The original text “Armors and Attention Seeking -Anaïs Nin’s Psychoanalysis in the Diary of the Years 1931-1934” has appeared in Finnish in the literature magazine Verkko-Särö: https://verkkosaro.sarolehti.net/panssareita-ja-huomionhakua/ The essay here is a revised translation.
When I read about Anaïs Nin’s psychoanalysis in her diary from 1931 to 1934, I initially thought that this woman was incredibly fascinating, a true pre-feminist rebel goddess: artistic, intelligent, creative, funny, beautiful, exotic. She had wonderful friends and a rich life full of passion and creativity. After a little closer inspection, I started feeling both sorry for her and tired of her. Her endless self-centeredness, long and rambling descriptions of her own marvelous mental landscape, and of relationships that are ultimately not relationships – they have only one party. Anaïs.
Anaïs Nin was born in Paris in 1903 for a Cuban-born pianist, Joaquín Nin, and a Cuban-French-Danish singer, Rosa Culmell. Nin’s childhood was distressing: Dad was charming to guests, but at home violent and scary. Nin started keeping a diary at the age of 11 after his father left his family. By the time of her death (1977), she had produced 35,000 handwritten pages of a diary. One of the key inspiration for her diary was her psychoanalysis.
In this essay, I focus on Nin’s diary of 1931–1934, also using the book Henry and June as a source. The last mentioned is based on uncensored and previously unpublished diary material from 1931–1932.
Anaïs Nin’s Psychoanalysis – A Scene of Hope and Trauma
Anaïs studied psychoanalytic thinkers and went to analysis for years, sometimes daily. Nin began her adventure of psychoanalysis with Dr. René Allendy. In her diary from 1931 to 1934, Anaïs describes this first journey of analysis in a brutally poetic manner, all the way to the re-enactment of the incest she very probably suffered in her childhood.
The dark side of therapy has been the subject of popular and scientific literature for as long as therapy in its modern form has existed. We could create a very chilling description of how Anaïs’ therapist used her. Curiously, generations of readers and analysts of her diaries seem to quite unanimously argue that it was Anaïs who seduced her psychoanalyst, not the other way around.
Initially, Anaïs was skeptical of the idea of psychoanalysis and condemned it as a forced tampering of emotions. When Anaïs then began her first analysis with Allendy, she wrote about it in a very hopeful tone. In her journal, she invites herself to step “here where one sees that destiny can be directed, that one does not have to submit to the first mark left on the child’s sensitive emotions” (Diary 1931–1934, pp. 128–129). At the same time, she is frightened that psychoanalysis strips her too naked and forces her to give up all the “decorations” of her personality.
For a moment, Anaïs Nin’s psychoanalysis seems to trigger genuine mental distress usually associated with working through things: “The pain of life is nothing compared to the pain caused by this meticulous analysis” (Henry and June, p. 126). However, building trust in the doctor raises fears of being rejected. Then, she deploys distancing strategies for coping with them. “I am on my guard and I expect him to say something dogmatic, formulaic. I want him to say, because if he says, he’s just another man I can’t rely on, and I still have to win myself alone, like before. ” (Henry and June, p. 111). Anaïs wants Allendy to fail. She wants to guarantee herself the familiar trauma of being rejected, the hollow loneliness she remembers from her childhood.
A Nauseating Narcissist or a Misunderstood Genius?
As the diary progresses, my difficulties to enjoy the narrating voice grow. Anaïs wanders in the terrain of imaginary relationships. Life is just a self-centered vortex of sensations, and all relationships are completely sexualized. Jenny Diski writes that Anaïs’ diaries make little mention of wars, depression, the Holocaust, revolution: “Wars, economic collapse, holocaust and revolution barely rate a mention in the quarter-million pages of her diary. The world is outside her remit. Nin’s universe, like her fiction, terminates at the boundaries of her own skin, like nerve-endings; the outside environment exists only where it stimulates or articulates her private sense of identity.”
From my own journal: “In the end, nothing happens in Nin’s diary . She paints a picture of an intelligent and artistic woman, as if trying to convince herself, but does not offer her reader a single original idea. There is very little reason to consider her intellectual at all. ”
We can rightfully say that retrospectively diagnosing someone we know only from her writings and recollections of contemporaries is not good practice. All the same, after getting tired of Anaïs ’self-centered theatricality, I began to find out what kind of diagnoses have been reconciled upon her. Based on Nin’s writings, Angie A. Kehagia characterizes her as meeting the criteria of a histrionic, or attention-seeking, personality disorder with parallel narcissistic and borderline traits. Michelle Morin-Bompart characterizes Anaïs with the same diagnosis, but also emphasizes separation anxiety and, in a very Freudian manner, “perverse symptoms”.
Then again, Sandra Rehme argues that Nin struggles with the fragmentation of the self. In her art she defined herself as a whole in a way that allowed the harmonious coexistence of several aspects of the self. On the other side of the paper, Kate Zambreno shouts: Nin is accused of personality disorder, like all women who write. They are always too emotional, too impulsive, too limitless.
I get annoyed at myself for narrowing Anaïs into such sexist categories myself. But maybe so did analyst Allende? Perhaps he, too, thought that this woman was like a liqueur candy — tempting on the top, but when you bite through the crust, a hollow disappointment tasting of cheap alcohol floods into your mouth? Anaïs Nin’s psychoanalysis was not the cure, it was more of the same illness.
Seducer and Seduced in the Layers of Fiction
Mrs. Nin understands that in some ways the therapist sees through her. There are now two players in the game. “According to Allendy, I have developed a completely artificial personality, like an armor. I cover myself. I have assumed a seductive, gracious, and joyful behavior, and behind it I hide myself. ” (Henry and June, p. 139). The more Allendy reveals this theater to his patient, the more we can read descriptions of a distant, theoretical analyst in her patient’s diary. When Anaïs receives more direct feedback in the analysis than she is able to endure, she distances Allendy and renounces the alliance: “Allendy is somewhere inside and speaks from his sublime, cool heights exuding compassion and clairvoyance” (Diary 1931–1934, p. 168).
By the time of her first analysis, Anaïs – while married to banker Hugh Guiler – had already begun an intensive relationship with writer Henry Miller and his wife June. She attaches to different people, many of whom are artist souls in pain; she mirrors herself against them and gets them entangled with her own traumas. It does not seem possible for her to form reciprocal relationships in which she must reveal her own vulnerabilities. Instead, she rotates sexualized and ego-serving dramas at a breathtaking pace.
At the heart of the relationship jungle is always Anaïs’ great love, author Henry Miller, a scurrilous genius and drunkard compared to whom Dr. Allendy is a dry and lifeless bromide. However, the inconsolably theoretical Allendy is able to come to a point where he has logically solved the chaos of his patient’s mind and built a model. The model rises infinitely high between Anaïs and Allendy and evokes in the patient a desire to mess everything up, to play with the analyst’s feelings.
The analyst getting involved in Anaïs’ game is the final deathblow for the therapy. Once again, she did not get to experience how it feels when someone sees completely through her and her games and refuses to play them. There is no life, no space outside drama, when even the analyst can be seduced to the heart of pain and made to lose his stand. Allendy becomes Anaïs’ lover.
A sexual relationship between therapist and client breaks all the rules of appropriateness and morality. In our time, the responsibility for such a violation is unanimously placed on the therapist and anything else seems impossible to think of. In Anaïs’ diary, however, the voice is not of the victim’s but of the seducer’s. In presenting herself as a champion player, Anaïs does not seem to notice that others might be playing with her, too. An affair with her analyst who is unable to separate his therapeutic responsibilities from his personal interests or protect his patient, deepens the damage that Anaïs tried to repair in the analysis. Morin-Bompart writes that Anaïs placed onto Allendy her incestual fantasies about her father and enacted them, thus repeating the incest she experienced in her childhood.
Whatever twisted then occurred in the analysis, it was first acted out in a particular therapy situation, at a particular time and place, and then recreated in a literary form in Anaïs’ diary. Which aspects of the analysis were really shared by Anaïs and Allendy? We have no way of knowing which events are true and which are fiction.
As a reader, I get the feeling that the written versions of Anaïs Nin’s psychoanalysis and her sexual relationship with the analyst also serve literary ambitions. Anaïs worked on her diaries repeatedly over the years. It has also been suggested that she has lied and exaggerated things to such an extent that the diaries can be approached as fiction.
Dear Diary: The Psychoanalysis that Did Not Heal
Perhaps, like the analyst, the diary is also just a substitute for a father. It is a reliable mainstay, a supporter. Lovers change, the diary stays. The reader becomes a psychoanalyst who goes infinitely beyond Allendy, because the doctor never gets to read Anaïs’ diary, that mocked and envied real confidant he is trying to wean his patient from. Anaïs often records in her diary other people’s remarks that she should live and not write. According to Jenny Disk, most people who knew Anaïs thought that the diaries themselves prevented her from becoming a “real” author.
It is dangerous that a woman trusts only herself over any male or female friends and does not make anyone into her vessel. Therefore, a woman’s keeping a journal needs to be ridiculed, made childish. As Kate Zambreno puts it: “The disgust for Anaïs Nin is the disgust for the girls with their Livejournal.”
In the end, only Otto Rank, Anaïs’ second psychoanalyst, who is momentarily lifted as a god on a pedestal, is allowed to read the journal. She seems to be able to feed Anaïs’ ideal of herself better than Allendy. Anaïs wants to be different, multidimensional, someone who has seen the world, but with Allendy she was just “an ordinary, simple, and naive woman” (Diary 1931-1934, p. 324). Anaïs also has a relationship with Rank. In this respect, she goes even further: at the end of the diary of 1931-1934, Anaïs begins to train herself to become an analyst as a pupil of Rank.
In real life, Anaïs worked for a while as an analyst in New York. What a perfect grande finale – to become a god to others because you failed to make your own therapists gods. Because you failed to heal yourself by being the object of their deification.
Anaïs Nin’s psychoanalysis does not seem to clarify or heal anything for her. It takes Anaïs deeper into herself, a place where other people do not exist. It provides a new stage for repeating old familiar dramas. Awareness of her traumas does not bring happiness or freedom, but they always get reflected upon and enacted with the next distant, impossible love.
“Psychoanalysis only makes a person more aware of their own disaster. I am in a more clear and horrendous manner aware of where I am going. Psychoanalysis has not taught me to laugh. I sit here tonight as gloomy as a child. Only Henry, the liveliest of all men, can make me blissfully happy. ” (Henry and June, p. 237).
* All quotes are translated by me from the Finnish translations of “The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Volume One 1931 – 1934” and “Henry and June: From A Journal of Love: the Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin 1931 – 1932”, see details below.
** If you liked this and want to check out my other essays, go on and read about The Viral Language Dances of the Corona Virus.
- Diski, J. (1995). Oh, the Burden, the Anxiety, the Sacrifices. London Review of Books, 17(8). 20.4.1995. https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v17/n08/jenny-diski/oh-the-burden-the-anxiety-the-sacrifices
- Frangello, G. The Sunday Rumpus Interview: Kate Zambreno. 18.11.2012. The Rumpus. https://therumpus.net/2012/11/the-sunday-rumpus-interview-kate-zambreno/
- John-Steiner, V. (1989). From Life to Diary to Art in the Work of Anaïs Nin. In Doris B. Wallace & Howard E. Gruber: Creative People at Work: Twelve Cognitive Case Studies, pp. 209 – 225. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Kehagia, A. A. (2009). Anais Nin: A case study of personality disorder and creativity. Personality and Individual Differences, 46(8), 800 – 808. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2009.01.017
- Morin-Bompart, M. (2019). Anais Nin: An Incest Between a Father and a Daughter. American Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, 7(3), 69 – 73. doi: 10.11648/j.ajpn.20190703.13
- Nin, A. (1977). Päiväkirja 1931 – 1934. Helsinki: Otava. Orig. The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Volume One 1931 – 1934, Finnish translation by Raija Mattila.
- Nin, A. (1991). Henry ja June. Helsinki: WSOY. Orig. Henry and June: From A Journal of Love: the Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin 1931 – 1932, Finnish translation by Leena Nivala.
- Pollitt, K. (1992). Sins of the Nins. The New York Times, 22.11.1992. https://www.nytimes.com/1992/11/22/books/sins-of-the-nins.html
- Rehme, S. The Multimedia of Our Unconscious Life: Anaïs Nin and the Synthesis of the Arts. PhD dissertation. London: University College London.
- The Anaïs Nin Foundation. https://theanaisninfoundation.org/bio
- Zambreno, K. (2012). Heroines (Semiotext(e) / Active Agents). Cambridge (MA): MIT Press.