:: Article

chasing mirages: Anaïs Nin’s unexpurgated diaries

By Callie Hitchcock.

Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin 1939-1947, Swallow Press

If Baudelaire thought of love as “the traditionally artistic attempt to escape boredom,” then Anaïs Nin waged a war of attrition. Nin’s effusive narrative, Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin 1939-1947, chronicles the vast annals of love and literature in the first 8 years Nin came to the United States after fleeing Paris and the encroaching WWII. This compilation of entries has been re-printed in 2013 after Nin’s second/simultaneous husband, Rupert Pole, commissioned them the year her first husband, Hugh Guiler died in 1985. However, Nin’s diary is not just a torrid, Don Juan-esque description of her sexual exploits. She also probes deeply into concepts like love and happiness with the spasmodic élan of a woman on fire. She is a neurotic, a visionary, and a ravenous epicurean of the known world.

The central metaphor in Nin’s philosophy is the theory of “the mirage” or “the dream.” These concepts are distinct from “reality” and “the human.” However, Nin would probably reject this bifurcation as too reductive, as she believed in a cosmic consciousness “which solves all dualities and divisions” in the face of the human propensity to separate and divide experience. Dissolution of dualities aside though, Nin, to the outside observer, appeared to live in a world of paradox. Throughout the book she uses the terms “the dream” and “the mirage” to describe something she craves and yet also purposely avoids. She simultaneously becomes entangled in an endless tautology of deciding if the dream is reality, and if reality is a dream. Throughout the 400 pages she struggles to reconcile “the dream” and the praxis of her conscious world. “The dream” or “the mirage” even becomes interchangeable with “reality” and “the human.”

In certain places, “the dream” appears to be synonymous with love. She says, “my pattern is the dream. I seek to approximate it- when I do not get drowned in the depths of my too-human loves.” She equates love with the escape from the human, from reality, and thirsts for “a moment of the dream.” This dream, or love, becomes her life force, her “potent wind” that swells her sails “by the long draughts of life breath he filled my lungs with.” When in the dream she describes herself as “intact” and when “awakening” from the dream the world is “heavy.” She even goes so far to purport:

What I most want in the world, the only thing that counts, my deepest need, my obsession, is the dream of love and that I cannot possess but intermittently. I want it all, continual, frenzied, full of orgy, even if I must pay for it with my death.

However, Nin also refers to “the dream” or “the mirage” as the absence of love. So while “there is no greater pain than awakening from the mirage” she also resigns herself to the sentiment “Today I am quietly sad. Mirages. Mirages.” Nin uses the word “mirages” throughout her diary as a kind of monastic chant, a linguistic rolling of prayer beads to ease the pain of her reality via ablution of the now mere “illusionary.” The idea of the mirage becomes an escape for Nin, so the world doesn’t have to be real when she doesn’t want it to be. However, she also complains of one of her relationships that “it is too partial, too… based in reality” and within the same breath warns herself to “not let joy flood you, it may be a dream.” Once again, we are lost in the cyclic infinity of Nin’s ontology. She desires love and maintains it to be a “dream,” then subsequently renounces it for its supposed illusionary form.

It is worth mentioning that Nin is deemed by many to have suffered an undiagnosed form of bipolar disorder. I remain undecided. She appears to have a tenuous grasp on her internal reality and desires, and the ardor with which she experiences despair and elation is nothing short of exhausting to witness. However, her passion is sacrosanct to her identity and the discoveries she has to offer the world. She would never have been Anaïs Nin without the constant struggle to “find new physical roots to the dream.” And it is in metaphors like this where we have hope for Nin even if she simultaneously desires “the passage into human life, detachment from the dream.” We wish her a life free from the view that “only the illusions and delusion create ecstasy.”

But there are no answers to these questions, and Nin never seeks to offer any. While the diary entries end on a positive note and a seeming fulfillment of the love she has sought for so long, her explorations into the nature of reality remain polysemic. We can only traverse the shades of Nin’s world and strive not to create any more false dichotomies than we already have. In the end, her opaque portrayal of her reality derives from her fierce hunger for perfect love and her reaction to disappointment of this “dream” not being fulfilled. Her elusiveness represents an evasion of what she wants to escape from or escape to. Anaïs Nin is not, and will never be, prehensile; she cannot be grasped, even by herself.

Through the microscope I see the disperse and sundered being. Every little piece has a separate life. Then occasionally like mercury, they melt together, but they remain unstable and elusive, corroding. The mercury being the matter of our thoughts- the mercurial mind- the indicator of temperature. Blood cannot warm it. The cells of feeling have their own motions, retreats, shrinking. Something always eludes the scientist, the poet, the star-gazer, the informers, discoverers, tabulators. It haunts our sleep. It is what lies in the deformed mirror of the dream. Fragments.


Callie Hitchcock is in her final year of her English Literature undergraduate degree at University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Her poetry has been published in UC Berkeley Undergraduate Comparative Literature Journal, Still and Still Moving, and was shortlisted for the UCL Publisher’s Prize for Student Writing. She interned at 3:AM Magazine during the summer of 2014.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, September 1st, 2014.