“When we blindly adopt a religion, or political system, a literary dogma, we become automatons. We cease to grow.”
From the April 1944 entry from The Diary of Anais Nin (1944-47) by French-Cuban American writer Anais Nin (born — get ready for it: Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell). Nin began writing her diary at the age of 11 in 1914 and kept writing until her death in 1977. Initially the diary was to be a letter to her father, who had left the family when she was young. Over time, even though she had a psychotherapist (Ott Rank), the diary turned out to be her best therapist. By the end of her life, the diary encompassed over 15,000 typewritten pages in 150 volumes — talk about dedication! It was her wish to have the diaries published. Due to its length, many publishers passed; however she eventually found a publisher who began with Volume 1 in 1966. The quotation that began this post is ubiquitous on the internet, largely because it is incredibly relevant to what is happening with respect to politics and religion in America and around the globe, yet there is rarely a precise source or context. So let’s learn a bit more about the specific context for Nin’s piercing observation and prescience.
In the 1944 letter, Nin describes her encounter with Olga, a political journalist who wants to return to writing poetry: “Olga felt she had deserted her poet self for a more altruistic occupation. Now her task was over. It was rendered futile by the turn of events… When the system failed (historically), there was never a question that it may have failed because it was composed of incompleted human beings, human beings who had ceased to work on their individual development. And it is this development which I believe will influence history from within, rather than systems. If enough individuals had worked at their own development, history would be formed as natural things are formed, organically, from the impulse of quality and maturity…. [Olga was] no longer the political journalist, no longer the woman of the world, but a woman in quest of her poetic self, trying to unlock the many doors she had closed upon this self. She had not only locked them, as she said, but she had lost the key.”
Nin ponders her friend’s situation and advocates focusing on inner reflection and growth. She writes: “Every time our hope for a better world is based on a system, this system collapses, due to the corruptibility and imperfection of human beings. I believe we have to go back and work at the growth of human beings, so they will not need systems, but will know how to rule themselves. Now you have suffered the shock of disillusion in an ideology which has betrayed its ideals. It is a good time to return to the creation of yourself, not as a blind number in a group, but as an individual. Poetry is merely the language of our night-self, in which are imbedded the seeds of all we do and are in the day. We can only control it by knowing it. Better to make this journey back to what you had intended, rather than to die of disillusion.”
Nic then gave her friend a copy of Nightwood by Njuna Barnes and Choix des Elues by Jean Giraudoux “to help her re-enter the world of myth which alone makes the monstrosities of history bearable. She had to return to an incomplete woman because the task she had undertaken had not matured her. When we blindly adopt a religion, or political system, a literary dogma, we become automatons. We cease to grow.”
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