Thursday, June 18, 2009

Soapbox Thursday: Anais Nin(niy)

Several of you recently commented that while the Story of O had its drawbacks, it was in essence your first introduction to the eroticism of domination and submission. Although I remember a certain prurient curiosity about the book, even way back when I first read it I know it never tweaked me to an appreciable extent.

The author I do recall is Anais Nin.

At around the age of 12 I first came across her Delta of Venus and I was lost. I pulled her prose around me like rich, velvet ... soft, caressing and deliciously sensual. The stirrings of a still naive prepubescent selkie were in part provoked by her surrealistic, intimate writings, with their unapologetic sexuality and tantalising glimpses into an exotic lifestyle foreign to me.

Years later, D. gifted me with volume after volume of her diaries, her poetry and more of her prose and I found myself even more entranced as my own burgeoning sexuality felt a commensurate pull from the intensity and intimacy of her confessions. The dynamic flowering in rich red tones, all encompassing and urgent, between D. and I provided a counterpoint to her drowning submission to the men in her life and I found in her (I thought then) comprehension and understanding of the dark urges which drove me.

It would be a lifetime before I revisited her; perhaps around 2 years ago I rediscovered her books when cleaning out our back room and delighted, stacked them beside my bed, eager to reacquaint myself with remembered delights. D. had recently brought me home her autobiography and I had, amongst the thin volumes of her words, a biography, to that point never perused.

Curious to know the person behind the words, I read both before launching myself onto the visceral sweetness of remembrance of her thoughts.

BIG mistake.

While one can argue that art must in a moral world, be removed from the artist, the reality is that this is almost impossible to accomplish. While rationally one can argue that the “work” is separate from the hands that created it, there is a certain reality which precludes most of us from being completely capable of not allowing our insight into authors to colour the words they create.

Or, perhaps I do a lot of people a disservice, and admit plainly, I find it difficult to do so.

Because having read both her autobiography (and finding myself continually astonished at her blindness to her revelations about self), and her biography (kinder indeed than her OWN words), I found myself in the end incapable of igniting the same enjoyment from her work as I once revelled in.

The reality is that Anais was in every conceivable way a narcissistic, self-absorbed and shallow individual, whose single minded pursuit of stimulation and preoccupation with ‘being a name’ renders her words hollow. While she had provocation to a certain extent for her damaged psyche as it is clearly admitted that her father sexually used her when young (and she, later in life in her late 30s returned and deliberately had a further affair with him to alleviate her “emotions” about the early abuse), her blind sense of justice about choosing the paths she chose is off-putting and (in my opinion only) contemptible. For ultimately it is ALL about Anais..

Her pursuit of sensuality, of “exploring” her psyche, of seeking lovers to expand her thought processes and sexuality are in themselves negligible and in no way deserving of contempt. Her narrow minded tunnel vision on the other hand left me incredulous.

For god’s sake, she somehow managed to completely ignore World War II!!

She talks at length and fulsomely about her “need to submit” and in so doing deceives many into perceiving her as the ultimate submissive. You have to look long and hard to find a submissive blog on the web that doesn’t at some point quote one of her very ‘quotable’ utterances on surrendering her will to another.

The reality, however, is that Anais is one of the worst kinds of submissive. The type masquerading as submissive when in actual fact the entire power base and choices were in her small hands. The type who bleats how much she “needs” to be mastered, to be dominated and subdued when in fact it is she who controls every nuance of the relationship.

Don’t get me wrong – I have no issue with females wishing to dominate – at all. More power to them! What I do have an issue with are individuals who claim loudly and passionately they are sheep, when in fact they are the wolf.... ultimately it comes down to a perception of a personality.

The end result is that I find I cannot engage myself in the same delicious mind space I used to enter when reading her material – overlaying it is my insight into the true measure of her personality. For in the end, after reading both books, I realized that should she exist today, Anais is not someone I would care to know.


Anonymous said...

I don't have an anais nin quotes on my fact I don't have any quotes at all! Look no further :)

I'm in two minds about Story of O. I liked it the first, second and third time I read it. Now I find it a bit cheesey and can't bring myself to read the sappy, sugary words.

I enjoyed your thoughts :)

Buffalo said...

Damned well said, Selkie.

Amber said...

Hahaha, I love your rants, Selkie!

A lot of artists, maybe most/all, do tend to be self-centered assholes, it's true. I know, I have artists in my family. God help me. ;)

But I try to look at it this way (when I can; sometimes I can't, like you with Anais); I love listening to Wagner, especially his Ring Cycle. One day I hope to see the whole thing in person. (Right now it's playing in Seattle and it's killing me that years ago Dan promised he would take me but now we're not in a position to, AUGH!)

But everything I've heard about Wagner makes me think he was a total egotistical bastard in addition to be a famous antisemitic and god knows what else.

But I still enjoy listening to his music. :)

Sometimes not-so-great human beings rise above their flaws to say something beautiful or important or insightful. The message they convey is still valid, still true even if they themselves are still annoying twits.

I don't know much about Anais. To be honest, I read quotes here and there many years ago when I first ran across all this stuff online and was intrigued, then when I delved further, I kinda had the same reaction you did.

So I stopped reading about her, lol! I still like her quotes, though.

THE Michael said...

I've heard it often enough that the true submissive "tops from the bottom", which gives her the control over her life necessary to prevent being turned into a mere animal much in the vein of a burka-clad chattle of the Taliban. Thus, whether or not she outright admits it, she really WAS a true submissive, doing whatever she thought necessary to feed her percieved "need". In the end, I think that by their very natures, Doms AND Subs are the ultimate narcisists, to varying degrees depending on their circumstance and their tolerance for risk. As far as her works versus her actual self, it is rare that one finds in the artist an exact relection of their art. Many artists will declare that the movies they make or the music they write is nothing like themselves, but perhaps what they might LIKE to be given the ultimate freedom to do so. Like every 15 year old who thinks that song lyrics personally to THEM, we will read into just about any work of fiction something that speaks to us, and be tempted to think the author of those lyrics have some deep connection or share the same angst with us, along with millions of others.

Alice said...


I never read The Story of O (other than bits and pieces), but I did see the film. It has been over thirty years ago, the details escape me, but I do remember the feelings it evoked in me. It was a validation that my penchant for submission was not mine alone. I do remember knowing that I would not ever want to recreate the film in life, it was too brutal. Prior to that exposure, I thought that my passing thoughts and desires were signs that I was mentally unstable or just plain weird.

My exposure to Anias Nin, is simply that of seeing her quotes. Again, they provided me with a feeling of being understood, of not being the only person in the world with these desires. That was all prior to the internet and discovering like-minded people there.

I agree with some of the other commenters. Artists of any kind may create art that is pleasing, but it might not be a reflection of who they are. My enjoyment of art used to be influenced by what I knew of the artist. Who they were, colored my perception of their art. Now, I am more open to thinking that everyone has something to give, some talent, even if they are a horrendous person. I can focus on their gift of art and overlook the rest.

I really have no desire to read The Story of O or see the movie again, but I will always be grateful for the acceptance it made me feel at the time.

vanimp said...

Her quotes yes. Stories many, yes. I like them but the person behind the words? One very screwed up individual who left many in her wake. Nice rant ;) And yep I hated The Story of O. Total airy fairy bollocks lol.

Keep ranting dear I am loving it :D x

cutesy pah said...

I have to admit that I was looking forward to your opinion, as we usually are of a like mind about a variety of subjects. This one, however, surprised me. There are many artists whose works I enjoy, yet I rarely like the artists personally.

I love Anais Nin's quotes, and could care less what she's like in person. I also had no clue what her background included, until I read your post.

I think that I'm a narcissist too, for I submit because I enjoy it, I get off on it, and it's all about me. Daddy knows this, and loves every minute of it. In fact, one of the things I love about Daddy is that he lets me indulge my narcissism for the first time in my life. I'm not judged for it, and he says it's adorable, like watching a baby find her toes for the first time.

Somewhere I have those red books with the black designs on the cover. I don't even know why I bought those books - it was many years before I realized and recognized my need to submit. I just know that once I began finding her quotes, I thought I would go back and read those books. I've never done that yet, and now I can't find those books....

Amber said...

Michael, when it comes to "true" submissive, or true "musician" or true "artist" or "true" anything; really, there is no such thing. Honestly. It's all very subjective.

Are you any less "true" for your feelings and beliefs because you don't fit inside of another's definition?

I'm just as true sitting here in my world as you are true in your world.

Sara said...

Selkie, I also find it hard to allow myself to enjoy the works of an immoral or hurtful person. It's not whether the art is good, but whether you have the capacity to separate the art from the artist, and whether you should. I'm not sure, but for me knowing intrudes, especially in literature where it is ideas and feelings that are shared, and thus there is an ingenuousness, when the fiction and reality are not in sync.

ronnie said...

I do love your rants Selkie.

I'm, afraid I can't ad anything as I have to admit haven't read the book and now find I need to rectify that. I do remember reading that it was classed as pornographic novel.

Thanks Selkie.

Gillette said...

So...would you have preferred to never have found out about her and retain the illusion?

Just askin'....

...cuz that's what I do...

selkie said...

hey guys- sorry for the delay in answering but we laptop-less people you know ... (look, e's! how exciting - I cleaned daughter 2's keyboard - I tell you, it was SCARY).

subtletimes - I enjoyed it the first time I read it but I was around 14 - the second time around I was appalled at her treatment LOL

Buff- thank you!

amber - I want to be like that - I do - and I can manage knowing about and disliking certain types of art (music included) - but somehow, writing defeats me when I have background on the writer - it shouldn't, I agree but it DOES - I think because writing is so close to my own heart and I can't pretend in my writing, I tend to extrapolate MY hangups on everyone - even when I know that is not valid.

Michael- I can't say I agree with you overall.

I don't think every submissive 'tops from the bottom' - having the power to say no or request limits is not the same as heading the relationship; a dynamic of course infers that there is a give and take - but in a healthy, D/s relationship, while the sub of course has rights and choices, the dom DOES control ultimately the direction.

Further, to say they are the ultimate narcissists is not entirely accurate as I think like in any relationship, the variety of individuals covers a wide gamut of personality types.

Alice, that is very true; particulary when we start out in a less than obvious direction, having some validation that we aren't completely off the wall is reassuring.

I also agree that is indisputable that every artists has something to offer and we are smart if we can take from experiencing their creativity something.

grins at the Imp - exactly!

CP- your points are good - but I simply can't take the quotes seriously when I know the person behind them - somehow knowing her self-obsession colours the "insights" invalid for me- right or wrong!

I'm so happy that you have found someone that loves ALL of you! Unfortunately, women are far too prone to think that self-appreciation and indulgence is wrong.

Amber - bravo - agree completely.

Sara... you and i have the same mindset I think. Rationaly I know I shouldn't allow it to colour my perceptions but reality is that it DOES. Further, it is literature in particular that affects me this way!

Ronnie- I think just so you know what people are talking about the book IS worth the read - sorta like at one point I made a list of "those" books and systematically went through them (i.e. Moby Dick, Heart of Darkness, etc). I think in its own way, STory of O IS a classic.

Gilette- yeah, I think I do regret it - becuase I truly DID savour her writing. I will give it some time again and eventually return and read them again ...once the knowledge garnered from her personal life has faded somewhat.

THE Michael said...

Amber, please note that I stated that "I'd heard it often enough", not that I knew what true submission was. I learned awhile back that as soon as one decides they "know" what submission/domination is, several dozen others jump in and correct them in fifty different ways. Thus, I keep MY perception of the phenomenom close to me and marval at all the definitions advanced by all the "experts", even those indulging in it 24/7. Hell, many if not all Wiccans would read MY blog and vote me off the island, given their druthers. I hold MY version of faith close as well, and allow for the disagreements that must arise amongst thinking peoples.

I'm a rabid Apple fan, but from what I've heard, Steve Jobs is a jerk. I still buy his computors.

Liras said...

S, it does suck that she knew just what to say, to inspire people with emotion while not feeling a damn thing.

I read her works while a teen and works about her. I thought her way of submission to be more 'fun' than dear O, but...I was not surprised.

Often, some of the most riveting art/words/songs come from the most uninvolved hearts.

Chloe said...

Hi selkie... I've seen your name around comments in other blogs, but just popped over today, and was reading a bit. I love the way you write - it's incredibly rich without being pretentious, and it flooooows. Rock on...

Also, who the crap is Anais? (I'm not actually asking... I'll google as soon as I'm done here! But, really, I don't have a clue...)

I'm woefully ignorant of BDSM "figures" other than, well, my Man. And I read some blogs too. :)

I perhaps would not want to know someone, or try to learn from him/her in a non-fiction sense if I thought he/she was a lousy human... But I think I could enjoy the fiction. (If these were works of fiction? Since I don't know who/what you are talking about, I'm unsure.)

My best friend's mother was a nurse who cared for Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and she said he was a truly despicable man. But when I have kids, I'm sure I'll be tickling their tummies as I read to them about Star-Bellied Sneetches.

BUT... If this Anais is trying to "teach" or something... Yeah, I'd write her off, pun optional.

Cool post. :)


pbuxton said...

Vidal had something to say about Anaïs Nin which I review here. The most relevant part to your point here, though, is not in that post: Vidal noted that all writers are more or less narcissists, and objective or subjective. The former can record all the change and scars over time they see in the mirror; the latter have a great vision of themselves which, if they have great Art, they can describe to others.

Nin, he noted, lacked that art, though once he thought she had.

selkie said...

Thank you for the excerpt! EXACTLY my thoughts! Once I thought her an artist, time and maturity and perspective showed me my delusions!