Myth: Anais Nin adapted to living in America.
Fact: In the soon-to-be-released Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anais Nin, 1939-1940, Anais Nin reflects on her life in America after fleeing wartime France in 1939. These excerpts leave little doubt as to her sentiments about being “American.”
November 24, 1940
… Henry [Miller] returns from his wanderings. We talk about America. I said, “Were you looking for something to love? There is nothing to love here, it is a monster, a huge prosaic monster, buying all the creative wealth of Europe at bargain prices, buying it as they buy paintings, giving jobs to the refugees, yes, but only jobs, only money, no respect or evaluation or devotion, devouring with huge, empty jaws. It is nothing, a void, a colossal robot, a commercial empire, made for caricature, all ugly because it is all materialistic. Every artist born here was killed. You escaped and found yourself, and now you have the strength to grapple with it; it cannot swallow you into its rivers of cement. Look at America for what it is: concrete, iron, cement, lead, bricks, machines, and a mass of blind, anonymous robots. It is a huge monster, but made of papier mâché with marble eyes.”
December 3, 1941
American style in writing—current and general—is commonplace, prosaic, pedestrian, homely, as French never is. Even in Harper’s and Vogue, so-called aristocratic publications, there is a total absence of elegance, subtlety, nuances. Even there the plainness and ugliness is apparent. No wonder I have failed here. I am their antithesis. The poet is the antithesis of America. Just as they don’t know “race,” clothes, distinction, of any kind, their writing reflects vulgarity and looks shabby, seamy, like faded slippers for tired feet. Mongrels. But real mongrels acquire a personality from their wanderings. The American mongrel is bourgeois and colorless besides.
May 17, 1945
I can see what I dreaded: that the future of America is schizophrenic, the youth has been born dead at the roots of feeling. They can think, they can desire, take, absorb, but they cannot feel or give. They are automatons, born of Puritanism, of loneliness, of hardness and callousness of American life. Their souls are atrophied.
Now I come to the critical break with America. If I am convinced that the youth is schizophrenic and therefore dead at the roots and incurable, then I should not sacrifice myself to America. I want to leave it.
And in her 1952 diary, Nin dispels the myth that her California life with Rupert Pole was idyllic:
The truth is I hate Sierra Madre, the people, the lives they lead. I hate the life we lead. It is mediocre and filthy and dull. Last night, the level of the conversation was 1000 feet below animal life, the narrowness…and awkwardness below all possible measurements, the talk at the Barrons…mostly prosaic, almost totally devoid of imagination. Their worst sin is that they don’t wish to know other lives, they are ensconced in their gopher existence, and when you tell them of other places they almost invariably say: “I prefer hamburgerism, automobilities, drive-in weddings, and good homemade syphilis, Goodrich sprinklers, piethrowing humor, telewithoutvision, robot men American made, women untouched by human hands like the bread, absence of miracles and chromosomes…
After one martini I was delirious: American civilization is functional, purely functional. Bridges, water closets, conveyances, etc. So out of boredom they drink gin to anesthetize themselves. They can’t bear what they have created. Then the gin stupefies them so they turn to jazz. Jazz wakes them up, make them feel alive. Gin comes from England, so all in all they have given to the world nothing but a purely functional world.
Either this functional world has caused an atrophy of the mind or America is congenitally moronic. The ones I like I like as human beings—but never for qualities of mind, perception or wisdom. I can’t bear to live here anymore. Once should never live in a place you hate so deeply. I regret every hour I have spent here. It was wasted, meaningless, unproductive, uninspiring…
Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anais Nin, 1939-1947 will be released October 15, 2013. To pre-order at a 30% discount, click here.