Two Works in Anaïs Nin's Cities of the Interior

Ladders to Fire and Seduction of the Minotaur, two of Anaïs Nin's most self-reflexive works, examine the sexual tensions rooted deeply in the female consciousness.

Ladders to Fire

Publisher: Ohio University Press / Swallow
Price: $16.95
Author: Anaïs Nin
Length: 180 pages
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2014-01

Seduction of the Minotaur

Publisher: Ohio University Press / Swallow
Price: $14.95
Author: Anaïs Nin
Length: 148 pages
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2014-01

A serious-thinking writer and a pioneer of erotic literature, Anaïs Nin’s reputation in the literary world has been rather precarious, often met with as much adulation as it has disparagement. Nin’s ability to plumb the depths of female sexuality was certainly groundbreaking; no female writer who came before her had managed such intimate disclosures on the personal sexual triumphs of women in the 20th century.

Naturally, this would be cause for disconcertion as her works proved to be exploits on areas of sexuality both risky and questionable. Perhaps unfairly, Nin is best known for her two volumes of erotic literature, Delta of Venus and Little Birds, works that explored extremely dangerous sexual undertakings which included pedophilia, necrophilia, sadomasochism and even bestiality. Nin never intended for Delta of Venus and Little Birds to be published (these works were commissioned privately by a wealthy aficionado of pornographic literature during the 40s and only, much later, published widely after Nin’s death).

In fact, these two works seem to have eclipsed Nin’s more deeply observed studies of the female mind as well as her voluminous diaries of which she kept since the age of 11. But it should be reminded that the author had always had designs on the more nuanced rhythms of female sexuality, journaling her observations and emotions with the sharp eye of a well-studied and literate writer. Ladders to Fire and Seduction of the Minotaur are but two works belonging to a quintet of novels of which Nin termed “Cities of the Interior” (novels related mainly by theme and a few recurring characters). The most famous work from this quintet remains A Spy in the House of Love, a novel of a woman’s exploration of her newfound sexual freedom, which predated Erica Jong’s significant contribution to literature, Fear of Flying, by nearly 20 years.

Like A Spy in the House of Love, both Ladders to Fire and Seduction of the Minotaur examine the landscapes of sexual proclivities between the sexes. The former, the first of the quintet, is the fictional study of a number of women who are dealing with the pains and struggles of love. Ladders to Fire’s central figure, Lillian, is a woman whose relationship to her finicky lover, Jay, is complicated by her burgeoning desires for the mysterious Djuna. Though linear, the story is somewhat formless; the narrative arc here is rather loose and what we are presented with are a series of examinations that chart the distances between desire and the objects of affection.

With feverish detail, Nin describes the deep emotional exploits between Lillian and Djuna as their implicit love for one another is tested against a backdrop of men who seem to rebound in and out of Lillian’s life. Djuna, a woman left parentless as a child and sent to an orphanage, seems to awaken in Lillian some oedipal longing which, as Nin illustrates, prepares Lillian for some inception into adulthood. Nin doesn’t allow the reader a clear window to Djuna, opting to create in the woman a screen of which Lillian will project her needs and frustrations onto. Most of Lillian’s relationships with the men in the novel seem to revolve around her burgeoning metamorphosis into a self-actualized woman; here Djuna serves as the activator in Lillian’s transformation. The novel is a rather rocky beginning to a large body of work in which Nin would eventually present her theories with clearer definition.

Seduction of the Minotaur is, in fact, the last work in the quintet. Lillian returns here wiser, a little more self-assured. On a vacation in Mexico, Lillian, now a renowned musician, is still embroiled in the struggles of sexual assertion. Upon arriving in the city of Golconda, Lillian experiences an overload of the senses (or perhaps a sensual overload), in which her beliefs and practices as a stranger in a foreign land is tested by the curious and sexually confident locals.

Because the novel is very much of its time (it was written in 1961), there is the slightly distasteful air of exoticism which hangs about; Lillian, a white woman, is aroused by the locals who have the misfortune of being portrayed as slightly “savage”, or at least somewhat ignorant of outside cultures. However, Seduction of the Minotaur manages to fully exhibit Nin at the height of her powers in concrete imagery; her fluid prose reads like poetry and, as a result, allows one a revealing angle into Lillian’s internal world of sufferings and pleasures.

Like Ladders to Fire, Seduction of the Minotaur is rather vague, opting to draw an arc loose enough to allow room for conjecture and subjectivity. The novel marks yet another effort in a body of work that acutely explores the sexual tensions rooted deeply in the female consciousness.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.