fluidity a la memoir | remembering Anais Nin

February 26, 2010

better image coming soon

I love this volume.

It’s a book I clung onto in New York, a place which for me, like her, was a playground of self-discovery [along with that other mammoth synthesis of modernity: Paris]. Her cafe observations, musings, stream-of-consciousness and long-winded epiphanies, all allude to a state of perpetual self-enquiry within a space that feels large, yet also like a deeply carved niche.

Metaphysical, philosophical and influenced by the academic movements and schools of thoughts of her time, Nin’s writing is also inspiringly and unpretentiously abstract.

So June is BEING.”

Although the forces of migration, time and space leave me with mostly an impressionistic memory of the volume, reading just one line brings back fragments of this formidable woman.

I say formidable because when you read this book, her diary, you are overwhelmingly drowned in her life-perception. The distinct taste of her experiences is upon you. Re-reading one sentence evokes the ocean of the whole book, her pungent consciousness comes flooding back.

The context of her place and time is also important, and as I said before, she is in many ways reflective of external influences. As described in the introduction to this particular volume:

[Much of the speculation about this legendary work, no doubt, derived from the fact that Miss Nin, in her intense and multi-leveled life, moved freely, and sometimes mysteriously, in the cosmopolitan word of international art and society. “Friendships, relationships, and travel,” she has said, “are my greatest pleasure. The world I live in, in every city, is that of writers, painters, musicians, dancers and actors. ]

Nin’s diary was never a single and focussed entity, or a solitary effort. The flow of the diary was the flow of her life. Writing it was the perpetual status quo. It was a work-in-progress that meandered and grew in dimension, layers and complexity, seeking answers, yet open-ended, always taking in more and more…

A brief [and I mean very brief] re-skimming of the mere surface reminds me that like my current read, Chopin’s The Awakening, it also reflects themes of the female presence. Not surprising, perhaps, since it is her diary. However, the difference is that her words and passages tend to naturally cluster around themes of domesticity and also sexuality. Her attachment to her home, Louveciennes, is manifest in her very first pages. There is so much frankness and lucidity in her writing, yet it reeks of [sub-conscious] rich metaphor:

I chose the house for many reasons.

Because it seemed to have sprouted out of the earth like a tree, so deeply grooved it was within the old garden. It had no cellar and the rooms rested right on the ground. Below the rug, I felt, was the earth. I could take root there, feel at one with the house and garden, take nourishment from them like the plants.”


The exploration of sexuality, or more plainly, eroticism, is one that has been lavishly hyped through time. Although this particular volume doesn’t seem to justify the hype over eroticism, there is a definite questioning of her role as a woman in society, and in relationships. A definite discomfort with strict adherence to any label or box impassions the very spirit of her memoir. She, like her narrative, is free-flowing, willful and constant in change, in variety.

There is a whole web of interconnecting themes in Nin’s life, all of them worlds within themselves, and of interest not only for the philosopher, lover of words or feminist, for example, but also for the historian.

Freudian psychoanalysis [via Otto Rank] and Henry Miller are perhaps two of the most weighty influences. Nin’s association with Henry Miller rings with deeply resonating undertones throughout her memoir, including this volume. Although many one-dimensionally label her as Miller’s lover, Volume 1, at least, highlights a tension between the two that twists and writhes more within the realm of intellect, dream, and subtleties. Then there is also June, and the triad of relationships brims with complexities that traverse the boundaries of sexuality, ego, and the multi-faceted personalities of all three.


Ultimately, though, The Diary of Anais Nin, Volume 1, is a highly individualistic, visceral memoir. Her inward forays into the psyche, her awareness of her own relationship to writing, literature and creativity, and her constant exploration of her own boundaries and relationships with others make this a record of humanity, modernity, history and literature like no other.

There are so many breathtaking quotes, but to give Anaïs voice in her own remembrance, I’ll end with this:

Ordinary life does not interest me. I seek only the high moments. I am in accord with the surrealists, searching for the marvelous.

I want to be a writer who reminds others that these moments exist; I want to prove that there is infinite space, infinite meaning, infinite dimension.”


2 Responses to “fluidity a la memoir | remembering Anais Nin”

  1. zurain Imam Says:

    Surprise, surprise!
    Mariam is also an incisive and expressive writer and critic!

    Congratulations on your ongoing journey!


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