Friday, March 25, 2011

Biography

Also yesterday I read Julian Barnes' Flaubert's Parrot, which was a really wonderful and formally interesting essay embedded within the frame of a novel, a meditation on biography and how obsessive we can be about these writers we love. And Flaubert is such an interesting figure to be obsessed with his life (down to the authenticity of the stuffed parrot sitting on his writing desk in his country house in Normandy), as he argued fervently in his letters to Louise Colet that the writer had absolutely nothing to do with the work, and that the writer must be a sort of depersonalized god figure (his theories a link to TSE's idea of depersonalization he sets forth in "Tradition and the Individual Talent"). Although I do feel Flaubert (and TSE) were a good deal more fleshly than their theories signify. But anyway. From Flaubert's Parrot: "Why does the writing make us chase down the writer? Why can't we leave well alone? Why aren't the books enough?"

When researching June Miller and Anais Nin and Henry Miller this morning, I'm struck by how detailed and elaborate the documentation is of Henry Miller online (because he is one of the godheads? I don't know) like this excellent resource which documents and links to, as much as possible, everything about all the characters that made up the characters in HM's universe, including even about Jean Kronski, June Miller's intimate who moved in with the two of them in a basement apartment in the mid-20s (HM documented this uncomfortable threesome in Nexus and the earlier Crazy Cock, she is Anastasia, Vanya, or Thelma). Although the women are far more slippery. June Miller's origins were so slippery that both Henry and Anais were obsessed with unraveling them. As this blog documents, no one could even figure out Jean Kronski's name - June allegedly renamed her - but was her first name Marion, or Mara, or Thelma? Was her last name McCarthy, or Fish, or Thrall? Was she a descendent of the Romanoffs as June claimed? We are told that she moved around a series of foster families, who all alternatively had these last names (these orphaned girls, like Marilyn, these wives who change their name, and then have their names changed as characters).

I find so many missings girls among Surrealism as well, like Nadja whose last name we still don't know, and who changed her own name to Nadja. Or the mysterious Suzanne who participated in some of trance experiments in the early 20s who Penelope Rosemont briefly mentions in her anthology on Surrealist women. No, this is not the same Suzanne Breton names X at the end of Nadja. There is a "Megret, Suzanne (Pseudonym)" listed on an image of an Exquisite Corpse I've torn out from a facsimile of a Surrealist magazine - is this the same Suzanne? Although that is from the early 30s. Who are these women, these artistic-girls that flitter through portraits of this period, always elusive? Of Suzanne Muzard (Breton's mistress who he rhapsodizes about at the end of Nadja) on Google we only have a couple photos, my favorite one of her with another girl in one of the first photo-booths.




 June is at first "Mara" in Tropic of Capricorn and then "Mona" in Tropic of Cancer and The Rosy Crucifixion. In real life she dropped out of school at the age of 15 and became a taxi dancer in a Broadway dance hall (rented by the dance for a dime like a taxi), and changed her last name to Mansfield after Katherine Mansfield. She was Sabina in Anais Nin's House of Incest. I love the descriptions of the costume June was wearing when she first met Anais at the house in Louveciennes, June wearing her favorite red velvet dress with holes in the sleeves and a stain down the front (a typical costume for June: black or purple velvet dress, a cape, a man's fedora, lips either black or green, face heavily powdered).

My mother a demonology

I am sorry I have been such a bad blogger later in the week (see how Catholic I am, or is it feminine, the guilt, perhaps it is Jewish). I have been reading deliciously dirty stuff about Flaubert I might share some quotes at some time, but now I've moved on to transcribing my (last!) Rhodia on my readings of and on Anais Nin (focusing on how Anais and Henry write June Miller, June is really as much my Heroine as Anais.) For research I read Deidre Bair's pathologizing biography about Nin, where the biographer seems to really detest and judge her subject, and find her basically narcissist and disgusting (I don't have my notes in front of me, but basically that). She won the National Book Award for it (of course). I am reading this morning over this interview on Salon, and two points. One, WHY do these biographers have this habit of handing over the writings/materials to teams of doctors, and concluding with this diagnosis! The biographer of Vivien(ne), although mostly an erudite and feminist study, well-versed in Foucault and Elaine Showalter and other feminist critiques of the history of mental illness, does just that in the last page. Here, Deidre Bair decides Anais' journals are due to adult-onset incest. I suppose Freud more than anything was a biographer with his case studies. Just curiously, has anyone ever gone to a psychiatrist and not been diagnosed with anything? With not a thing? Like, "You're all good, you're perfectly integrated." Of course going to a psychiatrist suggests a need, and as far as I would imagine psychiatrists are always ready to fill that need. Or: "You're just a little depressed, you don't need to be on something, just life, life can be depressing." I've known psychologists to do this but not medical men. If you have experienced this I would be very curious to hear about it - you can email me at francisfarmerismysister@gmail.com or comment here.

But this other comment in the interview that this morning is thoroughly annoying, Deidre Bair's assertion that Anais Nin's diaries would have no problem getting published, today, if she was a contemporary woman writer. Thus say Bair:

Had she been alive today, her diaries would have been published much earlier, and much more easily. Everyone was terrified of the censorship of the '50s -- from 1940 to 1960, when you know, "Lady Chatterley's Lover," that tame book today, was banned. "Catcher in the Rye" was a dirty book. You have to put yourself back into that historical context and realize that these diaries were shocking at that time, and nobody wanted them.
She would have had such an easy time getting them published today, so she might not have ever tried to write fiction, because diary writing was so easy for her, and fiction writing was so hard. She could never make that leap, beyond herself into the world of pure fiction. Her material was herself, though she was never able to turn that self into an other self, an other entity entirely.
This reminds me, somewhat, of Elizabeth Hardwick's assertion during her essay on Sylvia Plath that "Everything gets published, eventually." (Or, really, Lizzie, everything? Eventually?) I am finding this hard to choke on this morning. What do you think? How many diaries of contemporary women who are not pseudonymous callgirls do we see lining the shelves at the B&N? Of course what Bair doesn't specifiy is whether Anais Nin would be closely linked to a famous writer, as she was then (to Henry Miller). But still, I call bullshit. I say Anais would have blogged, maybe under several pseudonyms, that she would have all these different blogging personas she would abandon at times.