Cities of the Interior by Anaïs Nin

Tuesday, March 1, 2011 § 1

Cities of the Interior: The Continuous Novel by Anaïs Nin written with the Precision of Poetic/
Psycho(logic)al Insight

A Book Review by 
David Detrich

Cities of the Interior (1959) by Anaïs Nin is a large scale poetic novel that represents the height of literary style that was inspired by Surrealism, and the modernism of the early decades of the 20th Century. It is a monumental novel written by an author who has stayed true to the esthetic ideal of poetic prose, and it is an innovative novel that anticipates the direction of the 21st Century: with an inter(text)uality that is precise in psychological insight, with a narrator who is conscious of the painterly techniques of abstract art, with the use of Surrealist imagery, and the use of metaphor to write poetic prose. Anaïs Nin has an expansive, expository style that develops simple concepts into intricate metaphorical sentence structures, often considering the precise meaning of ideas we might wish to express, but lack the courage, or the meditative skill as an accomplished stylist to portray.

The first book of Cities of the Interior, Anaïs Nin's 600 page continuous novel, begins with Ladders to Fire, which is a literary portrait of an artist named Jay, who has become the lover of the narrator.

His taking her was not to take her or master her. He was the lover inside of the woman, as the child is inside of the woman. His caresses were as if he yearned and craved to be taken in not only as a lover; not merely to satisfy his desire but to remain within her. And her yearning answered this, by her desire to be filled. She never felt him outside of herself.
                                                           Ladders to Fire
                                                           Anaïs Nin

Anaïs Nin describes the empathy that allows her character, Jay, to be “the lover inside the woman,” to enter the subjective space of her emotion, not to "master her," but to feel the oneness with his lover, and with all being. To fill the space that is "her desire," and to bring life to her experience, so that the process of genetic replication, of sexual reproduction can occur, in which an exact image of the lover may be brought into the woman.

This is the origin of the creative process itself, to feel empathy for the characters in a novel. Jay finds that his abstract paintings are becoming closer to the cinematic reality which surrounds him, so that the "personages of his paintings," the abstract painterly images of the characters, are beginning to extend: as in an open structured novel.

He did not know any longer where he was walking. The personages of the street and the personages of his paintings extended into each other, issued from one to fall into the other, fell into the work, or out of it, stood now with, now without, frames.
                                                           Ladders to Fire
                                                           Anaïs Nin

The inter(text)uality of Cities of the Interior is evident in many of the passages, with a progression from youthful experience towards that of the more accomplished fellow novelist, and the beauty of Anaïs Nin's development of familiar characters, and relevant themes creates an expansive expression of poetic thought.

The Gemor Press was begun by Anaïs Nin in 1942 to publish her own books in an esthetically pleasing style. It took three months to produce the 500 copies of the first edition, working up to ten hours per day. To take part in the creative process of book design, to run a printing press, and to send copies to reviewers helped Anaïs Nin retain control of her books in a publishing environment where her work was considered avant garde, and too poetic for the mainstream.

Years later Anaïs Nin found Alan Swallow of Denver, who was to publish innovative writers like Ronald Sukenick, and Raymond Federman, and Swallow Press was to become well known for publishing innovative authors.

For more than twenty years Swallow had published poetry, serious fiction, and non-fiction - all from his garage. At a time when independent publishers were beginning to be engulfed by large corporations, Swallow was an anomaly who remained independent and although not rich, was certainly profitable.
                                                           Anaïs Nin: A Biography
                                                           Deirdre Bair

Anaïs Nin published Cities of the Interior with Swallow Press in 1959, and I think this novel deserves more critical attention because it may be the greatest American novel of the 20th Century, written by a woman who was born in France, and moved to Los Angeles, and yet it is rarely seen on the shelf, or acknowledged for being a stylistic masterpiece of the new genre: a novel written in poetic prose. 

But the idea of continuity is much more complex. It suggests that the work is "open," like certain modern sculptures, that its creator expects to extend it into the surrounding space or the context of life. At the same time that this book is not set off from life or carved out of it, bounded by the conventions of classically written symmetrical fiction with resolved conclusions, Cities of the Interior is always open to the addition of new parts.
                                                          The Novel as 
                                                          Mobile in Space
                                                          Sharon Spencer

As an open structure, the five books of Cities of the Interior Anaïs Nin may extend towards the space of the contemporary reader, and remain open as a structure to be appreciated for its poetic beauty.

Cities of the Interior (1959) by Anaïs Nin contains the five individual books of her continuous novel: Ladders to Fire, Children of the Albatross, The Four Chambered Heart, A Spy in the House of Love, and Seduction of the Minotaur that make up the large continuous novel. Cities of the Interior was published by Swallow Press in 1996.

David Detrich lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where he has just completed The Convergence of Two Narrative Lines Ascending, an ultramodern Surrealist novel written in minimal squares. He is working on Dream the Presence of the Circular Breast Starfish Topography, a monumental Surrealist novel written with innovative typographical design. His first novel Big Sur Marvels & Wondrous Delights (2001) is available from Amazon. He is the editor of Innovative Fiction Magazine and Surrealist Star Clustered Illuminations.

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