Book Review


Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary, 1939-1947, front cover

Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary, 1939-1947

Anais Nin
Sky Blue Press
ISBN 978-0804011464, 440 pp, $34.95


Reviewed by Trena Machado:

Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary, 1939-1947, begins with Anis Nin and her husband, Hugo Guiler, escaping the war in Europe to relocate in New York City. On the first page, she is also concerned that her two lovers, Henry Miller and Gonzalo Moré, would come to New York with her. They did. Also, on the first page, she writes, “I am still baffled by the mystery of how man has an independent life from woman, whereas I die when separated from my love.” Four hundred and forty pages and a dozen or more lovers later, she is still in the realm of needing love, experiencing loss and longing for the one love that will make her whole. Her lovers are the content the narrative is hung upon, but not the most interesting. There is very little written outside her desire for love, finding love, being in love, leaving the lover, very little written about the art of the day or even about the city of New York or the world that was at war. The drama here is within the psyche of Anais Nin.

Many have called her self-absorbed, neurotic, narcissistic, immoral. But another way of looking at her actions, she is driven unconsciously and overwhelmed from within by forces that she does not understand. She struggles to fight against “neurosis” or “the hunger” or “the illness” as she variously calls these inward disturbing states from which she is compelled. She says she cannot go out alone without one of her lovers being with her. She rushes home by midnight to sleep with her husband after being with a lover—a husband she lies to, manipulates, is supported by, whom as a partner she is not satisfied, and, yet, the one who gives her a safe foundation to deal with what she is experiencing. She does have conscious glimmerings of what her husband, Hugo, is giving her at this fundamental level, “[Hugo] the haven I did not want. The fulfillment I perversely negated…the passion [with the many lovers] is not the marriage, but the illusion of union that never takes place.” Whereupon, in the next five years of the diary, after this entry, consists of one young lover after another, passion ever sought as it falls short from one to the next. Her constant distracting pull is the abandonment by her father of the family when she was eleven. The diaries began as a letter to have him return. Many of the allusions made about her lovers mention her father in comparison. The invisible here is “exactly what was her relationship with her father as a child…?” Or, did Nin experience a trauma at a young age which her mind could never incorporate or give voice to…only act out in order to quell its inward destruction? We only have the circumstantial evidence of her actions to let this be a hypothetical possibility.

Leaving the lovers aside, she was keenly self-observing of what she was experiencing. As difficult as it is to apprehend the internal labyrinth she was struggling to traverse with all the lovers (the lies, secrets, double-lives, self-loss, suicidal thoughts), “The only terror I have is to look into a space without a lover...I only exist in the body of the lover…I live only in passion, pain, depths, darkness,” she gives us the dynamics of desire, its different states, from the torture of it to its placating aspect for her:

I let the desire mount like a wave, surge, and then fall, foam, disperse. The new mastery, desire that is not a wound, a defeat, or a bondage, but an exquisite game to be played, an instrument of enjoyment…there is only a man seeking his soul, and a man with desire…. There is a point of desire, but without body.

Enabling her duplicitous life, she accurately details the functions of illusion, delusion, dreams and mirages for her, all states she is aware of that hold her drive to have love in its purity of escape and to assuage the endless, internal pain…mundane veracity a moot option as she was drowning:

…I have never faced my own irrationality…I do not try to elude suffering, but there is a masochistic suffering masking deeper truths and terrors. Behind all my suffering lies a greater truth I have not yet faced—I am still amazed how a situation can arouse such passion, create such an intense mirage.

She is conscious of how her writing relates to her life:

It is only to save myself from melancholy, depression and insanity that I see consciousness again. …I write, to communicate directly with the emotions. There is mystery here…. The exaltation which takes hold of me even when I am in a physically low condition is too much for writing. It breaks the mold of words. That is why I have done so much bad writing, diffuse and oceanic.

Mirages is a challenging book, emotionally and psychologically. In the commentary about it, there is often partisan glorification such as Kim Krizan in the introduction who is opposed to those heaping scorn on, “…Nin for daring to live by her own moral code.” But…is that what is happening? Nin is merely an artist living life her way? We don’t know, nor did she, what was driving her from within, but she was aware that it was from the “unconscious.” What we do know is that she was an intense observer of the energy she was consumed by and the dynamics of that energy were given expression with experimental writing techniques that she developed specifically to write her emotions, using association, the subjective and lyric sensibility. She writes that her “art is not artifice. The form of my art is the form of my life, not the artificial pattern of narrative….” Madame Bovary, her fictional forerunner, women who revolt from within at the level of the psyche against social forces imposed on their lives, there is the sense Nin gave all in this diary. Overwhelmed at the level of the unconscious, she was seeking truth, another kind of truth, for herself.

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