I just took part in a cultural event dedicated to Anaïs Nin (1903-1977) and her oeuvre. Nin is for me a kind of ‘erotic philosopher’. I don’t always agree about Nin’s erotic philosophy but she was, and still is, very controversial mainly because she dared, as a woman, to break all taboos about sex. Anaïs Nin dared to be, erotically, wild. That’s adouble sin for a woman: being wild is prohibited, but being erotically wild is one of the biggest taboos hanging like a Damocles sword on a woman’s head.
The word ‘wild’ and ‘erotic’ here are not used in the modern negative connotation, meaning out of control or being associated with pornographic or ‘immoral’ behavior. I refer to the original sense which means to be natural, spontaneous, to be powerful and in touch with that raw life force in our belly, in our womb.
Personally I discovered Nin as a young teenager, in Tunisia, in my father’s readings. My father -before he became a fanatic imam (leading Islamic prayers in the mosque) and dedicates his studies only to Koran texts- used to devour all kind of books. In the summer, he would always read before his siesta (an afternoon nap) until he fell asleep. Everybody in the house would sleep except me. I never wanted to sleep. I was a hyperactive child. In the West they would have probably labeled me as suffering from an ‘ADHD’ (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Quelle horreur! I am glad I spent my childhood in Tunisia; at least there I was hyperactive and normal.
Nevertheless, during these long siesta afternoons, as soon as my father fell asleep, I would read his book. Until I heard at his snoring sounds changing from loud to soft that he was about to wake up. Then I would delicately place the book back next to his hand and do as if I was sleeping. During all my summer childhood and teenager hood years my father thought I was sleeping and I was secretly reading all the books he was reading.
In the beginning I could not read, so I just watched the letters. By the time I could read, l did not understand much of what I read. But I got my father’s virus: I started devouring books. In these long and hot Mediterranean afternoons I read basically most of European and Arab classics. Some books have marked me like Le Journal d’Anne Frank (Diary of A.F.) That made me dream about living in Amsterdam, which I did about 30 years later…
Another book that marked me was a feminist book, Le Deuxieme Sexe of Simone de Beauvoir. Honestly I read it because I thought it was about sex. I found it quite boring but read it until the end hoping that I would find sex scenes! Despite the fact that I did not understand much of it, de Beauvoir’s book formed my young feminist brain.
One more book I was not supposed to read, and which also marked my way of dreaming and thinking, was Erotica of Anaïs Nin. That book was at least about sex! Finally! Nin’s book not only opened my eyes and brain about women’s sexual freedom and érotique but it also opened my eyes about my father’s hypocrisy. Honestly I could never take him seriously when he became an Imam. I always thought ‘yes, right… Erotica Imam… give me a break with all your religious preaches!’
Nin’s book helped me to have the courage to rebel against any kind of
patriarchal sexual oppression, starting with my father’s.
Her book made
me also dream: dream about living in a culture, a country, where women would be erotically as free as Nin’s personages. So my dream as a little girl was to live and study in Paris, Beauvoir and Nin’s city. And later to go and live in Anne Frank’s city, Amsterdam.
Many years later I moved to the West, full of hope and excitement. The years passed and I moved from country to country, exploring as many western cities as possible. I lived in Paris and Amsterdam and many other Western cities, looking for the wild feminine personages of Nin. Until I sadly realized that Nin’s personages were more of a fiction than a reality; that there were few women who reached that erotic mastery Nin was describing in her books. That my Western sisters were erotically also chained and limited, like my Arab-Muslim sisters… It’s just that their chains and limitations have different colors and flavors.
Ironically, East or West, at the end it came to the same: women’s érotique is distorted. Everywhere. It’s a patriarchal global disease. No matter what the religious or cultural background is, women are not supposed to be erotically wild, or wild, tout court. As Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes in her bestseller Women Who Run with the Wolves: “Wildlife and the Wild Woman are both endangered species”, The Wild Erotic Woman is as endangered as the wild Panthera Pardus Orientalis!
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