Anaïs Nin on Definition and Essence
I am fascinated by Anaïs Nin, as revealed in her diaries. An amazing woman.
“Ordinary life does not interest me. I seek only the high moments. I am in accord with the surrealists, searching for the marvelous.” (book 1, p.5)
“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.
But I am not always in what I call a state of grace. I have days of illuminations and fevers. I have days when the music in my head stops. Then I mend socks, prune trees, can fruits, polish furniture. But while I am doing this I feel like I am not living.
Unlike Madame Bovary, I am not going to take poison.” (book 1, p.5)
“I had a sense of preparation for a love to come.” (book 1, p. 4)
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A topic she explores in some detail at the beginning of the diary… the difference between definition and essence… the way in which men (in particular Henry Miller) focus on definition and “truth” while women (in particular June Miller) are more engaged with essence and “being.”
It’s not a new contrast… but one thing which is especially exciting and interesting is that Anaïs, while identifying more with the essential feminine, crosses and sees that she crosses the boundary. She can see and act on both sides of the line. She believes in the power of her essence, but she values stepping outside of “life” and reflecting upon it. It is a diary after all.
Anaïs is fascinated by the relationship between Henry and June. Henry seeks to define June, to find her truth. June throws up a million images, a million different and contradictory perspectives… which both engage Henry and frustrate him.
Anaïs on Henry Miller. “He is the great collector of facts, and the essence sometimes escapes him.” (book 1, p. 19) “I wonder if it is not so much that June hides a great deal from him, but that he fails to see what is there…” (book 1, p. 17)
She says of herself… “I do not like to be just one Anaïs, whole, familiar, contained. As soon as someone defines me, I do as June does; I seek escape from the confinements of definition.” (book 1, p. 29)
I love this idea… the idea that there is an essence, an essence which cannot be touched, cannot be captured in definition. That we can approach it through expressions in a multiplicity of forms. But all expressions are incomplete, and it is only through the interplay of expressions, via the spaces within what is said, that we can gain a feeling for the essence that is there. It is the nature of poetry and art. Experiences we can have, which give us a feeling for the essence that is beyond.
As Artaud said: “Why search for the meaning of life, when you can have the experience of it instead?”
The moments which Anaïs wants to create in her writing, the high moments, are moments of experiencing the essence.