Café 6 and Anaïs Nin Character Dictionary are here!

March 17, 2009

Both A Café in Space, Vol. 6 and Anaïs Nin Character Dictionary and Index to Diary Excerpts are now available for shipping. All of you who have ordered either or both titles will be receiving yours very soon.

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Ian Hugo: Filmmaker

March 10, 2009

ian-hugo

When Hugh Guiler, Anaïs Nin’s banker husband, began his artistic career as an engraver, he chose to use the name Ian Hugo, supposedly so that his art would be separate from his career. In Guiler’s mind, there was a sense of intolerance between the financial and artistic worlds, and he did not want the two intertwined. Guiler’s engravings found their way into Nin’s hand-printed editions during the 1940s, perhaps most notably the Gemor edition of Under a Glass Bell (the promotional photo of which can be seen on the cover of A Café in Space, Vol. 2). By 1950, Guiler began experimenting with film and became a truly respected avant-garde filmmaker, using superimposition and other effects to reflect his vision on the screen. 

 

At a May 27, 1977 lecture, he said after screening his Bells of Atlantis (based on water images presented in Nin’s first work of fiction, The House of Incest, and in which Nin appears and narrates): “Thank you for your kind response, which I am sure is also meant as a tribute to Anaïs Nin. I do think that this film does bring her closer to you—to her style as a poetic writer of the first order, and her presence as an extraordinarily sensitive, and warm human being. I can certainly testify personally to this through the almost 54 years that we were married, to the time of her death in January of this year.” (It should be pointed out that there was an audible gasp by the audience, since they only knew Ian Hugo as an artistic collaborator of Nin.) “And I will add that her physical beauty seemed to glow as if from some inner light which, as I now see more clearly, enabled her to explore, day by day, ‘the lost continent within ourselves’ (a phrase by the poet Marianne Moore in referring to Bells of Atlantis). And it is only now that I fully realize how much I owed to her presence and her encouragement all those years in trying to explore my own ‘lost continent’ which I first tried to reach out to in making this film.” The complete lecture will be published in next year’s A Café in Space.

 

The 9 minute film, finished in 1952, with a score from electronic music pioneers Louis and Bebe Barron, can be viewed (in less than pristine quality) by clicking here. (Courtesy of UbuWeb) There is also a filmography of Guiler’s work, thanks to Robert Haller.


Interpreting Anaïs Nin’s Erotica: do we see it as we are?

March 6, 2009
Image courtesy of Bonni Reid

Image courtesy of Bonni Reid

If there is any consensus about reading Anaïs Nin, it is that one sees aspects of one’s self in the work—whether it be fiction or the diary. Nin’s work is a mirror of sorts, and sometimes a distorted one. This is what makes Nin’s writing “personal,” and therefore “universal,” and is also a reason why there are so many disagreements about its meaning. A reader with a feminist point of view will see the feminism, and another will see something else entirely, and we haven’t even gotten into gender differences.

And about the erotica: one reason it has seen so little serious academic criticism is that it is generally believed that she knocked these stories off in her spare time with little thought or care at a buck a page for a collector, and then, near the end of her life, “sold out” by having them published. In his article “Claiming Ownership: Issues in Nin criticism—the diary vs. the fiction” (from A Café in Space, Vol. 6), Bruce Watson notes that “In his review of Nin criticism, Anaïs Nin and Her Critics, [Philip K.] Jason gives the Erotica a scant page of attention, prefaced by the dunning statement that: ‘Delta of Venus (1977) and Little Birds (1979) add little to Nin’s stature, even though they sold amazingly well…’ Jason’s tart commentary on Nin’s Erotica seems the stock critique of the seasoned academic when faced with popular literature; he seems to distrust it for the very fact that it is popular.”  

However, today there is a growing trend to look critically at the erotica and to write about it. In fact, there are three articles that address Nin’s erotica in the current A Café in Space.

 

In her article “A ‘Clanging Cymbal—The Story of Anaїs Nin’s Reception,” Sarah Burghauser points out that “We […] know, and understand why some folks have a problem with [Nin]: but they oftentimes can’t see beyond their own ideas of what a woman writer should be and what sort of work she should produce.” Burghauser illustrates this idea with critic Edmund Miller’s take on Nin’s erotica: “[Miller argues] that Nin’s erotica does not work well as either fiction or erotica, saying, ‘Their [the stories] tendency to thwart arousal is partly a consequence of the loose plotting, but may have derived in part as well from a feminine misunderstanding of what works to arouse men.’ In this passage, Miller is complaining not only on the book collector’s behalf (as per his protest to poetry) but also on his own.”

 

One could claim that Edmund Miller is misinterpreting the erotica, but it could be that he is merely viewing it through his own prism—this is one of the reasons that criticizing Nin’s erotica specifically, and Nin’s work generally, has rarely been a unifying endeavor. If there are a dozen Nin readers, there will be nearly a dozen interpretations. The good news is that the erotica is finally getting the attention it deserves: as valued fiction, as groundbreaking women’s writing, and as a form of feminism, all valid considerations, and all debatable.

 


Anaïs Nin Myth of the Day

March 3, 2009

Myth #5: Anaïs Nin’s erotica disqualifies her as any sort of feminist.

 

In the February issue of Glamour, there is an article entitled “6 Crazy Sex Requests Women Just Like You Have Heard.” One of the requests, reported by a 32-year-old woman was, “My husband asked, ‘Can we do it, but can it just be all about me?’ It gets better: He said I could keep the TV on so I wouldn’t miss The Office” (Glamour, p. 100). On the Smoking Gun website, there is a “Contract of Wifely Expectations” in which a man lists requirements his wife must fulfill, which, it could be argued, are repressive to say the least. Both these articles reveal that for some men, patriarchy is alive and well.

 

As shown in the article “Feminist Smut(?)A study of Anaïs Nin’s erotica,” by Angela Carter in A Café in Space, Vol. 6, patriarchy is a thread running through Anaïs Nin’s erotica (Delta of Venus and Little Birds). For example, Carter uses a story from Little Birds to illustrate that Nin wrote of women’s struggle for sexual liberation in a time of patriarchal mores:

 

When read in the context of feminist criticism, “Hilda and Rango” is in many ways one of Nin’s more troubling stories. The reader sees the story’s protagonist struggle because her sexual actions are not socially acceptable for women. As the story unfolds, Hilda becomes more and more sexually passive in order to please a male lover who subscribes to conventional gender roles. When the story ends as Hilda submits passively to a dominant male lover, it is easy to assume, mistakenly, that Nin is sustaining gendered traditionalism. (A Café in Space, Vol. 6, p.97)

 

The story is based on actual events between Nin and Gonzalo More, the Peruvian who swept her off her feet in Paris in the late 30s. Despite his apparent bohemianism, More was very traditional in that he felt women should be submissive and allow the man to “have his way.” Before meeting More, Nin had been sexually awakened in her relationship with Henry Miller, who allowed her to be bold and daring. “Hilda and Rango” parallels this duality: the natural desire to be sexually adventurous and the social pressure to be passive.

 

Nin writes that when Hilda makes an advance on Rango, he suddenly “pushed her away as if she had wounded him” and tells her that she “made the gesture of a whore.” The story ends with Hilda submitting completely to Rango, denying her own sexuality in favor of his. Carter goes on to say:

 

Her will was her desire to initiate sex and Rango drove it out of her. He now rules her sexuality by denying it and forcing her to lay almost corpse-like while he teases her. In the last candlelit moment, he leads their intercourse like the demon she first saw in him. Sadly, this moment when Hilda’s idealized dream of passivity comes true is instead Rango’s moment, “his desire, his hour” (Little Birds 120). The moment that should have fulfilled the passive Hilda’s dream is not her moment at all. By leaving Hilda’s sexuality completely out of the story’s conclusion, Nin provokes the reader to question what happened to her desire, her hour. (A Café in Space, Vol. 6, p. 102)

 

Carter shows us that Nin indeed used her erotica to highlight the suppression of female sexuality. While Nin was never a second wave feminist in the true sense of the term, her erotica could be viewed as feminist since it expresses the struggle of women to be sexually liberated in the early 1940s, long before second wave feminism took root.

 

Do you have an Anaïs Nin myth you would like addressed? Let us know by e-mailing us.


Anaïs Nin’s 106th birthday: The birth certificate

February 20, 2009
A copy of Anais Nin's birth certificate.
A copy of Anais Nin’s birth certificate.

On February 24, 1903, at 11 in the morning, this birth certificate was drawn up in Neuilly sur Seine. In it, we learn that Rose Jeanne Anaïs Edelmira Antolina Nin was born at 8:25, the evening of February 21, 1903, to father Joseph Joachim Nin, 23 years old, and to mother Rose Celeste Culmell, 25 years old, at their home on 7, rue du Général Henrion Bertier, Neuilly sur Seine. The midwife was Lucile Marie Anna Mabille, 41 years old. (The spellings of the names reflect the French versions of the Spanish names.)

 

Interestingly, Rosa’s age is incorrect: she was in fact 31 at this time. Whether this is a clerical error or whether Joaquín and/or Rosa wanted to keep their age difference a secret is pure speculation.

 

According to Nin biographer Deirdre Bair, Joaquín was not pleased at having a child so early on in his marriage and, perhaps more importantly, his career. He became jealous of the attention Rosa gave her delicate daughter. This seemed to interfere with the performance relationship the couple had…at first Joaquín insisted Rosa perform with him in order to get her away from Anaïs, and then, irrationally, insisted she not perform when he felt Rosa was neglecting both him and Anaïs. From that point forward, Joaquín Nin became a solo performer and Rosa was reduced to a mother who sat in the audience to cheer him.

 

By the time Anaïs’s brother, Thorvald, was born in Havana in 1905, she was afflicted with typhoid fever, becoming violently ill. Joaquín was repulsed by the sight of his now very thin, sickly daughter and made sure she knew how ugly he found her. By the time Anaïs’s youngest brother, Joaquín, was born in Berlin, the family life had deteriorated to the point of chaos and violence. Beatings were brutal and often, at the hand of the father. The violence between Joaquín Sr. and Rosa intensified to the point where Anaïs feared for her mother’s life (see the introduction to “Prelude to a Symphony—Letters between a father and daughter,” A Café in Space, Vol. 6). By 1913, the family as Anaïs knew it was destroyed when her father abandoned them, and for the rest of her life she would be torn by the loss.

 

It is also interesting to note that while we readily celebrate Anaïs’s birthday, she rarely refers to it—or to Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or other traditionally notable days—in her adult diary. On Feb. 20, 1925, just before her 22nd birthday, she wrote: “On the eve of my birthday and bowing to tradition, I try to consider thoughtfully the significance of this venerable day—in vain. Dates never agree with my transformations. My real birthday this year was when I read Edith Wharton’s books. My New Year began when I succeeded in having my story run smoothly, when I found a renewed interest in my second book. My holidays are many—every time I go downtown with Hugh, when the agitation of the city, like the quick rhythm of some Spanish danza, makes my heart beat faster. My religious festivals fall on whatever day the sun shines—those are my Mass-going days, when I can pray.”

 

If you have thoughts to share on this day, Anaïs Nin’s 106th birthday, leave a comment or visit our guestbook.


Anaïs Nin Myth of the Day

February 18, 2009

Myth #4: Anaïs Nin was fluent in three languages: French, Spanish, and English.

Fact: When Anaïs Nin’s father, Joaquín Nin, abandoned his family in Arachon, France, in 1913, she, her mother and her two younger brothers went to Barcelona and stayed with Joaquín’s parents. During the year or so they spent in Spain, Anaïs learned her Spanish. When the fatherless family arrived in New York in 1914, French was the spoken language at home. Although Anaïs’s mother, Rosa, was fluent in English (as well as Spanish and French), she had determined the family’s “mother tongue” was French. Her philosophy was that since her children would learn English soon enough in school and in their social interactions, and that Spanish would be spoken with their Cuban relatives, the only way to keep the French alive was to speak it exclusively at home. When Anaïs began her diary on the trip to America, it was in French.

Although her English was improving over the next few years, Nin continued her diary writing in French, partly because she longed to retain her identity, and partly because she intended the diary as a long “letter” to her estranged father, who did not know English. As her English grew, her French withered. Her father chastised her for her misuse of words and accent marks, leading Anaïs to close one of her letters with all the accent marks at the end: “Put them where they belong,” she told him. Sometimes Anaïs would transcribe letters to English-speaking friends into her diary, and it was clear that she was better able to express herself with English. She began reading the English-language classics, and by 1920 had switched her diary to English. Her English was by far a better vehicle for her self-expression, but was still a work-in-progress, and would be for years to come.

As Anaïs began to attempt to write fiction in English after returning to Paris in 1925, her young husband, Hugh Guiler, in the name of helping her, criticized her incorrect (as he saw it) use of words, or the use of words that were considered archaic or odd. Later on, Henry Miller would do much the same (see Myth #2).

Consider this passage Miller corrects from “Djuna” in The Winter of Artifice (sometime in the mid-1930s):

“Are you afriad to forget your name and who you are, and where you live? Have you not played with the idea of amnesia, which only meens a somanabulistic condition of the ideal self. The conscince goes to sleep and then the critical self too, and you can walk the streets and act as you please without calms.”

Miller blasts her misspellings, and when he criticizes her use of “calms” for “qualms” he says: “Look it up!!!” He adds: “Bad sentence structure” and “Watch all your ‘ands,’ ‘buts,’ etc. Weakly used!” (See Benjamin Franklin V’s introduction to The Winter of Artifice: a facsimile of the original 1939 Paris edition.)

At times, Nin felt hopeless—she had Guiler and Miller criticizing her English, and she admitted to Miller that writing in French to her father was “like trying to create a river with twigs” (see “Prelude to a Symphony: letters between a father and daughter,” A Café in Space, Vol. 6). Her Spanish at this time was almost non-existent…her father occasionally wrote to her in Spanish, but Anaïs did not respond in kind.

As Nin developed artistically through these trials by fire, her writing became stronger, more economic, and possessed an exotically distinct quality. It is often described as “English written in the French style.” There is no question that Anaïs Nin became one of the most eloquent writers in the English language, and to this day one of the most oft-quoted…but during the transitions between her three languages, arguably caused by her constant resettling, she was fluent in none of them.


Approaching Anaïs Nin’s 106th birthday: The birthplace

February 15, 2009
sat-image-neuilly

click to enlarge

 

Shortly before Anaïs Nin’s birth on February 21, 1903, Joaquín Nin and his wife, Rosa, moved to the plush Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine and took a flat at 7 rue du Général Henrion Bertier, a short walk from what is now avenue Charles de Gaulle, from where one can see the Arc de Triomphe in the distance to the east. Today, the neighborhood is overshadowed by the futuristic silhouette of La Défense and is choked with cars parked where there is no space, but at the turn of the 20th century it could have been the setting for a passage from Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. There would have been well-dressed couples strolling on the trottoir, elegant carriages coming up and down the narrow street, the well-heeled horseriding in the nearby Bois du Bologne. For Joaquín Nin, whose musical career was just beginning, it was the perfect place for his upper-crust tastes. For Rosa, it was a source of strain because it was very expensive and it was her father supplying the funds.

 

The house (and its identical neighbor at no. 11) is listed by the Invetaire générale des monuments et des richesses artisitiques de la France, Département des Hauts-de-Seine. It was designed by the architect Gustave Gridaine (who designed other prominent buildings in the area) and completed in November 1895. According to the Invetaire, there is a basement, 4 rectangular stories, and a penthouse, and it is constructed of cut stone with a slate roof. There is an interior suspended staircase, spiral and windowed, and the décor is listed as “sculpture.”
click to enlarge

Photo: Paul Herron; click to enlarge

The family didn’t spend much time in Neuilly; they traveled back to Havana in 1904 where Joaquín took Cuban citizenship and shortly thereafter performed in Paris for the first time as a Cuban. Rosa was by then pregnant with their second child, Thorvald, who was born in 1905 in Havana. Rosa’s father, Thorvald Culmell, was dying and sought to tighten the spending. So, after returning to France, the Nin family moved from Neuilly to a less expensive house in St-Cloud, outside of Paris.

neuilly-architect1


Approaching Anaïs Nin’s 106th birthday: Her parents’ marriage

February 12, 2009

 

Rosa Culmell, 1901

Rosa Culmell, 1901

Joaquin Nin as a young man
Joaquin Nin as a young man

When Rosa Culmell, 30, met Joaquín Nin, 22, in Havana, Cuba, she was swept off her feet by his beauty, talent, charm, and eloquent manners. He had a habit of dazzling women by playing piano for customers in music stores, and Rosa, although defiantly single and of the elite class, was caught in his spell. Joaquín, who was penniless and living off his meager earnings and his Cuban relatives, felt Rosa was the perfect vehicle for his success in living the life of a dandy and in his professional career. Rosa, though not the most beautiful of her single sisters, was the most mature and forthright, not to mention she had a professional-quality singing voice. Joaquín and Rosa married April 8, 1902 in Havana, and soon left for Paris with enough money for a grand piano and a monthly stipend, thanks to Rosa’s father, Thorvald Culmell.

Once in Paris, the couple soon discovered their immense differences: she was honest, loving, and giving. He was selfish, arrogant, and wanted nothing but the best for himself. She provided the money, but he made the decisions. Their relationship became a series of monumental battles followed by passionate reconciliations, according to Anaïs Nin biographer Dierdre Bair.

Rosa became pregnant almost immediately after the marriage, perhaps the result of one of their clashes. Although Rosa had won a battle to live in St-Germain-des-Prés, which was relatively inexpensive, shortly before their first child, Anaïs, was born, Joaquín precipitated the move to Neuilly-sur-Seine, Paris’s most luxurious suburb, setting an ominous pattern for the rest of their marriage.


Anaïs Nin Myth of the Day

February 11, 2009

 

Thanks to Heather for the following:

 

Myth #3: Anaïs Nin was in therapy with Carl Jung.

 

Fact: Anaïs Nin was not in therapy with Jung; in fact, she never met him. However, she subscribed to many of his theories, especially when it came to the dream and its meaning, and she often used a quote attributed to him: “Proceed from the dream outward.” Nin used her legendary houseboat, La Belle Aurore, to illustrate the concept, which she mentions in Diary 3. Some twenty years before renting her houseboat, she visited the Maupassant house in Brittany; in the garden was a tool shed made from a boat that had been washed ashore during a storm. This sight reminded her of a recurring dream of boats unable to sail because there was no water. She had a dream about living in Maupassant boat. When she saw an ad for a houseboat for rent, she felt compelled to fulfill the dream by living in it, which, of course, she did.

 

Nin furthered the theory by writing a story of traveling down the Seine in her boat for twenty years only to return to the point of origin…it turned about to be prophetic, à la Jung, when her houseboat was ordered to be towed away in preparation for the onset of war; she was aboard when it was taken to the place of her birth, Neuilly.

Nin also attributed Jung’s writings for helping her conceive and develop her famous House of Incest.


Anaïs Nin Myth of the Day

February 10, 2009

Thanks to Kim for the following:

 
Myth #2: “Anaïs Nin was a success because of Henry Miller. He taught her to write and she used him. If it wasn’t for him she would’ve been completely unknown.”

Fact:

Miller's notes in Nin's "Djuna"

Miller's notes in Nin's "Djuna"

pg523

From The Winter of Artifice

Henry Miller did indeed have a positive effect on Nin’s early fiction writing. The example above is a page from one of the working drafts of the story “Djuna” from The Winter of Artifice (1939) and the final product. Miller’s handwritten suggestions and deletions make it into the published version of the story. The paragraph beginning with “Here are my dreams for the month…” is verbatim from Miller’s notes. Examples like this are found throughout this and other versions of the manuscript. So there is little question that Miller not only gave Nin advice on her writing, she willingly accepted and incorporated it.

However, to indicate that Miller was responsible for Nin’s success is as flawed as saying she was responsible for his. They influenced each other. Miller’s Scenario, for example, is what many consider a poor rendering of Nin’s House of Incest, which was evidently, according to most critics and Nin herself, misunderstood by Miller. While Miller criticized Nin’s use of the English language (it was her third language, after French and Spanish, respectively), and sometimes rightfully so, Nin criticized Miller’s uni-dimensionality in his writing, most notably his tunnel-view, and therefore miscomprehension, of his own wife, June. While Nin was able to use Miller’s criticisms to her advantage, Miller was not as willing to use hers, which is most likely to his detriment (consider the flatness of the Rosy Crucifixion trilogy compared to the Paris books, for example). He certainly, however, was willing to use Nin’s resources to make it possible for him to write while in relative comfort.

Throughout the Nin-Miller relationship, the diary swelled with accounts of her tumultuous life, written freely and beautifully, without the restraints of what she called “literature.” History has shown us that the diary is her masterpiece, not the fiction, not the “literature.”

 

A side note: it was serendipitous that Miller’s Tropic of Cancer came out in the early 60s, followed by his Letters to Anaïs Nin in 1965. Nin’s Diary came out the following year, and there is little doubt that Nin’s agent Gunther Stuhlmann envisioned the letters, which he edited, as a segue to the Diary. So does that mean that Nin used Miller to gain success? No, it meant that while Stuhlmann was intelligent and crafty enough to let momentum build towards the release of the Diary—Miller, after all, was inherently linked to Nin whether or not anyone planned it—the time was right, the popular culture was right, the level of openness was right for both Nin and Miller’s books to be released, read, and lauded for the magnificent works they were.