As World War II spread across the world- and she was forced to flee to America- Nin waged her own war against a reality she found so horrifying that she repeatedly contemplated suicide and sought temporary salvation in numerous love affairs with an assortment of men, ranging from the staid critic Edmund Wilson to seventeen-year-old Bill Pinckard, searching for the “one” who would respond to her, not only sensually, but completely. “Over and over again I sail towards joy, which is never in the room with me, but always near me, across the way, like those rooms full of gayety one sees from the street, or the gayety in the street one sees from the window. Will I ever reach joy?” By 1946, her search had devolved into agony: “The greatest suffering does not come from living in mirages, but from awakening. There is no greater pain than awakening from a dream, the deep crying over the dying selves . . .”
I have struggled to reach a point of living fully in the present, with all my faculties in the present moment. In the diary I have poured out all that I have attained myself with such difficulties – the presence, in contrast to the absence of unreality.
Mirages is the untold story of Anais Nin’s personal struggle to keep alive what she most valued in life –the dream- in the face of the harsh, puritanical climate of the 1940s New York. It is a record of a journey across what Nin called the ‘desert before me and witness to her painful rebirth as a woman and a writer. It is the story missing from The Diary of Anais Nin, particularly volumes 3 and 4, which also cover 1939 through 1947
Most of us met at the Gotham Book Shop and admitted how we all had run away from America and now we want to conquer it. But how is it possible to conquer this desert of inanities, this ocean of vulgarity, this abysmal immaturity?
. . . .
The visit to the Bank was a nightmare. Before the black marble entrance I felt that this is a prison, a tomb of marble, steel, iron, oppressive. In the vaults I was shown a billion dollars in paper bonds. I said I would prefer to see gold, that paper meant nothing to me. The head of the vault must have though I lacked imagination. Seeing all these heavy, complex iron doors closing upon so much paper gave me the feeling of an illusory, unreal possession, a false, fake, empty activity of man reduced to paper. It all seemed like ideological superstructures, something without humanity or substance, a man’s game, leading always to great disaster.
. . . .
The grotesque evenings at Mabel Dodge Luhan’s, the self-conscious discussions. All America is still an elementary school, with its catechism, declarations, preparations, definitions, mere prefaces to living.
. . . .
We wander about or sit in one of those impossible American places where the radio jangles my nerves and the faces of the people are like those of a proletarian nightmare. The news is bad, everywhere there is panic and selfishness. Fear makes people evil. All New York is nothing but a school, a clinic, a factory. In Europe there are machines which deal death and terror. Here they are machines which have already dealt death: Americans are robots. Robots write American books. Not a human voice anywhere, only voices coming through the radio receiver. The dancing is a parody of the negro’s joyous movements. It is all repulsive and monstrous. The machine in Europe is killing people, and here it is canning them. It would have been better for all of us to die in flames, rather than this kind of death.
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.
The abridged diary was considered by Houghton Mifflin of Boston who writes:
There is no doubt that it is a remarkable performance that should someday be published and may well achieve permanence as the ultimate in neurotic self-absorption – a kind of decadent Saint Teresa. Certainly the writing is extraordinary; the cadences, the ability to communicate an intensity of emotion. But I don’t think this is the time to bring it out. Today such morbid preoccupation with one’s inner life will seem trivial. My guess is that it is a book to see the light about five or ten years after the war is over. When the author does prepare it for publication my advice would be to cut out the redundancy rather than the sex. In fact, I’d trim lightly here and with an eye merely on the law. The erotic element is part of its uniqueness. It underlines the impression of candor and leads even the unwilling reader on.
Suicides all around me, particularly of refugees, uprooted people. When I hear Djuna Barnes is a broken being my heart stops for a moment. I feel I should go to her and print her books. Meanwhile John Dudley had a breakdown, and Flo tried to commit suicide with scissors. Seon is drinking herself into sottishness. Wayne is being coerced by his family into going to war in order to save the “family honor” tainted by the rumors of his homosexuality.