Insomnia: the infernal stone of the nocturnal writer, by Mauricio Bernal

There is a romantic idea, built partly on a threshold of solid evidence, partly on the need to cement the myth, that banishes the writer to the territory of the night. There, alone, awake when the whole world sleeps, this singular being creates. It does not happen with any of the other arts: when people think of a painter or a musician they do not imagine them at night, alone in their attic. To the writer yes. Flaubert, Proust and Kafka not only do they have in common that they wrote and transcended, but also that they worked at night. Kafka had no alternative: as he left recorded in his letters and has been reflected in his biography, he was an insomniac.

In the building formed by the night and the writer insomnia is the infernal stone. Do not sleep but write, since there is nothing better to do. Do not sleep and light ideas. Don’t sleep and talk to ghosts. In short: it must be the year of insomnia or the international day is close because there are four editorial novelties on the subject: ‘Insomnia’, by Tahar Ben Jelloun (Cabaret Voltaire), ‘Bad sleep’, by David Jiménez (Asteroid Books), ‘An indefinite malaise’, by Samantha Harvey (Anagram), and, most recently, ‘Insomnia ‘, by Marina Benjamin (Chai). All published this year. None disclosure. None with recipes to fall asleep. They are novels, essays or narratives that put back on the table that close relationship of the writer with the night. Silence. Everyone is sleeping. Everyone except the writer.

Flaubert, Proust and Kafka not only have in common that they wrote and transcended, but also that they worked at night

a narrow binomial

“The insomnia it is a fairly common disease among writers in the sense that it is a profession in which you never really unplug, never turn off, a part of the writer’s brain is always seeing what works and what doesn’t & rdquor ;, he says the Argentine writer based in Barcelona Rodrigo Fresán. “In insomnia, as the whole context becomes more ‘minimal’ and less distracting, there is probably a higher level of concentration. Many things have occurred to me during insomnia, and of course I have the proverbial notebook next to me in which I write in the dark and which I try to decipher the next morning & rdquor ;. The author of the trilogy that makes up ‘The invented part’, ‘The dreamed part’ and ‘The remembered part’ has his own history with insomnia which took place when I was writing the second volume. It could have happened with the first, or with the third, but no. It happened with the second.

“While I was writing ‘The dream part’ I had a very bad case of insomnia that even had to be treated and deactivated, and even today I cannot say that I sleep very soundly and very well. A very strange thing happens to me and it is that Every night I wake up at 2:34 in the morning. At 2:34, notice: two, three, four. There is a kind of intention, a certain narrative order, or at least narrative numeral. That stayed with me forever, that happened to me last night and it will happen to me tonight & rdquor ;. A guy who wakes up every night at 2:34 and understands that a narrative intention is contained therein, that, that does not belong to the order of the newspaper article. It belongs to the order of fiction. But this is still a newspaper article.

“A very strange thing happens to me and that is that every night I wake up at 2:34 in the morning. At 2:34, look: two, three, four,” says Rodrigo Fresán

Kafka the teacher

“I believe that insomnia produces better material than dreams & rdquor ;, says Fresán. The phrase is apt to introduce the great insomniac writer, Kafka. “My insomnia only hides a great fear of death. Perhaps I fear that my soul, which abandons me when I sleep, cannot return when I wake up & rdquor ;, the Czech wrote in his diary. Kafka left numerous pages on insomnia for posterity because he not only made notes in his diary: he also recorded his reflections on the profuse epistolary relations he had with Felice Bauer and Milena Jesenská (origin of the volumes ‘Letters to Felice’ and ‘Letters to Milena’, respectively). Despite the fact that there have been other great insomniac writers (Nabokov or Balzac, for example), the case of Kafka is unique, since ‘a posteriori’ a relationship has been established between his genius and his poor sleep. It could be summed up this way: in insomnia you think differently.

A few years ago, the Italian researchers Antonio Perciaccante and Alessia Coralli published in ‘The Lancet’ the result of their analysis of Kafka’s writings and pointed out that the hypnotic and/or hallucinatory effects that attacked you during wakefulness they were at the origin of part of his creativity. At dawn, installed on the foggy border, in the territory of wanting to sleep and the inability to do so, Kafka discovered new realities, new ways of expressing them, new art forms. According to the study, Kafka himself was aware of this and left it recorded in sentences full of meaning. “Sleepless night. It is already the third in the series. I sleep well, but an hour later I wake up like I stuck my head in the wrong hole (…) I literally sleep next to me, while I myself have to beat myself up with dreams (& mldr;) In short, I spend the whole night in the state in which a healthy person is for a few moments, before really falling asleep & rdquor ;.

“I sleep well, but an hour later I wake up as if I had stuck my head in the wrong hole,” Kafka wrote.

sleepless writings

“I think this insomnia is due solely to the fact that I write & rdquor ;, the Czech writer pointed out in the same entry in his diary. It is not just any phrase, on the contrary, is a major turn: not insomnia as a favorable state for writing, but the other way around, writing as an exercise that prevents falling asleep. You can talk about this the Catalan writer Marta Carnicero, that during the writing of the recently published ‘Matrioixques’ (Quaderns Crema) he accumulated sleepless nights, frequently assailed by the images in her book. “I don’t know if it was minutes or hours, because I try not to look at the clock when I can’t sleep, so as not to feed the anguish of not being able to fall asleep & rdquor ;, he remembers. Being assailed by the ghosts of writing and that they conspire against sleep can have two aspects. One, that of the writer tortured by the blockade, by the solution that he intuits but does not arrive: by impotence. Two, the one from which it is visited at night by the monsters he is giving life to. Butcher’s is the second.

“In my case, the insomnia had nothing to do with the writing itself but with the subject matter& rdquor ;, he says. “The fact that the novel was focused on the issue of war rape It caused me an anguish that was difficult to manage. I documented myself, read articles, searched for documentaries and various texts to write the novel and in that process I ended up taking on a lot of images that I wasn’t ready for, some images that later returned little by little in the moments of rest. That’s what happened to me, then there were times when I began to think over phrases, images, stories that I had read and that They disturbed me a lot & rdquor ;.


-Mr. Vila-Matas: What do you think of the romantic idea of ​​the insomniac writer? The one who can’t sleep and dedicates himself to pouring out his genius while everyone else sleeps?

-Fortunately, I think we have already overcome romantic sentimentality. I would not despise, on the other hand, situating myself in our time, the idea of ​​the clever writer who pours out his genius while the other writers waste their time summering.

-Mr. Vila-Matas, nobody likes not being able to sleep, but does insomnia have something good for those who dedicate themselves to writing? In the end, nighttime hours are the quietest for writing. Kafka, who was an insomniac, even wrote that there were words and ideas that he was sure he would not have encountered in another state than that of wakefulness.

-I prefer Paul Valéry’s timetable, for example. He slept his hours and got up between four and five in the morning, placed (for the possible cold) a shawl on his shoulders and thought and meditated each of the thoughts that came to him at those hours to the head. “Others make books. I make up my mind & rdquor ;, she said.

-Mr. Vila-Matas: Is the idea attractive to you? So, in theory. If there was the possibility to decide: “I’m going to be an insomniac for six months Let’s see what comes out (literally speaking)”, would you like to try it? What would you expect to find in the forced vigil?

Related news

-Being the Dorian Gray of insomnia for having agreed for six months with the devil? Nor dream it. Or, better said, better to dream it than to have to suffer some “possessed & rdquor; sleepless hours.

volatile matter

Nabokov, who had trouble sleeping, wrote in 1964 ‘Dreams of an insomniac’, where he recorded for three months everything he remembered having dreamed when he woke up. The book was published in 2018. A few years ago ‘A world of its own’ was also published in Spain. Dream Diary’, the selection of the British Graham Greene of the dreams he recorded for 25 years in his diaries. The American writer Blake Butler carried out an interesting experiment in ‘Nada’ (Alpha Decay), a book, explains Fresán, “written in insomnia, not reasoning about insomnia but dragged by insomnia & rdquor ;. The man who wakes up every night at two, three, four, hour with narrative intention, alerts in any case about the literary material that produces insomnia. “Like everything & rdquor ;, he says, “it must be handled with care, It is volatile and highly flammable material. You should not abuse & rdquor ;. One might add: not everyone dominates their monsters like Kafka.

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