feel somehow whole. She had almost lost control - and she had never slipped up like that before.
Instead she lives out her role of doting, loving wife in her husband's arms. She dresses in white chiffon and puts his feet up after work, cooking exotic meals for him and reading poetry to him by the fireplace. She is gripped by a love so fierce and consuming it lifts her soul whenever she is near him. But somehow it is still not enough - or it's too much altogether.
She feels a childlike devotion to her husband which mirrors her complex girlhood worship of her Don Juan father. Like her own cosmopolitan and remote father, Sabina has become a "Donna Juana" of sorts; seducing countless men in an effort to transfer her father's womanizing experiences onto her own sexual compulsions. Much like Nin's other works exploring her lifelong obsession for her father and his abandonment of her, in another work, Winter of Artifice she writes of her father as a man who "...was offended that she had not died completely, that she had not spent the rest of her life yearning for him. He did not understand that she had continued to love him better by living than by dying for him. She had loved him in life, lived for him and created for him." Sabina feels this way about her father and feels perhaps she has to "die" for him, to create an inner death of herself and to reincarnate as a mirror image of him in order to "win him back" and "seduce" him into "loving her once more" as she feels he 'must' have once upon a time.
Sabina moves through the streets of 1940's New York in search of that insubstantial otherworldly mystical "something". She feels an unknown presence watching her. The lie detector is following her everywhere. He is like the silent confessor who becomes obsessed with his once detached object of study. He is all at once omniscient god, father, priest, judge and psychoanalyst, but he is too far removed from her to make actual contact with her. He is merely a witness to her affairs with a beautiful Italian actor, an afro-Cuban drummer and a shell shocked English army pilot. He watches as Sabina becomes haunted by the pilot, who leaves her sleeping in her tiny rented bungalow on Long Island and disappears into the thick, seashore mist. Sabina searches the streets and all the burroughs for the mysterious pilot. She hunts in every corner, trying to trace his last footprints as the lie detector in turn follows hers. She looks into every new face for any sign of him, any reminder. She is obsessed with the "idea" of him and with the stories still lingering in her head of his tragic, vivid tales of W.W.II combat. In Spy she describes their union as a momentary escape from their exterior realities.
"They fled from the eyes of the world, the singer's prophetic, harsh, ovarian prologues. Down the rusty bars of ladders to the undergrounds of the night propitious to the first man and woman at the beginning of the world, where there were no words by which to possess each other, no music for serenades, no presents to court with, no tournaments to impress, and force a yielding, no secondary instruments, no adornments, necklaces, crowns to subdue, but only one ritual, a joyous, joyous, joyous, joyous impaling of woman on man's sensual mast."
During their solitary night of passion he described the pungent smells of leaking airplane fluid and burning flesh. He spoke with an eerie calm of his shot down comrades and of the blood he shed in the heat of battle. He brought out the demons of war still raging within him underneath his deadly stillness and penetrates this chaos into Sabina's body during violent lovemaking. She absorbs all his ghosts and hopeless feelings of death and darkness. Here is the vicious, invasive communion with man (god) she has waited for since her first sexual awakening, since the moment her father turned away from her with a cold goodbye. The pilots' poison tastes sweet to Sabina. Instead of looking for an antidote she searches for another injection. She has found her true drug.
Walking aimlessly while her husband is away on another business trip and giving up her search for the pilot, Sabina's childhood memories of her father flood back to her. The lie detector is close by but invisible. Her father's last letter to her read in part that she was, "the only woman (her father) had not conquered" and he writes to her that, "God and society would never allow it. However we can still keep our dreams and share our most intimate secrets with each other... as the only two people who can truly understand each other and our many amours." Her father offers her a relationship with ties, not a regular father-daughter bond but a closed off secret communion where Sabina is only one piece of herself with him... and nothing more.
Sabina's idealized image of her father is slowly breaking into a thousand shards of shattered glass in her newfound disillusionment. The spell of sex and forgetting is not working anymore. She cannot simply have random interludes and re-emerge unscathed. She begins to see the little lies buried within each of her father's stories and the subtle trickery within each one of his "professions of undying 'fatherly' love" for her. It slowly dawns on her she has not only become a warped caricature of her father, copying his own seductions not as an expression of her own desire but as an uninformed means of understanding him and winning his approval and affection - but she also realizes that her father is ultimately incapable of ever being really honest with her (or himself). Despite his recent attention he will forever be the impersonal egoist. He will never be conquered and won.
Sabina sought out the pilot in the ho pes of relief from her lifelong suffering at the hands of her insatiable desire to be loved (transformed into a need for sexual and emotional possession in her adult years). She wishes to recapture again and again the intense pleasure and pain of their brief union because she felt near the brink of not only release of her own demons (by ingesting someone else's) but also the possibility of being psychically jolted out of her own neuroses long enough to feel "alive" again.
She is at the point where she also senses the lie detectors' presence strongly enough she begins to associate him as something of a slightly malevolent guardian angel. She cannot evade him, she cannot hide from herself, from her lies and from the outside world. She decides to face the lie detector (god, father, priest, judge, psychoanalyst). As the lie detector rests in the lobby of the hotel Sabina checks herself into he is startled as a hotel key drops into his lap from behind. He turns around to catch her but Sabina has already disappeared into a closing elevator. He stands up, disheveled, with a mixed look of uncertainty and determination on his face, and walks up the stairs to her room. This is the hour where he becomes a true confessor or he gives up forever and leaves her alone. He walks into the room through the door without knocking, using the key. He finds Sabina lying on the chaise lounge and he awkwardly enters, clearing his throat to make her aware of his presence.
"I'm an official." He says quietly. "I mean you no harm."
"I know." She answers and motions for him to sit at a nearby chair.
"Do you break your own rules often?" She asks.
"No." He answers and sits.
"It's all right. I called you..." She replies and pauses a moment. "I think I understand why now."
They sit in silence for several moments. It is not uncomfortable.
"You're my conscience or my demonic guardian angel or my god or I don't know what. I don't care anymore." She sighs. "You know what I want, don't you?"
"I think..." He answers, looking out the window.
"Say it." She commands.
"You have something to confess?" He asks as he did the first time they spoke.
She breathes deeply and clenches her fists before answering him.
"Yes. Yes, I do... I have many things to confess."
"Are you ready Sabina?"
January 11, 1915 "Today went by in the usual way. We went to school, I work as hard as I can but that doesn't interfere with my doing the things I like best. I am now writing a story, 'Poor Little Boy.' I only like things that are sad or funny. "I now hate school and everything American. Why, Maman asked me and my aunt too. Why? Here is the answer. Because I love only silence and here there is noise all the time. Everything here is dark, enclosed, severe, and I love sunny landscapes, I love to see the sky. I love to admire the beauties of nature in silence and here the buildings are so high, so high that one sees nothing, or if one sees a little something out of the window, it isn't a beautiful sky that is pale blue, pale pink or a calm white. No, that isn't what one sees here. One sees a dark sky, heavy, mournful, soiled and darkened by the vanity and pride of modern men and women. I say that because I don't like anything modern. I would like to live in the first century in ancient Rome, I would like to live in the time of grand castles and gracious ladies. I would like to live in the time of Charlotte Corday when every woman could become a heroine, and so on. The truth is I would like to save France from its afflictions, but we are no longer living in the era of Joan of Arc or Jeanne Hachette, and the best thing I can do is keep quiet and out of sight. Where was I when I asked why I don't like America and got into the period when I would like to live? I shall go on and I'm sure my diary has guessed the answer and I can give my imagination free rein. Oh, if I could rise up and annihilate all those ambitious countries that are the cause of Belgium's misfortune and France's tears. But once again I must bow my head and give way to older people who will come along later, perhaps, as I hope. I have to recognize that I am crazy, but since my diary is the diary of a madwoman, I can't write only reasonable things, and if I did they wouldn't be my own thoughts. So while I await the great woman who will save France, I shall go to bed." p. 42-43
This passage is classic early Linotte. Anais is at a period where she loathes school and terribly misses the manners and customs of the old country. She misses her bohemian life in France and Belgium, even her more difficult life in sunny Spain with her beloved granmere and sour granpere. Ofcourse most of all she misses her papa and the "better" life she deludes herself into thinking they had together. She is still in the stage of her early life where she believes in heroines and fables and suppliments her ardor for 'Christ' in mass each Sunday with her secret ardor for her father. Her heart is broken but her mind is also quite awake and active. She is reading books alphabetically in New York Public Library, making friends and spending time with her mother's spillover of expatriate Bohemian musician friends from Europe and South America, especially from her longtime home in Cuba. World War One is striking a heavy blow on France and on Anais, who reads about heroines Charlotte Corday and Jeanne d'Arc fervently into the night by candlelight and imagines herself a grown woman of invincible power, who can swoop down upon France, lead her nation of heroic men and "save France" from the 'German tyrants'. After her reveries she invariably sinks back into reality in her diaries by noting she is "only a girl" a small nothing of a girl who cannot save France. She is limited by her age, size, health and the historical times. For women of her time, most are to be wives and mothers, not heroines (or for the most part, writers and artists as sole occupations, either) and Anais senses this about her future. She examines her life in "dreary oppressive New York" as it progresses. More "womanly duties" are pressed upon her such as cooking, cleaning and above all else sewing, and she is scolded for staying indoors too often and "scribbling" in her "silly book", the Diary.
At the point where Anais is almost 15 years old she still pines for her Papa but has given up hope of him 'magically' appearing in New York for Christmas. They maintain a long correspondance (more fervently and regularly on Anais' part). Joaquin and Thorvald (her brothers) are growing quickly, but Anais still towers over them. They live in the city, in a large house now, renting out rooms to boarders. John O'Connell, a blue-eyed, gentle, well behaved younger boy from school, is Anais' first innocent 'romance'. Anais detests school...she does like the temporary public school right now, except for English Grammar classes and Math. She is learning how to sow, cook, clean and keep the house together. She is still fervent about France and the War but talks about it less. She dicusses the difference between dreaming and reality, and how there are two sides to her nature. Some days she chooses Life [Reality] and some days she chooses Dreaming. She writes stories...she reads Hugo, Eliot and other great authors. An artist wants her to sit for a portrait because of her Catalan features inherited from her father. Anais confides in her diary that she is secretly pleased by this. Rosa (her mother) tries to make life fun for the children while working very hard and she still manages to sing in operas sometimes. Anais writes poetry and dances in a Jeanne d'Arc d'onfrey play. She discovers the real goings-on of backstage life which both enchants and disillusions her. Anais has many little girlfriends now and a club of well wishers and do gooders...and edits a small magazine of poetry, stories and pictures. She prays France wil be saved from the Germans. She still hopes to see her father one day again. She still dreams of meeting her other half, her shadow, a man like the heroes in her books, a blue eyed stranger who will understand her.
Anais, at 16, is very introspective, very full of life, in her joy and in her despair, and she is really growing at this point in her life. She is also very innocent in many ways and very loving and gentle hearted. She is intelligent and writes a diary that is compelling and playful and serious and meaningful and intimate and humourous. She writes with a depth and gravity, even while dreaming of violinists and the French Academie. She writes about her interior life and her impressions above the daily grind.
Linotte is the essence of who Anais was in her early life, a fragment of her self she carried with her her entire life. Her thoughts, her dreams, her beliefs, her doubts, her regrets, her ideals, her problems, her questions. It is a journey of one writer's life as they evolve from child to young woman. Many readers unfamiliar with the breadth of her work picture Anais Nin as a bestselling erotic writer or famed Diary writer with a risque' and bohemian past. Some view her in relation to any number of her friendships with celebrated artists and writers. Some readers (and critics) cannot see past her sexual exploration later in her life, and view her as only writing in a certain vein. But Linotte is a portrait of an immigrant girl in the early part of the 20th century writing a love letter to her absent father which eventually becomes her life's masterpiece; the first chapter in her acclaimed series of Diaries.
Anais wanted to be an artist from the very moment she could speak. She loved books, stories, artists, musicians, fine music, good food, and grew accustomed to being surrounded by the sounds of late night bohemian laughter from her parents dinner parties heard from the downstairs parlor before the two were separated. Anais was a model for her father's early photographs at this time and used to steal into his study when he was away and read all his books voraciously. She was seriously ill as a child and nearly died twice from various internal organ afflictions. If not for a kind Belgian couple and the care of three Belgian nurses, Ana's Nin might never have made the impact on literature and the feminist movement that she did later on in life, from her work spanning her Diaries written in the the tumultuous 30's to her eventual critical success in the socially aware 60's and 70's.
In New York, Ana's loved writing in her diary, dreaming, philosophizing, and recording her thoughts and reflections as she grew into a beautiful young woman with grand dreams and a host of insecurities. She wrote about her ideal "shadow", a muse, her "prince that will come one day", and about her many concieved shortcomings. She had an active imagination and preferred rainy days of reading curled up with a wonderful book or her diary at the little windowsill seat - and she loved to dance and had a connection to nature heavily influenced by poets like Byron, Blake and the New England Transcendentalists. Her Catholic faith wavered in and out due to philosophical doubts about the meaning of life and suffering, caused by her anguish over her beloved war torn France and the deep rift felt inside her since being uprooted. "I envy those who never leave their native land." she wrote in Linotte, "No one but God knows my bitter sorrow. My dreams are always about Papa. He comes back, I kiss him, he presses me to his heart. That moment is sweet, but afterward sadness comes again with the truth and my heart weeps and weeps again." Her father had let them all down, especially Anaos, and she felt abandoned and unloved in the most important of ways for a child. Gradually her idealized image of him began to fade, though she would have a lifelong fixation on him explored in her writing -and in her myriad of sexual and romantic unions. She was consumed by a tireless examination of her search for the ideal father figure in many of her lovers discussed in psychoanalysis.
After living in New York for nine years, at twenty Anais married Hugh Guiler (later known as engravist and filmaker of "Bells of Atlantis" and "Jazz of lights" Ian Hugo), a banker in the twenties and thirties, and moved back to Paris with him. Nin began writing short stories (later published as Waste of Timelessness) with publication in mind, but felt torn between her duties as a conservative banker's wife and her desire for artistic expression. Nevertheless, it was around this time that Nin published her first work, D. H. Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study (1932), which was well-recieved.
Then she met self proclaimed gangster-poet Henry Miller, a struggling Brooklyn writer in Paris, through her lawyer. Miller and especially his wife, the mythic June Mansfield Miller, enchanted Anais by their 'hard' bohemian living and their associations with the creme de la creme of Paris' underbelly (including actor and creator of theatre de cruelte, Antonin Artaud). "Henry came to Louveciennes with June." she writes about her first meeting with June in the unexpurgated diary Henry and June, "As June walked towards me from the darkness of the garden into the light of the door, I saw for the first time the most beautiful woman on earth. A startlingly white face, burning dark eyes, a face so alive I felt it would consume itself before my eyes. Years ago I tried to imagine a true beauty; I created in my mind an image of just such a woman. I had never seen her until last night. Yet I knew long ago the phosphorescent color of her skin, her huntress profile, the evenness of her teeth. She is bizarre, fantastic, nervous, like someone in a high fever. Her beauty drowned me. As I sat before her, I felt I would do anything she asked of me. Henry suddenly faded. She was color and brilliance and strangeness."
Anais felt that becoming aquainted with members of Montparnasse's underworld of prostitutes, thieves and drug addicts was going to liberate not only her writing but her sexuality and her mind. Nin began examining her 'suburban' existence more closely and felt she had to reconcile her life as an artist with her bouts of depression and feelings of isolation tucked away in the beautiful prison house of Louveciennes. To resolve her inner turmoil between her married 'proper' life and her burgeoning bohemian tastes, her cousin Eduardo recommended she enter therapy with the prominent Parisian psychoanalyst Rene Allendy. This later led to analyzation and tutorship with former Freud disciple, Otto Rank (Art and Artist). Eventually, Nin studied under Rank, working in his practice in New York City in the mid to late 1930s.
She also became deeply influenced by writers like Lawrence, Proust, and in particular Djuna Barnes' novel Nightwood. Nin channelled her evolving psycho-sexual impressions of the vicious circle/love triangle between her, Henry and June into the surrealistic prose-poem House of Incest and in her Diaries. She also worked along her compatriates on a dollar a page erotica, later the poetic, emotive bestselling Delta of Venus and Little Birds.
In the mid-to-late 1930s, Nin, Miller, Lawrence Durell and other writers in the Villa Seurat circle who experienced difficulty finding publishers founded Siana Editions (Anais spelled backwards!) to publish their own works. Nin in particular could find no one to publish House of Incest (1936) or Winter of Artifice. In 1939 these books were well-received in Europe. However, when Anais eventually moved back to New York City in 1939 with her husband, she found American publishers and the average reading public closed off to her work. Miller achieved critical and commercial success decades before Nin, despite her initial efforts to edit, support and publish him along with her own work. After several years of trying to place her works with American publishers, Nin bought a second-hand printing press with a loan from Bookseller and founder of New York's famed Gotham Book Mart and with the help of Anais' latest paramour, Peruvian political activist Gonzalo More, she began to typeset and print her own books. Nin's work eventually caught the attention of critic Edmund Wilson, who praised her writing and helped her on the road to obtaining an American publisher.
It was Nin's Diary, however, that brought her the greatest success and critical acceptance that she was to recieve. Nin never intended the two hundred manuscript volumes for publication, and many, including Miller, Rank, Alfred Perles, Durrel and Allendy, tried to convince Anais that her obsessive diary writing was destroying her chance at writing the great American novel. However Nin decided she had to "go her own way, the woman's way" and continue her li felong odyssey of self exploration and reflection through the Diaries. To reconcile fiction and fact Nin eventually began rewriting diary entries into her fiction and vice versa, protecting those who wanted to maintain their privacy (usually lovers) while still writing in her preferred medium.
Nin was involved in the some of the most interesting literary and artistic movements of the 20th century including the outskirts of Paris' 1920's Lost Generation, the psychoanalytic and surrealist movements of the 30s and 40s, the Beat movement of the 50's in Greenwich Village, the avant garde crowd in 60's California and the women's movement of the 70's. She maintained relationships (and kept two bi-coastal "husbands" in the later part of her life) with many vital artists and writers over her lifespan and was in great demand as a lecturer at universities across the United States until she died of cancer in 1977.