Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Literary Aphrodisiacs: Anaïs Nin's Delta of Venus

by Drew Martin

I recently finished reading Anaïs Nin's Delta of Venus. While much of the text can be read as autobiographical, or at least as experiences worthy of Nin's intimate participation, there is one passage, through the character of Elena, that seems like a direct line to a behind-the-scenes Nin.

"People express audacity in various ways," said Elena. "I usually turn back, as you say, and then I go home and write a book which becomes an obsession of the censors."

"That's a misuse of natural forces," said the man.

"But then," said Elena, "I use my book like dynamite, I place it where I want the explosion to take place, and then I blast my way through with it!"

As she said these words an explosion took place somewhere in the mountain where a road was being made, and they laughed at the coincidence.

Before we celebrate Nin for her audacity and carefree spirit within the pages of Delta of Venus, it is important to read the preface and understand what fueled the writing. The preface is comprised of a few of Nin's diary entries from 1940 and 1941, and concludes with a postscript from 1976. She explains.

Here in the erotica I was writing to entertain, under pressure from a client who wanted me to "leave out the poetry."

Nin was not alone in the mission to satisfy this man. A colorful array of writers churned out the stories at a dollar a page.

The homosexuals wrote as if they were women. The timid ones wrote about orgies. The frigid ones about frenzied fulfillments. The most poetic ones indulged in pure bestiality and the purest ones in perversions. We were haunted by the marvelous tales we could not tell...We told a story and the rest of us had to decide whether it was true or false. Or plausible. Was this plausible?

Although Nin embraced the work and brought much of herself to it, the arrangement with this client was taxing.

But one day we reached saturation, I would tell him how he almost made us lose interest in passion by his obsession with the gestures empty of their emotions, and how we reviled him, because he almost caused us to take vows of chastity, because what he wanted us to exclude was our own aphrodisiac - poetry.

She penned a thrashing letter to this invisible force.

"Dear Collector: We hate you. Sex loses all its power and magic when it becomes explicit, mechanical, overdone, when it becomes a mechanistic obsession. It becomes a bore. You have taught us more than anyone I know how wrong it is not to mix it with emotion, hunger, desire, lust, whims, caprices, personal ties, deeper relationships that change its color, flavor, rhythms, intensities...Sex must be mixed with tears, laughter, words, promises, scenes, jealousy, envy, all the spices of fear, foreign travel, new faces, novels, stories, dreams, fantasies, music, dancing, opium, wine...

That being said, this abstract brawl between the Nin and the client reminds me of television scenes of good guy/bad guy fights, with an ally outside the tumble, unable to shoot down the villain because the two are so intertwined, whirling about. Nin controls the final outcome and pens scenarios and lines that benefit female fantasy more than anything else.

"For the first time, a real woman," he said. "So many have come here, but for the first time here is a real woman, someone I can worship."

I like Nin most when she is playful but I also find her fascinating when she takes something so common as a belt and loads it with meaning.

Pierre was sitting at the edge of the bed and had slipped his pants on and was fastening the buckle of his belt. Elena had slipped on her dress but was still coiled around him as he sat. Then he showed her his belt. She sat up to look at it. It had been a heavy, strong leather belt with a silver buckle but was now so completely worn that it looked about to tear. The tip of it was frayed. The places where the buckle fastened were almost as thin as a piece of cloth.

"My belt is wearing out," Pierre said, "and it makes me sad because I have had it ten years." He studied it contemplatively.

...[three paragraphs of erotica]...

Then suddenly the realization that the belt was so old, that Pierre had always worn it, struck her with a strange, sharp pain. She saw him unfastening it in other places, other rooms, at other hours, for other women.

She was jealous, acutely jealous, with this image repeating itself. She wanted to say, "Throw the belt away. At least do not carry the same one that you wore for them. I will give you another." It was as if his feeling of affection for the belt were a feeling of affection for the past that he could not rid himself of entirely. For her, the belt represented the gestures made in the past. She asked herself if all the caresses had been the same.