Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘Anaïs Nin’

03 MAY, 2013

Famous Advice on Writing: The Collected Wisdom of Great Writers

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Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Didion, Sontag, Vonnegut, Bradbury, Orwell, and other literary icons.

By popular demand, I’ve put together a periodically updated reading list of all the famous advice on writing presented here over the years, featuring words of wisdom from such masters of the craft as Kurt Vonnegut, Susan Sontag, Henry Miller, Stephen King, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Susan Orlean, Ernest Hemingway, Zadie Smith, and more.

Please enjoy. (If you’re unable to scroll within the embed below, open the full reading list in a new window.)

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02 MAY, 2013

Gun Control Fail, 1944 Edition

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“Lady, we can’t do anything about a threat. We have to wait until he acts.” “You mean after I am shot?”

“Assault weapons will remain readily available to crazy people,” wrote Stephen King in his essay on gun control and violence, “until the powerful pro-gun forces … accept responsibility, recognizing that responsibility is not the same as culpability.” Every few months, a heartbreaking news headline announcing another mass shooting confirms King’s conviction. Recently, after nearly the entire city of Boston was under lockdown as a suspected terrorist with a handgun roamed the streets, I was reminded of a highly symbolic vignette from The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. 4: 1944-1947 (public library) — the same tome that gave us Nin on the meaning of life and why emotional excess is essential to creativity — that illustrates the uncomfortable disconnect between such local, situation-specific defense measures and our general legislative approach to guns.

In June of 1944, Nin met a young sailor by the name of Harry Herkovitz, whom she describes as “dark, intense, lean” and who had written “a strange story, influenced by Edgar Allan Poe, about ravens attacking a traveler.” A protege of Nin’s longtime lover Henry Miller, Harry soon develops a fierce infatuation with her, one Nin astutely recognizes as based on a projection, a myth, and thus not real, since she knows that “where the myth fails, human love begins.” Nin observes in dismay:

I realized he did not see me as I am, that he was seeking a myth. He was calling on an Anaïs as described by Henry, which bears no resemblance to reality.

In August, she writes:

Seeking to break the friendship with Harry, I became more and more aware that he is disintegrated, chaotic, unbalanced.

Then, one day in October:

I received a telephone call from Harry Herkovitz. He said: “I am waiting downstairs with a gun. I’m going to kill you.”

“You can’t force people to love, Harry. I have been a good friend. Your girl loves you deeply, and that is rare to find.”

“I’m going to kill you.”

“I will call the police.”

I hung up. I called the police station in our neighborhood. I explained what was happening. The answer was: “Lady, we can’t do anything about a threat. We have to wait until he acts.”

“You mean after I am shot?”

“Yes, lady. People get millions of threats every day. We can’t do anything about that.”

“But you are only two blocks away. Why can’t you send someone to see if there is a young man with a gun waiting in front of 215 West Thirteenth Street? He has no right to carry a gun.”

“We can’t do that.”

I stayed home all day. In the evening, I became restless. I called up a friend Harry does not know and asked him to come and see if Harry was still at the door. He came. Harry was gone.

It’s sad — tragic, really — that seven decades later, rather than amending this attitude, we’re clutching the Second Amendment with trigger-ready talons, using it as justification for signing Nin’s experience into policy: The government is now Nin’s local police station, not even just refusing to act until someone is shot but refusing to legislate until well after a number of gruesome shootings, hoping instead that the metaphorical “Harry,” that quintessential threat of brutality enabled by arms, would simply be gone.

He won’t.

For more prescience from Nin’s diaries, see her meditations on embracing the unfamiliar, character, parenting, and personal responsibility, the fluidity of personality, anxiety in love, Paris vs. New York, and the joy of making things by hand.

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05 MARCH, 2013

Publishing and Its Discontents, 1948 Edition

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“Keeping up with present-day costs is as tough for a publisher as for an author, and there does not seem to be an end towards the increase.”

There is little doubt that the economics of publishing and the arts are being dramatically disrupted today as we grapple with the challenges of post-industrial creativity — from individual crusades like Amanda Palmer’s brave quest for creative crowdfunding to the many models with which publishers are experimenting as alternatives to ad-supported media. Yet, like most problems that appear unique to our time, these issues are anything but: Take, for instance, book publishing and its discontents.

In 1942, dealing with many of the challenges authors face today and unable to find a publisher for her short story collection Under a Glass Bell (public library), Anaïs Nin started a small publishing house called Gremor Press, taught herself the art of letterpress and type-set the book by hand, printing a limited-edition of 300 copies with gorgeous engravings by her husband, which she sold via an innovative subscription model. But while the book became a prized collector’s item, exhibited in galleries and museums, it wasn’t bound for the kind of commercial success that would allow Nin to make a living, so she continued to look for a mainstream publisher. Eventually, Gore Vidal, whom Nin had befriended and enchanted, convinced his publisher, Dutton, to give Nin a chance.

In early 1948, writing in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 5: 1947 — 1955 (public library) — the tome that gave us her meditations on embracing the unfamiliar, escaping from city life, and the role of character and personal responsibility — Nin records the following exchange with the president of Dutton, which mirrors many of the backward economics of contemporary publishing:

I asked Dutton for an advance on Under a Glass Bell.

* * *

My dear Anaïs:

Nick tells me that like the rest of us you are in need of some extra pennies. One of these days when we are really scratching the bottom of the barrel I think I will write to five hundred of our authors and suggest that they send us $100 each. That will come to $50,000 and help no end. Keeping up with present-day costs is as tough for a publisher as for an author, and there does not seem to be an end towards the increase.

At any rate, I enclose a check for $250 which is the amount of the initial advance due on November 1 1947 on Under a Glass Bell and Other Stories.

I hope that you are well and happy. With kind regards,

Sincerely,
E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc.
Elliott [Macrae]
President

Under a Glass Bell went on to become Nin’s first entry into the upper echelons of the literary world and is still regarded by many as her finest work, on par with her prolific diaries.

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