3. Leaving Sleep
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77 Leaving Sleep three 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 life. So a significant shift in our understanding occurs when we experience sleep, as it were, from the inside. And another shift in our understanding occurs when we approach the moment of waking in the same way. We wake up every day, and yet it can be argued that we almost never experience that curious transition from the inside. There are too many pressures from the outside hustling us rapidly, too rapidly, from one side of this threshold to another: the brutal sounding of the alarm clock, the psychological imperative to get up and get on with it. If 78 . . . Leaving Sleep for a moment we experience a dazed sense of peculiarity, that very dazedness will help ensure that we won’t think for very long about just what it is that makes waking peculiar: who can philosophize first thing in the morning? Our habitual patterns and perceptions— of waking among other things—close ranks; we stumble out of bed and take our place in those ranks. Perhaps it is only when waking takes a peculiar form that we get a sense of how peculiar it has been all along. We understand rightly what is at stake here only when we wake up wrong. waking up awry To better understand the transition that is waking, then, we can begin by looking at one of the best-known literary descriptions of waking up wrong: it is that moment, near the beginning of Swann’s Way, when Marcel emerges from sleep into a darkened room. The passage first describes an ordinary, unproblematic transition from sleeping to waking. “A sleeping man,” we are told, “holds in a circle around him the sequence of the hours, the order of the years and worlds. He consults them instinctively as he wakes and reads in a second the point on the earth he occupies, the time that has elapsed before his waking; but their ranks can be mixed up, broken” (5) by various unusual circumstances. Or not so unusual. “It was enough,” Marcel says, “if, in my own bed, my sleep was deep and allowed my mind to relax entirely; then it would let go of the map of the place where I had fallen asleep and, when I woke in the middle of the night, since I did not know where I was, I did not even understand in the first moment who I was” (5). Rapidly he runs through a number of possibilities, trying to orient himself by imposing on the unresponsive darkness the contours and contents of the various bedrooms he has inhabited during his life. Dimly sensed objects become place markers, markers of place and thus of the time in which those places are inhabited. Without any objects at all there would be no place; and place, as has frequently been argued, is as important to Proust’s project as is time. For it is the specific details and the atmosphere of a place that give the moment the distinctive character that constitutes it as a discern- Leaving Sleep . . . 79 ible entity in time. So it is that Marcel can make the startling transition “since I did not know where I was, I did not even understand . . . who I was.” His disorientation is at the same time topographical, chronological, and ontological. The circle of hours, years, and worlds that encompasses the sleeper now becomes no longer a reassuring and stable containment but a dizzying disorientation. The compass remains stable perhaps, but the needle is spinning wildly: “When I woke thus,” Marcel tells us, “everything revolved around me in the darkness, things, countries, years . . . [even if] these revolving, confused evocations never lasted for more than a few seconds” (6–7). They are, however, significant seconds. In this passage, the sense of place is ruptured at the moment when sleep is ruptured, sleep that is in certain ways...


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