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At the Borders of Sleep

At the Borders of Sleep: On Liminal Literature

Peter Schwenger
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    At the Borders of Sleep
    Book Description:

    At the Borders of Sleep is a unique exploration of the connections between literature and the liminal states between waking and sleeping-from falling asleep and waking up, to drowsiness and insomnia, to states in which sleeping and waking mix. Delving into philosophy as well as literature, Peter Schwenger investigates the threshold between waking and sleeping as an important and productive state between the forced march of rational thought and the oblivion of unconsciousness. While examining literary representations of the various states between waking and sleeping, At the Borders of Sleep also analyzes how writers and readers alike draw on and enter into these states. To do so Schwenger reads a wide range of authors for whom the borders of sleep are crucial, including Marcel Proust, Stephen King, Paul Valéry, Fernando Pessoa, Franz Kafka, Giorgio de Chirico, Virginia Woolf, Philippe Sollers, and Robert Irwin. Considering drowsiness, insomnia, and waking up, he looks at such subjects as the hypnagogic state, the experience of reading and why it is different from full consciousness, the relationships between insomnia and writing and why insomnia is often a source of creative insight, and the persistence of liminal elements in waking thought. A final chapter focuses on literature that blurs dream and waking life, giving special attention to experimental writing. Ultimately arguing that, taking place on the edges of consciousness, both the reading and writing of literature are liminal experiences, At the Borders of Sleep suggests new ways to think about the nature of literature and consciousness.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8179-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. ONE Toward Sleep
    (pp. 1-50)

    In a passing observation, Maurice Merleau-Ponty compares sleep to a god—which indeed for the ancient Greeks it was. As a god, sleep may be as fickle as any other, giving or withholding its favors at will. At one time it possesses us without our consent; at another it refuses to be courted, supplicated even. We know of only one way to invoke the god, and that is to imitate him so faithfully that we are merged with his being. Here is the passage, from Phenomenology of Perception:

    As the faithful, in the Dionysian mysteries, invoke the god by miming...

  5. TWO Sleepless
    (pp. 51-76)

    If the process of falling asleep reveals some of the more elusive processes of consciousness, the same can be said of not falling asleep. By this I do not of course mean being awake as such, but being awake when one ought to be asleep: insomnia. Insomnia is not, however, a simple matter of a switch being on when it ought to be off, as indicated by the oddly contradictory history of the word. Basically, it derives from the Latin in- (not) plus somnus (sleep). But the second-century dream interpreter Artemidorus of Daldis applied insomnia to a type of dream,...

  6. THREE Leaving Sleep
    (pp. 77-108)

    When the call to “wake up!” is sounded by anything from a revolutionary movement to a letter to the editor, the benefits of being awake are commonly contrasted to the sodden torpor of sleep. It is of course invariably an outside observer who issues the wake-up call, and from that vantage point the usual similarities between sleep and death are evident enough. But if the one who is sleeping is also dreaming, no such torpor exists. If anything, the sleeper’s experience may be more rapid and highly charged than the plodding and repetitive patterns that make up most of daily...

  7. FOUR Sleepwaking
    (pp. 109-142)

    If, as Lacan indicates, we never wake up absolutely even when we think we are absolutely awake, it follows that an element of dream accompanies us always, whether or not we are not conscious of it. So Blanchot can say, in The Writing of the Disaster, “There is no stop, there is no interval between dreaming and waking. In this sense it is possible to say: never, dreamer, can you awake (nor, for that matter, are you able to be addressed thus, summoned)” (35). The possible dissolution of the interval or boundary line between dreaming and waking has repeatedly troubled...

    (pp. 143-144)
  9. NOTES
    (pp. 145-152)
    (pp. 153-162)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 163-168)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 169-170)