Authors: Anaïs Nin
I don’t need to speak of Zelda Fitzgerald. I think all of you have thought about Zelda, how she might never have lost her mind if Fitzgerald had not forbidden her to publish her diary. It is well known that Fitzgerald said no, that it could not be published, because he would need it for his own work. This, to me, was the beginning of Zelda’s disturbance. She was unable to fulfill herself as a writer and was overpowered by the reputation of Fitzgerald. But if you read her own book, you will find that in a sense she created a much more original novel than he ever did, one more modern in its effort to use language in an original way.
History, much like the spotlight, has hit whatever it wanted to hit, and very often it missed the woman. We all know about Dylan Thomas. Very few of us know about Caitlin Thomas, who after her husband’s death wrote a book which is a poem in itself and sometimes surpasses his own—in strength, in primitive beauty, in a real wakening of feeling. But she was so overwhelmed by the talent of Dylan Thomas that she never thought anything of her writing at all until he died.
So we’re here to celebrate the sources of faith and confidence. I want to give you the secrets of the constant alchemy that we must practice to turn brass into gold, hate into love, destruction into creation—to change the crass daily news into inspiration, and despair into joy. None need misinterpret this as indifference to the state of the world or to the actions by which we can stem the destructiveness of the corrupt system. There is an acknowledgement that, as human beings, we need nourishment to sustain the life of the spirit, so that we can act in the world, but I don’t mean turn away. I mean we must gain our strength and our values from self-growth and self-discovery. Against all odds, against all handicaps, against the chamber of horrors we call history, man has continued to dream and to depict its opposite. That is what we have to do. We do not escape into philosophy, psychology, and art—we go there to restore our shattered selves into whole ones.
The woman of the future, who is really being born today, will be a woman completely free of guilt for creating and for her self-development. She will be a woman in harmony with her own strength, not necessarily called masculine, or eccentric, or something unnatural. I imagine she will be very tranquil about her strength and her serenity, a woman who will know how to talk to children and to the men who sometimes fear her. Man has been uneasy about this self-evolution of woman, but he need not be—because, instead of having a dependent, he will have a partner. He will have someone who will not make him feel that every day he has to go into battle against the world to support a wife and child, or a childlike wife. The woman of the future will never try to live vicariously through the man, and urge and push him to despair, to fulfill something that she should really be doing herself. So that is my first image—she is not aggressive, she is serene, she is sure, she is confident, she is able to develop her skills, she is able to ask for space for herself.
I want this quality of the sense of the person, the sense of direct contact with human beings to be preserved by woman, not as something bad, but as something that could make a totally different world where intellectual capacity would be fused with intuition and with a sense of the personal.
Now, when I wrote the diary and when I wrote fiction, I was trying to say that we need both intimacy and a deep knowledge of a few human beings. We also need mythology and fiction which is a little further away, and art is always a little further away from the entirely personal world of the woman. But I want to tell you the story of Colette. When her name was suggested for the Académie française, which is considered the highest honor given to writers, there was much discussion because she hadn’t written about war, she hadn’t written about any large event, she had only written about love. They admired her as a writer, as a stylist—she was one of our best stylists—but somehow the personal world of Colette was not supposed to have been very important. And I think it is extremely important, because we have lost that intimacy and that person-to-person sense, which she developed because she had been more constricted and less active in the world. So the family was very important, the neighbor was very important, and the friend was very important.
It would be nice if men could share that too, of course. And they will, on the day they recognize the femininity in themselves, which is what Jung has been trying to tell us. I was asked once how I felt about men who cried, and I said that I loved men who cried, because it showed they had feeling. The day that woman admits what we call her masculine qualities, and man admits his so-called feminine qualities, will mean that we admit we are androgynous, that we have many personalities, many sides to fulfill. A woman can be courageous, can be adventurous, she can be all these things. And this new woman who is coming up is very inspiring, very wonderful. And I love her.
, 15 October 1971.
Are you surprised by your rediscovery by the young and your power as a force with them?
The young, after all, were the first to come to me after my return from Europe at the beginning of World War II. The young find in me a similarity in attitude—living with the senses, intuition, magic, using the psychic, an awareness of a different set of values. They find in me a primary interest in life and intimacy, in knowing each other. When I lecture in colleges, I talk about
a Welsh word that means the kind of talk that leads to intimacy. We talk about their lives and personal things, and then they open up to me. At first, I wondered why they wanted me to lecture and now I realize they simply wanted to see if I were real.
: Kate Millett in her controversial book
attacks your friend Henry Miller for the way he, a male writer, has influenced our thinking about sex. Because of your intimacy with and support of Miller, do you feel you compromised yourself as a woman?
Not at all. He was my opposite. As I wrote in my diary, I didn’t like his attitude towards sex. But even Freud behaved entirely differently with Lou Andreas-Salomé. You see, it’s a matter of the woman. Miller treated me differently. I took his antipuritanism as comic. By asserting his appetites, he changed both men and women. I think I saw Miller very clearly, but I don’t feel now I have to attack or defend him. Miller did a lot to remove the puritanical superstitions of other men. At that moment, women were inaccessible. He brought them nearer. He made them real.
You observed once you had not “imitated man.” What role do men have in your work?
No, I didn’t imitate men. Men, for me, were doctor, psychiatrist, astronomer, astrologer. It was their knowledge I needed. I followed men in everything creative, but I sought always to strengthen and reveal the pattern of women. Women were my patterns for living, men for thinking. When I was thirteen and fourteen, Joan of Arc was my heroine. After all, she went to war for a man and not for herself. There are so few women who have found real freedom for themselves. I think of Ninon de Lenclos in the seventeenth century and Lou Andreas-Salomé in the nineteenth. The symbolic people and their freedom are important to the new consciousness. Women must stop reacting against what
They should be making the new woman very clear to us.
What for you is the “new woman”?
In my works, I had portrayed free women, free love; but I had done it quietly and these “new women” were not perceived. There is no one pattern for the new woman. She will have to find her own way. This is the work to be done, but it will have to be done individually. Women want a pattern, but there is no pattern for all women.
Much has been made by Women’s Liberation of Freud’s biases against women. Did these biases affect you, in your own analysis?
I really can’t answer that question. I haven’t read Freud in a long time, but I do remember Dr. Otto Rank, who analyzed me in Paris, saying that we didn’t really understand the psychology of women, that women had not yet articulated their experience. Men invented soul, philosophy, religion. Women have perceptions that are difficult to describe, at least in intellectual terms. These perceptions come instantly from intuition, and the woman trusts them. What bothers Women’s Lib about Freud doesn’t bother me. Psychology helped me. I very much felt the inner necessity to grow. The ideologies—as Rank said—may have been made by men, but I used only what was useful to me.
Why has active interest in the erotic been so long taboo for women?
Men must have invented the taboo. I think of Fellini. He dramatized his unconscious life in
; but, when he filmed his wife’s unconscious life in
Juliet of the Spirits,
he didn’t allow her any adventures. She was a passive spectator. For him, woman is only pure by faithfulness and abstention. D. H. Lawrence was the first to acknowledge that woman has a sexuality, a life of her own, and that lovemaking can originate with the woman. Eroticism is one of the basic means of self-knowledge, as indispensable as poetry. But if a woman writes openly about her need—for example, Violette Leduc or Caitlin Thomas, the widow of Dylan Thomas—she is damned.
I have always admitted the sexual appetite and given it a great place in my work. One of my books was called
Henry Miller did a lot to break the canonization of women. Some women, like men, would rather be treated as sexual objects than be canonized. Women don’t like being romanticized or idealized any more than they like being insulted or humiliated.
What are the defining limits of masculinity and femininity?
I have tried to lessen the distinctions. I wanted to show all the relationships and establish the fluid connections beyond sex. I found in literature more descriptions of obstacles than relationships. I was seeking to establish the flow and let all the rest fall into place. I wanted to eliminate boundaries, taboos, limitations. In the old novels, there were the differences of class, race, religion. I wanted to leap over all that and reach the instinctive and intuitive connections.
What for you is the contrast between the feeling life of men and women?
They meet. There is a resemblance between men and women, not a contrast. When a man begins to recognize his feeling, the two unite. When men
the sensitive side of themselves, they come alive. Analysis we’ve always thought of as masculine—that was the area in which I was able to talk to men. But all those differences are disappearing. We speak of the masculine and the feminine, but they are the wrong labels. It is really more a matter of poetry versus intellectualization.
When you were twenty-nine, you wrote that there were two women in you: “one woman desperate and bewildered, who felt she was drowning, and another who would leap into a scene, as upon a stage, conceal her true emotions because they were weaknesses, helplessness, and despair, and present to the world only a smile, an eagerness, curiosity, enthusiasm, interest.” How did you master yourself?
One continually leaps over the negative. I haven’t yet reached a point where I’m courageous every day. And the struggle keeps my diary alive. Now I have a sense of harmony, of integration. I feel free. The two women are there in me, but they don’t tear at each other. They live in peace.
How did you achieve this integration?
I started out terribly engrossed in dreams, the spiritual, the reverie. My father’s leaving us when I was nine shattered me. I had lived in books and imagination, so my journey into my self was different. I had to find the earth. My father’s leaving gave me the feeling of a broken bridge with the world that I wanted to rebuild. For me, everything came from literature: the lies, the stories, the dreams. Then, Henry Miller and his wife came into my life. In my thirties, I was concerned with experience, and I wrote my first book on D. H. Lawrence. When I had balanced the two worlds—earth and imagination—then came the period of the greatest creativity. I began to produce almost a book a year. At this stage in my life, the diary and fiction, the poetry and earth, are in harmony. I can work and travel and have relationships without conflict.
What is the story of your famous diary?
I began the diary at the age of eleven on the ship coming to America, separated from my father, to describe to him this strange land and entice him to come. It would enable him to follow our lives. The diary was begun to bring someone back. My mother didn’t let me mail it; and it became private, a house of the spirit, a laboratory. It became a refuge, a sanctuary. Now, there are perhaps two hundred volumes. I write perhaps twelve a year. I store them in filing cabinets in a bank vault in Brooklyn that costs fifty dollars every three months.
In an important sense, you are a revolutionary. What have you learned about yourself and other women through your solitary courage?
The importance of faith, the great importance of orientation and the inner life to withstand outer pressures. Also, the understanding that increased awareness
prevail and cause external changes. The importance of inner conviction. I had the love of my work and nothing could stop it.