Authors: Anaïs Nin
If in the unconscious there still lie reactions we cannot control, at least we can prevent them from doing harm to the present situation. If both were unconsciously susceptible to the fear of being deserted, they had to find a way to grow independent from a childhood pattern. Otherwise, enslaved by childhood fears, neither one could move from the house. In exposing them they were able to laugh at the inconsistency of wanting freedom and yet wanting the other to hold on.
Very often in the emerging new woman, the assertion of differences carries too heavy an indication of dissonances, disharmony, but it is a matter of finding the relationships, as we are finding the relationship between art and science, science and psychology, religion and science. It is not similarities that create harmony, but the art of fusing various elements that enrich life. Professional activities tend to demand almost too much concentration; this becomes a narrowing of experience for each one. The infusion of new currents of thoughts, stretching the range of interests, is beneficial to both men and women.
Perhaps some new women and new men fear adventure and change. The life of Margaret Mead indicates that she sought a man with the same passionate devotion to anthropology, but the result was that her husband studied the legends, the myths of the tribe, and she was left to study childbirth and the raising of children. So a common interest does not necessarily mean equality.
All of us carry seeds of anxieties left from childhood, but the determination to live with others in close and loving harmony can overcome all the obstacles, provided we have learned to
integrate the differences.
Watching these young couples and how they resolve the problems of new attitudes, new consciousness, I feel we might be approaching a humanistic era in which differences and inequalities may be resolved without war.
Yoko Ono proposed the “feminization of society. The use of feminine tendencies as a positive force to change the world . . . We can evolve rather than revolt.”
The empathy these new men show woman is born of their acceptance of their own emotional, intuitive, sensory, and humanistic approach to relationships. They allow themselves to weep (men never wept), to show vulnerability, to expose their fantasies, share their inmost selves. Some women are baffled by the new regime. They have not yet recognized that to have empathy one must to some extent feel what the other feels. That means that if woman is to assert her creativity or her gifts, man has to assert his own crucial dislike of what was expected of him in the past.
The new type of young man I have met is exceptionally fitted for the new woman, but she is not yet totally appreciative of his tenderness, his growing proximity to woman, his attitude of twinship rather than differentiation. People who once lived under a dictatorship often are at a loss to govern themselves. This loss is a transitional one: It may mean the beginning of a totally new life and freedom. The man is there. He is an equal. He treats you like an equal. In moments of uncertainty you can still discuss problems with him you could not have talked about twenty years ago. Do not, I say to today’s women, please do not mistake sensitivity for weakness. This was the mistake which almost doomed our culture. Violence was mistaken for power, the misuse of power for strength. The subjection is still true in films, in the theater, in the media. I wanted the hero of
Last Tango in Paris
to die immediately. He was only destroyed at the end! The time span of a film. Will it take women as long to recognize sadism, arrogance, tyranny, reflected so painfully in the world outside, in war and political corruption? Let us start the new regime of honesty, of trust, abolishment of false roles in our personal relationships, and it will eventually affect the world’s history as well as women’s development.
A lecture given at the meeting of The Otto Rank Association, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 28 October 1972; first published in the
Journal of the Otto Rank Association,
There are books which we read early in life, which sink into our consciousness and seem to disappear without leaving a trace. And then one day we find, in some summing-up of our life and our attitudes towards experience, that their influence has been enormous. Such a book is
Truth and Reality,
by Otto Rank, which I read in my early thirties. Its French title is
La Volonté du Bonheur (The Will to Happiness).
I read every word, and it must have penetrated so very deeply to a place where I no longer was consciously aware of, into the depths of my subconscious. It was not an intellectual experience for me, but a deeply emotional one. So the meaning of this book, its guiding principles, sank into my unconscious and I did not read it again until, thanks to Virginia Robinson and Anita Faatz, I rediscovered it and found that my whole life as a woman artist had been influenced by it, and proved its wisdom.
I must have based myself on its principles. Dr. Rank stressed several goals, and I will refer later to how much more difficult it was for a woman to achieve them than for a man. In his book he speaks constantly about the “creative will.” I even forgot that expression and used instead my own, which is stubbornness. I said very often that I was more stubborn than other writers. I would not give up, I have never given up, but I didn’t call it creative will. It is a beautiful phrase.
This creative will sometimes manifests itself very early in life. At the age of nine I was in danger of losing my life. A doctor made a mistaken diagnosis and said I had tuberculosis of the hip and would never walk again. My instant reaction was to ask for pencil and paper and begin to make written portraits of my whole family, to write poems. I even put on the front page of these notes “Member of the French Academy,” which to me seemed the highest honor awarded to a writer. This is an attitude of defiance, it is actually the refusal to despair, the refusal to bow down to the human condition, human sorrows, human handicaps. Last-minute surgery saved my life. But this is where the writing began. It was a dramatization of the artist’s solution to the obstacles of life. All my life I have talked and written a great deal about the artist. It was often misunderstood as cultist, excluding nonartists and uncreative people, but this was not so. I love nonartists as well, but for me the artist simply means one who can transform ordinary life into a beautiful creation with his craft. But I did not mean creation strictly applied only to the arts, I meant creation in life, the creation of a child, a garden, a house, a dress. I was referring to creativity in all its aspects. Not only the actual products of art, but the faculty for healing, consoling, raising the level of life, transforming it by our own efforts. I was talking about the creative will, which Dr. Rank opposed to neurosis as our salvation. When I went to see him (I was twenty-eight years old or so) I felt oppressed and actually trapped by my human commitments, by the human condition particularly applied to woman with her training for devotion, service, loyalty to her personal world. I started with the usual handicaps which I share with so many: the broken home, uprooting to a strange country whose language I did not know. Everything contributed to create an alienated child. I found it extremely difficult to enter the flow of life, difficult and painful because there was always the double struggle which Dr. Rank describes in
Truth and Reality:
the conflict between being different and wanting to be close to others. I felt different but I longed for friendship and love. The struggle to maintain my difference was accentuated by the cultural contrasts and uprooting, the problem of language. I was holding on to the values I had been taught, yet I wanted to be admitted to the adopted culture. I finally learned the language, and actually fell in love with English. But the two cultures worked against my sense of unity, two cultures which were opposites, the European and the American.
When I went to see Dr. Rank, instead of tackling the immediate problems, the difficulties in my relationships, the conflicts of cultures, the conflicts between fiction writer and diarist, between woman and writer, he instantly realized the seriousness of my existence as a writer. He focussed on the strongest element in my divided and chaotic self. No matter what disintegrating influences I was experiencing, the writing was the act of wholeness. What he did was to practice his own philosophy, which was to disregard the negativities we usually bring to the therapist and focus on the most positive element in my nature, which was the stubborn concern with writing. I was amazed that he left aside the human problems. Later I realized what a stroke of genius this was. First of all he asked me to put my diary down on his table, in other words to give it up as a hiding place, a place for secrets, for a separate existence. So I would share everything with him. I realized later he had shifted the whole problem of human life to the problem of the creative will, and that he was counting on this creative will to find its own solutions. He was challenging my creative will, and having strengthened that, I began to alter my personal life. The change came from within; it was a force which could solve conflicts and dualities. That is why I give the artist such importance, because he possesses this power from the beginning. Even in the darkest periods of social history, outer events would be changed if we had a center. It is only in the private world that we can learn to alchemize the ugly, the terrible, the horrors of war, the evils and cruelties of man, into a new kind of human being. I do not say turn away or escape. We cannot turn away from social history, because it is necessary to maintain our responsibilities to society, but we need to create a center of strength and resistance to disappointments and failures in outward events. Today I am working for causes which I consider worthwhile, but that is in the world of action, and the world from which we draw our wisdom, our lucidities, our power to act, our courage, is in this other world which is not an escape but a laboratory of the soul. It is this inner world Dr. Rank was eager to see us create, and for that he had to deliver us from the sense of guilt, inbred in us, towards individual growth. In
Truth and Reality
he does say that the culture tries to make us feel that the active individual is really endangering the growth of his fellow men. And I had this problem, in common with so many students today. When I talked about individual growth in order to have something to contribute to the collective, they thought I meant to turn away and take refuge in an ivory tower. For me it was the place where I did my most difficult spiritual work, where I practiced the confrontation of psychological obstacles, in order to be able to act and live in the world without despair and loss of faith. It was the place where I reconstructed what the outer world disintegrated. Because it is just as important to live outside of history as it is to live within it. Because history is only an aggregate of personal hostilities, personal prejudices, personal blindness and irrationality, there are times when we have to live against it. Our American culture made a virtue of our living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a center, and so we lost our center and had to find it again.
Someone asked me the other day, Are we ever going to reach a time when we don’t need therapy? I answered, Not until we cease to be in trouble for lack of a center. Dr. Rank talked about this and mentioned that guilt accompanies every act of will—creative will or the assertion of our personal will. He knew the extent of our guilt. The artist knows it. It was proved very often in the history of artists’ lives. They often expressed the need to justify their work, to justify their concentration and even obsession with it.
Now, in the woman this problem is far deeper, because the guilt which afflicts woman is deeper than man’s. Man is expected to achieve. He is expected to become the finest doctor, the finest lawyer, the finest teacher, etc. Whatever he does is expected of him by society, and he is delivered of guilt when he produces. But woman was trained to give first place to her personal commitments—home and children and husband or family—she was encumbered with duties which absorbed all her energies, and the very concept of love was united to the concept of care and nurturing, whether physical or symbolic. When she reduced the hours of devotion and gave her energies to other interests, she felt a double guilt. She was made aware that she was failing in her personal responsibilities, and her other achievements were severely undervalued by the culture. So the guilt is much deeper in woman and becomes in many cases the roots of her neurosis or even pathology.
Then there is another guilt peculiar to women. Our culture stresses rivalry, competition, as a legitimate motivation. But any advancement achieved by woman was considered competitive even when it was not motivated by it. In the early days when I was a young woman, I stated that I would rather be the wife of an artist than to be one myself. It was a way of avoiding conflict. I would live vicariously through the man, I would be all the artist needed—muse, assistant, the protective, nurturing mother. In my twenties this role seemed more comfortable. It was only when I met Dr. Rank that I realized I had my own work to do. When we live vicariously we expect the other to do our work, and we are disappointed if he does his own, diverging from our wishes. But before meeting Dr. Rank I conceived of growth as a big tree overshadowing other trees, endangering their flowering by absorbing all the light. I wanted to grow but I didn’t want that to interfere with anybody else’s growth. I must have conceived of growth as ultimately a giant redwood tree. I have never heard of a male artist concerned about the effect of his growth and expansion on his family. We accept the fact that his work justifies all sacrifices. But woman does not feel this is enough of a justification.
As a woman I was fully aware that it was my personal world which was the source of my strength and my psychic energy. The creation of a perfect personal world was the root of my inspiration. So woman is concerned with not losing this center, which she knows the value of. Just as the deep-sea diver carries a tank of oxygen, we have to carry the kernel of our individual growth with us into the world in order to withstand the pressures, the shattering pressures of outer experiences. But I never lost sight of their interdependence, and now I find in Dr. Rank the following statement: “Whatever we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.”