Babel: Untying tongues


Babel is dedicated to the lives and work of

Anais Nin, Mother Teresa


Diana Spencer





Britain's Princess Diana talks to amputees in this January photo, taken at the the Neves Bendinha Orthopedic Workshop on the outskirts of Luanda, Angola. Sitting on her lap is 13-year-old Sandra Thijica, who lost her left leg to a land mine while working the land with her mother. "Nothing gives me more pleasure now than being able to love and help those in our society who are vulnerable... If I can contribute a little something, then I am more than content." -- Princess Diana, in Vanity Fair magazine early in 1997.



From The Diary of Anais Nin, Volume Seven, 1966-1974, page 264:

From the transcript of my commencement address at the Philadelphia College of Art:

I am particularly touched to receive an honor from this college because I was always accused of favoring the artist. It was not only being one but also learning from them that convinced me that perhaps the only magician we have is the artist. And it was James Joyce who said that history was a nightmare from which we hope to awaken. I would like to tell you how my love and feeling about the magic powers of art began.

My father and mother warred constantly, but when the hour of music came, the house would grow peaceful and my mother would sing beautifully and my father would play the piano and string quartets came to the house and as children we thought: Now the magic begins, everything is peaceful and beautiful. And I learned very early in my life that music could transform, could transfigure, could transpose a human battle into beauty.

When I was sixteen and I became a painter's model, when the other young women around me were bored and looking at their watches, I was learning about color from the painters. Later on, I learned the importance of the image, which I have always used in my writing as coming from the dream, a way of thinking which no modern life has ever been able to eradicate.

As a writer I wanted simply to take all the various expressions of art into writing, and I thought each art must nourish the other, each one can add to the other. And I would take into writing what I learned from dancing, what I learned from music, what I learned from design, what I learned from architecture. From every form of art there is something that I wanted to include in writing, and I wanted writing, poetic writing, to include them all. Because I thought always of art not only as a balm, as a consolation, but I thought of art, as I said, as a supreme act of magic which is contained in certain words that I always tell students to write on a large piece of paper and to live with. These were all the words concerned with trans-: transcend, transmute, transform, transpose, transfigure. All the acts of creation were to me contained in these words, and I felt that no matter what we were living through, we had to find our strength, our harmony and a synthesis by which we could live, and make a center to resist outer events and whatever experience shattered us. I always used art to put myself together again. That is why I favored the artist, because I learned from him this creating out of nothing.

I learned from Varda how to make collages out of bits of cloth; in fact, he made me cut out the lining of my coat to make a collage, and it was certainly more beautiful as a collage than just as the lining of my coat. I learned from Tinguely how to go to a junkyard and make a satire of the machine....The power to create out of nothing. The feeling that on depressed days, for example, in New York, I could go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and look at The Sun by Lippold. Some of you must have seen this; it takes the whole room; it is actually more radiant than our natural sun. And, just sitting there and looking at the Lippold sun, my melancholy would be dissipated. That is why I call the artist the magician, because he holds the antitoxins. And when we are shattered, or when we are in a state of despair or sorrow about what is happening outside, being able to create something out of clay, out of glass, out of bits of material, out of junkyards, out of anything, was the proof of the creativity of man. But in history, I saw only the struggle for power, the struggle for possession. In the life of the artist, I saw that he had to be a dedicated person, that he was not sure of worldly rewards, that he would have to wait, that he had the most difficult task of all, which is (as Otto Rank put it) to balance our two wishes - one, to stay close to others; the other, to create something which may alienate us from our culture. The artist is the one who has to risk the alienation, as I did for many years because I was writing something which was not in the trend of that moment. I had to wait for many years for synchronicity between the feelings of this generation and their attitudes and their values. So this waiting is difficult, and I know many writers will have to go through it, and that they have to separate themselves; they have to, at the same time, understand and reflect their culture, but they also have to see beyond it. And it's in this moment that they begin to shape the future for us, the future of architecture or the future of music. This is the difficult moment when we sometimes repudiate them or disregard them or treat them with great indifference. So I feel the artist has the will to create, and that this is a magic power which can transform and transfigure and transpower and transmit to others.

Gaston Bachelard, the French philosopher, said something very touching; he said sometimes he thinks that what we have suffered from most is silence: the silence which surrounds our acts, the silence which surrounds our relationships, the things we cannot say, that we cannot tell to others. There was a moment in America when I was afraid that people had decided never to read again, never to depend on literature, and never even to talk again. I was very troubled until I realized that what they objected to was babble and not talking together; what they objected to was a literature that didn't bring them life, but abstractions. And therefore, for the novel not to die, for writing not to die, we had to return to the sources of life, which meant biography, which meant basing all happenings on truth, but not forgetting that art would then transform this truth, transmute this truth into poetry. And poetry will teach us how to levitate. That is what the poet teaches us, to levitate.

Bachelard also said that what the artist has done is to make it possible for us to believe in the world, to love the world, and to create the world. And I really believe this because when I began the creation of the Diaries, I never knew that I was creating a world which was an antithesis to the world around me which I rejected, which was full of sorrows and full of wars and full of difficulties. I was creating the world I wanted, and in this world, once it is created, you invite others, and then you attract those who have affinities, and this becomes a universe, this becomes not a private world at all but something which transcends the personal and creates this link. Bachelard says we suffer from silence; what the Diaries did was to speak, and then you spoke to me in return...So the universal link can be created by each artist when he really turns to his individual creation and is not afraid of ignoring the fashion or the current dictatorship. When the artist starts out on his road, it seems a lonely one, but he dares to follow it. And this daring is so important, this sense of adventure. Even beginning a diary, you see, was already conceding that life would be more bearable if you looked at it as an adventure and a tale. I was telling myself the story of a life, and this transmutes into an adventure the things which can shatter you. It becomes then the mythical voyage which we all have to undertake, the inner voyage, the voyage in classical literature through the labyrinth. And then you begin to look at events as challenges to your courage, and I'm not saying that we all have to be heroes but that we do have to fulfill the journey and believe that there is a way out of the labyrinth.

-- Anais Nin