Seeing things with Anaïs Nin and others

We also write to heighten our own awareness of life. We write to lure and enchant and console others. We write to serenade our lovers. We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection.  -Anaïs Nin, transcribed from this 2-minute video:

“We write to taste life twice.”  I grok it.

Movie poster

Get a taste of it in the 1990 movie Henry & June.  It was mandatory watching for me because Uma Thurman played June.

Photo by Walrus & Associates – © 1990. Click to open the full screen source image at IMDb


Photo:  Maria de Medeiros (l.) as Anaïs and Uma Thurman (r.) as June in Henry & June (1990):

The full title of Nin’s book is Henry and June: From A Journal of Love. The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin (1931–1932) (1986), edited by Rupert Pole after her death.


In The Balsamean February 2013 blog post Wind Slayer, I wrote,

Much of so-called non-fiction, especially in personal writing, is fictional anyway, because we so often “see things as we are, not as they are.”  Which also supports the idea that there is no such thing as fiction.

I attributed the quote to Anais Nin, on the grounds that she made the saying famous, if not her invention.  She attributed it to the Talmud.  Some Talmud gurus say it isn’t there.

Anaïs Nin

The quote is attributed incorrectly to Steve Jobs, Immanuel Kant, the great naturalist E. O. Wilson, H.M Tomlinson, Leo Rosten, and a Chinese fortune cookie.  It comes very close to some things said by the philosopher Epictetus in the 1st Century C.E., who is also cool.

The terrific Quote Investigator (Garson O’Toole) offers a definitive article on the history of the quote’s sources.  He says that Anaïs Nin used the sentence in her 1961 book Seduction of the Minotaur, which he verified in the book.

“We do not see things as they are.  We see them as we are.”

It’s a great quote because it does that profound thing philosophers do: tell you something that is obvious once you hear it, like photographers can do with visible things.

For example, Aristotle’s, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Except, oops, Aristotle did not say it.  He said something that some people say has a similar premise in Metaphysics, Book 8 Part 5:

Aristotle sculpture after 330 BC

But of the things which have no matter, either intelligible or perceptible, each is by its nature essentially a kind of unity, as it is essentially a kind of being — individual substance, quality, or quantity (and so neither ‘existent’ nor ‘one’ is present in their definitions), and the essence of each of them is by its very nature a kind of unity as it is a kind of being — and so none of these has any reason outside itself, for being one, nor for being a kind of being; for each is by its nature a kind of being and a kind of unity, not as being in the genus ‘being’ or ‘one’ nor in the sense that being and unity can exist apart from particulars.

Close enough?  No, not really.  And it lacks the snap of nifty quotes.

Having disattributed Aristotle, the good news is that the quote is found written by German psychologist Kurt Koffka (1886 – 1941) in his book Principles of Gestalt Psychology (1935, p. 176).  I’ve read that he did not like getting misquoted as saying “whole is greater than” or “more than” instead of “whole is something else.”  Indeed, his original is something other than the common “quote.”  It is both the same and different.

Kurt Koffka

But even these humble objects reveal that our reality is not a mere collocation of elemental facts, but consists of units in which no part exists by itself, where each part points beyond itself and implies a larger whole. Facts and significance cease to be two concepts belonging to different realms, since a fact is always a fact in an intrinsically coherent whole. We could solve no problem of organization by solving it for each point separately, one after the other; the solution had to come for the whole. Thus we see how the problem of significance is closely bound up with the problem of the relation between the whole and its parts. It has been said : The whole is more than the sum of its parts. It is more correct to say that the whole is something else than the sum of its parts, because summing is a meaningless procedure, whereas the whole-part relationship is meaningful.

Note that he did not cite a source for “It has been said : The whole is more than the sum of its parts.”  I can’t find it, either.  Folk saying?

You never know what nifty things you’ll find when exploring quotes.  In Metaphysics 8 Part 6 I happily found, “… everything that comes to be comes from something and comes to be something.”  “If,” that is.

Since some things are and are not, without coming to be and ceasing to be, e.g. points, if they can be said to be, and in general forms (for it is not ‘white’ comes to be, but the wood comes to be white, if everything that comes to be comes from something and comes to be something), not all contraries can come from one another, but it is in different senses that a pale man comes from a dark man, and pale comes from dark. Nor has everything matter, but only those things which come to be and change into one another. Those things which, without ever being in course of changing, are or are not, have no matter.

See how it’s not the same when I quote it out of context?  Without the if?  Without the points and the white?  Without Aristotle?

I have fun with his last sentence.  It’s a like a koan, but decipherable.

Those things which, without ever being in course of changing, are or are not, have no matter.

Yeah, but are they or not?  Tee-hee.

I hope that the parts of this post-in-whole are “something else.”  Thank you for indulging me this opportunity to taste these thoughts twice, aloud.


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