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When Vaslav Nijinsky burst on to the Paris stage at the age of 20, the world was enraptured. The Parisians called him the god of dance. Then, in a process which was captured in the frenzied journal he kept at the time, madness began to set in. Now the full, unexpurgated diary is being published for the first time.

Joan Acocella
Sunday 08 August 1999 00:02 BST

IN DECEMBER 1917, Vaslav Nijinsky, at that time the most celebrated male dancer in the Western world, moved into a villa in St Moritz with his wife, Romola, and their three-year-old daughter, Kyra. His relations with Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, the company in which he had made his name, were now severed and, with a war on, it was impossible for him to seek other engagements. So he and Romola had decided to retreat to neutral Switzerland and wait for peace. By the time of the armistice, though, Nijinsky had begun to go insane. The diary he wrote from 19 January to 4 March 1919 is the record of his thoughts as that was happening. To my knowledge, it is the only sustained, on-the-spot, written account, by a major artist, of the experience of entering psychosis. Other important artists have gone mad - Holderlin, Schumann, Nietzsche, Van Gogh, Artaud - but none of them left us a record like this.

But only now is the complete, unexpurgated diary being published. An earlier version of it, edited by Romola Nijinsky, was published in 1936, but it represents his text poorly. She had extensively rearranged the sequence in the service of making the diary more respectable; and had also cut about 40 per cent of it, deleting many of the most rambling passages as well as much of the copious material on sex. The restored text adds greatly to our understanding of Nijinsky's madness and of his sexuality.

Nijinsky was born in Kiev in about 1889 to two Polish dancers. When he was nine, he entered the Imperial Theatrical School in St Petersburg, the same school that was to produce Michel Fokine, Anna Pavlova, George Balanchine, and, more recently, Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov. It soon became clear that he was a phenomenally gifted ballet dancer. When he graduated from school in 1907, at 18, and was taken into St Petersburg's Imperial Ballet, the company's foremost ballerina requested him as her partner.

In those days in Russia there was a heavy sexual trade in ballet dancers. Some dancers accepted fees from interested ballet patrons for making introductions. In 1907 one such dancer introduced Nijinsky to the 30-year-old Prince Pavel Lvov, and Nijinsky entered upon what was probably his first sexual relationship, with the blessing of his mother, who discouraged his heterosexual interests - she felt that marriage would impede his career - but was proud to see her son with so fine a figure as Prince Lvov. But Lvov soon tired of Nijinsky and began introducing him to others, including, in 1908, Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev.

Diaghilev, then 35 and one of the most prominent figures in the St Petersburg art world, was planning to take a Russian ballet to Paris the following year. Prince Lvov, Nijinsky writes in his diary, "forced me to be unfaithful to him with Diaghilev because he thought that Diaghilev would be useful to me." He went to Diaghilev's hotel, and was bedded, and presumably hired, that same day.

For both men, it was a fateful meeting. Diaghilev's 1909 Paris ballet season was so successful that he soon established a permanent company, the Ballets Russes, which was to be the most glamorous and influential theatrical enterprise in Europe. Nijinsky's dancing was a great part of its fame; and it was the Ballets Russes that made Nijinsky famous. With the Diaghilev company, in the ballets of the troupe's house choreographer, Michel Fokine - Les Sylphides, Scheherazade, Le Spectre de la Rose, Petrouchka, others - he became an international star and a great artist. Apparently he was also an extraordinary actor, not so much realistic as classical. Ballet had been in decline for more than half a century in Europe, and male classical dancing was all but dead as an art: in most Western ballet theatres, leading male roles were often taken by women en travesti. So to his audiences, Nijinsky was something utterly unforeseen, a miracle.

Augmenting his glamour was the atmosphere of scandal that was always attached to his name. In the early years, this was probably due to the fact that he lived openly as Diaghilev's lover, and that the roles Fokine created for him were often ambisexual, and strongly sexual. The best example is the Golden Slave in Scheherazade, where he appeared in brown body paint, and grinning, and wound with pearls - not so much a sex object as sex itself, with all the accoutrements of perversity that the fin de siecle imagination could supply: exoticism, androgyny, enslavement, violence. Offstage too, Nijinsky looked exotic. He had a Tartar face, with prominent cheekbones and slanted eyes. (At school, he was known as the "little Japanese.") Finally, there was his personality. So present and forceful onstage, he was the opposite offstage: naive, shy, recessive - blank, almost. Anything could be projected on to him. In her memoirs the Bloomsbury hostess Ottoline Morrell recalled that in the pre-war years Nijinsky was the subject of "fantastic fables": "that he was very debauched, that he had girdles of emeralds and diamonds given him by an Indian prince". During performances, people would sneak into his dressing room and steal his underwear.

The note of scandal became more pronounced when Nijinsky began his choreographic career. From 1912 to 1913 he produced three ballets - The Afternoon of a Faun, Jeux, and The Rite of Spring (to Stravinsky's now-famous score) - that were like nothing that had ever been called ballet before. The lovely, noble three-dimensional shapes of the academic ballet, the five positions of the legs and arms, the turned-out feet: all were gone. Under Nijinsky's direction, the dancers moved in profile, slicing the air like blades (The Afternoon of a Faun), or hunched over, hammering their feet into the floorboards (The Rite of Spring). The approach was analytic, the look "ugly", the emotions discomforting. Of these works, only one, The Afternoon of a Faun, survives today, but it is enough to show that Nijinsky ushered ballet into modernism. At the time, the ballets caused an uproar: The Rite of Spring set off a riot in the Theatre des Champs- Elysees in Paris.

In his 1991 psychiatric biography, Nijinsky, Peter Ostwald speculates that the dancer may have had a genetic predisposition to depression, through his mother. (Upon being widowed, she had starved herself to death.) Ostwald also raises the possibility that Nijinsky may have suffered brain damage as a result of a fall that he took at the age of 12. In any case, it is clear that at least by late adolescence Nijinsky was not like other boys. At 18, during his first season in the Imperial Ballet, he stopped dancing one night in the middle of the Act I pas de trois of Swan Lake, and began to take his bows while the orchestra was still playing.

The fame that now began to gather around his name may have unsettled him further. And if he was able to manage celebrity at that time, what was the effect on this quiet boy when, two years later, upon his debut with the Ballets Russes, the Parisians began referring to him as le dieu de la danse? It is not impossible that his idea, endlessly re- iterated in the diary, that he was God began with the experience of being called a god by the Parisian audiences.

To most people who knew him, the oddest thing about Nijinsky was his social incompetence. The dancer Lydia Sokolova, who began working with him in 1913, says that "when addressed, he turned his head furtively, looking as if he might suddenly butt you in the stomach. . . . He hardly ever spoke to anyone, and seemed to exist on a different plane." At parties he would sit silently and pick his fingers.

These social difficulties often made his choreographic career a nightmare. The Ballets Russes dancers had been trained in the academic style. To induce them to forget all that and move like figures in an antique frieze or aborigines around a campfire required tact, patience, and excellent communication skills: precisely what he lacked. Sokolova says that when, in rehearsing Faun, he told her to move through rather than to the music, she burst into tears and ran out of the theatre. And Nijinsky had to deal with opposition not just from the dancers but also from his collaborators - Debussy, the composer for Faun and Jeux, disliked both ballets - not to speak of critics and audiences. During the premiere of The Rite of Spring the uproar in the theatre was so great that the dancers could not hear the music. Nijinsky stood in the wings, sweat coursing down his face, screaming the musical counts to the performers.

At the same time, his relationship with Diaghilev was deteriorating. By the time of The Rite of Spring, their love life was apparently over. Worse, Diaghilev seemed to be abandoning Nijinsky as an artist. The company's next major ballet was to have been choreographed by Nijinsky. Diaghilev now reassigned it to Fokine, Nijinsky's rival, who was also demanding to dance Nijinsky's major roles.

These last events help to explain the extraordinary thing Nijinsky did next. He got married. In the summer of 1913, he embarked with the Ballets Russes on a tour of South America. Diaghilev did not accompany them, but someone else did: Romola de Pulszky, a wealthy, headstrong, socially ambitious Hungarian, 22 years old. Romola had seen Nijinsky dance in 1912. She thereupon decided to marry him and attached herself to the company, as a sort of groupie, for that purpose. On the ship, she made her interest in Nijinsky known, and two weeks out of port, without having exchanged more than a few words with her (at that time they had no language in common), he proposed. They were married in Buenos Aires two weeks later.

That was the beginning of a series of crises. First, Diaghilev fired him. This is understandable; Diaghilev still considered Nijinsky his companion, and he was undone by the younger man's defection. But Nijinsky was apparently mystified by his reaction. He wrote to Stravinsky begging him to "please ask Serge what is the matter". "If it is true that Serge does not want to work with me," he added, "then I have lost everything."

Nijinsky's assessment of the situation was correct: he had lost everything. In order to dance, he did not need the Ballets Russes. Any ballet company would have been delighted to engage this great star to dance its standard repertory. But Nijinsky was not a dancer of standard repertory. He was different now - an experimental artist. He needed roles that would extend his gifts, and above all, he needed to choreo-graph. For these things he did need the Ballets Russes, at that time the only forward-thinking ballet company in the world. While Nijinsky's later psychosis was probably biologically based, even the firmest adherents of the biological theory of schizophrenia agree that constitutional vulnerability must be combined with some potent psychological stress in order for the illness to develop. In Nijinsky's case, the major stress was unquestionably his inability, after his dismissal from the Ballets Russes, to do what he regarded as his work.

Nor, with his personality, could he manage a company of his own. The following March, Nijinsky undertook to mount a ballet season, with a company of 17, at a music hall in London, but he soon fell ill from overwork, and what was to have been a two-month engagement was cancelled after two weeks - a humiliating and expensive failure. Ostwald believes that at this point Nijinsky suffered his first "nervous breakdown". He couldn't sleep, was plagued by fears, went into screaming rages - a condition that was probably made worse by an increase in his responsibilities: the Nijinskys' first daughter, Kyra, was born in June 1914.

In 1916, Nijinsky returned to his old company to dance at the Metropolitan Opera House, and then to direct a cross-country tour. What followed was probably the most chaotic and demoralised tour the Ballets Russes ever undertook. A four-month journey, stopping in 52 cities, with more than 100 dancers and musicians: it was a huge administrative assignment, and Nijinsky had no administrative skills. Furthermore, he had come under the influence of two members of the company who were followers of the religious philosophy of Tolstoy. Born a Roman Catholic, Nijinsky had long had a religious turn of mind - Romola records that as a teenager he had dreamed of being a monk - and he had been studying Tolstoy for years. Now he embraced his teachings with a whole heart. He became a vegetarian; he preached non-violence; he tried to practise "marital chastity". He took to wearing peasant shirts and told Romola that he wanted to give up dancing and return to Russia, to plough the land - an announcement that prompted her to abandon him for the last leg of the tour. He tried to run the company in accordance with his new beliefs, giving lesser-known dancers leading roles, including his own roles, often without announcing the cast changes to the public.

After this dreadful tour, on which the Metropolitan Opera lost a quarter of a million dollars, Nijinsky danced with the Ballets Russes for a few months more. The following year, on September 30, he performed with Arthur Rubinstein at a Red Cross benefit in Montevideo. Nijinsky delayed and delayed his appearance, while the management threw on hastily assembled acts. Finally, after midnight, he came on stage, looking, says Rubinstein, "even sadder than when he danced the death of Petrushka", and performed some steps to Chopin. Rubinstein burst into tears. This was Nijinsky's last public performance. He was 28.

He moved with his family to St Moritz. According to Romola, all went well during their first year in Switzerland. (This seems doubtful, but for 1918 she is our only witness.) Then, early in 1919, he began to fall apart. He closeted himself in his studio all night, drawing at furious speed. As a young man in St Petersburg, he had studied drawing under the painter and Ballets Russes designer Leon Bakst. He drew "like a child", reports Marc Chagall, who was in the same class. The drawings he made now were also childlike (or modernist), but above all obsessive. They were mostly of eyes, Romola reports: "Eyes peering from every corner, red and black." When she asked him what they represented, he replied that they were soldiers' faces. Other drawings showed spiders with Diaghilev's face.

When he and Romola took walks together, he would stop and fall silent for long periods, refusing to answer her questions. One day he went out with a large gold cross over his necktie and stopped people on the street, telling them to go to church. He also had spells of violence. He drove his sleigh into oncoming traffic. He threw Romola (holding Kyra) down a flight of stairs. Once, when he asked Kyra's nurse to find something for him and she did not immediately comply, he leapt at her and seized her by the throat.

He gave a final dance concert, before an invited audience, at a nearby hotel. As Romola describes the performance, Nijinsky began by taking a chair, sitting down in front of the audience, and staring at them for half an hour. Eventually he unrolled two lengths of velvet, one white, one black, to form a cross on the floor. Standing at the head of the cross, he addressed the audience: "Now I will dance you the war ... the war which you did not prevent." He then launched into a violent solo, presumably improvised. On that same day, 19 January 1919, he began his diary.

After this performance, says Romola, "I never felt the same again." Apparently, she had already confided in a doctor, Hans Frenkel, a young physician attached to one of St Moritz's resort hotels. In Zurich, he had attended lectures by the renowned psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler, who in 1911 had invented the term "schizophrenia", and who now agreed to see Nijinsky. After what Romola says was an interview of 10 minutes, Bleuler described Nijinsky in his notes as "a confused schizophrenic with mild manic excitement". The doctor showed Nijinsky out of his office, asked Romola to come in, and told her that her husband was incurably insane. When she returned to the waiting room, the dancer looked up at her and uttered the legendary words: "Femmka [Little Wife], you are bringing me my death warrant."

He was sent to the Bellevue Sanatorium in Kreuzlingen, a luxurious and humane establishment directed by Ludwig Binswanger, one of the founders of existential therapy. Within three months, Nijinsky was hallucinating, tearing his hair out, attacking his attendants, and declaring that his limbs belonged to someone else. It is impossible to know whether this decline was part of the natural course of his illness or whether it was the result of hospitalisation. In his lucid periods he would cry out, "Why am I locked up? Why are the windows closed, why am I never left alone?" He had taken his diary with him on the journey to Zurich, for he intended to find a publisher for it. Instead, it was turned over to the doctors, who copied out passages of it into their records to support their diagnosis.

Nijinsky may well have embarked on the diary as a last chance to show that he was not mad but, on the contrary, had ascended to a higher plane of understanding. He had joined his soul to God - on the drive to the hotel, he told Romola, "This is my marriage with God" - and he was bringing a message to the world: that people should not think but feel. This, he believed, was the source of the problems between him and Romola. She was trying to understand him through her intellect, not through feeling. Failure of feeling was also the cause of the war. David Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, operated via intellect; Woodrow Wilson (whose pacifism Nijinsky, as a Tolstoyan, naturally supported) relied on feeling, but Lloyd George undermined him. This is what he has understood from God. Indeed, he is now God, and he is going to convert the world back to feeling. His primary means will be the diary. Once it is published, he will have it distributed for free. He is hoping to have it reproduced in facsimile rather than printed, because he feels that the manuscript is alive and will transmit feeling directly, off the page, to readers. He knows his message will be opposed. In his descriptions of the harm done by the "thinkers" to "feelers", certain names come up repeatedly, notably those of Lloyd George and Diaghilev: "They are eagles. They prevent small birds from living."

There are several other themes in the diary. His bodily processes - eating, digestion, elimination - are on his mind. This is related to his refusal to eat meat, a source of bitter conflict between himself and Romola, probably because to her it symbolised his Tolstoyanism, which at times she saw as the source of their troubles. In addition, he is very concerned about sex, which he views with revulsion. (It was partly in order to suppress lust that he refused to eat meat.) He guiltily recalls his childhood sex play and his pursuit of prostitutes before and after his marriage. He imagines that his servants are having sex with animals. He meditates on various projects. He wants to build a bridge from Europe to America, presumably to help unite the world. He plans to invent a new kind of fountain pen; he will call it "God". He has a cure for cancer.

Nijinsky's struggle against the people who think he is going mad would be painful enough, but the situation is worse, for he too knows that he is going mad, or at times he does: "I am standing in front of a precipice into which I may fall." "My soul is sick ... I am incurable." Soon, however, he is God again. This is the most wrenching thing about the diary. He knows that something extraordinary is going on in his brain, but he does not know whether this means that he is God or that he is a madman, abandoned by God.

Many passages of Nijinsky's text are clearly the work of an artist. Some gleam like hellfire; others pierce to deep emotional truths. (The paragraphs on his relationship with Diaghilev - his disgust, for example, at the sight of the older man's pillowcases, blackened with hair dye - are an eloquent statement on the end of a relationship.) Other passages, though, are very hard to read: repetitious, obsessional, simultaneously searing and boring, as mad people often are.

It was this problem, among others, that Romola set herself to eliminate. The cuts and revisions she made can be summarised by saying that she tried to eliminate the less romantic aspects of Nijinsky's illness: the oddness, the illogic. When he reverses cause-and-effect, she repairs it; when he makes bizarre puns, or writes long, repetitious poems full of Russian wordplay, she excises them. As for homosexuality, she rewrote Nijinsky's description of his first encounter with Diaghilev: "I immediately made love to him" became "At once I allowed him to make love to me." This change, together with her blurring of his references to earlier homosexual contacts, converted him into an involuntary homosexual. In addition, she dropped a great deal of the domestic material, and dealt with many uncomplimentary references to herself. When Nijinsky says, "She did not love me much," this becomes, "She loved me." When he says, "My wife is an untwinkling star," she just deletes it.

By the Thirties, when she began work on her version, Romola made her living from the reputation of the genius-madman Nijinsky, who, out of a surcharge of visionary power, had severed his ties with ordinary humanity - "The manifestation of his spirit could only be approached humbly by us human beings," as she later put it - but who might someday alight, and dance again. If the grim details of his illness were to become widely known, this might have made him, and her, a less appealing cause. She was also trying to protect him, and she lived in a time when the preservation of a legend was more valued than textual integrity.

The complete diary tells us some new things about Nijinsky, and offers new evidence to support old suspicions. First, he was not the idiot savant - genius of dance, helpless in all else - that he was often advertised as being. As the diary makes clear, he had read widely in Russian literature - Pushkin, Gogol, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky - and he thought about what he read, applied it to his own life and work. He was also up on current events. However mad his lucubrations on the war, they are not uninformed.

In Romola's abridged version the intensity of his spiritual concerns was already clear; in the unabridged version, we see the intensity of his sexual concerns, concerns that reflect on his work. As Lincoln Kirstein pointed out in his Movement & Metaphor, the three ballets that Nijinsky created in 1912-13 constitute a sort of ontogeny of sex: "in Faune, adolescent self-discovery and gratification; in Jeux, homosexual discovery of another self or selves; in Le Sacre du Printemps, fertility and renewal of the race." Most of the unproduced ballets that Nijinsky contemplated during his periods of enforced inactivity after 1913 also had to do with sex. (One was set in a brothel.) In confronting the abundance of sexual material in the diary, one must make certain subtractions. He was struggling at this time to quell his sex drive, so sex would have been on his mind. Psychotic delusions often involve sexual guilt. Nevertheless, the sexual eruptions in the diary are no doubt an extension of his thoughts as an artist.

One suspicion about Nijinsky that the diary seems to confirm is that despite his early homosexual experience, he was primarily heterosexual by inclination. All the homo-sexual liaisons that he mentions, first with Lvov, then with the men to whom Lvov introduced him, including Diaghilev, were connected with material or professional rewards (though it should be noted that he says he loved Lvov). When he describes sexual experiences with a frankly sexual motivation, the object is always a woman. As for his reputed androgyny, again there seems to be a difference between what he did for others and what he did for himself. While he made his fame in the androgynous roles choreographed for him by Fokine (the "poet" in Les Sylphides, the Golden Slave in Scheherazade), the roles he created for himself in his own ballets were unequivocally male.

Yet Nijinsky was clearly interested in exploring the boundary between male and female. He didn't just dance those sexually ambiguous roles that Fokine made for him; he triumphed in them. Romola recalled how good he was at impersonating female dancers. "He was able to place himself in the soul of a woman," she wrote.

A final point that the unexpurgated diary makes clear is that Nijinsky was indeed suffering from what is called schizophrenia. The current edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists five symptoms: delusions (false beliefs), hallucinations (false perceptions), disorganised language, disorganised or catatonic behaviour, and "negative symptoms" (emotional flatness). A patient must have at least two in order to be diagnosed as schizophrenic. To judge from the diary, Nijinsky had at least three: delusions, disorganised language, and disorganised behaviour. Most striking are the delusions. Almost all the varieties of delusion discussed in the book as indicative of schizophrenia are present in the diary: delusions of grandeur, of persecution, of control (one's actions are being manipulated by an outside force), of reference (environmental events are directed specifically at oneself). Nijinsky also seems to have somatic delusions: he believes that the blood is draining away from his head, that the hairs in his nose are moving around. He may be hallucinating too: twice he feels that someone is in his studio, staring at him behind his back.

Even more than their content, though, the form of Nijinsky's thoughts is characteristically schizophrenic. Some researchers believe the basic problem in schizophrenia to be a breakdown in selective attention, with a consequent "loosening of associations". The person starts to say something but then makes a peripheral connection, pursues that, and consequently gets off the track, issuing long chains of associations. In Nijinsky's diary, one feels a drift toward terrible thoughts ("One can hear too much") and a struggle, in the short, tight sentences, to counter the drift. The diary shows other schizophrenic traits as well - for example, "clanging", the connecting of words on the basis of sound rather than sense, and persistent repetition. The repetition also turns up in his drawings of this period. With obsessive consistency, they are composed of circles and arcs. As noted, the arcs seem to form eyes, and Nijinsky says they do: "I often draw one eye." Those "eyes" also look like the fish, the sign of Christ. Finally, they also look like the female genitals, the thing that he had renounced. That may be, at times, the eye that is watching him.

Still, there are factors other than schizophrenia that may have helped to produce the qualities that seem schizophrenic in the diary. Ostwald points out that Nijinsky was being given a sedative, chloral hydrate, that causes attention to wander, and also that he was being subjected to word association tests, a possible spur to the bizarre associations we find in the diary. As for repetition, elision, and odd juxtapositions, these were the stock-in-trade of early modernist artists, of whom Nijinsky was one. One must also keep in mind the intellectual trends of the day. Protests against 19th-century materialism and positivism, and calls for spiritual renewal, were commonplace. A number of writers of the turn of the century aspired literally to join humankind to the Godhead. Nijinsky's idea that Russia will be the world's spiritual instructor was a basic teaching of 19th-century Slavophilism. His vegetarianism, anarchism, and pacifism, together with his recoil from sex and what seems to be his repudiation of his past work ("all those dances are death"), are all connected to Tolstoy, whom many besides Nijinsky - Gandhi, for example - regarded as a great teacher. His knowing paradoxes ("I want to write the truth and therefore I lie") are a standard device of Christian writing. The paradox of the wise fool, "jester of God", sane madman, is also a standard Christian idea, and more than standard in Russia. Nijinsky mentions The Idiot and compares himself to Dostoevsky's hero.

Apart from intellectual currents, the particulars of Nijinsky's life must be taken into account. His burning focus on his bodily processes may seem regressive, but for a dancer, eating and digestion are professional concerns. We must also grant him the privilege of metaphor. If he says that he is God, he also says he is an Indian, and a seabird, and Zola. Finally, not every strange circumstance that Nijinsky records is necessarily imagined. If he claims that his dessert was spiked with medication, perhaps it was.

But however much these factors may have affected Nijinsky's thinking, they cannot have been responsible for the massive derailment that we see in the unexpurgated diary. The idea of the genius- madman is a tiresome one: sentimental, tautological, demeaning to artists. Nevertheless, many of the characteristics that seem bizarre in his diary - repetition, obsession, "ugliness", extreme states of mind - are what seem striking in his art. The quality of abstraction that made his acting so remarkable may have been rooted in the same traits of mind as his communication problems. That is, realistic acting, with its agreed-upon gestures, may have been as unavailable to him as the agreed-upon manners of social intercourse. Likewise, the experimentalism of his ballets, his analysis of movement - and the fact that he began this analysis in his very first professional ballet, with no preparatory, imitating-his-elders period (Marie Rambert: "Everything that he invented was contrary to everything he had learned") - may have been connected to some neurological idiosyncrasy. Nijinsky's ballets, wrote Kirstein, demonstrated "theories as profound as had ever been articulated about the classical theatrical dance." Other artists have profound theories too, but to transform them into art, they have to fight their way past formidable barriers: custom, advice, the anxiety to please, the wish to be understood. If, as seems likely, such things were not as real to Nijinsky as to others, he would have been able to go more directly to the bottom of his thought. Why should he worry about being understood? He was seldom understood.

This is not to say that the diary forms part of the same arc of invention as the ballets. In it all the things besides pro-fundity that made Nijinsky an artist - shaping, compression, the sense of rhythm and climax, the acts of control - are gone, or going. It is the same instrument, but unstrung.

Nijinsky was almost 30 when he was diagnosed as schizophrenic. He lived for 30 years more, during which time his reputation grew. The myth that had collected around him as a dancer - that he was a flame, a vision, a messenger from the beyond - seemed confirmed by the news of his illness. It was as if the beyond had reclaimed him. Movies and ballets were based on his story. (The Red Shoes, in some measure, is about him.)

While Nijinsky's romantic image was building, he himself was living a life that could not have been less romantic. He was helpless; he could not brush his teeth or tie his shoelaces by himself. When Romola settled in a place where she could keep him, she took him home. The rest of the time he lived in institutions. Usually he was gentle and passive, though occasionally he would throw his food tray at the wall or assault someone. For the most part he was mute, but the Bellevue records suggests that he could speak when he wanted to: "If someone tried to approach him, he would say, quite coherently, `Ne me touchez pas.'"

On 8 April 1950, during a visit with Romola to London, Nijinsky died of kidney failure. He became a symbol for that part of us that, in fantasy, takes off for the high hills, as opposed to the part that stays home. Nijinsky had always been famous for his jump. As witnesses describe it, he would rise and then pause in the air before descending. Now, it seemed, he had declined to come down.

This is an extract from Joan Acocella's introduction to `The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky: Unexpurgated Version', translated from the Russian by Kyril FitzLyon, and edited by Joan Acocella (published by Penguin on 26 August, price pounds 20)

`I do not contradict a lunatic'

Extracts from Vaslav Nijinsky's journals, written in Switzerland in early 1919

"I have had a good lunch, for I ate two soft-boiled eggs and fried potatoes and beans. I like beans, only they are dry. I do not like dry beans, for there is no life in them. Switzerland is sick because it is full of mountains. In Switzerland people are dry because there is no life in them. I have a dry maid because she does not feel. She thinks a lot because she has been dried out in another job that she had for a long time. I do not like Zurich, because it is a dry town. It has a lot of factories and many business people. I do not like dry people, and therefore I do not like business people."

"I know everyone will say that Nijinsky has gone mad, but I don't care, for I have already behaved as if I were a madman at home. Everyone will think this, but I will not be put in a lunatic asylum, because I dance very well and give money to everyone who asks me. People like eccentrics, and they will therefore leave me alone, saying that I am a mad clown. I like lunatics because I know how to talk to them. When my brother was in a lunatic asylum, I loved him and he felt me. His friends liked me. I was then 18 years old. I understood the life of a lunatic. I know the psychology of a lunatic. I do not contradict a lunatic."

"You will be free as a bird, for this book will be published in many thousands of copies. I want to sign `Nijinsky' in the name of publicity, but my name is God. I love Nijinsky not like Narcissus but like God. I love him, for he gave me life. I do not want to pay compliments. I love him. I know his habits."

"Everything I write is a teaching essential to mankind. Romola is afraid of me because she feels I am a preacher. Romola does not want a preacher for a husband. Romola wants a young, good-looking, and rich husband. I am rich, good-looking, and young. She does not feel me, because she does not understand my beauty. I do not have have regular features. Regular features are not god. God is not regular features. God is feeling in face."

"I like the light of twinkling stars, not stars without twinkling ... My wife is an untwinkling star. I have noticed that many people do not twinkle. I weep when I feel that someone does not twinkle. I know what death is. Death is life extinguished."

"I did not take to objects and fame,

because I did not feel them. Diaghilev noticed that I was a boring man, and therefore he left me alone. As I was alone, I masturbated and chased tarts.

I like tarts. Diaghilev thought that

I was bored, but I was not bored.

I was busy with dancing, and

composed ballets by myself. He did not want me to do things by myself that went against his grain."

"Diaghilev dyes his hair so as not to be old. Diaghilev's hair is grey. Diaghilev buys black hair creams and rubs them in. I noticed this cream on Diaghilev's pillows, which have black pillowcases. I do not like dirty pillowcases and therefore felt disgusted when I saw them. Diaghilev has two false front teeth. I noticed this because when he is nervous he moves them with his tongue. They move, and I can see them. Diaghilev reminds me of a wicked old woman when he moves his two front teeth."

"I am an evil man. I do not love anyone. I wish harm to everyone and good to myself. I am an egoist. I am not God. I am a beast, a predator. I will practise masturbation and spiritualism. I will eat everyone I can get hold of. I will stop at nothing. I will make love to my wife's mother and my child. I will weep, but I will do everything that God commands me to... I know that many girls and women make love to animals... I know that my maid, Louise, does this with cats. I know that everyone does this sort of thing... I know one Hungarian family where the daughter did this with a gorilla. The gorilla bit her in the place where it was screwing her. The ape was angry because the woman failed to understand it."

To Serge Diaghilev:

"I am a man with feeling and reason. You are a man with intelligence and without feeling. Your feeling is evil. My feeling is good...

You do not write you tele-write

You are a telegram, I am a letter.

You are a machine. I am love.

You are a woodpecker, I am

a woodpecker..."

To mankind:

"Je suis boeuff mes pas biffstek

Je suis stek sens boeuf en biff

Je suis biff mes pas un stek

Je suis stek je suis stek

Stek et stek ne pas un biff

Biff et biff ne pas un stek

Biffstek, biffstek, biffstek biff"

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