The Paris Diary of Ned Rorem
The Diary of Anais Nin
A Very Easy Death
Ours is an age of mirrors, Ephemeral, sophistic, isolated from each other, we nevertheless reflect each other, till “mirror on mirror mirrored is all the show.” Athlete, statesman, actor, politician—rare indeed is the celebrity who would willingly forego appearing in print without his “kink,” who does not present himself in strenuous pursuit of an “image.” And rarer still the artist not speaking to us of the loss of self, or of the annihilation of self. Abstracted or narcissistic, seeking communion, we confess.
If a man has one person, just one in his life,
To whom he is willing to confess everything…
Then he loves that person, and his love will save him.
But nowadays, surely, when we confess, we confess to the world. The private life is public relations. “I am never with anyone, anyone,” laments the composer Ned Rorem with chilly poignance, “but nobody knows, because my barriers are made of glass.” We reflect on the self, and have many selves, and when the mirror cracks, we have a breakdown. “I feel like a shattered mirror,” writes the novelist Anais Nin during one of her calmer moments. “Why a mirror? A mirror for others? To reflect others, or yourself living behind a mirror and unable to touch real life?” The question, echoing out of Miss Nin’s Paris of the Thirties, comes from Otto Rank, and has a platitudinous ring. Rousseau mocked Montaigne, we mock Rousseau. Simone de Beauvoir: “To write sacrificial essays in which the author strips himself bare without excuses is my single commitment.” And yet we know that the doyenne of authenticity, since she has taught us that much, is probably lying. Embarrassed, bewildered, a little jaded, we turn the pages of these three chronicles of unabashed exposure, and skeptically await a moment of truth. One tests the tone, one sorts the evidence, one looks through the looking glass.
LUNCH YESTERDAY with Nora Auric and Guy de Lesseps. We talked of nothing but masturbation.” Rorem is a Columbus of the looking glass. Distilling himself drop by drop, he discovers his character—which is to say, he drowns in his characteristics. Melancholy, pampered, angelic, maculate, bitchy yet genial, open-hearted, recessive: these are the adjectives that come to mind. Also, shrewd. Almost continually with Rorem, while one side of the mouth condemns, the other side drips honey. In much the same way that Rorem is good at deriding himself (Leonard Bernstein: “The trouble with you and me, Ned, is that we want everyone in the world to personally love us, and of course that’s impossible: you just don’t meet everyone in the world”), Rorem is good at sketching his stance: “My passivity was always stronger than other people’s aggressions.” An exotic, and yet a peculiarly representative type, Rorem is the personable young man on the make, but also the solitary soul making himself, full of dizzying possibilities and dreamy sermons. The trashiest moment, the most romantic motto: he is enthralled by both. His philosophy is…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.