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At the Borders of Sleep

On Liminal Literature

Peter Schwenger

Publication Year: 2012

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.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xiii

“Sleep, perhaps, has never been philosophical,” Jean-Luc Nancy once remarked.1 Perhaps. For if philosophy has not managed to contain sleep within itself, neither has it quite managed to forget it. The problem of sleep is always hovering at the edges of rational thought, which...

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1. Toward Sleep

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pp. 1-49

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...

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2. Sleepless

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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...

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3. Leaving Sleep

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pp. 77-107

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...

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4. Sleepwaking

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pp. 109-141

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,...

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pp. 143-144

Nobody writes alone, not even in the dead of night, and I have profited enormously from people who have helped me think about the dim and liminal realm to which these pages are devoted. The bibliography at the end of this book indicates something of its intellectual...


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pp. 145-152


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pp. 153-162


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pp. 163-167

About the author

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pp. 169-185

E-ISBN-13: 9780816681792
E-ISBN-10: 0816681791
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816679751

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2012