Posts Tagged ‘Erotica’

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.