Tag Archives: Anais Nin

The Great Maniacs of Love

When I say “health” I mean optimism, to be truthful. Incurably optimistic! Still have one foot in the nineteenth century. I’m a bit retarded, like most Americans – Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer (49).

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A few months ago I took one of those personality quizzes that pop up like weeds on the internet. I took a few, in fact. That is until this last one, which left me fairly flummoxed. ‘Who is your literary soulmate?’ After answering what seemed like a few benign questions I discovered that my literary soul mate is – Henry Miller.

The whole point about Bessie was that she couldn’t, or just wouldn’t, regard herself as a lay. She talked about passion, as if it were a brand new word. She was passionate about things, even a little thing like a lay. She had to put her soul into it (135).

I hadn’t even ever read him. Well, I said to myself, maybe I should. I was a little afraid. In truth I had avoided my literary soul mate’s work, after all, his reputation does precede him. And I wondered if I was past the appropriate age for his ‘dirty’ book (that was the word someone used when I told them I was reading Tropic of Cancer). In fact,  I  pretty much skipped over my naughty youthful years, what with being busy with babies and all that…still, Ms. Nin and I had our mutual admiration society of D.H. Lawrence, and my literary soul mate was pals with Lawrence Durrell…so what the hell.

It’s hard to read proof when you’re not all there. It requires more concentration to detect a missing comma than to epitomize Nietzsche’s philosophy. You can be brilliant sometimes, when you’re drunk, but brilliance is out of place in the proofreading department. Dates, fractions, semicolons – these are the things that count. And these are the things that are most difficult to track down when your mind is ablaze (175).

It just so happens that my literary soul mate and I find a certain joy in the same work. I have been archiving and proofreading these past few weeks, and who knew it could be so satisfying in its concrete exactitude? – My literary soul mate, that’s who.

I feel her body close to mine-all mine now-and I stop to rub my hands over the warm velvet. Everything around us is crumbling, crumbling and the warm body under the warm velvet is aching for me…(19).

Putting aside, momentarily, the misogyny, racism, and misanthropy, (none of which I think he actually propagates or truly is, so perhaps we ought to just put it aside altogether, and read deeper, feel the current.) the book is quite wonderful. It is very funny, thoughtful, and moving. Miller has a genius for description, or what he himself would say, “…it’s one of those little details which makes a thing psychologically real….you can’t get it out of your head afterward” (118). From each individual relentless  louse shacking up with him in the down-at-the-heels digs he stays in, to his bosom buddy louts he hangs out with – he has an instinct for the details, the perfect turn of a phrase or punctuation that brings his world, such as it is, to teeming life.

There are people in this world who cut such a grotesque figure that even death renders them ridiculous (138).

Miller makes full use of grotesque language, there is indeed a plethora of words I would not use (the ‘c’ word – wow, never read that so many times in one sitting), or ones that I would not use in the same way (the ‘f’ word -I maintain a policy of [just approaching the border of absolute] ‘exclusively for expletive use only’)  But, even his harsh language does not mask the real sympathy that he has for men and women. Especially the downtrodden, used up, broken-down type. True, most of his friends are jackasses, but at the reader’s happy distance, we can laugh with Miller over their hilarious ridiculousness.

My literary soul mate and I will have to argue (long into the night, no doubt) over our differing opinions of Hugo (194), but I suppose that’s a tussle that’s only suitable for a true literary soul mate. Where we are in perfect harmony is our desire to experience joy and live the ecstasy that is life. Where mine is an instinct, his was fully realized, for good and bad, cold nights and grimy days- but it is fully felt, and that’s the thing that binds us.

Do anything, but let it produce joy. Do anything, but let it yield ecstasy. So much crowds into my head when I say this to myself: images, gay ones, terrible ones, maddening ones, the wolf and the goat, the spider, the crab, syphilis with her wings outstretched and the door of the womb always on the latch, always open, ready like a tomb. Lust, crime, holiness: the lives of my adored ones, the failures of my adored ones, the words they left behind them, the words they left unfinished; the good they dragged after them and the evil, the sorrow, the discord, the rancor, the strife they created. But above all, the ecstasy! (252)

 

*title from pg. 181: “I understood why Paris attracts the tortured, the hallucinated, the great maniacs of love.”

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A Polarized Flow, like love.

It is all a most artificial business of living according to prescription, keeping every impulse strangled, and ending where it begins, in materialism pure and simple.
– D.H. Lawrence, The Symbolic Meaning: Studies in Classic American Literature (55)

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“Yet the lovely cloud of green and summer lustre is within” (30)

Vincent Scully mentioned this D.H. Lawrence book in one of his essays on architecture. Perhaps my interests have some collecting force that draw me to and around Lawrence, but I find that he is referenced again and again in other books that I read. Here in The Symbolic Meaning is a group of essays on American Literature. Poe, Melville, Hawthorne, and Whitman are among the writers that Lawrence cites to discuss his theory of the American writer.

Only art-utterance reveals the whole truth of a people. And the American art-speech reveals what the American plain speech almost deliberately conceals.[…] And this, again, is one of the outstanding qualities of American literature: that deliberate ideas of the man veil, conceal, obscure that which the artist has to reveal. (18)

Lawrence hits hard on all of his most passionate philosophies and it’s interesting to read the introduction which seeks to untangle the different and sometimes opposing versions of each essay. It would seem that unlike many writers, when Lawrence revised he wholesale re-wrote – sometimes to ill effect. Lawrence was a unique thinker better left in his primary voice, as E. M. Foster so eloquently stated:

Lawrence “was both a preacher and a poet, and some people, myself included, do not sympathize with the preaching. Yet I feel that without the preaching the poetry could not exist. With some writers one can disentangle the two, with him they are inseparable.” (8)

While there are some 2013 politically incorrect moments, Lawrence is so forward at heart that he is easily forgiven. His essay on Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Novels (Last of the Mohicans, et all) is wonderful, perfectly describing what I loved about those books; his essay on the symbolism of the sea to American writers such as Melville is perceptive and fascinating; his appreciation for women, as discussed in the Hawthorne essay regarding The Scarlett Letter, as whole female humans is quite beyond the reach of most people still, depressingly,  to this day.

In the old days, when women turned in her terrible recoil, she became Astarte, the Syria Dea, Aphrodite Syriaca, the Scarlett Woman. To-day, in her recoil the Scarlet Woman becomes the Sister of Mercy. She cannot help it. She must, in her upper mind, keep true to the old faith that man has given her, the belief in love and self-sacrifice. To this she is, as it where, hypnotized or condemned. (132)

His humorous yet heartfelt remonstrations against the “great Greek-Christian will-to-knowledge” that result in such American respectables as the “admirable little monster of a Franklin,” (Yes, Benjamin) are what I love about his writing. When he states that the “modern virtue is a machine-principle,” we can only lament that things are far worse now. But he foresaw that.

 Now, after two thousand years, having established our knowledge and even our experience all in one sort, a halfness, we find ourselves in a prison. We reach the condition when we are so imprisoned in the cul de sac of our mutilated psyche that we are in the first stages of that madness and self-destruction into which the ancients fell when they were imprisoned and driven mad within the cul de sac of the sensual body. Quos vult perdere Jupiter, dementat prius. (71)

That Latin bit basically means- those that Jupiter (God) wishes to destroy, he first drives mad. And this is Lawrence’s point- which he never ceases to fit into whatever it is he is talking or writing about. He sees a duality and a disconnect. Where the pagans of old veered toward sensuality, the modern man veers towards knowledge. Both extremes are equally destructive.

Whereas there is a “magnificence of futurity flooding the heart,” in a liberated and appeased soul, the psychic toll to future generations when we cut ourselves off from one half of our soul is tragic.

What is the use to me if a man sacrifice and murder his living desires for me, only to return in death and demand the sacrifice again of me, tenfold? What is the use of a mother’s sacrificing herself for her children if after death her unappeased soul shall perforce return upon the child and exact from it all the fulfillment that should have been attained in the living flesh, and was not? (73)

Lawrence, of course, explores these esoteric themes in his novels to poignant and moving effect. If his deeply held passion for life was sometimes equaled by his profound disgust in his fellow man, there was at least a true commitment to finding our way back to the life force with a fervency of gratitude and communion. His work was influential to all serious thinkers and the artistically sensitive of his age and beyond. He believed in the vibrancy of life, not the stagnant extremes of the idea and the ideal which disturbed the “natural reciprocity and natural circuits” of the “breath of life.”

KNOWING and BEING are opposites, antagonistic states. The more you know, exactly, the less you are. The more you are, in being, the less you know.
This is the great cross of man, his dualism. The blood-self, and the nerve-brain self.
Knowing, then, is the slow death of being. Man has his epochs of being , and his epochs of knowing. It will always be a great oscillation. The goal is to know how not-to-know. (178)

Other books by or about D.H.Lawrence:

Women in Love – Fog of Love
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Love’s Lambency
Sons and Lovers Part 1 – Kicking Against the Pricks
Sons and Lovers Part 2 – Flickering Sanity
Apocalypse – Start With The Sun
Lawrence, An Unprofessional Study by Anaïs Nin – On Impulse

*”A polarized flow, like love” from the essay Dana’s Two Years Before The Mast (181)

On impulse

“Why should not an impulse be wise, or wisdom become impulsive?”
D.H. Lawrence, An Unprofessional Study –
Anaïs Nin

I admit that I had some small issues with Anaïs Nin’s diaries. But I was curious, as we shared a similar dispositions, by which I mean, an admiration of D.H.Lawrence. I was curious to read her writing, as opposed to her diary which can be something like having to listen to someone’s dreams: potentially tedious. Even though I realize that in her case her writing was famously her diary – especially as she seemed to enjoy having many people read them, color coded as they were, ad nauseum – but never mind that. On an impulse I requested D.H. Lawrence, An Unprofessional Study from my library, and it is a wonderful little book.

“One can save one’s pennies. How can one save one’s soul? One can only live one’s soul. The business is to live, really live. And this needs wonder.”  D.H. Lawrence, quoted in D.H. Lawrence An Unprofessional Study

Nin articulates with perfect clarity why Lawrence was a unique and wonderful writer. What I love about his writing is what she loves about his writing and it is a lot of fun to have her take us through the workings of her mind through his….that’s a fancy bit of circumlocution perhaps, but I think it gets to why we not only love to read, but also like to talk about what we read. We press against the intimate reader/writer -nature of reading and, forgive me, enjoy a ménage á trios of communication and communion.

Lawrence realized the tragedy of inequality in love as no one else ever realized it. And with it he realized the tragedy not alone of physical but of spiritual and mental love which is the cause of torment in human relationships.

Nin describes Lawrence’s tendency to have his characters veering from one extreme to another as poetically heightening their sensibility. She, like I, while reading Woman in Love, asks at one point, “Do people really swing from one extreme of emotion to another in so short a span? We know poets do.” As Nin saw it, Lawrence wrote with the mind of a poet – It’s a beautiful answer. Another recurrence of Lawrence’s that always makes me giggle is the word “loin” which, I was delighted to find, is brought under Nin’s critique as well. Here she suggests that perhaps he got it a little wrong: describing him as a writer who writes in a painterly way,

“This is also the cause for some phrases which have appeared ridiculous. Men and women in his books are conscious of each other’s loins and hips….a familiar feeling to painters and sculptors, and in reality quite true, though as yet awkwardly expressed.”

I can honestly affirm that it is quite awkward to giggle every time one reads the word loin.

One does not want to unnecessarily conjure up an image of a butcher shop (which is what “loin” makes me think of) at heated moments in a story. At least I don’t. But, with an effort one does get back on the page.

“I won’t have popular lies.” Lawrence quoted…

And the “popular” is the denial, because, yes, there is the sex. Here Nin really expresses the beauty and quality of Lawrence. Where many people would dismiss his writing (and hers for that matter) as merely pornographic, (and in this day and age- dated at that) she makes the rather wonderful and simple argument, “Lawrence never tired of warning us that ‘the affinity of mind and personality is an excellent basis of friendship between the sexes, but a disastrous basis for marriage.’ Why? Because it often constitutes a denial of the deeper needs of our nature….” And then on the specific use of “obscene words,” she continues, “His war was against evasive, reticent language, which makes for evasive, reticent living and thinking.”

I find many modern writers have taken this idea and reduced it to the opposite effect; the crassness of certain language used for pure shock value and projected “cool.”  Clearly, it’s a fine line, but substance matters.

This unprofessional study is a quick but excellent read, not only for people who enjoy D.H. Lawrence, but for people who enjoy reading, as well as the philosophy of reading.

“Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.”  D.H. Lawrence An Unprofessional Study – Anaïs Nin

Wake me up

reading after dark

A friend of mine recently watched the film Henry and June, I had never read anything by Anaïs Nin so I thought I would read her Unexpurgated Diary upon which the (according to said friend) unremarkable film was based…

I began the book in between cramming for a biology final: I took it in as a rest for my mind while I diligently memorized the ins and outs of mitosis and glycolysis- I am simultaneously in awe of the body: the complexity and beauty of the world, while being aware that it matters not that I have an inking as to the workings of it all.

Ah well, I accidentally enrolled myself in a class meant for science majors and now I am quite certain that although the study of life is truly fascinating I will not be pursuing the discipline in a high stakes scholastic setting or any field in which my very life depends upon defining the molecular inner-workings of matter – that it all works splendidly is good enough for me. Dread is an awful thing.

But never mind that, back to Anaïs. The cover flap tried to entice me with the promise of a story of a woman’s “sexual awakening.” I think I missed the “asleep” part – it seems to me that the woman was always wide awake. Fairly caffeinated and ready to go in fact. Her proclamations of inexperience were…not convincing, learning new positions is not exactly an awakening, more like a class one has audited for enrichment.

If I had perhaps 3 and 1/2 less problems in my own life I may have been more sympathetic. Maybe I am just too old. If your biggest problem in life is whom to spend the afternoon in bed with, well, lady, I’ll gladly switch places with you.

It is the wrong time for me to read about a privileged, beautiful, desired woman. I can not relate. I’m probably just jealous,  uncharitable as that may be…but I  do admire her courage in writing frankly about her desires; it is perhaps only slightly less provocative today then when she wrote it however, which is depressing. But it seems to me that the trouble with sex is  that it is always relegated to all or nothing. When sex is everything- it is rendered meaningless, and when it is nothing- everything else is meaningless.

But I try not to be bitter, Between Nin and Miller the expression of the depth of human feeling, emotional and physical desire is fully realized in all its uncomfortably naked intimacy –  the reader often feels like an intruder or voyeur, but also glad to know that some people try to love one another so thoroughly.

We are all so full of feeling, sometimes trounced by it; the tricky part is to avoid what sometimes overtakes our worn out souls:  a desire to be anesthetized.

As I lay sleeping…

On the back of this stirring painting, The Nightmare,  by John Henry Fuselli (1781) is a sketch of a portrait of a woman that the artist had loved and lost. She often visited him in his dreams (of an erotic nature). I find this very moving. I too have an active dream life. Sometimes they are so obviously tracable to my day to day activities I find it annoying: once I had a long involved dream about getting ready for work. I was furious when I woke up and had to – get ready for work.

Writer and philosopher Steven Pinker believes that human beings only imagine the soul as separate from the body, making the afterlife a possibility in some people’s minds, because we dream. He argues that if we didn’t have the out of body experience of dreams we would be unable to conceive of ever existing outside of our bodies (we can not imagine what we can not imagine). That idea: that our imaginations are the ultimate in limitation, is something I find interesting. I think Plato touches on both these ideas with his Allegory of the Cave: of course- what we perceive as reality, but also what we are or are not capable of imagining.

I have always had vivid dreams, I still remember many nightmares of my youth and many wonderful dreams when I was devastated to wake- mind and body unwillingly reunited. Some people I know have seemingly prophetic dreams, but mine don’t seem prophetic.  I have never dreamt the winning lotto numbers or any answers to my most burning questions. They seem entirely limited to my own imaginings.

My youngest son and I often discuss dreams because he doesn’t remember having them and I do and we wonder why that is so. Maybe he has it all worked out and has no need of nightly sessions of intense processing. Maybe it requires a measure of self-cruelty to experience a demon on ones chest, tormenting the soul with desires or anxieties, trapped in your limits.

“It takes courage to push yourself to places that you have never been before… to test your limits… to break through barriers. And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
Anais Nin