Was Anaïs Nin, a mid-20th century diarist, the world's first blogger? If so, it's taken the invention of the Internet to truly understand her work.
Nin first released portions of her private diary for public consumption at a time when many denigrated journal writing as a form of narcissism vastly inferior to the lauded novel. Undeterred, Nin requested that after she died (in 1977), the remaining portions of her diary be published. These unpublished selections often dealt with her sex life -- an area women have long fought to control on their own terms. As expected, the resulting books leapt off the shelves and an arty film ensued (Henry and June, 1990), but their revelations were also met with withering condemnation and sometimes-hostile misunderstanding.
This month Swallow Press is releasing Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1939-1947, the first new installment of her diary in sixteen years. It follows the four previously published "unexpurgated" diaries, the first of which is Henry and June, which revealed Nin's love affair with the writer Henry Miller. The second, Incest, shocked readers by describing Nin's brief affair with her father, a faithless Don Juan who had abandoned her when she was a child. Fire disclosed Nin's complicated relationship with psychoanalyst Otto Rank, a close colleague of Sigmund Freud. And Nearer the Moon described Nin's intense connection with Left Bank Marxist Gonzalo More.
Mirages is particularly explosive. In it, Nin chronicles what few of us would admit or even consider and will no doubt enflame the usual brigade of outraged moralists who have heaped scorn upon her for daring to live by her own moral code, write about her adventures, and then allow that writing to be published for all to read. But it will also meet with a new kind of understanding specific to the 21st century.
Mirages opens at the dawn of World War II when Nin fled Paris with her husband. The 1930s had been an idyllic period for the young writer, so when she was violently uprooted and transplanted in New York she began a perilous eight-year search for happiness, the details of which she recorded faithfully in this diary. During this period, Nin explored surrealistic writing and psychoanalysis, and also befriended or had affairs with such characters as Gore Vidal, filmmaker Maya Deren, and literary critic Edmund Wilson, as well as a cast of lesser-known men.
Even before the age of "social media," Nin was the first high priestess of the public diary. She believed, much as we do today, that experience is something to be chronicled and shared, and she forged a style of expression that will finally find its place in this century of Internet communication, full as it is of personal confession. Her life-long diary explores mysterious areas of human life both personal and universal while also breaking the false barriers between public and private, fiction and non-fiction, diary and novel, conscious and unconscious.
Much of the world now accepts and embraces the self-expression, self-exposure, and self-analysis Nin pioneered for 63 years. It is now common for us to share our personal experiences with one another via blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, Tumblring and the like -- and we become pleasantly lost in each other's journeys. Ironically, Nin wished for what she called a "café in space" in which she could keep in touch with her friends. We now participate in the café in space, but only Nin could have invented so poetic a term. To become lost in her journey, such as the shimmering Mirages, is to find the lost pieces of oneself.
Anaïs Nin has finally found her time.