Over nine months ago I was laid off from my employer of nearly ten years. In the period that has followed life has been marked by a tumultuous cavalcade of loss and psychological and emotional trauma. Our family home was but one of the many things we were forced to bid farewell to and since, in the wake of the absence, we have been left broken, hurt, at times fearful and frail, sifting through the ruins of what remains in the aftermath of a life violently disrupted, hoping to piece together some sense of normalcy. I have now returned to work but, to a far more menial and labor intensive form of work then the position once held, which has also included a radical change of hours, not to mention a dramatic reduction in wages. Now working a night shift position, physically exhausted and somewhat sleep-deprived, I have begun to contemplate the importance of sleep, not only physically but, also psychologically, philosophically, and politically. Unfortunately, however, I have not been able to devote the time and rigorous contemplation necessary to really delve into the depths of sleep’s psychologically linked relationship to the socio-political sphere. But, this in some sense is precisely my point in writing this. Consider the following passages taken from Freud’s A General Introduction to psychoanalysis
in which he discusses the psychic necessitation of sleep and dreaming:
Our relation to the world into which we came so unwillingly, seems to include the fact that we cannot endure it without interruption. For this reason we revert from time to time to the pre-natal existence, that is, to the intra-uterine existence. At least we create for ourselves conditions quite similar to those obtaining at that time—warmth, darkness and the absence of stimuli. Some of us even roll ourselves into tight packages and assume in sleep a posture very similar to the intra-uterine posture. It seems as if the world did not wholly possess us adults, it has only two-thirds of our life, we are still one-third unborn. Each awakening in the morning is then like a new birth.
Freud goes on to say that
The psychic processes of sleep, for example, have a very different character from those of waking. One experiences many things in the dream, and believes in them, while one really has experienced nothing but perhaps the one disturbing stimulus. One experiences them predominantly in visual images; feelings may also be interspersed in the dream as well as thoughts; the other senses may also have experiences, but after all the dream experiences are predominantly pictures.
Sleep creates the parameters for being born-again, for being birthed a new. This is to say that that there are parts of ourselves that are always still to come, portions that are ‘not-yet’ and the sleeping dream is what beckons them forth into a messianic-like arrival.
We constantly speak of the need to be awakened from an apathetic slumber, “we need to wake up and smell the coffee.” But, one can’t help but notice that we are in the throes of a culturally induced insomnia. We live in an ‘always-on’ society of social media, smart phones, 24-hour pharmacies, drive thrus, and 7-11’s, bars, clubs, raves, we are hyper-stimulated, overwhelmed by a never-ending, relentless supply of distracting stimuli. Every city has now been transformed into “the city that never sleeps.” This is, then, also, true of our own homes and even our psyche. Slavoj Zizek notes that “In our ‘society of the spectacle’, in which what we experience as everyday reality more and more takes the form of the lie made real.” Yet,
Sleep and dreams have the capacity to ‘awaken’ us to the traumatic Real of who we are, what we are, and the way things really are. Peter Rollins
writes the following,
Here obsessive late night partying, drinking, drug taking and socialising are not to be thought of as attempts to make mundane reality more interesting and exciting (a common misunderstanding). Rather they can often be futile attempts to ward off the real that awaits [us] in [our] dreams…
Rollins goes on to say that “‘reality’, however dissatisfied with it we are, can act as a screen which protects us from a direct encounter with the horrific Real. In short, reality is structured as a fantasy.” Zizek concurs stating that, “our ordinary reality enables us to evade an encounter with true trauma.” In other words we use the fiction of our waking ‘reality’ as a means and mechanism for escaping the Real of our dreams.
“[T]he Truth,” as Zizek explains, ” has the structure of a fiction: what appears in the guise of dreaming, or even daydreaming, is sometimes the truth on whose repression social reality itself is founded.” We need the space to dream new dreams, no matter how traumatic or disturbing, no matter how jarring. We need to proclaim that “I have a dream…” It is not the phantasmal or fantasmic ‘reality’ of the waking world that we need to infiltrate our dreams but, rather what we need most is the anguish and upheaval of the dreaming Real to overtake the fictional lie of rousing ‘reality’.
When we deny ourselves access to sleep and dreams we are denying their revolutionary potentiality to radically alter the everyday ‘life-world’ and we are inadvertently accepted conceding to the status quo of the way things are. It is not the dream that we must awaken from but, the sleepless slumber of repression and mediocrity that we have accepted as being ‘real’.