4. Sleepwaking
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109 Sleepwaking four 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 philosophers, perhaps most famously in the conundrum expressed by Zhuangzi in the fourth century b.c.e.: Once upon a time, I, Zhuangzi, dreamed I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of following my fancies as a butterfly, and was unconscious of my individuality as a man. Suddenly, I awoke, and there I lay, myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then Zhuangzi dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether a butterfly is now 110 . . . Sleepwaking dreaming it is me. Between Zhuangzi and a butterfly there is necessarily a barrier. This is called transformation of things. The translation I have used (slightly modified) is by Xiaoqiang Han,1 and matters of translation are important here. Han has found it necessary to make his own translation rather than to accept philosophical implications that arise speciously from certain English phrasings. Even his version, as he would be the first to admit, suggests a more stable self than does the original, affixing a certain signature with “I, Zhuangzi” that is carried forward in the passage’s repetition of “I.” So it is “I” that was a butterfly—rather than “there was a butterfly ,” another possible phrasing—and perhaps this must be so when the whole episode is reported from the hither, human side of the division between philosopher and butterfly. It is significant that this division is very much to the fore as the passage ends: most translations stop at Zhuangzi’s expression of doubt. If that doubt has to do with whether he has been the dreamer or is now the dreamed there is no doubt about the difference, the “barrier” between life as a butterfly and life as a man. This butterfly is a bit like Thomas Nagel’s bat:2 it poses a fundamental challenge to our ability to imagine a radically alien other. Whatever remembrance of the butterfly-life is now held by the human being can only be in human terms. If Zhuangzi’s purpose is, through the anecdote of a dream, to make a Daoist point about the irrevocable differences between “things,”3 that is not the point that readers in the West have taken from it: the vehicle for Zhuangzi’s point has become a point in itself, a point very much in contention. An awareness of the strange division between different forms of life has been replaced by an awareness of how difficult it is to establish the difference between waking and dreaming states; for each of these states is convincing while we are in it, as are for Zhuangzi the life of a butterfly and the life of a man. West reads East in these terms, doubtless, because the difference between waking and dreaming states has repeatedly unsettled Western thought—beginning perhaps with Socrates, who asks in Plato’s Theaetetus, “How can you determine whether at this moment we are sleeping, and all our thoughts are a dream; or whether we are awake, and talking to one another in the waking state?” (158b). This Sleepwaking . . . 111 venerable debate has recently been reopened by cognitive researchers such as Llinas and Paré, who have determined that the brain responds to the stimuli of dreams in the same way that it responds to the stimuli of waking perceptions. I am not ambitious enough, or rash enough, to try to settle the ongoing debate about whether, or how, waking life can be distinguished from dreaming life. Rather, I want to consider the ways in which, as Blanchot implies, there is always an element of dream in our waking lives. I will do this through the work of a number of authors who, in various ways, have engaged with this interface. And indeed, as I have argued throughout this book, the work of an author itself takes place on such an...


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