Anais Nin Myth of the Day #16

Myth #16: Anais Nin didn’t have a sense of humor.

Fact: In his 1969 interview with Nin, Duane Schneider asked: “Do you have a sense of humor?” Nin was surprised by the question, but said: “I think the Diary is humorous; I think Collages is humorous… I don’t think I have what is called humor in the American sense. I have playfulness, and fantasy. But my humor is quieter; it’s more like the Japanese. I don’t like farce, broad humor” (A Cafe in Space, Vol. 5, p. 111).

What follows are some examples of Nin’s brand of humor:

In her published Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 4, Nin describes a party shortly after the release of her Ladders to Fire, when one of the partygoers noticed smoke pouring into the room. Nin says:

“I telephoned the fire department. But the man who answered heard my French accent, and the gaiety in my voice, and believed it was a student hoax. I called out to Kendall: ‘You talk to him. He does not believe there is a fire because of my accent.’ We were laughing, uncontrollably, because we could not really believe the fire, because it seemed so absurd, because Jimmy stood there with his manuscripts, and because he said: ‘Oh, Anaïs, this is a publicity stunt, of course. On the occasion of Ladders to Fire, we set fire to the house and we will have to come down a ladder.’ We opened the windows. The house was only two floors high and we would fall on the grass and bushes, if the ladders to fire did not arrive soon. We heard the sirens. A huge fireman opened Jimmy’s door, ready to rescue us. How do you rescue people taken with uncontrollable laughter? ‘It was a publicity stunt,’ we said. He thought it was the champagne. There was a lot of noise around. Neighbors had come to watch. Two engines were standing there. And the climax came when the fireman said: ‘No danger. It was the lady downstairs, who left a cake in the oven, and that made all the smoke’” (Diary 4, pp. 171-172)

In a letter to Rupert Pole, dated Nov. 20, 1961, Nin, who was in New York, had their dog, Piccolo, “write” an addendum:

“Dear Rupert—there is a serious shortage of dog psychiatrists. Nobody understands I only pee at the United Nations just to be polite and international, I pee on the 57th St. corner of Tiffany’s just to be fashionable, but I reserve my fullest pee for my temporary home, to assert my temporary ownership, and each time the old German elevator man comes out and grumbles. It’s true I’m not paying any rent—but he should know dog psychology. Cold rainy day—Anaïs tells me you had the same. She hangs on that phone—I don’t feel I own her whole heart! But she brought me a leftover meal from her dinner with rich cousins. Love Piccolo” (A Cafe in Space, Vol. 5, p. 89).

In the novel Collages, which, in her dedication, she calls her “humorous book,” Nin describes a scene with her characters Renate and Bruce, based on her friends Renate Druks and Paul Mathiesen:

“And then one day at Christmas, the terrified animals ran down from the mountains. Renate saw them running before she heard the sound of crackling wood or saw the flames leaping from hill to hill, across roads, exploding the dry brush, driving people and animals down the canyons and pursuing them satanically down to the very edge of the sea. The fire attacked houses and cars, lit bonfires above the trees, thundered like burning oil wells.

Planes dived and dropped chemicals. Huge tractors cut wide gashes through the forest to cut off the spreading fire. Firefighters climbed up with hoses, and vanished into the smoke.

Somewhere, a firebug rejoiced in the spectacle.

Around Renate’s house there was no brush, so she hoped to escape the flames. She wrapped herself in a wet blanket and stood on the roof watering it down. But she could feel the heat approaching, and watch its capricious somersaults, unexpected twists and devouring rages.

Bruce helped her for a while and then climbed down. She was still holding the hose and soaking the house when she looked down and saw what first appeared to be the portrait of Bruce walking. The large, life size painting was moving away from the house and two feet showed below the frame, two feet in shoes just below the naked feet of the painting.

The first thing he had asked of her was to stop painting animals and women and to paint a portrait of him. He had shown her the long hairs which grew on his ear lobes and said: ‘You know that I am Pan, and I want you to paint me as Pan.’ He had posed nude, in the red-gold afternoon sun of Mexico, always showing the same half-smile, the pleasure loving, non-human smile of Pan. He loved the painting, admired it every day. It was the god of the household. When they traveled, it was he who had packed it lovingly. He would say: ‘If any injury came to this painting, it would damage me, something fatal would happen to Pan.’

And so today this was Bruce rescuing Bruce, or Bruce rescuing Pan in himself. At first the painting turned its luminous face to her, but as he proceeded down the hill she saw him behind the painting in dungarees and a thick white sweater. She saw a group of firefighters below; she saw the expression on their faces as the painting walked towards them, as they saw first of all a naked Pan with faunish ears, a walking painting with feet, and then the apparition of the same figure dressed in everyday costume upholding its twin, duplicate half-smile, duplicate hands; and they looked startled and puzzled, as if it were superfluous to rescue a mere reproduction of an original.

So Bruce saved Pan, and Renate saved the house but the fire seemed to have finally consumed their relationship” (Collages, pp. 27-28).

Nin’s relationship with her Peruvian lover, Gonzalo Moré, while fiery and chaotic, was also one in which humor thrived in their conversations. In the unpublished diaries from the 1940s, there are several examples of their discourse:

During a romantic tryst:

“Gonzalo unfastening my new panties with the garters attached and saying: ‘It looks like a pulpo (octopus)—how many pulpos do I have to unfasten?’”

A lazy conversation on a summer evening in New York:

“I said to Gonzalo how strange it is that the spermatozoa sometimes lingers in the womb before fecundating the egg. Gonzalo said: Yes, it’s slumming!'”

I said to Gonzalo: “Janet saw a hermaphrodite, half of her body a man’s, half a woman.” “And the sex,” said Gonzalo, “was it a banana split?”

He talked to me for a whole evening about the activity of the microbes. Coming home we saw lovers sitting in Washington Square. Gonzalo said: “I wonder what makes people fall in love!”

“Don’t tell me it’s microbes,” I said.

After one of their many quarrels:

“I said: ‘Last night I was enmerdé (bored stiff), and I was looking for you in the rain, and I was out for a fight, in fact all ready to throw lightning around and you must have felt it and you ran, off to the movies. You escaped a big scene!’

‘What was it,’ said Gonzalo, laughing.

‘I wrote about it and so it’s all in a book, and you’re safe.’

‘Estoy contento,’ he said. And slept with his hand on my leg.”

From a Spanish newspaper Nin and Moré read together:

“A man has to deliver a coffin. He takes it on the bus as soon as the deliveries are paralyzed after the Spanish revolution. There is no room in the crowded bus. He is sent up to the top. It is raining hard. He is getting soaked. He decides to get into the coffin and cover himself. More people come to sit on the top of the bus. They sit with their backs against the coffin. The man inside of the coffin listens to their conversation, gets bored, lifts the top of the coffin, sits up and says: ‘Is it still raining?’ The people threw themselves off the bus with fright, broke their legs.”

In the 1940s diary, Nin describes going to the staid home of Virginia Admiral:

“At Virginia’s house Hugo said: ‘It looks like the House of Crime and Punishment.’ I answered: ‘But it’s the House of Punishment without Crime.’”

A conversation with Robert Duncan in the 1940s diary:

“Wrote an article on astrology to order. Was nervous about it, being told it might be for Vogue. Wrote it lightly but Robert and Hugo thought it was not light enough. Robert took it up to make it humorous. I was sad…not to be able to be flippant.

I said: ‘I can’t flip!’

Robert said: ‘You must flip! Start on me if you wish. Make fun of me.’”

Special thanks goes to Rebecca (@anaisnin on Twitter) for inspiring this post.

The Characters of Anaïs Nin’s Collages: Renate Druks

The character who serves as a sort of Master of Ceremonies in Anaïs Nin’s final novel, Collages, named Renate, is based on one of Nin’s closest friends, Renate Druks. When Paul Mathiesen, one of Anaïs Nin’s many young homosexual friends at the time, paid her a visit in Sierra Madre in 1953, he mentioned Druks, a “Viennese painter” with a young son from a previous marriage. Shortly thereafter, Nin met her at Druks’ Malibu home and was instantly enamored. She’d found a soul not unlike hers: “Renate’s gift is a heightened mood which communicates itself to others. She creates in a state of natural intoxication” (Diary 5, 132).

Renate Druks and Paul Mathiesen

Renate Druks and Paul Mathiesen

It was Druks and Mathiesen who concocted a masquerade party for which guests were encouraged to “Come as your madness,” and this inspired one of the guests—avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger—to create Inauguration of the Pleasuredome, [the entire 38 minute film can be watched by clicking here] in which Nin, Druks, and Mathiesen appeared. One of the most iconic scenes is an abstraction of the costume Nin wore at the party, which she describes below:

I wore a skin-colored leotard, leopard-fur earrings glued to my naked breasts, and a leopard-fur belt around my waist. Gil Henderson painted on my bare back a vivid jungle scene. I wore eyelashes two inches long. My hair was dusted with gold powder. My head was inside of a birdcage. From within the cage, through the open gate, I pulled out an endless roll of paper on which I had written lines from my books. The ticker tape of the unconscious. I unwound this and handed everyone a strip with a message. (Diary 5 133)

Anger was a mutual friend of Nin and Druks, and through him both were introduced to Marjorie Cameron, a painter who appeared in Pleasuredome. According to Nin, “Curtis [Harrington], Kenneth [Anger], and Paul talked of Cameron as capable of witchcraft. She was the dark spirit of the group. Her paintings were ghostly creatures of nightmares. In connection with her, this was the first time I heard about [occultist] Aleister Crowley. There is an aura of evil around her. Her husband [Jack Parsons] was a scientist [with JPL] who delved in the occult. He was blown up during an experiment in his garage” (Diary 5131). (Today, there are those who wonder how it was possible a Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer could wind up killing himself during a home experiment—but that’s a whole other consideration.) It is said that Nin largely dissociated herself from Anger and his circle because of her distaste for the occult—indeed, Nin only mentions one other meeting with Anger, in Paris in 1960.

"Come as Your Madness"

"Come as Your Madness"

Druks’ relationships with gay and bisexual men proved to be extremely painful. In Collages, the character Renate has a similar problem with her companion Bruce, who is a composite character of both Mathiesen and football player Ronnie Knox. Renate detests Bruce’s secret rendezvous with his young male lovers and is tormented by the lies and deception. Bruce then devises a method by which Renate can feel secure:

“It is my secrecy which makes you unhappy, my evasions, my silences. And so I have found a solution. Whenever you get desperate with my mysteries, my ambiguities, here is a set of Chinese puzzle boxes. You have always said that I was myself a Chinese puzzle box. When you are in the mood and I baffle your love of confidences, your love of openness, your love of sharing experiences, then open one of the boxes. And in it you will find a story, a story about me and my life. Do you like this idea? Do you think it will help us to live together?”

Renate laughed and accepted. She took the armful of boxes and laid them away on the top shelf of a closet. (Collages 29)

Of course, what Renate discovers in the boxes is too honest, too explicit and ultimately destroys her relationship with Bruce. In Nin’s diary, one can see from where the idea of Chinese puzzle boxes comes: “I have only seen [Mathiesen] angry and fierce once. Renate…is born to open Pandora’s box. Paul’s soul is like those Japanese boxes one can only open with infinite patience… (Diary 6 33). Paul says severely: ‘You insisted on entering a world which was locked to you. You crashed through. And now what you found hurts you… I have never given anyone what belongs to you (Diary 5 195). Renate and Paul eventually parted ways.

Druks’ son, Peter Loomer, as a young child was full of dreams and expressed himself through drawings that were far ahead of his age in their maturity. Nin collected several and eventually used some in her limited-edition paperback Solar Barque, privately published in 1958. Tragically, Peter committed suicide in December 1964 at the age of 21, just after the release of Collages. It was emotionally devastating to Druks, who, according to Nin, never truly recovered: “Renate went through an agony which was as terrible as the death itself. It was a nightmare from which she could not awaken…a period of insane grief. She wailed, and wept and lamented…her voice over the telephone was a long cry of pain. This was a bitterer sorrow than the ordinary death of a child. It was an unbearable burden on a mother’s sense of responsibility for her child” (Diary 6 371).

Although Druks and Nin remained friends till Nin’s death in 1977, the details of Druks’ life afterward is fuzzy, especially during her last years. According to a genealogy site, she died in 2007, but many of her friends today were, or perhaps still are, unaware of this. She seems to have dropped off the planet, so to speak, and those who tried to contact her during the past decade or so were given vague answers as to her whereabouts. Even her artist’s web site does not acknowledge her death. So there is a good deal of mystery surrounding Renate Druks, one of Anaïs Nin’s most loyal friends. Anyone having any information about her is encouraged to contact us at

Sky Blue Press has published Collages as an e-book for the first time. It joins several other Nin titles on Kindle: The Winter of Artifice, Under a Glass Bell, Ladders to Fire, Children of the Albatross, A Spy in the House of Love, and Seduction of the Minotaur, and The Four-Chambered Heart, with others to follow. 

The Characters of Anaïs Nin’s Collages: Jean Varda

Anaïs Nin’s last novel, Collages, is populated with several characters taken from real life. We are beginning a series of posts based on these personages, and we continue with the collage artist, Jean (Janko) Varda. In 1944, Henry Miller introduced Anaïs Nin to Varda by giving him one of her books. Varda was so impressed that he mailed a gift to Nin, feeling he’d found a kindred soul:

Women Reconstructing the World

Women Reconstructing the World

One morning what appeared in place of a letter was a big square package, one yard around. I opened it and it was a collage by Jean Varda. He calls it “Women Reconstructing the World.” …All of woman is enclosed in a dance of forms, squares, diamonds, rectangles, parallelograms of moods and sidereal delights, subtle harmonies and pliant mysteries. They are made of intangibles, lights and space, labyrinths, and molecules which may change as you look at them. Elusive and free of gravity. They bring freedom by transcendence. (Diary 3, 312-313)

Nin met Varda on her first trip to California with Rupert Pole in 1947. Varda, who was born in Greece, had lived in a “crumbling twenty-room mansion that constantly overflowed with penniless artists, and where he was often visited by Picasso, Braque, and Miró” in Cassis, France. He came to New York for an exhibition and then left (“New York is a city of angry people”) for California and was in Monterey at the time of Nin’s visit.

Nin says: I loved his laughing eyes, his warm, colorful voice, his bird profile, his sturdy body… Janko Varda is the only modern artist who creates not the sickly-sweet fairy tales of childhood but the sturdy fairy tales of the artist… Everything that came from his hands was more wonderful than its origin, whether it was a salad, a bedspread, a pillow cover, a curtain, a candelabrum, a candle, a books… He created his own world. (Diary 4, 216)

It is no wonder that Nin and Varda felt affinity for each other—both of them believed in woman’s role in the arts, and both of them had created their own way of life, their own “world.” Thus began a friendship that would last until Varda’s death in 1971.

The Vallejo

The Vallejo

Varda eventually moved to Sausalito, California, and lived in the decommissioned ferryboat Vallejo with Gordon Onslow Ford, a British artist, and later, after Ford was bought out, with Zen Buddhist promoter Alan Watts. The Vallejo was the scene of artistic gatherings, elaborate costume parties, and, of course, the creation of Varda’s art, which was composed of cast-off materials of all sorts.

Nin’s novel Collages takes its title from Varda’s art, and is composed of several loosely connected stories. Varda, one of the book’s primary characters, tries to convince his daughter that his way of looking at life is something she should embrace. When she resists him, he uses his storytelling skills to convince her otherwise:

…Varda told her another story: “There was a woman from Albania who was famous for her beauty. A young man from America came, very handsome, slim and blond and he paid court to her and said: ‘I love you because you remind me of a cousin of mine I loved when I was in school. You also remind me of a movie actress I always adored on the screen. I love you. Will you marry me?’ The Albanian girl took a small pistol out of her boot and shot him. When she was brought to trial the old Albanian judge listened with sympathy as she made her own defense. ‘Your honor, I have been humiliated several times in my life.’ ‘How could that be,’ said the judge, ‘you are such a beautiful woman.’ ‘Yes, your honor, it has happened. I was humiliated the first time by a man who left me waiting in church when we were to be married. He was in a car accident, it is true, but still in my family there is a tradition of unfailing courtesy about marriage ceremonies. The second time I was told by a Frenchman that I was too fat. The third time I was “clocked” by a policeman on a motorcycle. He said I had been speeding and I contradicted him and he said he had “clocked” me. Imagine that. But, your honor, I never killed before. You know Albanian pride. Until this American came and told me I reminded him of two other women, and that, your honor, was too much. He offended my uniqueness.’”

She shrugged her shoulders. “Women in Albania do not carry pistols in their boots. And who wants to be unique anyway? It’s a dated concept.”

It is not until the daughter takes LSD that she can experience Varda’s world.

In the spring of 1965, Nin records a short autobiography by Varda:

Varda in his studio, 1970

Varda in his studio, 1970

Facts: Born out of a woman, weight at birth 9 pounds and a half… Immediately out of the womb I started playing with laces on the bed from which my mother inferred that I would be forever irresistibly attracted to women and concerned with their apparel… Not museum will have any of my work. I am only represented in every home where taste, intelligence and all the refinements of the spiritual and physical voluptuousness are enthroned. But above all I am proud of Rexroth’s title for me: a boudoir painter… (Quoted in Diary 6, 374-375)

Varda died in Mexico, where he had intended on visiting a friend.

For more on Jean Varda, click here.

Sky Blue Press has published Collages as an e-book for the first time. It joins several other Nin titles on Kindle: The Winter of Artifice, Under a Glass Bell, Ladders to Fire, Children of the Albatross, A Spy in the House of Love, and Seduction of the Minotaur, and The Four-Chambered Heart, with others to follow. 

The Characters of Anaïs Nin’s Collages: Jean Tinguely

Anaïs Nin’s last novel, Collages, is populated with several characters taken from real life. We are beginning a series of posts based on these personages, and we begin with the Swiss “kinetic artist” Jean Tinguely. In Collages, some of Nin’s characters attend Tinguely’s exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Anaïs Nin met Jean Tinguely in 1960, just before his “Homage to New York,” perhaps better known as “The Machine that Destroys Itself” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In her Diary, she says:

Billy Kluver, a young Swedish scientist who worked for Bell Laboratories, and his wife drove me to their home in New Jersey. There I met Jean Tinguely and hear about his motion sculptures. They were constructed of objects from the junk yards of Paris where Tinguely loves to live. Their activities are animated by cast-off electric motors. The ultimate effect is one of chaos, humor, perversity… It is a mockery of the machine. The one which is designed to make bottles, breaks them… Some of the machines look so threatening and dangerous that when he dragged them through the streets of Paris to the gallery he was arrested on suspicion of possessing death-dealing instruments. For Americans, who believe in and admire the efficiency of machines, these machines which fell apart, jumped, exploded, shook with Dadaist humor, produced a startling shock and often gave them a feeling of sacrilege. (Diary 6 284-5).

Tinguely’s philosophy was expressed in a manifesto entitled “For Statics,” which was printed onto 150,000 fliers that were released from an airplane over Düsseldorf, Germany before an exhibition:

Everything moves continuously. Immobility does not exist. Don’t be subject to the influence of out-of-date concepts. Forget hours, seconds, and minutes. Accept instability. Live in time. Be static—with movement. For a static of the present moment. Resist the anxious wish to fix the instantaneous, to kill that which is living. Stop insisting on “value” which cannot but break down. Be free, live. Stop painting time. Stop evoking movement and gesture. You are movement and gesture. Stop building cathedrals and pyramids which are doomed to fall into ruin. Live in the present; live once more in Time and by Time—for a wonderful and absolute reality.

(After reading this manifesto, one has to wonder what Tinguely would have thought about the “machine that destroyed itself” in the Gulf of Mexico, and how America is about to drown in the very oil that sustains it.)

Nin continues in her diary:

Billy Kluver was taking Tinguely to the New Jersey dumps. They brought back balloons, bassinets, baby carriages, bicycle wheels, an old piano. Billy was working day and night at the wiring. They were preparing “The Machine that Destroys Itself” for the Museum of Modern Art in New York. (Diary 6 284).

Jean Tinguely and The Machine that Destroys Itself

Jean Tinguely and The Machine that Destroys Itself

Nin closes Collages with a detailed account of the event, an excerpt of which follows:

The whole structure rattled erratically, in counter-rhythms, steaming senselessly, all motions in reverse, each interfering with another, negating it, inverted activity, bending and twisting and tearing at itself, introverted activity ending sometimes in a deadlock so that the fire was allowed to spread more quickly. The ladder trembled, lost a few rungs, fell. The balloon at the very tip of the structure, a huge orange balloon, gasped and burst. The chemicals smoked green, orange and blue. The paper with the names of artists unrolled again, a few more names were added, and then it swallowed them all again, finally catching fire. It seemed at times like an infernal factory in which every operation had gone mad, in which the levers and buttons did the opposite of what they were designed to do, all the mechanisms reversed. The fire devoured one more note of the piano, and only three notes were left playing. Then two. Then one which would not die.

The Fire Chief interfered with the exhibition, out of fear of a catastrophe, and began to extinguish the fire. Tinguely then had to “help” his machine collapse by kicking and tugging at it. The crowd was angered by the interference and heckled the fireman.

Click here to see a video of an interview with Tinguely before the event, and a part of the event itself. It is fascinating to read Nin’s account and then to see what actually occurred—it gives us a glimpse into her writing process. One could watch the destruction and walk away bemused, or one could turn it into poetry.

Click here to read Tinguely’s thoughts on the 1960 exhibition.

Jean Tinguely died in 1991 in Bern, Switzerland.

Collages has been published as an e-book on Kindle. It will join several other Nin titles on Kindle: The Winter of Artifice, Under a Glass Bell, Ladders to Fire, Children of the Albatross, A Spy in the House of Love, and Seduction of the Minotaur, and The Four-Chambered Heart, with others to follow.