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At the Borders of Sleep

On Liminal Literature

2012
Author:

Peter Schwenger

At the Borders of Sleep

Exploring the fertile connections between creativity and the edges of sleep

At the Borders of Sleep is a unique exploration of the connections between literature and the liminal states between waking and sleeping. Ultimately arguing that both the reading and writing of literature are liminal experiences, taking place on the edges of consciousness, Peter Schwenger suggests new ways to think about the nature of literature and consciousness.

At the Borders of Sleep has changed my perspective, to the extent that I now see the issue of this liminal state—half awake, half asleep—not as just my personal affliction, but as a much larger, all pervasive state, one that profoundly conditions all of literature, indeed all of ‘consciousness.’ This is the power of Peter Schwenger’s book—after reading it one starts to see the liminal state, hypnagogia, everywhere. It becomes the subject of one’s waking thoughts, and one’s dreams.

Allan Stoekl, Penn State University

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 draw on and enter these states. 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 both the reading and writing of literature are liminal experiences, taking place on the edges of consciousness, At the Borders of Sleep suggests new ways to think about the nature of literature and consciousness.

At the Borders of Sleep

Peter Schwenger is resident fellow at the Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism, University of Western Ontario, and professor emeritus of English at Mount St. Vincent University. He is the author of several books, including The Tears of Things: Melancholy and Physical Objects (Minnesota, 2006) and Fantasm and Fiction: On Textual Envisioning.

At the Borders of Sleep

At the Borders of Sleep has changed my perspective, to the extent that I now see the issue of this liminal state—half awake, half asleep—not as just my personal affliction, but as a much larger, all pervasive state, one that profoundly conditions all of literature, indeed all of ‘consciousness.’ This is the power of Peter Schwenger’s book—after reading it one starts to see the liminal state, hypnagogia, everywhere. It becomes the subject of one’s waking thoughts, and one’s dreams.

Allan Stoekl, Penn State University

At the Borders of Sleep

Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments

1. Toward Sleep
Writing Hypnagogia
The Obbligato Effect
Falling Asleep While Reading
Agatha: or, Sleep

2. Sleepless
Night
The Insomniac Writer
Night Watch

3. Leaving Sleep
Waking Up Awry
Lacan’s Wakeup Call
Interminable Waking

4. Sleepwaking
Disquiet
The Subdrama of Writing
Experiment, Experience


Notes
Bibliography
Index