Soul Of A Bird

Anaïs Nin, A Woman Speaks [excerpt from her lecture The Artist As Magician 1973]

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“We have this marvelous power to escape, but it is not escape in the negative sense of the word. It is an escape similar to that of Olivier Messiaen, who while he was in a concentration camp, composed the wonderful piece for clarinet called “The Soul of A Bird.” That’s the kind of escape I mean. This composition probably helped him to survive that experience, and I can’t imagine one more terrible than that. Whereas when people cannot look over the walls and do not have this story-telling power and perspective, have no separation from events, then disintegration takes place and we despair. We drop out or even commit suicide, like Sylvia Plath. When we have no capacity to look beyond the sorrow or the experience which strikes us, we give up and die.

If you’re negative, you’re going to find causes for negativity. You will yourself build a case. Because we’re very clever. We’re much cleverer than we think we are. We build cases for our own moods. If you are convinced that you can’t make it, and you want to drop out, you’re going to find reasons for it. You can always build a case. There are all kind of things lying around. But if you want to build a case for life being worth living then you build that too.

It wasn’t enough for me to weep every day because there was war. I felt that you had to create an antidote, you had to create another world, which was called escapism because those who escaped were hated. But you couldn’t call “The Soul of A Bird” escape, yet that is what it was, the most beautiful poem of escape. It was proof that you cannot kill the spirit. In the midst of war and horror it was creating something in opposition to the horrors and montrosities.

I have a friend, a painter, who often used to call me and say: “I’ve just read the papers and I can’t paint anymore today: there are such horrible things happening in the world.” And I would say to her: “Paint first and read the papers afterward.”

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