An unlikely pairing

“The erotic and the literary went hand in hand.” (pg. 101)

Before Night Falls is a compelling and personal account of Reinaldo Arenas, a Cuban writer, and his experiences in Communist-lead Cuba. Growing up as a peasant, Arenas and other young boys often engaged in homo-erotic behavior; perhaps they used it as a way of entertainment and passing time, or as a way of establishing a bond amongst the boys in their neighborhood. Despite their severe poverty, these sexual encounters existed as a type of freedom along with the environment in which they lived: “I think the splendor of my childhood was unique because it was absolute poverty but also absolute freedom…” (pg. 5).

These encounters arguably also provided Arenas and the other boys lessons in anatomy, in lieu of formal education on the subject in school. Any curiosities about the human body that Arenas entertained were explained by the other youths. One instant of this curiosity is seen in the passage in which Reinaldo talks about the mystery of the river and of thunderstorms. As the men climbed out of the water, he was able to catch a glimpse of their bodies and developed an appreciation for male anatomy: “To see all those naked bodies, all those exposed genitals, was a revelation to me: I realized, without a doubt, that I liked men…I was only six years old, but I watched them spellbound, in ecstasy before the glorious mystery of beauty” (pg 8).

This appreciation of beauty in the human body translates into one of the factors supporting his appreciation of beauty in literature. Just as the erotic was a way of freedom in an oppressing regime. Through literature, Arenas and other writers could write down their life experiences in defiance of the revolution but could also create a thing of beauty.

The erotic and the literary are often paired together in describing some of Reinaldo’s sexual encounters as a young adult. While working in the National Library, he had the chance to read Communist literature while being able to write poetry and stories. Reinaldo also offers an account of two women being found together in the library, which is interesting because not only has the reader not seen an account of eroticism between two females (it has been predominantly male-focused until this point), Reinaldo chose to reveal suppressed desires in an environment that aids in suppression, censoring the material that is being circulated. Reinaldo also sought refuge in the National Library after a sexual encounter between his friend Tomasito and a young man. In addition to pairing literature and the erotic in terms of location, he pairs the two constructs as part of one process – creating a literary work of art. Reinaldo states, “I could never work in pure abstinence; the body needs to feel satisfied to give free reign to the spirit.” (pg. 101) This statement can apply to any act of creation. In singing, tension in one area of the body will then travel to the diaphragm, lungs, and eventually the larynx, where most of the production of sound occurs.



One thought on “An unlikely pairing

  1. The last quote you cited struck me as well. From the way he describes his creative process, it seems as if sexuality and writing are simply channels for creative spirit to unleash itself, and such instruments are enhanced through exercising them. His passionate engagement with the erotic probably seeps through in his writing, and his constant practice of writing consequently enriches his experience of the erotic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *