Tag Archive: anais nin


soul of a bird

Soul Of A Bird

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

~~~

“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.”

a woman speaks

a woman speaks

“You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book… or you take a trip… and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death. Some never awaken.”
~ Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934

the poet’s voice

Banquet Speech

William Faulkner’s speech at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1950

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Ladies and gentlemen,

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work – a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.

I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

From Nobel LecturesLiterature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969 [Nobelprize.org]