The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky (Unexpurgated)

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9780374139216: The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky (Unexpurgated)

With an Introduction by Joan Acocella

The astonishing diaries of the great dancer, at last available in their complete form.

In December 1917, Vaslav Nijinsky, the most famous male dancer in the Western world, moved into a Swiss villa with his wife and three-year-old daughter and began to go mad. This diary, which he kept in four notebooks over six weeks, is the only sustained, on-the-spot written account we have by a major artist of the experience of entering psychosis.

A prodigy from his youth in Russia, Nijinsky came to international fame as a principal dancer in Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. After a falling-out between the two great men--who had lived openly as lovers for some time--Nijinsky struggled to build a career on his own. When psychosis struck, he began to imagine himself as married to God, indeed as God, signing his entries "God Nijinsky." Although he lived another thirty years, he never regained his sanity.

Already a classic in its earlier, bowdlerized edition, the diary now appears uncut for the first time in English, together with its previously unavailable fourth notebook. It is Nijinsky's confession and his prophecy. At the same time, it reads like a novel, portraying the terror in the Nijinsky household as the dancer plunged into madness. In her Introduction, the noted dance writer Joan Acocella explains the context of the diary and its significance in the history of modernism.

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Review:

Vaslav Nijinsky spent the final six weeks before his permanent consignment to an insane asylum as something a madman in the attic. With his family--wife, young daughters and occasionally, mother-in-law--and household staff downstairs, the legendary dancer retreated to his room in a remote Swiss villa to tangle with his burgeoning psychosis. Fearful that his wife would (as she ultimately did) commit him, and highly suspicious of the physician-cum-amateur psychiatrist who daily came by to examine him, Nijinsky perceived the diary as the only safe haven for the rambling thoughts that were overtaking him. Throughout, the anxiety and anguish are palpable, as Nijinsky writes about his disillusionment with his mentor and lover, Ballets Russes director Serge Diaghilev; his alienation from and distrust of his closest family members; and his fear of insanity and its consequential confinement. His writing becomes more obscure as the weeks progress and he examines his relationship to God, writing "I am God" at one point, and later: "God said to me, 'Go home and tell your wife that you are mad.'" As his schizophrenia evolves, the pace and style of Nijinsky's prose changes radically--toward the end he writes in abstract verse--but he remains, with a dancer's sensibility, attuned to the cadences of his environment. The noises of the household, the ringing of the phone, footsteps down the hall, smatterings of conversations overheard are all registered as a sort of accompaniment to his dance with madness and function perhaps as a final tether to reality.

Nijinsky's wife stumbled upon the diary in a locked trunk some years after her husband disappeared into the abyss of madness and soon released it for publication to feed public interest in her famous mate--but not before she sanitized the manuscript to such a degree (removing references to his homosexuality, overblown ego, bizarre paranoia, and various obsessions with bodily functions and sex acts) that its essence was obscured. Now 80 years after it was written, 20 years after its renegade editor died, and six years after the copyright that Nijinsky's daughters held expired, the unexpurgated version of the diaries faithfully restores the fascinating record of a great artist's struggle for his life.

Book Description:

A uniquely personal record of a great artist’s descent into madness

In his prime, Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950) was the most celebrated man in Western ballet--a virtuoso and a dramatic dancer such as European and American audiences had never seen before. After his triumphs in such works as The Specter of the Rose and Petrouchka, he set out to make ballets of his own, and with his Afternoon of a Faun and The Rite of Spring, created within a year of each other, he became ballet’s first modernist choreographer. Then, still in his twenties, he began to go mad.

For six weeks in early 1919, as his tie to reality was giving way, Nijinsky kept a diary--the only sustained daily record we have, by a major artist, of the experience of entering psychosis. In some entries he is filled with hope. He is God; he will save the world. In other entries, he falls into a black despair. He is dogged by sexual obsessions, and by grief over World War I. Furthermore, he is afraid that he is going insane.

The diary was first published in 1936, in a version heavily bowdlerized by Nijinsky’s wife. The new edition, translated by Kyril FitzLyon, is the first complete and accurate English rendering of this searing document. In her introduction, the noted dance critic Joan Acocella tells Nijinsky’s story and places it in the context of early European modernism.

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