Book Review

A Spy In The House Of Love by Anaïs Nin

a literary lifestyle novelist in the GUM clinic

In Which Scott Manley Hadley Sets Out His Agenda For The Forthcoming Year’s Blog Posts:

If TriumphoftheNow.com in 2016 was about my “problems” with drinking (kinda fixed, mostly), and if TriumphoftheNow.com in 2017 was about my “problems” with depression (kinda fixed, mostly), then TriumphoftheNow.com in 2018 is destined to be about my “problems” with sex and sexuality.

Because I, Scott Manley Hadley, have become a spy in the house of love.

I sit, typing this on my giant phone, in the waiting room of a sexual health clinic, having finally decided it’s time I had my adult penis tested for sexual diseases. Or is it infections? I don’t know the right word, I’m a sexual naif, which is all the more reason to work out whether or not I have blood and semen that is too hot to handle (i.e. sexually infected). In theory, I shouldn’t have anything wrong with me (I’m not a virgin but I’m not irresponsible), though I would like to know, y’know, and now I’m not overwhelmed by a crushing depression I can no longer put off doing the things I need to do to sort my kooky life out. Finding out whether my penis is clean is a stressful, though responsible and grown up, thing to do, and one that it would be immature for me to avoid for much longer because the sexual vultures are circling and – as much as I wish I didn’t – I kinda want the sexual vultures to soar the fuck down.

Getting an STD test is my second, serious, responsible, act of the week, and sadly (or not) it’s not going to be the last. I may be 29 years young, but I’m going on 21 because Scott Manley Hadley is finally growing up.

///

One of the many big, long term, problems in my life is my confused relationship with sexuality. I’m currently working on a long form essay about this, tentatively titled “Why I Always Wanted To Be Gay”, so this blog post is not the place for anonymised detail about my recent adventures on Grindr (not very adventurous), my recent adventures on Tinder (slightly more adventurous) or my deep confusion and kinda horror at the wholly positive response I received following the publication of my Huffington Post article about #MeToo, which I meant far more as a personal acknowledgement of collective guilt than as a collective announcement of personal saintliness.

Because, for me, guilt is what my sexuality has always been most associated with. To summarise my eventually much longer piece, “I always wanted to be gay” because I have never seen a model of male heterosexuality I have wanted to emulate. For me, the exhibition of male desire for women has almost always been coded as something unpleasant, something a bit malevolent. And I am absolutely talking about the sexualities of myself and my closest heterosexual male friends here, as well as the sexualities of heterosexual male celebrities and heterosexual male characters in film, television and literature.

I’ve always feared that it’s impossible to be a good man who wants to have sex with women, but on adult reflection this only holds true in action if one believes that it does. Denying that any sexuality even exists most of the time – as I did for many, many years other than at the most extremes of intoxication (with some exceptions, tho, tbf) – isn’t helpful or healthy. Taking pride in the fact that people often thought I was gay or – better – asexual was utterly fucking stupid. I have needed to come to terms with my sexuality for a long time, and I’d always hoped that would involve a revelation of a hunger for men that I had never discovered, even a decade ago when I used to regularly have men’s tongues in my mouth, but always without the stirring butterflies of desire. In fact, the reason why I used to enjoy kissing men so much was because it didn’t remotely arouse me: to kiss without desire, to kiss where kissing was all that I was doing and thinking about, was to me divine. I liked to tell myself this was due to my repression, and once I accepted my sexuality I would be able to have glorious gay sex with glorious gay men, but at no point has that desire appeared within me. Alas, I now know that it is time for me to accept my [pedestrian] heterosexuality and engage with the world as an adult sexual being, which I have to accept that I am.

So, being the man I am – and some factors I do not want to change – I did what any self-respecting literary fan on the search for sexual self-discovery would do: I read some Anaïs Nin. And I fucking loved it, loved it, loved it, and I think it had a huge array of passages that held genuine value to my malleable, messed up, head.

A Spy In The House of Love is a glorious, gorgeous, erotic novel that transports a reader into and through multiple love affairs had by Sabina (if that even is her real name), a failed actress of Hungarian origin who is enjoying herself in New York and its environs in what I presumed were either the early 1950s or late 1940s. Jazz is everywhere and the aftershocks of the war ripple through society. I imagine a conservative contemporary reading could have argued that it was the societal destruction of the war that led to the rise of people living like Sabina and her lovers, but I think individuals seeking sexual liberation has been eternal. Sabina is married to a man (called Alan) who she loves but is unexcited by, so she instead spends nights of passion with Mambo, with Philip, with Jay, with Donald, enjoying sneaking around and seduction, the lies the lies the lies, as much as she enjoys the sex, which she does very much enjoy.

Sabina seeks a happiness through Fuck that she cannot get elsewhere. As much as she loves returning to her dull husband, she isn’t excited by the prospect. He is a home, more a father than a lover, whereas the other men she sees treat her in multiple different ways, all of which flatter her. She can be high brow and knowledgeable and respectable to some lovers, easy and fun and trashy to others, spontaneous and smart to yet more, rather than just Sabina-the-wife, as she is to Alan. There is a stunning metaphor towards the end of the novel, where Sabina compares herself to a painting by Marcel Duchamp where a figure seems to split into multiple parts as it walks down some stairs:

Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending A Staircase, No. 2

This myriad of identities, of multiple ideas of self living within one person, are beautifully captured by Nin’s writing: the simultaneous urges for passionate desire as well as comfortable complacency, the compartmentalising that happens in a life, the way people dissect the erotic from the domestic and then judge themselves (and others) for transgressing against this. I recently read a fascinating article in the New Yorker (online, obviously, I’m not quite an Englishman who buys a paper copy of the New Yorker, tho granted that is the TYPE of man I am) about this, about the excessively zealous way in which people judge adulterers and adultery, despite increasing societal tolerance of other types of non-monogamous, non-heterosexual relationships. It argued that seeking only one relationship in a life, a relationship meant to fulfil all needs for human interaction, is unattainable, and that encouraging people to aim for this puts a weighty strain on contemporary relationships. Sabina, more than half a century ago, is a fictional character who embodies the reality of this, though is in a great denial to herself in some respects.

The conclusion of the novel involves Sabina engaging more with the idea of her problematic marriage, and how by reducing her husband to a paternalistic, non-erotic figure, she is removing her justification or validity to expectations of love from him. I suppose it is a sadly old school ending to a novel that is otherwise v progressive with regards to female sexuality. Sabina doesn’t feel guilty for the adultery per se, but instead a rather confused guilt for the fact that she feels no regret.

Nin’s writing is glorious and sensuous, she writes of sexuality and sex itself with a far more relatable tone than all the Updikes and Mailers who were onanistically writing adulterous sex at the same time. In Nin’s writing, the pleasure to be taken from sex is very present, is very real, and it is only social constructs that keep Sabina from enjoying herself and her sexuality more. She cannot continue to be the mistress of multiple men, because eventually they will expect a firmer commitment, she cannot remain in her sexless marriage with Alan because it leaves her unfulfilled, she is not able to embody the full gamut of self facets that she possesses – back to the Duchamp painting – while married to Alan or if monogamously with any other man, so so so so Sabina is left in a quandry. She must choose parts of herself to lose, parts of herself to preserve, and it is not possible, was not possible, will not be possible, for all to remain.

I understand this, because I have long struggled to align within myself my very real wish to be a good person (i.e. hurting, upsetting and irritating no one), plus my very real desire for heterosexual sex. Pretending that I am sexless, pretending I am without desire, has not been successful. I used to regularly refer to myself and my life as “post sex” for most of my late twenties, but no more. Over the next few months I am going to mostly read books that explore desire and sexuality, in the hope that something, something, will rub off on me (and, no, I’m not talking about frottage). I must embrace an adult identity, which includes an adult self-relationship with my own self-sexuality. I must not make – and mean – statements like “wanking is better than sex” (because, if/when it is, you’re doing sex wrong) and I must not take pride in people presuming I am sexless and innocent when I know that within me are caverns of desire.

So, let’s read more books about sex and sexuality. And let’s try to enjoy ourselves, without infantilisation or sexlessness.

Also, to celebrate the fact that I now self-identify as a poet, every blog post will now end with an original poem.

TESTS

The doctor pushed apart my peehole
Like one of those fortune tellers
Children make from paper.

It popped open and he stuck in a metal rod
Tipped by a cotton bud
And rolled it about.

The doctor warned the swab might hurt
But it didn’t
And nor did it hurt
When he stuck a needle in my arm
To pull out blood.

The last time I had a blood test
Was when some other doctors
Wanted to make sure the overdose I’d taken
Wasn’t going to kill me
(Even though it already hadn’t).

Both times I had blood pulled
I giggled.
I liked it,
It felt good.

It felt good that first time
Even though I wished I was dead.
Being in the hospital
Getting a test
Meant I had failed.

When I had my second blood test
It was because
I had decided to be alive.
And becoming able to
– when it’s time –
fuck unprotected
Is a sign of embracing life.
Right?

5 comments on “A Spy In The House Of Love by Anaïs Nin

  1. still at the top of ‘most interesting poetry related man’ list

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post Scott. If – and I think it probably is – the New Yorker is right, then the next step is to dismantle the family unit as the ideal type for containing/satisfying human sexuality. I go a bit further in my upcoming novel, asking the question ‘why do we have children’? especially as we of all species have liberated ourselves from seasonal mating periods & enjoy non-reproductive sex. These are such huge questions that we shy away from unpicking. Is family fundamentally tied to Capitalism? I’m not sure, as it certainly predated capitalism and the family unit is struggling to persevere in our contemporary times. Was sex different behind the Iron Curtain than it was under Western capitalism? I suspect it was. Is Scandi guilt-free (relatively) sex different to British and American sex? In some ways Sweden is very liberated and yet chauvinist male attitudes are prevalent among men there. And so it spins on.

    Re your reading list on sex – can I recommend Neil Bartlett’s “Skin Lane”? Although a gay writer, I’m not sure there’s anyone who writes about sex & desire better than he right now.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. you are WONDERFUL ~ !!! what an absolute treat to read your candid, witty, and super engaging piece on Anais Nin (who incidentally along with Betty Boop before her) was one of my biggest influences in my late teens and early 20’s. Everything from my interest in psychoanalysis to DH. Lawrence to the way we interact with notions AND feelings of sexuality I have found in her diaries, in her prose. Thank you in some respects for resurrecting her for me!! I also need to thank DH. and my new found enthusiasm for all things Etruscan, for leading me into the the deliciously charming workings of your mind — to think a tuscan yoga holiday I am organising brought me to your blog! well, I cant wait to read more, and READ MORE (something which is on my 2018 LIST of things to do, like every other year that preceded it!)

    Speaking of which, as a woman who now in her mid-40’s, with a packed stellium in her 7th house I have always been fascinated by the relationship people have with sex (lets be honest its more than dichotomous, no longer just a question of saints and sinners). Perhaps this was what laid bare my immediate connection to Anais Nin — she presented an honest, yet layered existence in which her characters very much held up a mirror to one another, I could see myself in them in the same way I could watch and experience the myriad of ways people projected their feelings about sex, their fears, their prowess, their vulnerability, onto me — in part because for me, boundaries are more porous? to slip into a world of eroticism and sensuality comes with tremendous ease. For me, sex has always been and will hopefully forever be like the opium den’s Nin wrote about — it is the place where I can let go and be free. It is a place where I dont have to think, I can just BE. While this state of being can turn into a dumping ground for other people’s projections and repressions, I still wouldn’t have it any other way and prefer to remain open and free to love, transcend and revel in those mysterious and subtle ways the flesh speaks to us. Yes, people erect walls, but I have found grace inside these walls.

    Looking forward to you posts, the books you will review as well as your journey!!

    xo jacqui

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton – Triumph of the Now

  5. Pingback: The Tryst by Monique Roffey – Triumph of the Now

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