On sleep


I read the article, Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep by Jonathan Crary: Sleep is a standing affront to capitalism, this morning – quite appropriately, while feeling rather sleepy and wanting my bed. I had a mental shudder after reading it. As the title suggests, the article is about the book 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep by Jonathan Crary. In reviewing it, Steven Poole writes that “Sleep, indeed, is a standing affront to capitalism. That is the argument of Jonathan Crary’s provocative and fascinating essay, which takes ‘24/7’ as a spectral umbrella term for round-the-clock consumption and production in today’s world.” I can’t help reading this argument in relation to my recent The branding of feminism post. It is sort of an extension, or another exploration of the ideas I talked about – about the cultural context that frightens me.

Sometimes, when I think about the structure of the societies that many of us live in today with our “24/7” consumption, I wonder how much further we can actually take things; how much further will we take this consumption before something within us rebels? This is not so much a critique of capitalism per se, as it is a critique of how far we are willing to take things in its name and under its logic. Sleep is not yet a commodity, but I don’t doubt it could be. The world we live in is already encroaching on our sleep, it’s just so demanding and available all the time. I once got a promotional text message in the middle of the night from a company and thought: seriously, it’s come to this? The expectation that the world be available and that we too be available 24/7 is exhausting. Sleep is a break from wanting, consuming, producing, buying, exchanging, branding, into the interior space where the mind has no allegiance other than to itself and to the body that sustains it. It is essentially naked humanity without the dictates of our working ‘productivity’; it does not consume but rather it feeds (although often considered similar things, to me there is a difference between the two). So in that sense, yes, it is an affront to capitalism.

When I read the last paragraph of this article, I couldn’t help but think of Ismail Kadare’s novel, Palace of Dreams – a dystopian tale in which dreams really are monitored for an ideology. And that’s precisely what Poole is describing by way of Crary: “After finishing this book, I had a dystopian nightmare. One day, through clever magnetic stimulation of the brain, it might be possible to insert adverts into our dreams. You could even volunteer to have them interpolated into your sleeping life in exchange for money. (‘My dream last night was sponsored by Facebook and Walkers Crisps.’) If that day ever comes, we won’t be safe anywhere – even in the arms of Morpheus.” Shudder. Call me a romantic, but I’d like to hold onto my dreams – those unproductive, non-consuming dreams that feed me. I still believe in the human project, and really don’t want us to whittle away our dreams in the name of consumption. Surely we are made of more than this? Is it so much to ask for me to hang onto a small piece of myself that says: no, this is mine, you can’t buy it, sell it, promote it, hustle it, reduce it, claim it, trade it, brand it. Or, is it hopelessly naive to think so?

I don’t know. All I can tell you is that I prefer to ask these questions and resist the ever expanding encroachment of consumption and branding onto our lives, even if I don’t have any clear answers. After all, my favourite time of day can be found in those moments before I go to sleep, in the liminal space between consciousness and sleep, where I allow myself to dream of things that are impossible within my working day. That’s where I often find my will to wake up in the morning the next day. If a company were to ever suggest one day that they could ‘brand’ that for me like they suggest ‘branding’ my blog, I’d show them the finger and then run terrified in the opposite direction.

Image credit: Nonchaloir (Repose), 1911, by John Singer Sargent.