Anais Nin’s Artistic Associations: Maya Deren

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).

Maya Deren in 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.

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