Academic journal article Consciousness, Literature & the Arts

CHAPTER 6: Conclusion: The Hypnoglyph and the Misclosure of the Postmodern

Academic journal article Consciousness, Literature & the Arts

CHAPTER 6: Conclusion: The Hypnoglyph and the Misclosure of the Postmodern

Article excerpt

At the close of this study of sleep-centered art, it is helpful to consider Proust's concluding, resonant comment on sleep and dreams toward the end of his epitomic modernist actualization of an aesthetics of dormancy: "And after so many centuries, we do not know much about this subject." ("Et depuis tant de siecles nous ne savons pas grand-chose la-dessus.")1 Or as poet Philip Larkin phrased it,

There is more

Knowledge of sleep than death, and yet

Who knows the nature of our casting there,

Trawled inaccessible pool, or set

A line to haul its logic into speech?2

Larkin's implied definition of sleep as a "trawled inaccessible pool" includes a degree of anti-climax and suggests a semiotic terrain repetitively visited, packed with cryptic data, and yielding half-remembered experiences that cannot be adequately assimilated or fully understood by the wakened sleeper.

Such attributes tied - so often and for so long - to the experience of dormancy became modernist topoi ripe for reuse and revision in postmodern works of art. In illustration of this trend, Anthony Burgess remarks near the close of On Going to Bed (an essay both entertaining and unsettling of the early 1980s), "In sleep we all become the same, and where we sleep is a profound irrelevancy. I still do not know why we sleep. It cannot be to rest the mind and the body, since the body is far more exhausted on waking than on lying down, and the mind whirls madly in sleep in extravagant but quite useless phantasmagorias."3 Thus with humor and weariness that are quite contemporary, Burgess has added to the argument that, more frequently than not, sleep is beset with a negative aura in narrative contexts (whether aesthetic, philosophical, or religious) from Homer to Plato and far beyond. In keeping with this trend, intimations of malaise, mortality, and moribundity - often (as chez Burgess) conveyed in an off-hand or facetious manner - attend depictions of dormancy in postmodern visual art and literature.

The "glyph" in the hypnoglyph signals a via negativa that can lead to unpleasant (or at times reassuring) self-knowledge or to cultural critique or nowhere at all. In order to fine-tune this statement, it is first of all instructive to re-visit Vincent Desiderio's The Interpretation of Color (fig. 25), focusing this time on the design of his subject's sleepwear. Barring patterns are recurrent in Desiderio's paintings and are derived in part from Manet's The Railway (La gare St. Lazare).4 For Desiderio, the bars (seen here and in Couple) have become more or less shorthand for the narrowness of formalism. Particularly in the case of The Railway, they suggest to Desiderio the sleep of modernism, the aesthetic constraints from which the subject would like to escape.5 Thus an undesirable element or uncanny dimension tends to accompany the artist's keen interest in representing sleep. And like many others, the slumber depicted in The Interpretation of Color is tinged with resistance, here to a narrative of aesthetic recuperation that may be chased by the sleeper in his dreams.

During a kinetocentric epoch officially tolerant of a huge inventory of cultural and psychic diversities, the delayed acceptance of sleep is sometimes enunciated with particular firmness and decorum in academic discussions. Fascinated with J.G. Ballard's apocalypse of temporal and genetic entropy in "Voices of Time," Fredric Jameson foregrounds the specter of a pandemic narcolepsy that effects the extinction of humanity.6 And in Picture Theory, W.J.T. Mitchell expresses relief that the "dogmatic slumber" of art history has ended.7

In advertising, representations of dormancy are carefree, nutritive, and pleasant, and even hygienically or ergonomically correct. These consumeristic idealizations are conspicuously aided by the intercession of a commodity or service that ensures the enjoyment of anxiety- and injury-free slumber. Such sleep may even facilitate the uninterrupted continuation of some questionably devised but cleverly marketed program of instruction. …

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