In the following essay, Felber examines Nin's assertion that she wrote "as a woman only," particularly in her fictionalized portraits of June.
Lynette Felber, "The Three Faces of June: Anaïs Nin's Appropriation of Feminine Writing," in Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, Vol. 14, Fall 1995, pp. 309-24.
As early as the 1930s, Anaïs Nin described her objective as that of writing "as a woman, and as a woman only" in the prose poem House of Incest,[sup.1] purportedly composed after Henry Miller stole ideas from her unpublished diary for his own work. The subsequent claims by Nin and her circle throughout her career that she was writing a new feminine prose might be dismissed as merely a marketing technique. Miller's pronouncement that her diary provides "the first female writing I have ever seen," revealing "the opium world of woman's physiological being, a sort of cinematic show put on inside the genito-urinary tract"[sup.2] might be viewed as an effort to associate her work with the commercial success of his own Rabelaisian excesses. Similarly, Nin's assertion in a postscript to the reprinting of Delta of Venus that she is "intuitively using a woman's language, seeing sexual experience from a woman's point of view"[sup.3] might be motivated by a desire to promote and legitimate her erotica. The sales of Nin's books in the 1970s suggest that the marketing of a feminine writing, coinciding with the Women's Liberation Movement of the late '60s and early '70s, was indeed astute merchandising. Yet in the wake of recent discoveries of "lost" and "minor" women writers such as Kate Chopin or Zora Neale Hurston and their inscription into a new feminized canon, Nin herself has been denied entry. By choosing to cultivate the identity of a feminine writer, Nin may have relegated herself to the status of a vogue writer and contributed to her own literary marginality with both male critics, for whom "feminine" is a term of denigration or condescension, and feminist critics, who in the 1980s and '90s often dismiss the self-proclaimed feminine writer as essentialist.
In the context of the French feminists' call in the late 1970s and '80s for a writing that would inscribe the female body, however, Nin's oft-repeated assertions deserve further consideration. Many of Nin's claims to be experimenting with a feminine writing were made in reference to the "June" portraits based on her encounters with Miller's second wife, June Miller, or Mansfield, as she is sometimes called. Nin's accounts of her efforts to capture the enigmatic June in writing read as a plea for a feminine discourse. Through her experimentation with a self-proclaimed feminine language in the June portraits, Nin anticipates both contemporary French arguments for an ecriture feminine and feminist psychoanalytic revisions of the process by which gender identity is formed.[sup.4] These accumulated portraits, revising the same material over a period of more than thirty-five years, work through the process and conflicts inherent in acquiring a female identity and a feminine aesthetic. These portraits also demonstrate, however, that Nin moved through and beyond ecriture feminine to produce a double discourse. Ultimately, I will argue, Nin revealed the daughter's competence in two languages, the masculine and the feminine. A comparison of the portraits Nin creates in the first Diary volume, in House of Incest, and in Henry and June shows her self-consciously experimenting with language she calls feminine. The interrelations of the three portraits are complicated by the discrepancy between order of composition and publication as well as the repetition and overlap of material in Nin's works. The source material or intertext for all three is her unpublished diary of over 150 volumes. The 1931-34 Diary, volume one (published in 1966), and Henry and June (published in 1986), are both edited and excerpted versions of the original diary. The 1966 Diary was edited to delete passages about Nin's lovers, her husband, and others who did not want to be named. Henry and June was edited to restore most deleted passages focusing on Henry and June Miller and to exclude those already published in 1966. House of Incest appeared in 1936, and Nin records her struggles with the composition of this prose poem in the first volume of the Diary, which was of course originally composed contemporaneously.[sup.5]
Nin's use of the diary, a purportedly nonfictional genre, further complicates the interrelations of these texts as it raises issues of art and truth in autobiography, in this case rendered in both fictional and nonfictional genres.[sup.6] Because her published diaries are selective and edited, I consider their narrators, as well as the narrator of House of Incest, as textual personae, named Anaïs Nin in the diaries, but unnamed in the prose poem. That both the prose poem and the Diary were influenced by male editors and colleagues also complicates discussion of gendered discourse in these texts; Miller, for example, tried to rewrite House of Incest but gave it up as "presumptuous" (Diary, p. 117).[sup.7] In 1968 in The Novel of the Future, however, Nin denied the influence of male colleagues on her early development as a writer,[sup.8] and ultimately as author she is accountable for the versions of works published in her lifetime. The portraits of June are elaborated throughout the 1931-34 Diary, House of Incest, and Henry and June, but I will concentrate on representative expository passages that establish the qualities of this enigmatic figure in an almost incantatory fashion. Nin's initial portrait of June in the 1931-34 Diary renders her response to their first meeting: Henry came to Louveciennes with June.
As June walked towards me from the darkness of the garden and into the light of the door, I saw for the first time the most beautiful woman on earth. A startlingly white face, burning dark eyes, a face so alive I felt it would consume itself before my eyes. Years ago I tried to imagine a true beauty; I created in my mind an image of just such a woman. I had never seen her until last night. Yet I knew long ago the phosphorescent color of her skin, her huntress profile, the evenness of her teeth. She is bizarre, fantastic, nervous, like someone in a high fever. Her beauty drowned me. As I sat before her, I felt I would do anything she asked of me. Henry suddenly faded. She was color and brilliance and strangeness. By the end of the evening I had extricated myself from her power. She killed my admiration by her talk. Her talk. The enormous ego, false, weak, posturing. She lacks the courage of her personality, which is sensual, heavy with experience. Her role alone preoccupies her. She invents dramas in which she always stars. I am sure she creates genuine chaos and whirlpools of feelings, but I feel that her share in it is a pose. That night, in spite of my response to her, she sought to be whatever she felt I wanted her to be. She is an actress every moment. I cannot grasp the core of June. (p. 20) This portrait emphasizes the qualities of the femme fatale--June 's dangerously attractive but predatory and consuming nature.[sup.9] She is an enigmatic menace, typical of the femme fatale archetype, as Mary Ann Doane describes it, whose "most striking characteristic, perhaps, is the fact that she never really is what she seems to be. She harbors a threat which is not entirely legible, predictable, or manageable . . . a secret . . . which must be aggressively revealed, unmasked, discovered. . . ."[sup.10] While the beginning of the passage echoes the masculine perception of this literary archetype, it presents a significant variation on the usual depiction of the male gaze fixed upon the female object.
The short declarative sentence-paragraph that introduces the portrait establishes that it is Miller, the male, who delivers the femme fatale for Nin's female gaze. What does it mean when the gaze is female, when woman gazes upon woman? Teresa de Lauretis argues that "for women spectators . . . we cannot assume identification to be single or simple. For one thing, identification is itself a movement, a subject-process, a relation: the identification (of oneself) with something other (than oneself)."[sup.11] Significantly, the female gaze seizing upon female image provides an experience of identity and difference, discovery of self and other. It differs from the male gaze/female spectacle in both the identity (sameness) and the (slighter) extent of difference perceived. Initially, the female narrator participates in the male attraction to the femme fatale, insisting on her own difference and sharing the compulsion to "unmask" and expose June. She defines her function as an active translator of an inarticulate force: "Poor June is not like me, able to make her own portrait" (Diary, p. 16). Together Nin and Miller ambivalently admire and fear the vortex of June, for, as Doane says, the "power accorded to the femme fatale is a function of fears linked to the notions of uncontrollable drives, the fading of subjectivity, and the loss of conscious agency."[sup.12] Drawn in by the attractions of the femme fatale, Nin nevertheless differs from Miller in sharing the gender of the femme fatale, an identification that offers her a kind of protection: if she loses herself in June, she has merely succumbed to her own drives. The femme fatale is primarily an archetype in male-authored fiction because she represents, according to Doane, "an articulation of fears surrounding the loss of stability and centrality of the self, the 'I,' the ego. These anxieties appear quite explicitly in the process of her representation as castration anxiety."[sup.13] Because her relationship with June is one of gender identification, however, Nin is not threatened by her in the same way as Miller. There can be no loss of "I," because there is no threat of castration, no oedipal separation from the mother.[sup.14] Nin's gaze and her representation of June differ from the male strategy for dealing with the femme fatale because she emphasizes understanding; Nin insists repeatedly that Miller asks the wrong questions about June, neglecting to ask why she feels she must fabricate and lie. Helene Cixous argues that man's view of woman as Sphinx is a strategy for keeping her outside the dominant culture: "And so they want to keep woman in the place of mystery, consign her to mystery, as they say 'keep her in her place,' keep her at a distance: she's always not quite there . . . but no one knows exactly where she is."[sup.15]
The male fascination with the femme fatale is rooted, paradoxically, in the simultaneous compulsion to unmask her and the futility of doing so. If the function of the male gaze is to compensate for the loss of the mother's gaze while reinforcing his difference, when the woman is onlooker the process is not one of compensation and mastery over another, but rather one of reconnection and mastery of self. Kent Ekberg claims that the "triangular relationship" of Anaïs, June, and Henry is a "re-enactment of the Oedipal triangle that Nin confronts in her Diary."[sup.16] This statement seems to suggest a Freudian interpretation emphasizing the daughter's development as womanly seductress in relation to the father and an autobiographical interpretation stressing Nin's traumatic childhood abandonment by her father. Yet Miller (the father) is a secondary figure in this portion of the diary; his appearance precedes June's, but she quickly displaces him as the focus of the narrator's interest.[sup.17] Thus, it may be more appropriate to view the Diary portrait of June as an account of female identity acquisition in relation to a mother figure, an illustration of the views of Nancy Chodorow, Margaret Homans, and other feminist psychoanalysts and literary critics who focus on the mother-daughter dyad. As Nin revives the memory of the forgotten mother through her encounter with June, the immediacy of Miller, the male lover, "suddenly fade[s]," and the narrator establishes a direct and symmetrical relationship with June, who personifies an "image" she had previously "created." For Nin, she represents the long-repressed presymbolic mother, someone "I knew long ago." The relationship, as in the revised mother-daughter dyad, is symmetrical, the emphasis on knowledge of self through the female other. Margaret Homans says, "because of various consequences of the daughter's likeness to her mother, she does not enter the symbolic order as wholeheartedly or exclusively as does the son."[sup.18] The result of this process, according to Homans, is that women remain in contact with the literal, presymbolic language of the mother-daughter dyad: the female retains a literal language while the male develops a figurative one. Accordingly, in the Diary account, Nin learns from the experience with June, whose talk is "unconscious" (p. 27), an "underworld language" (p. 28).[sup.19] The process of identification is clarified as Nin claims, "When I talk now, I feel June's voice in me" (p. 29).
To articulate June is to understand her, a stage in female identity acquisition of which language is one manifestation. In the expository passage quoted above, literal and direct statement function to pinpoint the nature of June. Nin's stylistic technique uses declarative sentences and series of adjectives that are generally synonyms ("false, weak, and posturing," "color and brilliance"). Even when Nin resorts to figurative language, describing June with the simile "like someone in a high fever," its purpose is to define and elucidate by qualifying the clause before it.[sup.20] The narrator's response in the Diary portrait of June vacillates, however, between identification with the mother-figure and conspiracy with the male in exposing her. Midway in the introductory passage, the emphasis shifts from admiration to rejection. With the transitional sentence "By the end of the evening," the narrator claims to have "extricated" herself from June's "power."[sup.21] This summary statement is in actuality prophetic rather than conclusive, for the June sequence continues for sixty pages further in the Diary before the emphasis shifts to Rene Allendy, Otto Rank, Antonin Artaud, and other significant figures from Nin's life during this era. Yet this premonitory passage encapsulates the narrator's eventual reaction to June: the sequence finally ends with the narrator's judgment and rejection of June. It is also significant that Nin experiments with different genres for her various portraits of June. Ellen G. Friedman associates Nin's acceptance of patriarchal forms with her use of the incest trope, which "speaks not only to woman's relationship to man but also to the woman artist's relationship to traditional forms of expression."[sup.22] Thus, Nin's struggle to retain the diary, a subgenre often considered feminine and stigmatized accordingly, is a rebellious act of feminine identity. Nin's male associates, Miller and her two analysts during this period, Dr. Otto Rank in particular, try to wean her from the diary, arguing that it diffuses artistic energy she could direct into her fiction. Curiously, Rank wanted Nin simultaneously to give up the diary and live by herself (Diary, p. 280). Like a jealous lover, he accuses her of being "kept by the Diary" (Diary, p. 289). Rank also associates women's diaries with a realism he denigrates. Of one of their sessions Nin reports, "Then we talked about the realism of women, and Rank said that perhaps that was why women had never been great artists. They invented nothing" (Diary, p. 291). What seems most troublesome to Rank is that the diary is a feminine form; since women cannot invent, it cannot be art. Viewed more positively, however, the diary may be associated with the literal, the presymbolic, a time when direct contact makes the fictional text "superfluous."[sup.23] Rank and Miller would like to see Nin leave the literal language of the diary in order to fulfill their image of a writer, the male who uses symbolic language. Miller's ambivalence about the diary form is evident in his alternate efforts to help Nin get her diary published and to get her to "drop [the] god-damned diary."[sup.24] Although he praised Nin's diary and wrote to publisher William Bradley in 1933 to argue for its publication,[sup.25] at the same time Miller claimed that "journal writing is a disease" (Henry and June, p. 137).
Notably, when he tries to legitimate the literary quality of Nin 's diary, he associates it with the male confessional tradition of "St. Augustine, Petronious, Abelard, Rousseau, Proust" (Diary, p. v). While Nin made some fleeting attempts to direct her energy to fiction, it was less persuasion than necessity that led to her creation of June in the prose poem House of Incest. After Miller took her ideas about June for his own work, Nin protested against his theft in her Diary, claiming that all that remained was for her "to write as a woman, and as a woman only," resulting in the portrait of Sabina in House of Incest. While I was working, I was in despair. I discovered that I had given away to Henry all my insights into June, and that he is using them. He has taken all my sketches for her portrait. I feel empty-handed, and he knows it, because he writes me that he 'feels like a crook. ' And what have I left to work with? He is deepening his portrait with all the truths I have given him. What was left for me to do? To go where Henry cannot go, into the Myth, into June's dreams, fantasies, into the poetry of June. To write as a woman, and as a woman only. I begin with dreams, hers and mine. It is taking a symbolic shape, closer to Rimbaud than to a novel. (p. 128) Thus, House of Incest is born out of the writer's need to answer the claim that the Diary keeps her from "real" writing and, more immediately, out of her need to recast her material in a mode that her male literary colleague and rival, Henry Miller, cannot steal. Significantly, Nin's reworking of the June material in the prose poem shows her grappling again with the same conflict, torn between identification with the mother-figure and communication with the male. House of Incest is divided into seven parts, dramatizing different kinds of incestuous love. The opening sequence of the prose poem, which precedes the introduction of Sabina, is a narrative account of the daughter's "first birth," an encounter with the presymbolic regained through the medium of the dream: All round me a sulphurous transparency and my bones move as if made of rubber. I sway and float, stand on boneless toes listening for distant sounds, sounds beyond the reach of human ears, see things beyond the reach of human eyes. Born full of memories of the bells of the Atlantide. Always listening for lost sounds and searching for lost colors, standing forever on the threshold like one troubled with memories. (p. 15)
The passage is much more explicit than the Diary in recreating the presymbolic through the encounter with Sabina. Nin's self-proclaimed woman's "myth" associates Sabina and the narrator (June and Anaïs) with the preoedipal state of mother-child fusion that initiates the process of gender identity and prefigures Lacan's account of the narcissistic "mirror-stage." Replete with fluid, feminine images suggestive of Kristeva's semiotic chora, the House of Incest sequence places the narrator, an "uncompleted self" (p. 15), in the maternal "giant bosom" of the sea. Her state of mind is preanalytic, in direct physical contact with the mother: "There were no currents of thoughts, only the caress of flow and desire mingling, touching, travelling, withdrawing, wandering" (p. 17). At one with the maternal, she is "loving without knowingness" (p. 17). The transitional passage preceding the first description of Sabina depicts the narrator "falling in between not knowing on which layer I was resting" (p. 18) and the narrator's symbolic birth, "I awoke at dawn, thrown up on a rock" (p. 17). Thus, it dramatizes both the mother-daughter bond and the formative stage of acquiring separate identity, "moving into the body of another" (p. 17). Through Sabina and her relation to the narrator, Nin again evokes the preoedipal "phallic" mother. In contrast to the Diary portrait, the dramatization in House of Incest contains less of the mysterious femme fatale and more emphasis on bonding of the mother-daughter. On one hand, Sabina is the destructive warrior woman, a powerful role model for the daughter: "The steel necklace on her throat flashed like summer lightning and the sound of the steel was like the clashing of swords. . . . Her necklace thrown around the world's neck, unmeltable" (p. 21). But at the same time, she embodies maternal qualities: "There is no mockery between women. One lies down at peace as on one's own breast" (p. 24). In House of Incest, as in the 1931-34 Diary, the narrator recognizes a feminine self she had not previously acknowledged: "From all men I was different, and myself, but I see in you that part of me which is you. I feel you in me; I feel my own voice becoming heavier . . . " (p. 26). The images are those of doubles and mirroring because as a woman, the narrator is acquiring both a sense of self and sense of self-as-other, and both are feminine: "Deep into each other we turned our harlot eyes" (p. 22).
Thus, the Sabina sequence allegorically represents the daughter 's discovery of her gendered identity. Sharon Spencer has described Nin's prose as an ecriture feminine using Nin's own phrase, a "language of the womb," to describe a lyrical and "flowing" language centered on women's (often tabooed) experiences.[sup.26] In different ways, both the diaries and House of Incest correspond to recent definitions of ecriture feminine, inspired by French feminists such as Cixous (who generally promote a feminine writing while refusing to define it). Christiane Makward succinctly defines the stylistic features of this discourse as "open, nonlinear, unfinished, fluid, exploded, fragmented, polysemic, attempting to 'speak the body,' i.e. the unconscious, involving silence, incorporating the simultaneity of life as opposed to or clearly different from logical, nonambiguous, so-called 'transparent' or functional language."[sup.27] This definition is exemplified by Nin's diary and the prose poem, but as she distills the portrait of June in House of Incest Nin intensifies many features of this feminine, presymbolic discourse. The fragmentation of the diary is accelerated in the prose poem; the unconscious is not merely given expression, as in the diaries, but visually represented in the "house of incest"; the preface announces the writer's intent to write her body as she disgorges, simultaneously, her book and her heart. Moreover, the texts are, in different senses, "unfinished": Nin continued to write her diary until the end, but requested that the final volumes, detailing her fight with cancer, remain unpublished. The prose poem is eternally "unfinished" through its ambiguous final passages. At the same time, the prose poem modifies the literal account of June from the Diary, and Nin mediates between what are conventionally perceived as masculine and feminine languages. Even the "symbolic shape" she describes in the Diary is a blend, a "prose poem," at once novel and poem, combining genres associated with the feminine (novelistic) and masculine (poetic) traditions. Nin's choice of genre is evidence of the kind of double "both/and" thinking Rachel Blau DuPlessis describes as feminine in "For the Etruscans," expansive in contrast to the masculine "either/or."[sup.28] Nin does not conform to rigid literary categories; the innovation of her experimental forms challenges the boundaries of established genres. However, although Nin 's self-proclaimed purpose is to write as a woman, House of Incest was, in one sense, also written for men, in an effort to placate Miller and Rank, who complained that the diary was diffusing her energy as a writer.[sup.29]
Within House of Incest the narrator claims to be writing Sabina for men: "The soft secret yielding of woman I carved into men's brains with copper words; her image I tattooed in their eyes. They were consumed by the fever of their entrails" (p. 22). In a major contrast from the literal diary presentation, Nin attempts to communicate with men by delivering a woman in symbolic language to which they can respond. In the prose poem, Nin echoes the associations established in her diary portrait but modifies the literal account of June with figurative language. Nin often transforms the literal with surreal qualities: "[Sabina's] face was suspended in the darkness of the garden" (p. 18, emphasis mine). Her surreal images do not say what Sabina is like (simile), but metaphorically render the essence defined by the unconscious and the dream. As with June in the Diary, Sabina represents the primordial woman, goddess and mother, with her "ancient stare, heavy luxuriant centuries flickering in deep processions" (p. 18). Nin also tries to explain Sabina by implied comparisons; her primary technique for this in the prose poem is metaphor, a form of figuration close to literal language: metaphor "fuse[s] its terms" in comparison with simile, which "insist[s] that the terms are discrete."[sup.30] Much of the linguistic tension in House of Incest results from Nin's attempt, simultaneously, to depict June in a feminine language appropriate for a woman's myth and to bridge the gap of gendered discourse by representing her in poetic or symbolic language. In both the 1931-34 Diary and in House of Incest, Nin presents the encounter with June as a metaphoric flirtation with lesbianism, which she finally rejects as incestuous, a narcissistic love of the self in the other. Prior to this ultimate rejection, however, the woman-to-woman identification is presented as more literally lesbian and thus exclusively feminine in an erotic scene that is included--with significant variations--in both the diary published in 1966 and in Henry and June. Both versions recount Nin's visit to a brothel at 32 rue Blondel for an "exhibition" of two female prostitutes making love. In the Diary account, as in its earlier scene introducing June to Anaïs, it is Henry who suggests the entertainment and accompanies her.
In Henry and June, however, Nin takes a much more active role, suggesting the visit to her husband Hugo, choosing the prostitutes herself, and requesting "lesbian poses" (p. 71). The framing of the scene in the Diary provides another significant variation. Although the Diary lacks transitions between entries, their juxtaposition often creates a complex context. In the passage directly preceding the visit, Nin tells Miller that his "relentless analysis of June leaves something out" and wonders if he'll ever "see the world as I do" (p. 58). The brothel incident reveals what his patriarchal view omits: the woman-woman bond. The episode recasts the June/Anaïs, mother/daughter dyad into an erotic fantasy in which the male role, even as gazer, is diminished. The participants and observers enter a vaginal, womb-like room: "like a velvet-lined jewel casket. The walls are covered with red velvet" (Diary, p.59). According to Nin, the prostitutes are "like mother and daughter" (Diary, p.59). The contrasting appearance of the two prostitutes--one "vivid, fat, coarse" and the other "small, feminine, almost timid" (p. 70)--exaggerates and parodies the antithetical features of June and Anaïs, a contrast accentuated in Philip Kaufman 's cinematic depiction of the scene, in which the "vivid" prostitute is a near double of the actress who plays June and whom Nin seeks out alone, unsuccessfully, in a later scene. Although the lesbian sex scene with a male voyeur is a set piece in male-directed pornography, the traditional function of the male role is that of subject, suggesting that love between women exists for his titillation. In this episode, however, Nin breaks out of the convention to the extent that she adds a new figure, the female voyeur, whose primacy contests his role: she insists it is "my evening"; the patronne reassures them that although there will be no man in the exhibition, they will "see everything" (Henry and June, p. 71, emphasis mine). Both versions make clear, in different ways, that the visit is an initiation into an exclusively woman's sexuality, one from which men are excluded. Thus the two accounts of the scene emphasize rejection of the "third term" of the oedipal triangle, the patriarchal obstacle to the mother-daughter relation. When the big woman ties on a rubber penis, the exhibition's poses of love teach "nothing new" to Nin (Henry and June, p. 71). The phallus is "a rosy thing, a caricature"; but when it is discarded, the "little woman loves [the caresses], loves it better than the man's approach" (p. 71). From the encounter Nin learns "a source of a new joy, which I had sometimes sensed but never definitely--that small core at the opening of the woman's lips, just what the man passes by" (Henry and June, p. 72, emphasis mine). This scene, in which the gazer gazes upon herself (the "little woman") in a union with the preoedipal mother, also functions to reverse the usual psychoanalytical conception of the daughter's discovery of her mother's "castration." As Chodorow explains, "[the daughter 's] common genital arrangement with her mother does not work to her advantage in forming a bond with her mother. . . . her mother prefers people like her father . . . who have penises"; accordingly, "She comes to want a penis, then, in order to win her mother's love. . . . "[sup.31] Chodorow softens the Freudian interpretation, reinterpreting the phallus's value as an instrument to gain the mother's affection.
Nin's revision of the oedipal triangle goes even further: the phallus is now extraneous. Freed from the obstacle of the phallus, the woman-woman gaze produces not castration fear (as for the male gazer) but the acquisition first of gender identity, and then of libido, as discussion of a further scene will demonstrate. The feminist revision of Freud and Lacan inherent in the 32 rue Blondel sequence and the deprivileging of the male become even more explicit in a scene included in Henry and June but excluded from the diary published in 1966. Significantly, the expurgated experience takes the form of a dream Nin recounts: I begged [June] to undress. Piece by piece I discovered her body, with cries of admiration, but in the nightmare I saw the defects of it, strange deformations. Still, she seemed altogether desirable. I begged her to let me see between her legs. She opened them and raised them, and there I saw flesh thickly covered with hard black hair, like a man 's but then the very tip of her flesh was snow-white. What horrified me was that she was moving frenziedly, and that the lips were opening and closing quickly like the mouth of the goldfish in the pool when he eats. I just watched her, fascinated and repulsed, and then I threw myself on her and said, 'Let me put my tongue there, ' and she let me but she did not seem satisfied while I flicked at her. She seemed cold and restless. Suddenly she sat up, threw me down, and leaned over me, and as she lay over me I felt a penis touching me. I questioned her and she answered triumphantly, 'Yes, I have a little one; aren't you glad?' (p. 91) This encounter with June suggests the daughter's discovery of her mother's "lack," accompanied by the traditional threat of castration, but as the dream progresses Nin rewrites the Freudian scenario of the daughter's supposed horror at finding that her mother has no penis. According to Freud, of course, this discovery--and the daughter's return to the mother, a movement toward identification--would be accompanied by the daughter's desire to have a baby as compensation for the absent penis. Anticipating Chodorow's revision of Freud, however, Nin enacts in the dream the daughter's wish to satisfy the mother's desire, as well as the impulse to be the object of the mother's desire. Through a process of contestation for erotic dominance ("she . . . threw me down") with the phallic mother, Nin discovers instead that the mother has a clitoris, "a little one," of her own. For Nin, the dream encounter with June, the preoedipal mother, results in a discovery of her own previously unrecognized sexuality and an identification with her mother's desire. In Henry and June, the encounter with June reveals to Nin a female sexuality that is symbolized as presence, not absence; she discovers not lack but the potentiality of her own genitalia, asserting the "triumphant" presence of the clitoris. The diminishment of the male role in the rue Blondel sequence and his virtual exclusion in the erotic dream in Henry and June suggest the inevitable isolation of men and women as a result of the asymmetry of the oedipal triangle and gender difference: the child can never identify with both parents in the same way; concomitantly, there are certain gendered and linguistic experiences that men and women can never share. The scenes reveal, ultimately, the futility of Nin's self-assigned role as aesthetic mediator between the sexes. At the same time, her persistent insistence on including the male reveals her humanistic refusal to abandon men. Only in the dream (the feminine subconscious) is man excluded. Her aesthetic commitment to both sexes is echoed in one of Nin's typical statements about the feminist movement: There is far too much imitation of man in the Women's Movement. That is merely a displacement of power. Woman's definition of power should be different. It should be based on relation to others. The women who truly identify with their oppressor as the cliche phrase goes, are the women who are acting like men, masculinizing themselves, not those who seek to convert or transform man.[sup.32] Politically and aesthetically, Nin insists on seemingly contradictory objectives, emphasizing both the difference of the sexes and the mediating role of the woman.
In the diary published in 1966, Nin denies any "lesbian" impulse and vows to "collaborate" with Miller in "understanding June" (pp. 41-42). This decision functions as an explanation for the stylistic and generic changes Nin makes when she recreates June in House of Incest. Her denial of "lesbian" impulses represents a recognition that to write in feminine language, to write for women only, is to relinquish the opportunity to help man understand woman and to abandon woman to the male gaze. Nin's announced objective of collaboration is both an act of mastery as a woman writer and an act of mediation to articulate woman for man. In the Diary, Nin dramatizes the conflicting impulses of the woman writer: she views literal language as her natural style, yet to write in this exclusively feminine language is to place herself outside of communication, incommunicado as it were, with the literary community at large, leaving it to them to write women for themselves and retaining the status quo, the patriarchal literary tradition. Similarly, to identify fully with June, the phallic mother, is to remain inarticulately within the presymbolic. Nin attempts in House of Incest both to articulate her intuitive, feminine understanding of June and to communicate it to Everyman--or Henry Miller--representative of the symbolic discourse community. House of Incest is a double discourse, containing features of the languages Homans defines as feminine and masculine, revealing the daughter's ability to speak two languages. Nin's prose poem reveals that her dilemma is that of the daughter in the dyad Homans describes; as a woman writer, she is "caught between her own interests in a literal mother-daughter language and her desire at once to placate and to enter the symbolic realm of literary language."[sup.33] Anaïs Nin's contribution has often been denigrated for perpetuating the feminine mystique or an essential femininity. Her effort to dish up a creation that would please men, articulated by means of a feminine aesthetic, could be seen as producing a major contradiction in her work.[sup.34] Her complicity with male desire and language leads her to create for herself an ultra feminine persona that has been detrimental to her reception by late second-wave feminists. Yet, in contrast to male-authored accounts, Nin's do not exclude and marginalize the female through the male gaze but establish a bond between subject-object through woman-to-woman identification. The June portraits suggest the inevitable complexity of the woman writer's acquisition of identity within a gendered discourse community. Nin's experiments with language and genre in these three June portraits reveal the woman writer's uncomfortable stance: a Colossus of gendered discourse, she straddles the gap between masculine and feminine language. The irony of Nin's individual plight is that in assuming the identity of a feminine writer she may have excluded her writing from both the established (male) canon and the revisionist canon of women's writing.
1. Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1931-34, ed. Gunther Stuhlmann (New York: Harcourt, 1966), p. 128; House of Incest (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1958). Subsequent citations to both the Diary and House of Incest will appear parenthetically in the text. 2. Henry Miller, "Un Etre Eroilique," in The Cosmological Eye (Norfolk, Connecticut: New Directions, 1939), p. 289. 3. Anaïs Nin, Delta of Venus (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977), p. xvi. This work is copyrighted 1969 and was posthumously published in 1977. 4. Three of Nin's critics have noted her anticipation of French feminism. See Ellen G. Friedman, "Anaïs Nin," in Modern American Women Writers, consulting ed. Elaine Showalter (New York: Scribner's, 1991), p. 347. Also see Margret Andersen, "Critical Approaches to Anaïs Nin," The Canadian Review of American Studies, 10, No. 2 (1979), 263, and Sharon Spencer, "Anaïs Nin's 'Feminine' Writing," in Breaking the Sequence: Women's Experimental Fiction, ed. Friedman and Miriam Fuchs (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), pp. 165, 171. 5.
Nin used the June archetype--variously named--for many women characters in her fiction. I have chosen, however, to analyze the most accessible, published versions of the June story. In addition to these versions and the unpublished diary manuscripts at UCLA, June material appeared in Nin's letters and in the 1939 Obelisk Press edition of Winter of Artifice; see Noel Riley Fitch, Anaïs: The Erotic Life of Anaïs Nin (Boston: Little, Brown, 1993), p. 252.
According to Fitch, the novella "Djuna" was omitted from later editions of Winter of Artifice because it revealed too much of the Anaïs-June-Henry relationship (p. 252). 6. See Joan Bobbitt, "Truth and Artistry in the Diary of Anaïs Nin," Journal of Modern Literature, 9, No. 2 (1982), 267-76, for a detailed analysis of Nin's "calculated artistry" in presenting the edited diary as nonfiction. 7. Determining the amount and kind of influence these official and unofficial editors had on Nin's work is important scholarly work yet to be done. According to Fitch, Miller's influence (as well as Nin's on Miller) was extensive (p. 119). Not only did Miller make detailed suggestions on Nin's draft of House of Incest, but Otto Rank proposed its conclusion (pp. 161-62, 181). Regarding Stuhlmann's revisions of Nin's published diaries, Fitch claims that the "presence of his name on the title page and cover of each diary" reveals its extent, and the revisions were so drastic as to "reduc[e] [Nin] to tears" (pp. 375, 368). 8. Nin, The Novel of the Future (New York: Macmillan, 1968), p. 146. 9. Critics have been as puzzled by the writers' depictions of June as Nin and Miller were by June herself: most see her as a femme fatale--fascinating, elusive, and deadly. For Gary Sayre, Sabina, the June character in House of Incest, embodies a "carnivorous, incestuous" desire, which would destroy the narrator if she continued to identify with her, in "House of Incest: Two Interpretations," in Anaïs, Art and Artists: A Collection of Essays, ed. Sharon Spencer (Greenwood, Florida: Penkevill, 1986), p. 47. Oliver Evans sees Sabina as "naturally" destructive in contrast to the narrator, the "earth-mother archetype," in Anaïs Nin (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1968), p. 31. According to Evelyn Hinz, the diary 's June is one half of Nin's literary dilemma: June is the half that creates illusion; Miller the half that exposes it, in The Mirror and the Garden: Realism and Reality in the Writings of Anaïs Nin (New York: Harcourt, 1973), p. 102. Marie-Line Petrequin argues that June represents Nin's repressed desires and a "'male ' quality," in "The Magic Spell of June Miller," trans. Gunther Stuhlmann, Anaïs, 6 (1988), 49. The maternal qualities I emphasize in this essay are to some extent, though in an archetypal rather than a psychoanalytical context, remarked upon by Stephanie Demetrakopoulis, who describes June as both "an aspect of archetypal femininity, which is implicit in [Nin]," and Erich Neumann's "'Terrible Mother,'" in "Archetypal Constellations of Feminine Consciousness in Nin's First Diary," Mosaic, 11, No. 2 (1978), 124-26. 10. Mary Ann Doane, Femmes Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory, Psychoanalysis (New York: Routledge, 1991), p. 1. 11. Teresa de Lauretis, Alice Doesn't: Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), p. 141. 12. Doane, p. 2. 13. Doane, p. 2. 14. In her study of Nin's erotica, Karen Brennan makes a similar point about Nin's comfort, relative to that of Henry Miller, in being herself "a spectacle for the gaze of a man" as she performs (i.e., writes) for the collector after Miller refuses, in "Anaïs Nin: Author(iz)ing the Erotic Body," Genders, 14 (Fall 1992), 67-74. Brennan's discussion of the "paradox of the female writing spectacle" (p. 67) and gendered authorship as it draws upon the issues of the female gaze, "double-identification" (p. 69), and voyeurism, as well as Nin's ambivalent complicity, intersects in significant ways with my argument although her primary text and conclusions differ markedly. 15. Helene Cixous, "Castration or Decapitation?" trans. Annette Kuhn, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 7, No. 1 (1981), 49. 16. Kent Ekberg, "Studio 28: The Influence of Surrealist Cinema on the Early Fiction of Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller," The Lawrence Durrell Newsletter, 4, No. 3 (1981), 4. 17. In her original sequence of diaries, the volume entitled "June" apparently preceded that entitled "Henry." See Rupert Pole's preface to Nin's Henry and June: From the Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin (San Diego: Harcourt, 1986). All subsequent references to this work will appear parenthetically in the text. 18. Margaret Homans, Bearing the Word: Language and Female Experience in Nineteenth-Century Women's Writing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), p. 12. 19. Rachel Blau DuPlessis also makes this point in associating their language, with the lost Etruscan language, in "For the Etruscans," in The New Feminist Criticism, ed. Showalter (New York: Pantheon, 1985), p. 275. 20. In contrast to Nin's similes, Miller's attempt to define June by comparison is extended through qualifiers that modify the vehicle of his similes: "At first she was big and velvety, like the jaguar, with that silky, deceptive strength of the feline species, the crouch, the spring, the pounce; then she grew emaciated, fragile, delicate, almost like a cornflower, and with each change thereafter she went through the subtlest modulations--of skin, muscle, color, posture, odor, gait, gesture, et cetera. She changed like a chameleon. Nobody would say what she really was like because with each one she was an entirely different person. After a time she didn't even know herself what she was like," in Tropic of Capricorn (New York: Grove, 1961), p. 237. In describing the June character's feline attributes, he qualifies "jaguar" rather than "she," moving farther and farther from the tenor, the woman herself. Miller is the son Homans describes "in flight" from literal representation through the characteristic separation of male from the mother after his entrance into the symbolic order (Bearing the Word, p. 14). His emphasis in describing June is on defining "what she was really like" (emphasis mine). The real woman is distanced and finally absent. 21. The version of the encounter published in Henry and June is very similar to this passage. The major differences are that the passage is broken up into short paragraphs in Henry and June and the judgmental sentence "She killed my admiration by her talk" is not present, suggesting it may have been added when the original diary was edited for publication in 1966. Another significant difference is that in the final paragraph of Henry and June, the narrator claims she is "like a man" in loving June's "face and body" (p. 14). Although the editor, Nin's literary executor Rupert Pole, claims the volume is edited to focus on Henry and June, the degree to which the editing might have altered this kind of passage remains unclear. 22. Friedman, "Anaïs Nin," p. 342. 23. Homans, p. 4. 24. Nin, A Literate Passion: Letters of Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller, 1932-53, ed. and intro. Stuhlmann (San Diego: Harcourt, 1987), p. 223. 25. Nin, A Literate Passion, p. 98. 26. Spencer, p. 165. 27. Christiane Makward, "To Be or Not to Be . . . A Feminist Speaker," trans. Marlene Barsoum, Alice Jardine, and Hester Eisenstein, ed. Eisenstein and Jardine, in The Future of Difference (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1985), p. 96. 28. DuPlessis, p. 276. 29. Friedman makes this point about both House of Incest and Winter of Artifice, in "Anaïs Nin," p. 345. 30. Earl Wasserman, "Mont Blanc," in Shelley: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. George M. Ridenour (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1965), p. 78. 31. Nancy Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), p. 125. 32. Nin, "Notes on Feminism," Massachusetts Review, 13, Nos. 1 and 2 (1972), 28. 33. Homans, p. 38. 34. DuPlessis believes this contradiction, "between the desire to please, making woman an object, and the desire to reveal, making her a subject," is resolved by the diary "as form and process" (p. 280).
Source: Lynette Felber, "The Three Faces of June: Anaïs Nin's Appropriation of Feminine Writing," in Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, Vol. 14, Fall 1995, pp. 309-24. Reproduced by permission.
Source Database: Contemporary Literary Criticism
PEN (Permanent Entry Number): CLC0747DOC019752