Wednesday, July 23, 2008


There is a nice personal essay by Jenny Diski on Sleep in the new london review of books. I also learned this new word - hypnogogia (or hypnagogia according to wikipedia), which means the state of being in the twilight zone between sleep and wakefulness. There is a beautiful description of this state of hypnogagia in the beginning of Swann's Way. (It can be read here). Really, it is when you are in that twilight zone you wonder why people lament and bewail about the pain of sleeping alone!

Anyway here is Diski describing the same:

Inexpert though I am in all other fields, I am a connoisseur of sleep. Actually, my speciality is not sleep itself, but the hinterland of sleep, the point of entry to unconsciousness. One of my earliest memories of sensual pleasure (though there must have been earlier, watery ones) is of lying on my stomach in bed, the bedtime story told, lights out (not the hall, leave the door open, no, more than that), the eiderdown heavy and over my head, my face in the pillow, adjusted so that I had just enough air to breathe. I recall how acutely aware I was of being perfectly physically comfortable, as heimlich as I ever had been or ever would be, and no small part of the comfort was the delicious prospect of falling slowly into sleep. Drifting off. Moving off, away, out of mindfulness. Leaving behind. Relaxing into hypnagogia (a condition I may always have known about and desired, if not been able to name), anticipating the blurring of consciousness.


km said...

Swann's Way has been on top of my "to-read" lists for the last 2 years. I think it's time I took the plunge :)

Alok said...

Actually it can be read as a standalone book, even though it is just the first volumne if that is what his holding you off. I also like the new translation by Lydia Davis more. It is much smoother and somewhat easier to read.

Kubla Khan said...

Hypnogogic is before sleep and hypnopompic afterwards, just after waking. it is not unusual to hallucinate in both states like hearing cries, sounds, machinery sounds, snippets of songs etc.
we often hear our names called too. i have had this sort of name calling often.

interesting this stuff.

Alok said...

yes it seems to be a common experience. Another thing is when you are reading and deferring the onset of sleep. sometimes you just wake up and realize that what you had thought was in the book was actually imagined! something proust also mentions in that opening section of swann's way.