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ANAIS NIN AND THE CREATIVE SELF

 

 

INTRODUCTION

When French writer Anais Nin met American novelist Henry Miller in the early part of the twentieth century in Paris, each of them was already married, Anais Nin to a rich businessman, and Henry Miller to June, an actress residing in America. In those days, Henry Miller was down and out in Paris while Anais Nin was enjoying a financially comfortable existence with her husband. Between Henry Miller and Anais Nin, there evolved a mutual artistic, intellectual and literary seduction. They embarked on a wild and long-standing romance that enriched literature and philosophy, like the relationship of Jean Paul Sartre and Simon de Beauvoir.

During their passionate affair, Nin helped Miller through her financial and emotional support, while Miller encouraged her to continue writing her diaries. Miller predicted that Nin’s diary, if published, would be considered one of the masterpieces of twentieth century literature. He was of the opinion that the diary “would take its place beside the revelations of St. Augustine, Petronius, Abelard, Rousseau and Proust”.  (Ref 1) Nin became involved emotionally and sexually not only with her husband and Miller, but also with Miller’s wife June, when she came to visit Miller in Paris. June did not know that her husband had been sleeping with her lover Nin. Nin was also involved with her analyst, Otto Rank, who was a disciple of Freud and who had a great interest in the psychology of writers and the psychopathology of creative people. Nin’s diary chronicled her own struggles and her relationships with her husband, Miller, June and her analyst. She wrote hundreds of pages painting the landscape of her soul. She also wrote a collection of novels, Cities of the Interior. Nin’s diaries were not published until the 1960s, after the deaths of Miller, June and Nin’s husband.

Following the publication of the first volume of her diaries, Nin was invited to deliver lectures all over the world. Nin, who had been a shy girl when she was young, became an eloquent speaker and engaged in passionate and intellectually stimulating discussions with people from all walks of life. She challenged social, moral and political taboos. In the last few years of her life she had two husbands. With one she lived half a year in North America and with the second she spent the other half of the year in Europe. There have been seven volumes of her diaries published so far, as well as a number of collections of her speeches and interviews. A feature film, Henry and June, depicted the lives of the three lovers, based on Nin’s diaries. Nin has been a source of inspiration for millions of people and a challenge for feminists the world over.

CREATIVE SELF

Nin discovered quite early in life that human beings are socially quite complex and psychologically extremely sophisticated. She saw them as having two sides to their personalities. On one hand there is a traditional self, which is the outcome of conditioning by parents, teachers and cultural norms; and on the other hand a creative self, discovered through introspection and soul-searching. Nin had a keen interest in the process by which people discover their creative selves. She realized that it was a painful but adventurous process. By discovering their creative selves, people are able to be honest with themselves and sincere with others. It is a process of self-liberation, self-discovery and self-actualization. In her diaries, Nin shares in detail how she went through that journey herself, highlighting the difficulties and the excitements, the frustrations as well as the ecstasies, the blind spots as much as the insights. Nin’s diaries are gold mines of knowledge, experience and wisdom, which have touched people over the years and helped them discover their own creative selves. She stated that when people get in touch with their creative selves, they become very sensitive and “ get rid of the defenses which I call the calluses of the soul”. (Ref1) By discovering their creative selves they also discover their private morality. They transcend religious morality, break the chains of guilt and sin, and enter a world of tranquil hearts and peaceful minds. An interviewer once remarked to Nin, “Sometimes when you do what you really want to do, you end up hurting people who are very close to you and people you want to remain close to. That can put you in a terrible conflict at times.”   Nin answered, “That’s the conflict we’ll always have. We will always have a conflict between our growth and our fear that that growth will overshadow or injure someone else. And what we have to do is to create our own private morality and our private ethics and our private faith, for that naturally means that if you’re a sensitive person you’re not going to destroy people around you.”  (Ref 2)

CREATIVE THERAPY

Nin believed that if people cannot discover their creative self through their own through life experiences, reading books and introspection, then they should seriously consider creative psychotherapy. Such therapy helps people to overcome their inhibitions and insecurities and get in touch with their potential. It helps people to realize that “there is a realm in which you are all powerful, in which you are the captain of your soul”.  (Ref 2) Through this process, people are encouraged to discover their truth and lead healthier, happier and more productive lives. They can then get involved in creative rather than destructive relationships. In therapy there can be a “second-birth”…which is “ a self creation”. Nin stated,  “…when you go through…the process of self-discovery, you realize that you should not give anybody the power to decide what is right or wrong in your creativity…”(Ref 2)

CREATIVE RELATIONSHIPS

Nin had experienced a number of unhealthy and painful relationships in her life. Through analysis she developed insights into the negative patterns of intimate relationships. Nin believed that couples act out their unconscious fantasies and the dark sides of their personalities in their relationships. She encouraged people to take responsibility for the roles they play in the evolution of the relationship, rather than blaming everything on the other. She hoped that if people did some soul-searching, they might be able to discover the secrets of honest, sincere and genuine friendships and loving relationships. She believed that in creative relationships, men and women bring out the best in each other and work through the worst parts of their relationships by realizing what they project onto others. She wrote, “Why do I feel entirely responsible for them? I found the answer in Rank, who said that the shadow self, which we don’t want to live out, we project onto others. We feel responsible because they are living a part of the self that we are denying; we feel we must protect them from the consequences, for we know that the rebel often pays for his rebellions. In other words, I protected them because I couldn’t be as directly a rebel as I am now”. (Ref 2)

CREATIVE EXPRESSION

Nin had developed a great appreciation of the creative process. She believed that creativity expressed itself very differently in women than in men. She was of the opinion that in males, it is more of an intellectual process, but in women the products, like their babies, do not come out of their heads; rather they are born from their wombs. Women nurture their babies as well their creative products with their blood. For them it is a concrete emotional and spiritual experience rather than an abstraction because “woman is closer to the unconscious and remains closer to the unconscious than man, has fewer interferences, has a less over-developed sense of rationalization.” (Ref 2) Nin was in touch with the psyche of artists as she was an artist herself; she knew the ecstasies of the writer as she had experienced them herself. She considered writing to be a process of re-creating, of offering a gift of love to others. In one of her interviews she stated, “The white page for me is like a ski slope. I go absolutely mad. I go mad in stationary stores. Just to see beautiful paper gives me a desire to write.” When asked in an interview from what source she derived her desire to create, she replied, “From joy! From enjoyment. The way birds sing. I write when I am in love with something—a scene, a character, a book, a country. ‘To paint is to love again,’ Henry used to say. For me, to write is to love again—to love twice.” (Ref 2) This is an artist’s conviction, that what he is doing is not for himself, it has to be given away.” (Ref 2)

WOMEN’S LIBERATION

Nin believed that for women to liberate themselves, achieving social, economic and legal rights was not enough; they should liberate themselves emotionally and psychologically, gain self-confidence and improve their self-image. She wanted them to improve their self-worth, to like themselves and feel proud of their accomplishments. She wished they could feel special and unique, rather than seeing themselves through the eyes of men. The ultimate goal was for women to liberate themselves from their dependence on men and for men to cease feeling responsible for women. She stated, “ I think men will be very much liberated when the women stop trying to live through men vicariously.” (Ref 2) She hoped that with the passage of time, women would overcome their insecurities and inhibitions and leave their inferiority complexes behind. “I want to stress this tremendous lack of confidence, this timidity and fear in woman, because I think that we have talked about the outer obstacles, the legal obstacles, the historical obstacles, the cultural obstacles, even the religious obstacles to her development and her growth. But we haven’t focused enough on what happened to woman psychologically.” ( Ref 1)

Nin not only liberated herself but also wanted to liberate women of her own and coming generations. “My dream now doesn’t concern just me anymore; it has to do with all women. My dream at the moment is to see women really grow and expand to their full, absolutely fullest capacity.” (Ref 2) She felt quite connected and committed to the cause, but her approach was quite different than that of other women who were involved in the Feminist Movement. Nin’s approach to liberation was more psychological than political, more emotional than social, more creative than anthropological. She was critical of feminists who presented political solutions to women’s problems. Nin believed we need to appreciate every woman’s problems individually and not lump them all into one social, religious or political abstraction and find one solution for all of them. “ We need to be liberated, to think individually. Every woman’s problems are different, and they cannot be solved entirely by one formula…” (Ref 2). Nin thought that women from different cultures needed to find unique solutions for their own unique social environments. She wanted women to discover their own strength and not rely on the social and political changes brought out by men. She believed that once women got in touch with their hidden power, then no man, organization or patriarchal system could exploit, neglect or abuse them. Once they developed self-respect then they could stand on their own two feet and defend themselves in their personal, family and social lives.

Nin was critical of feminists who were angry with men and whose strategy was a feminist revolution that excluded men; she saw women’s liberation as intimately connected with that of men. She believed in evolution rather than revolution. When one interviewer opined that women’s destructive anger needed to be expressed, and that women needed to “crash through” the historical barriers through revolution, she disagreed.   “ I think that’s a very dangerous track for the women’s movement: to think that we can only really become totally grown women, emancipated women, and fulfilled women by breaking off relationships with men.” (Ref 2)

Nin believed that the institutions of marriage and monogamy have played a major role in natural and creative relationships between men and women. She felt that when people try to institutionalize loving relationships they undermine the spontaneity and creativity. For some people marriage might work, but for others it might not. Some people can love only one intimately, while others can love more than one. There have also been different social expectations of men and women regarding intimate relationships. She believed that we need to acknowledge the complexities of intimate relationships and appreciate individual differences. She was aware that experiencing freedom in relationships was a multidimensional phenomenon. When asked if she believed in free love, she replied,

“I ‘m sorry. I can’t answer that. It’s so individual. I would phrase the answer negatively and say that to me the only crime is not loving. So whatever form of loving you’ve found, practice it. Whatever form it takes. Because I think the real thing is just to love. Free or not free, married or unmarried, are really things that are too individual. It’s different for each individual. There are individuals who are more expansive, there are individuals who are capable of several loves…. The idea of multiple relationships has always been granted to man. It will have to be granted to woman.” (Ref 2)

Nin observed than many women after marriage shut the doors of their hearts, minds and souls to other passionate relationships and never reached their full creative potential.

CREATIVE COMMUNITIES

Nin was not only involved in women’s struggles to liberate themselves, she was also involved in raising people’s consciousness generally and making them aware that their personal lives were intimately connected with their social and political lives at a local, national and international level. She believed that a happy man was a blessing but an unhappy man was a curse to society, as his anger, resentment and bitterness were a threat to the social fabric. Gradually such anger and resentment builds up and finally when the leaders of the tribe, based on people’s nationality and religion, channel it against another tribe by declaring them enemies, then this cumulative hostility is discharged as acts of war. She stated, “ To me war is a multiplication of our own hostilities…” She believed that we are all responsible for wars because we are part of creating an unhappy and unjust environment. She knew that peace was more than absence of war and peace could only last if wedded to justice. Nin encouraged an environment where people were not only in touch with their own creative selves but also respected other people with different philosophies, who belonged to other tribes from a different ethnic, class, religious and cultural background. Nin discovered the unity in diversity of people, as she believed that in the depth of our hearts, all human beings are more alike than different, irrespective of the part of the world to which they belong. They might speak different languages but they all share the language of the heart. Nin believed that people could speak the language of the heart when they got in touch with their creative selves and changed their consciousness. She stated, “…the great changes in the world will come from a great change in our consciousness.” (Ref 2)

Nin was an extra-ordinary human being who brought diary writing into the mainstream of literature. She dreamed of a peaceful, loving and compassionate world and a better tomorrow for future generations.

Being a writer and a psychotherapist, I have learnt a lot from Anais Nin. I believe she was one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century.

Bibiography

1.  Nin, Anais. Diary, Vol. 1, 1931-1934, Ohio: Swallow Press, Ohio University Press, 1975.

2.  Nin, Anais. “Woman Speaks.” The Lectures, Seminars and Interviews of Anais Nin.  Edited by Evelyn Hinz.  Ohio: Swallow Press, Ohio University Press, 1975

 

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