Juan Carlos Onetti, in a 1989 image Photo: Francisco Ontañón
Blaise Pascal said: “All the misfortunes of man stem from the fact of not being able to sit quietly and alone in a room.” There is a series of writers in the history of literature who followed Pascal’s advice and chose to do from their bedroom the redoubt of their creative activity. They slept, ate, wrote and received visitors around the bed where they lay without any apparent reason or disease. In the bed they produced much of their work, among others Voltaire, Mark Twain, Marcel Proust, George Orwell, Truman Capote and the Spaniards Valle Inclán, the late Pío Baroja, Vicente Aleixandre and the Uruguayan Juan Carlos Onetti, could be called the literary school of lying writers.
Valle Inclán said in the gathering at the Granja del Henar that lying on his bed he discovered the mystery of writing face up, but no one knew if he slept with his long beard inside or outside the hood. When Hemingway went to take the picture with dying Baroja, Don Pío, who appears with a woolen hat on the bed, asked his nephew Julio Caro: “Who is that man with the rice pudding smile?” Vicente Aleixandre won the Nobel Prize for Literature without getting out of bed at his home on Calle Velintonia in Madrid, where he received several generations of poets with a blanket on his knees.
There is a more spontaneous and imaginative culture that is acquired by reading on your back in bed or lying on a sofa or in the hammock whole afternoons as we did in those long and tedious summers of adolescence
“I have been going to bed early for a long time”, this is the first sentence of In search of lost time, by Marcel Proust, who, without a doubt, found him in that cork-lined room, rotten with fat perfume and incense vapor with which he relieved asthma. After a dissolute life, for a decade from the age of 35 until her death, she spent the days in bed with a coat, three scarves and mittens to spin the gold cocoon like a worm. He only left the room one night to visit the male brothels in the Plaza de Clichy.
Truman Capote said: “I am an alcoholic. I’m a drug addict. I am gay. I am a genius”. He failed to add that he was also a horizontal writer, used to writing lying down. One day he read in The New York Times that in Kansas a family of farmers, the Cutters, had been murdered with a strange and methodical Satanism. Capote cut that news with scissors. Something shook him inside. The holidays are over, the world is no longer fun. He proposed to The New Yorker magazine to write a serialized story with the details of that murder. As a correspondent in hell she traveled to Kansas with her friend Harper Lee and using the literary resources of fiction she described all the details of the crime, the environment, the police, the neighbors, the witnesses. When the killers, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, were arrested, his interest in digging them deep into his soul became an obsession. Those creatures were much more exciting than New York celebrities and were now at the disposal of their talent. Truman Capote took refuge with her boyfriend on the Costa Brava, first in Palamós and later in Platja d’Aro and there she wrote In cold blood for three summers. There is a photo in which Truman Capote is seen lying on a sofa in his house facing the Mediterranean, embraced by a diabolical contradiction. He felt infinite gratitude to the assassins, but he was torn between compassion and the need for them to be executed, since if the assassins were commuted to the death penalty the end of the novel would be ruined. Only then does a masterpiece come out.
A large number of writers owe their literary vocation to that disease that in adolescence had them for months, even years, bedridden. While they heard the cries of other children playing in the street, they read with pleasure and greed, dreamed of formidable adventures in distant seas and tried to thread the first lines. There are two kinds of creative culture: that which is received face up and that which is acquired face down. When you read, study or write sitting at a table in the light of a gooseneck, you can assume a very solid culture. But there is also a more spontaneous and imaginative culture that is acquired by reading on your back in bed or lying on a sofa or in the hammock whole afternoons as we did in those long and tedious teenage summers.
Confinement is seen by citizens as a limitation of freedom, but the bed has produced great advances in thought and many literary conquests. During the plague epidemic of 1665, Newton fled Cambridge and was confined to his village for two years within the walls of his Woolsthorpe home. In that period he perfected calculus and integral derivatives, described the force of gravity, and wrote the great treatise on the science of the universe, known as Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica. Everything from the bed.