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.

To order the print version of A Cafe in Space, Vol. 8, click here. To order the Kindle version, click here.
Check out Sky Blue Press’s SUMMER SALE at their new bookstore: http://www.skybluepress.org

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.

Barrons’ recording of House of Incest (1949) to be released

Guest post by Adam Barron

My parents, Louis and Bebe Barron, were close friends and collaborators with Anaïs Nin beginning in the 1940s. They recorded her reading some of her works and scored some of her husband Ian Hugo’s (Hugh Guiler) films with their ground-breaking electronic music. My mother told me that Anaïs was my Godmother, and she told me a story about the events surrounding my birth in 1959. I never believed it was really true until I looked up “Bebe Barron” in Anaïs’s diary index, and there was the story of a bizarre Greenwich Village baby shower, given by actress/filmmaker Maya Deren:

Maya Deren, a few years before she died, felt isolated from the community and tried to reintegrate her life in the most naïve way imaginable by giving Bebe Barron a “shower” for her expected baby, a traditional shower like the housewives of the West give, with pink decorations, pink pastry, pink-wrapped gifts. Because we loved Bebe we all joined in this celebration…

The pink shower party could not neutralize the studio, which was like a voodoo shack, filled with masks, drums, necklaces, shells, African baskets, textiles, pillows, and filled with friends provincial mothers would not have wanted around their babies, musicians, filmmakers, writers, electronic engineers, science-fiction writers, all such dangerous influences from a bourgeois’s point of view!

…Maya Deren could not permit this afternoon to remain innocent, bourgeois…and asked Bebe when she was expecting her child. Bebe told Maya in a few weeks, then Maya said: “You are wrong, it is coming much sooner, I can tell by the constellations and the formation of the clouds.” Suggestible Bebe began to have her child on her way down Maya’s stairs. (Diary 6 p. 350)

Louis and Bebe Barron, ca. 1955

Louis and Bebe Barron, ca. 1955

Was this power of suggestion, or the effect of an herbal cocktail Maya gave her, as my mother claimed? After the event, Anaïs started a short, but exquisite diary for me, with the story of my birth followed by blank pages in order for me to continue it someday.

Aided by my diary’s auspicious beginning, journal writing is now a vital part of my life. It helps me to relax, gain personal perspective, and record events for posterity. I’ve come to view Anaïs as the “good witch,” or Godmother, providing me life-giving forces to balance the negative ones I encounter. Sometimes I can feel Anaïs’s inspirational presence.

Following an extended illness, my mother passed away two years ago, after living a full life. Steven Reigns, the force behind 2008’s “Anaïs @ 105” event, which my mother and I attended, loaned me a 1949 recording entitled “Anaïs Nin, Folio II, Reading From Her Own Prose Poem House of Incest (unabridged), Contemporary Classics, Sound Portraits, Louis and Bebe Barron.” It had been a very limited release on vinyl, all but lost today. I later purchased a copy myself.

The reading was beautifully done and the quality well preserved. Steven challenged me with: “Why not sell it as a CD?” Maintaining the original spirit, I had the recording cleaned up, and I designed a jacket cover and a booklet based on my mother’s liner notes, originally done in beautiful calligraphy. It was decided that all post-production profits will go to charities for Haitian relief. This collector’s-item-quality CD will be available for only $16.00 plus shipping.

The album is a tribute to the creative work of Anaïs and my parents, and to their strong bond and friendship. I hope it will delight existing and new Nin fans alike.

Stay tuned for ordering information.

A special note: my parents also recorded Anaïs reading stories from Under a Glass Bell, entitled “Folio I, Under A Glass Bell,” a recording that seems to be lost. If you have a copy, or know the whereabouts of one, please contact the blog editor here.

To see Bebe Barron’s last interview, which was presented at Anais @ 105, click here.

To see an excerpt of Bebe discussing cybernetics, click here.