There are rules to Insomnia. The second rule of Insomnia is: You don’t talk about Insomnia. I made that up, but there are psychological games insomniacs play, superstitions that go with the disorder. Talking about insomnia when you are going through a period of undisturbed sleep is perilous, it might trigger that very disorder you dread. At the edges of chronic insomnia are bouts of subjective insomnia, when you are so accustomed to not sleeping that you experience sleep state misperception. In that case you sleep for normal durations but perceive that you have slept poorly. Our psychic integrity is fragile.
This morning at 2:30am I sought literary intervention for a bout of insomnia. It’s been a while since I’ve struggled with night awakening but I’m going through some changes rating way up in the thirties or forties on that Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale.
Early this morning I settled down with Jacques Lacan’s framework of the imaginary and symbolic in psychic life. Lacan argues that in the territory of the symbolic, we recall our “imaginary” existence as what he terms “body-in-pieces” or a fragmented assemblage of body parts.Furthermore the “I” that a child recognises in a mirror is experienced as a fiction. Rather than having the normal soporific effect that Lacan induces, this sent me back to the shelves to Beckett and Kathy Acker, the latter on my mind after a Twitter conversation with Kate Zambreno.
These are very 2am thoughts so bear with me, but I’m thinking about the way we alternate between the “I” we perceive, the fictional “I” we create, and our fragmentary pasts that are primarily fiction. It seems that this is precisely what Acker and Beckett explore repeatedly through fictional characters and their analogous stories. Their characters, a series of autobiographical personas, are caught between a wish to confess and a need for privacy. Much of the potency of their writing lies in the tension of trying to write their way out of the work.
I get insomnia occasionally, or rather I used to – it doesn’t tend to happen much these days thankfully. I was never able to read anything remotely intelligent, I always found my senses too dulled. I’d watch stuff or read comics.
I do find sleep state misperception fascinating. It’s another example of how unreliable our perceptions even of ourselves can be. Not only can we not trust that what we see in the world is as we see it, we can’t even trust that our own experiences are as we see them.
Oddly enough your last para is one of the key themes of the distinctly not-at-all-modernist Dance to the Music of Time. A big concern of the series is the creation of a personal narrative and the way that fiction can then shape reality. It doesn’t though explore the conflict between confession and privacy – it can’t since another key theme is the utter unknowability of other people.
I started reading Dance to the Music of Time a while ago, but got distracted by something else and never went back to it. You remind me that I must.
There’s always Kafka’s way: http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/11/how-kafka-used-dreams-and-insomnia-to-write-creatively.html
And, forgot, that other great vitalist Balzac, who wouldn’t even begin writing on the Comedy Humaine till 12:00 AM and stop at 6:00 AM punctilious day in day out till it was done.
If I had Kafka’s, or even Balzac’s insight, I might be tempted to follow their practise…
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