In Favor of the Sensitive Man and Other Essays (Original Harvest Book; Hb333) (8 page)

BOOK: In Favor of the Sensitive Man and Other Essays (Original Harvest Book; Hb333)
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According to American culture I spent many years doing what is defined as an egocentric work, an introspective and subjective work, a selfish work. I was keeping a diary which kept me in contact with my deepest self, which was a mirror reflecting my growth or the pauses in this growth, as well as making me attentive to the growth of those around me. I continued to be dependent on the therapist ever so many years because he delivered me from cultural guilt and projected me into new cycles. Each cycle was a different drama. The first one was the relation to the missing father, the second cycle was the relation to the mother from whom I took the concept of female sacrifice, the third was the assertion of my own creative will. A final, a synthesizing analysis by a woman finally brought me to a harmony among all the parts of myself. But it was only when the diaries were published and their usefulness to others was established that I became entirely free of guilt. Which proves Dr. Rank’s point again that whatever we achieve is ultimately our gift to the community and to the collective life. Dr. Rank suspected, as I do, that group activities weaken our will. They may be a solace to loneliness, but they do not foster the individual creative will. It is necessary to establish this first before engaging in group activities. For Dr. Rank the supreme achievement was this creative will which could resist brain washing of various kinds. So often in women’s groups I saw individuals bring to the group only personal problems, neurotic problems which should have been taken to therapy, for the group is not trained to solve such problems. We should not bring to the collective an unfinished, distressed, chaotic, confused, sick, or hurt self.

At this time I would like to have you talk with me. There’s a word I love very much,
furrawn,
which is from the Welsh. It means a kind of talk that creates intimacy. I would like to know if you have any questions to ask me or things to tell me in relation to this creative will, which was Rank’s great contribution to the psychology of woman.

 

QUESTIONER
: What do you think the group can do for us?

ANAÏS NIN
: If you have a clear idea of what the problem is, the group may help in the solution of it, but we do not always have a clear idea of what is disturbing us. I think the group can make women feel less lonely, and they can become aware that many problems are similar. The strength it gives is the same as that given by solid friendships, but I do not think the group can give self-awareness or strength in any permanent form.

Q:
Would you comment briefly on the current women writers. I can only think of two of them, Joan Didion and Sylvia Plath. I have read reviews of their books and once I read the reviews I was reluctant to read what they wrote.

AN:
It is possible you felt as I do, that writers who write only about despair, hopelessness, destructiveness, do not attract you. I am not speaking in terms of literature. That is why I was not attracted to the book by Simone de Beauvoir on aging. I felt that she had accepted chronological age whereas there is no generalization about age. Age is psychic too. Some people read to confirm their own hopelessness. Others read to be rescued from it.

Q:
Would you comment further on the lifesaving force and the revitalization process within the ivory tower?

AN:
One answer lies in Otto Rank’s
Truth and Reality.
That is the process by which we create ourselves. The other lies in therapy. Therapy is not only a healing of neurosis. It is a lesson on how to grow, how to overcome the obstacles to our growth. Experiences tend to alienate us. We close up defensively. To protect ourselves from pain, we dull our responses. Psychology removes the scars, the fears, the rigidities which prevent us from expanding. It is a revivifying process.

The Story of My Printing Press
 

From the
Publish-It-Yourself Handbook,
Pushcart, 1973.

 

In the 1940s, two of my books,
Winter of Artifice
and
Under a Glass Bell,
were rejected by American publishers.
Winter of Artifice
had been published in France, in English, and had been praised by Rebecca West, Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, Kay Boyle, and Stuart Gilbert. Both books were considered uncommercial. I want writers to know where they stand in relation to such verdicts from commercial publishers, and to offer a solution which is still effective today. I am thinking of writers who are the equivalent of researchers in science, whose appeal does not elicit immediate gain.

I did not accept the verdict and decided to print my own books. For seventy-five dollars I bought a second-hand press. It was foot-powered like the old sewing machines, and one had to press the treadle very hard to develop sufficient power to turn the wheel.

Frances Steloff, who owned the Gotham Book Mart in New York, loaned me one hundred dollars for the enterprise, and Thurema Sokol loaned me another hundred. I bought type for a hundred dollars, used orange crates for shelves, and bought paper remnants, which is like buying remnants of materials to make a dress. Some of this paper was quite beautiful, left over from deluxe editions. A friend, Gonzalo More, helped me. He had a gift for designing books. I learned to set type, and he ran the machine. We learned printing from library books, which gave rise to comical accidents. For example, the book said, “oil the rollers,” so we oiled the entire rollers including the rubber part, and wondered why we could not print for a week.

James Cooney, of
Phoenix
magazine, gave us helpful technical advice. Our lack of knowledge of printed English also led to such errors as my own (now-famous) word separation in
Winter of Artifice:
“lo-ve.” But more important than anything else, setting each letter by hand taught me economy of style. After living with a page for a whole day, I could detect the superfluous words. At the end of each line I thought, is this word, is this phrase, absolutely necessary?

It was hard work, patient work, to typeset prose, to lock the tray, to carry the heavy lead tray to the machine, to run the machine itself, which had to be inked by hand, to set the copper plates (for the illustrations) on inch-thick wood supports in order to print them. Printing copper plates meant inking each plate separately, cleaning it after one printing, and starting the process over again. It took me months to typeset
Under a Glass Bell
and
Winter of Artifice.
Then there were the printed pages to be placed between blotters and later cut, gathered into signatures, and put together for the binder. Then the type had to be redistributed in the boxes.

We had problems finding a bookbinder willing to take on such small editions and to accept the unconventional shape of the books.

Frances Steloff agreed to distribute them and gave me an autograph party at the Gotham Book Mart. The completed books were beautiful and have now become collector’s items.

The first printing of
Winter of Artifice
was three hundred copies, and one publisher I met at a party exclaimed: “I don’t know how you managed to become so well known with only three hundred books.”

Under a Glass Bell
was given to Edmund Wilson by Frances Steloff. He reviewed it favorably in the New
Yorker,
and immediately all the publishers were ready to reprint both books in commercial editions.

We did not use the word “underground” then, but this tiny press and word of mouth enabled my writing to be discovered. The only handicap was that newspapers and magazines took no notice of books by small presses, and it was almost impossible to obtain a review. Edmund Wilson’s review was an exception. It launched me. I owe him that and am only sorry that his acceptance did not extend to the rest of my work.

I had to reprint both books with a loan from Samuel Goldberg, the lawyer.

Someone thought I should send the story of the press to the
Reader’s Digest.
The
Digest’s
response was that if I had to print the books myself, they must be bad. Many people still believe that, and for many years there was a suspicion that my difficulties with publishers indicated a doubtful quality in my work. A year before the publication of the diary, a Harvard student wrote in the
Harvard Advocate
that the silence of critics and the indifference of commercial publishers must necessarily mean the work was flawed.

A three-hundred-copy edition of
Winter of Artifice,
press, type, and bookbinding cost four hundred dollars. The books sold for three dollars. I printed announcements and circularized friends and acquaintances. The entire edition of both books was sold out.

But the physical work was so overwhelming that it interfered with my writing. This is the only reason I accepted the offer of a commercial publisher and surrendered the press. Otherwise I would have liked to continue with my own press, controlling both the content and design of the books.

I regretted giving up the press, for with the commercial publishers my troubles began. Then, as today, they wanted quick and large returns. This gamble for quick returns has nothing whatever to do with the deeper needs of the public, nor can a publisher’s selection of a book be considered as representative of the people’s choice. The impetus starts with the belief of the publisher, who backs his choice with advertising disguised as literary judgment. Thus books are imposed on the public like any other commercial product. In my case the illogical attitude of publishers was clear. They took me on as a prestige writer, but a prestige writer does not rate publicity, and therefore sales were modest. Five thousand copies of commercially published
Ladders to Fire
was not enough.

The universal quality in good writing, which publishers claim to recognize, is impossible to define. My books, which were not supposed to have this universal quality, were nevertheless bought and read by all kinds of people.

Today, instead of feeling embittered by the opposition of publishers, I am happy they opposed me, for the press gave me independence and confidence. I felt in direct contact with my public, and it was enough to sustain me through the following years. My early dealings with commercial publishers ended in disaster. They were not satisfied with the immediate sales, and neither the publishers nor the bookstores were interested in long-range sales. But fortunately, I found Alan Swallow in Denver, Colorado, a self-made and independent publisher who had started with a press in his garage. He adopted what he called his “maverick writers.” He kept all my books in print, was content with simply earning a living, and our common struggles created a strong bond. He had the same problems with distribution and reviewing I had known, and we helped each other. He lived long enough to see the beginning of my popularity, the success of the diaries, to see the books he kept alive taught in universities. I am writing his story in Volume Six of the diary.

What this story implies is that commercial publishers, being large corporate establishments, should sustain explorative and experimental writers, just as business sustains researchers, and not expect huge, immediate gains from them. They herald new attitudes, new consciousness, new evolutions in the taste and minds of people. They are the researchers who sustain the industry. Today my work is in harmony with the new values, the new search and state of mind of the young. This synchronism is one nobody could have foreseen, except by remaining open-minded to innovation and pioneering.

Novelist on Stage
 

A review of
The Complete Plays of D. H. Lawrence,
in
The New York Times Book Review,
10 April 1966.

 

D. H. Lawrence’s complete dramaturgic output—eight full-length plays and two fragments, written at various points in his literary career, from 1909 onward—has now been published in a single volume. While the book mysteriously lacks introductory comment of any sort, and while Lawrence is not widely recognized for his stagecraft (only a few of the plays ever having been produced), the collection is interesting for the light it sheds on Lawrence’s efforts to express his ideas in a different medium.

The plays will appeal to those who are mystified by Lawrence’s daring and unique attempt to crack the surface of naturalism in his novels, to find a way to release emotions, instincts, intuitions, to find a special language of the senses. For the dramatic form, with its severe limitations on lyric expression, would not seem suited to Lawrence’s aims.

In his plays, which range from situation comedy to realism, Lawrence respects the need for action and dialogue—faithfulness to what is manifested on the surface and directly expressed. Absent are deep exploration of motivations and emotional ambivalences. Direct, simple, almost classical, and free of admixture, these plays remind one of the perfect rendering of the illusion of reality by the Moscow Art Theater. Lawrence does not strive for dénouements, for tension; he is content to present a lifelike portrait of instants. He makes no attempt to break with conventions of the theater, as he did with those of the novel.

His favorite themes, similar to the themes of his novels, are reduced to extreme artlessness. At times his faithfulness to ordinary dialogue is extreme, as in
The Daughter-in-Law,
where he supplies a shorthand colloquialism for the spoken dialect which is to me almost unreadable. He records the atmosphere of poverty. He is concerned with the simple patterns of daily life which help to contain outbreaks of emotion. He endows these patterns with ritualistic meaning that conveys inner states of mind. The serving of food, the very descriptions of food itself, laundering, ironing, folding sheets, baking bread, making beds, lighting lamps or candles, are anchors and roots to prevent emotional explosions.

His poetic moments are sensitive and unadorned. In
The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd,
Mrs. Holroyd, while her husband is drinking at the pub, is visited by Blackmore, the electrician working around a mine who describes himself as a gentleman: “ours is gentlemen’s work.”

BOOK: In Favor of the Sensitive Man and Other Essays (Original Harvest Book; Hb333)
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