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Volume 1, May 1996

Fire (1995)

Anais Nin, Fire, From a"Journal of Love": the previously unpublished, unexpurgated diary, 1934-1937 (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co, 1995)

Fire is the third volume in the "Unexpurgated" series of Anais Nin's famous diary, following on from Henry and June and Incest. Covering the years between 1934 and 1937, it acts as a counterpart to Volume 2 of the original series, published in the late 1960s and heavily edited to exclude all details of Nin's personal life: for example, her unusual marriage and her numerous extramarital affairs. Whilst the original series concentrates on Anais Nin's development as an artist at the expense of personal information, the unexpurgated volumes tend to read, at times, like a (complex) script for a daytime soapie. This certainly makes for titillating reading, but the theme which made Henry and June such a powerful book - the important relationship between sexuality and creativity - is less developed in Fire. Here, the focus is primarily on Nin's escalating sexual activity.

Fire differs from its predecessors in a number of ways. To a certain extent, this volume does recapture the element of spontaneity and honesty which made Henry and June such a remarkable work. The middle volume of the series, Incest, was often irritatingly laboured; in Fire, the tone is less serious and less imbued with a sense of tragic melodrama. In this period, Nin seems more capable of writing about her experiences with humour, clarity, and earnestness, although there are the usual passages of purple prose and overstylisation.

Given the conventions of the time, Nin's erotic life was certainly extraordinary. Occasionally, however, Nin seems to regret the energy she pours into her sexual relationships at the expense of her "creation" . She is still looking for "loveless" sexual contact, which she sees as an escape from the pain of her "masochistic" love for Henry Miller. By the time of her affair with one of her husband's business associates, Nin is announcing that she has "finally" become a " valuable animal" in the world of casual sex. Wanting to escape her angelic image, she revels in the idea that she is now desired purely as a sexual woman.

When Nin meets Gonzalo More in 1937, her relationship with Miller begins to operate on a more domestic level. The "passion" has died and the bond which remains is a creative, intellectual one. Whatever aspects of Fire lead one to the conclusion that Nin is becoming more self-determining are counteracted by the unusual attitude she takes towards the courting ritual she undergoes with More. After meeting Gonzalo, Nin writes to her cousin Eduardo Sanchez in glowing terms of her new lover's demands for her to be "pure", untainted, and sexually passive. Gonzalo cannot stand anything associated with the tarnishing of Nin's mind or body. In turn, she cultivates a romantic image of the wild, passionate Spanish toreador, and she the pliant, submissive receptacle. At one point Nin laments the loss of Gonzalo's "savagery"; the taming of his violent instincts.

Nin seems to require relationships which "brandish" her, "burn" her - the great romantic image of obsessive love and uncontrollable passion. When she does not experience this feeling with Gonzalo More, she is disappointed. She has to ask herself if this, "normal" love, is what makes women happy. In seeking the highest levels of experience, both emotional and sexual, Nin will invariably be disappointed by anything that is not cataclysmic.

Interestingly, Nin gradually comes to realise that only when she is sexually "aggressive" does she experience orgasm. In previous Diaries Nin hesitates to take a sexually active role, believing herself to be an "essentially" passive woman. With Gonzalo More, she has finally found a man who desperately wants her to be passive, as she feels she should be; yet when she is passive, she does not experience the same pleasure as she does in her active role with Miller.

Increasingly, Gonzalo comes to represent the suppression of erotic joy; Nin positions herself as a life-affirmer, the one who intends to fulfil her desires. This, at least, is an encouraging image. Nin translates her vision of woman as life-affirmer into a theory of women's writing, a result of her observations of "Woman giving life and man destroying himself, death, carnage all around me, death and hatred and division ... the heroism to die, but not the heroism to live." Henry Miller's writing, with its themes of destruction, negation, and alienation, is pitted against her own philosophy of positivity, creation and personal fulfilment.

Perhaps the most important thing about Fire is the sense that Nin is gradually learning how to direct her life. Incest wallowed in disturbing themes of bondage, slavery, and victimisation. In this volume, the occasional burst of defiance counteracts Nin's continued emotional and sexual dependence on men, as in the following passage:

... my woman's soul/ is laughing at all men's categories and names because I see through and beyond them. It is their game which they take seriously and I take laughingly, and they laugh at our tears and tragedies - which are real! (354)

More so than Henry and June or Incest, Fire celebrates the discovery of humour, irony, and the ability to create and manipulate the events in one's own life. Anais Nin stayed true to her own convictions, no matter how misguided they may sometimes have been. To a certain extent, this volume is a record of Nin coming to terms with the inadequacies of ordinary life, and yet she remained an extraordinary woman. Whilst there is nothing quite as shocking as the revelations featured in Incest, the unexpurgated volumes continue to surprise.

 

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