In his article “Multiplying Women: Reflection, repetition, and multiplication in the works of Maya Deren and Anaïs Nin,” which appears in in A Café in Space, Vol. 8, Satoshi Kanazawa (director of the Henry Miller Society of Japan) describes how the Nin and Deren first met:
In the summer of 1944, when she and her friends were taking a walk on the beach of Amagansett, New York, Anaïs Nin encountered a strange scene. A woman was lying on the shore, letting herself be pummeled by the waves while two people filmed it. Later, Nin found out the woman was Maya Deren, an avant-garde filmmaker, who was filming the opening scene of At Land (1945).
Nin was naturally attracted to Deren and eventually got so involved with her films that Deren wrote a part specifically for her in Rituals in Transfigured Time (1946).
Kanazawa sums up Deren’s three most significant films:
The three most outstanding of Deren’s short films, Meshes of the Afternoon, At Land, and Rituals in Transfigured Time, remind us of Buñuel’s 1930s surrealism. With only these three 15-minute silent movies, she paved the way for new expression by younger filmmakers such as Jonas Mekas, John Cassavetes, Martin Scorsese, and David Lynch. The consistent theme of these works is the splitting and multiplication of the Self. How the Self, which is essentially supposed to be “one,” is transformed into “many” is superbly documented through dreamlike images.
Mirror images were used to reflect the “splitting and multiplication of the selves,” as illustrated by the following still from an unreleased film:
This imagery and expansion of the doppelganger theory espoused by psychoanalyst Otto Rank, to whom Nin said in therapy that she “felt like a shattered mirror,” certainly would have appealed to her. It was with great faith that Nin entered into the filming of Rituals of Transfigured Time in August of 1945. Once the film was finished, however, Nin rebelled against Deren, claiming that she had “uglified” her and everyone else in the film (many of whom were Nin’s friends). Kanazawa notes that the following diary quote was the “kind of challenge to American naturalist realism [that] is quite familiar to the readers of Anaïs Nin”:
“The camera can be a lover, or a hater, or a sadist, or a defamer… It lies” (Diary 4 351). Nin went on: “The quest for ugliness is one I never understood. Was it because Americans were for the most part born in ugliness, familiar with it, and had grown to love it, or because they associated beauty with the undemocratic upper class, art, the past, Europe, and repudiated it? The American definition of realism was ugliness. To avoid being accused of creating illusion, they always showed the same ugly view of everything. Maya magnified the skin blemishes, the knotted nerves, the large ears; she stressed the oily surfaces, the thyroid white of the eyes, the baldness or the pimple. Maya’s actors happened to be beautiful. She uglified them. I had never seen as clearly as in Maya, the power to uglify in the eye behind the camera” (353).
Kanazawa notes that perhaps Nin should have reconsidered the poem Deren wrote her when the filming began:
For Anaïs Before the Glass
By Maya Deren
The mirror, like a cannibal, consumed,
carnivorous, blood-silvered, all the life fed it.
You too have known this merciless transfusion
along the arm by which we each have held it.
In the illusion was pursued the vision
through the reflection to the revelation.
The miracle has come to pass.
Your pale face, Anaïs, before the glass
at last is not returned to you reversed.
This is no longer mirrors, but an open wound
through which we face each other framed in blood.
August 19, 1945
Kanazawa notes: For Deren, to stand before the mirror is to look into an open wound and see the bloody figure. Always facing her mirror-diary, Nin should have recognized “this merciless transfusion.”
Nin practically disassociated herself from Deren after Rituals in Transfigured Time, although she credits her for having inspired other filmmakers with whom she worked, most notably Kenneth Anger, in whose film Inauguration of the Pleasuredome (1954) she appeared.
While today Deren is hailed as a groundbreaking filmmaker whose influence can be seen even today, it must be remembered she died largely forgotten and impoverished in 1961 at the age of 44.
For more on Maya Deren, visit Moira Sullivan’s Maya Deren Forum.
To see all available digital titles by Anaïs Nin, visit our Nin e-bookstore.
To order books from the Nin house in Silver Lake (Los Angeles), visit the Anaïs Nin Trust bookstore.
From 1947 until her death thirty years later, Anaïs Nin lived what she called the “trapeze life,” swinging from Hugh Guiler, her husband in New York City, to Rupert Pole, her lover and then husband (although not legal since she never divorced Guiler) in Los Angeles. By the time the letters that appear in A Café in Space, Vol. 5 were written, Nin had lived her double life for more than a decade and was well rehearsed in the sort of deception she needed to maintain it.
Pole was under the impression that Nin was working for Eve magazine for $100 a week in New York and for twice that when she was “assigned” to Paris. In fact, while Nin had written for Eve, she was never an employee. Her trips to New York had little to do with the magazine business—they had to do with Hugh Guiler. Her Paris trips were gratis, thanks to Guiler’s bank position, and they were put up in the posh Crillon Hotel at the bank’s expense.
During 1960, Rupert Pole was in the middle of the construction of the fabled Silver Lake house, designed by his half-brother, Eric Wright. Being on a teacher’s salary, he naturally felt that it was necessary for Nin to “work” in New York and Paris to help pay for the place, so, while he detested being apart from her, he accepted the situation. Of course, most of the money Nin brought to Pole was Guiler’s, since Guiler believed he was supporting her during her “healing” trips to California.
Pole sometimes became suspicious of Nin’s trips, questioning the logic of some of her scenarios, and she struggled to keep him at ease. Her letters were at once tender and gentle, and yet she laid out what she was about to do in no uncertain terms, always coming up with the right things to say in order to justify her actions. She used whatever worked, and she never gave quarter. (Her letters to Guiler, incidentally, were in much the same vein—tender, newsy, placating, even loving—but they relentlessly supported her choices.)
Following are a couple samples of the Nin-Pole correspondence from A Café in Space, Vol. 5, which has just been released on Kindle. Pole is in California, taking care of his ailing cocker Tavi (the same dog that accompanied Nin and Pole on their first cr0ss-country trip in 1947) while Nin was in Paris.
Letter from Rupert (Spring 1960, Los Angeles)
Quel jours! After wrote you from beach took Tavi to McWherter’s today (Monday after school) hoping he could help but fearing he’d want to put him to sleep. He’s having same thing with his mother so was very sympathetic—”Tiger” he called, but Tavi so limp and listless and not like a tiger at all—but Mac gave him another kind of injection (to “feed” the brain) and said lots of cockers have lived through strokes!! Said I could give him a little water after—thank god as the ice bit was really getting me down—also he can have a little ice cream to keep up his strength—so I tore down to get some only to find he didn’t like it—but he does seem little better today and is functioning normally (I take him out and hold him up to wee wee). School is not difficult—I’m just as glad to have him in the car where he can’t hurt himself.
Hurried home to fix things Reginald liked (he called yesterday night late to say he had to talk to me) then called him to find he was feeling much better and thought he’d go down to Dorothy’s and wait for her to come home!!!
Sooooo threw out the last of the suki yaki vegetables in ice box (which had gone bad) and settled down to eggs, carrots, and the chipped beef which Tavi can’t eat.
To relax decided to go to the Bergman “Brink of Life.” Wow what a mistake—why didn’t you tell me!!! Labor pains, abortions, death—went through it all with them as Bergman’s actors always force you to do—how did he get those scenes?? And that was the actress on the operating table, not someone dubbed in. Even the second film (French) was hardly the relaxing kind—the hero—a wonderful man with liquid eyes and a mustache like Gil’s—guillotined before the camera at end just after he finds his love!!!!!!
But all this—loveless marriages—children with no father—love aborted by the guillotine—only makes me realize more and more and more how very wonderful our love is—and how very precious.
That damn insurance thing you always send—always starts me thinking what life would be like without you—and each time I realize it would be completely lifeless—it would be no life at all—much worse than Tavi’s life now—where he is at least spared pain—and thought—and of course he long ago stopped worrying about love…
But not his master—take good care of the master’s love—and return it soon—unchanged.
Letter to Rupert (Spring 1960, Paris)
Your letter about Tavi upset me so much I was sad all day. Just before I left I whispered in his ear that he should wait for me and keep well. I had an intuition, and I wrote you about it—I was at Grazilla’s and seeing her dog I worried about Tavi—I know what he means to us, yet darling, old age is so cruel it is better to not be alive—and the Tavi we knew lately was not the real Tavi. He has had much love and care—more than any dog I know. You know, he often wobbled to one side—he must have had a slight stroke before—I hate to think of Tavi being ill when I am not there to console you, to greet you when you come home. I hope perhaps it was a false alarm—and he may be all well now—I thought of you all day. Got your letter in the morning.
At 5 o’clock the English Book Shop started its autograph party. All sorts of people came—old friends—new ones—writer, poets, Sylvia Beach, Harold Norse, Mellquist, an art critic who gave me introduction to biggest Swedish newspaper, etc. A Negro singer like Josephine Premice—painters, etc. We stayed until 9 o’clock. I was dead and hungry—then 8 of us went to dinner—small place. Fanchette got drunk and talked a lot of nonsense. 2 girls from Vienna who couldn’t talk at all, then on to Deux Magots where I dumped them at midnight—too many people. I returned wishing to be in my little home with you—realizing more than ever I am made for intimate life—not public life. I’m tense and not happy with most people. I need the tropical warmth of my Acapulco marriage, life “a deux.”
I hope I get another letter before I leave Saturday—The French never heard of Madrebon Roche [a drug]! I thought I could buy it cheaper here. It must have another name. I can get LSD from Jean Fanchette who is working at psychiatric hospital—perhaps.
Te quiero chiquito—love to Tavi…tell him to wait for me.