Preface
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vii preface “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 has traditionally been identified with a state of clear-eyed wakefulness . Sleep, in contrast, is depicted as the sodden state of those who do not think. Yet those who do think find that sleep troubles their waking moments, as in Descartes’s famous poser about whether you can be entirely sure that you are not at this moment only dreaming that you are awake.2 Even to find words for what happens to us when we sleep is extraordinarily difficult, let alone the task of accounting philosophically for it. This study of the borders of sleep, then, begins at the borders of philosophy: we need to consider, if only briefly, the nature of this sleep that eludes philosophers—and also eludes this book. For though the word sleep appears in each of its sections, this will be a book not about sleep but about sleep’s edges. This is so for reasons I must now explain, and first by returning to Jean-Luc Nancy. In the pages that follow Nancy’s observation, he teases out the implications of one significant exception to philosophy’s neglect of sleep: a set of brief passages in Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind. It is a curious treatment of the topic. On one hand, Hegel seems to subscribe to the accepted philosophical identification of waking with consciousness and rational thought, identifying sleep as the opposite of this. viii . . . Preface On the other hand, it soon becomes evident that simply to gesture toward sleep as the opposite of the waking state is not sufficient, since the state of sleep demands that we understand it on its own terms, terms that are not those of our waking thought. Most of all, the problem arises of how these two states are linked, as they are at each day’s beginning and end. The transition from sleep to waking soon becomes for Hegel a paradigm of the way that self-consciousness and self “itself” come into being. If in Hegel’s metaphysical version of sleep there is no self yet, what is it that is asleep? His term for that entity is “soul.” Disentangling the soul from its common religious connotations, we must see it, in Nancy’s words, as “the individual identity that has not acquired or conquered or produced its identity—and that will nevertheless endure throughout the whole process of the subject” (“Identity and Trembling” 17). A paradoxical formulation, this identity that is not yet a (self-produced) identity. It is essentially being defined as that which “endures” during a process; and the burden of defining this entity is shifted to defining the process. That process is the transition from sleep to waking, with all that Hegel makes depend upon it. We initially find the soul, then, within sleep, from which it cannot be distinguished: “Sleep,” Hegel says, “is the state in which the soul is immersed in its differenceless unity” (67). If differenceless, then the soul cannot be differentiated from sleep; its awakening is precisely a matter of differentiation, during which a soul becomes a self, conscious of its selfhood as distinguished from what is other than itself: “The waking state includes generally all self-conscious and rational activity in which the mind realizes its own distinct self” (65). While this process seems like an evolution, a privileging of the waking and rational state, Hegel’s description of sleep immediately following this sentence is rather different from philosophy’s traditional characterization: Sleep is an invigoration of this [self-conscious and rational] activity —not as a merely negative rest from it, but as a return back from the world of specialization, from dispersion into phases where it has grown hard and stiff—a return into the general nature of subjectivity , which is the substance of those specialized energies and their absolute master. (65) Preface . . . ix Sleep, that is, is a “substance” that is not merely inert and stupefied but the primal source out of which any distinctions must be carved. To sleep is, in the words of Emmanuel Levinas, to withdraw “into the plenum” (70). To wake, then, is always to emerge into something less than everything. The “specialized energies” of consciousness are won through excluding large portions...


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