Her eyes were already open. Dawn was breaking. The rock she leaned against hurt her back. She sighed, and shifted her position a bit. Among the rocks out there beyond the town it was very quiet at this time of the day. She looked into the sky, saw space growing ever clearer. The first slight sounds moving through that space seemed no more than variations on the basic silence of which they were made. The nearby rock forms and the more distant city walls came up slowly from the realm of the invisible, but still only as emanations of the shadowy depths beneath. The pure sky, the bushes beside her, the pebbles at her feet, all had been drawn up from the well of absolute night. And in the same fashion the strange languor in the center of her consciousness, those vaporous ideas which kept appearing as though independently of her will, were mere tentative fragments of her own presence, looming against the nothingness of a sleep not yet cold—a sleep still powerful enough to return and take her in its arms. But she remained awake, the nascent light invading her eyes, and still no corresponding aliveness awoke within her; she had no feeling of being anywhere, of being anyone.
– Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky
Good morning blues, blues how do you do?
Good morning blues, blues how do you do?
I’m doing all right, good morning how are you?
I lay down last night, turning from side to side
Oh, turning from side to side
I was not sick, but I was dissatisfied.
I got up this morning with the blues walking round my bed
Oh, with the blues walking round my bed
I went to eat my breakfast, the blues was in my bread.
‘What is it? What is it?’ I exclaimed, still held down in bed by sleep, and stretched my arms upwards. Then I got up, still far from being conscious of the present, and with the feeling that I must thrust aside various people who were in my way, made the necessary gestures, and so at last reached the open window.
– Kafka, The Blue Octavo Notebooks (tr. E. Kaiser and E. Wilkins)
Nothing, void, inertia bordering on despair. Grey skies, grey streets, grey walls. You nowhere to be seen, nowhere to be heard. I thank God for the pills and the wine that put that border in place, lie down and wait for sleep in the afternoon. It doesn’t come, nothing comes, the day ends all over. Same old tedium, same old tedious mystery: the silence that isn’t silence, the voice I wait for that speaks somewhere but fails to come and when it comes is only ever to come. But not even that today, hardly even waiting. Nothing, inertia. Wine, pills, sleep, eventually.
Sleepless again, both X and I. We go outside to smoke and look at the sky. The ancients believed the stars were holes through which the light of the beyond shone, I tell him. We’re holes through which nothing shines, he tells me.
To sleep the sleep of the good… to fall asleep in accord with the sleeping night, to wake in accord with the awakening day. But accord is out of reach, and thus the world corrects itself through the likes of us. We’re a hiccup in your sleep, your yawn as you wake.
The new leaves still rustle outside: this is both a comfort and an annoyance. I think of the sea, of the incessant waves: this comforts and unnerves me. I delight in falling asleep and slowly waking up, and my delight is a kind of sin, which may be why I deny it to myself. But this denial is itself a sin. Sleep itself, the unknown, is what I long for. Sleepers collaborate with you, just as the dead do. As much as the living? You pull me in and out of sleep at your will, just as you pull me in and out of illness. This night seems endless. I listen to my heart. Is it mine? I stand guard over my heart, I lie awake beside myself. Am I dead or alive? I’m half asleep, I enter and exit sleep, or it enters and exits me. My eyelids drop, we begin to cross into one another. Dawn and birdsong come, bringing sleep, and sin becomes grace. Let morning come to itself as I tumble into sleep. But X rolls over and snorts, and I wake myself up.
Some nights I see as clearly as a child being taught a lesson that something’s gone wrong. Or rather, I see something’s gone wrong but I fail to see why. Then I fall asleep, or half asleep, and my dreams come between me and my lesson, or my dreams turn into the lesson that I fail to understand. I sleep and wake up in another sleep. There’s a landscape of sleep through which I roam, with X tugging at my elbow. There are voices, and when the voices cease – they never cease – when the wind carries the voices away they are replaced by a low static, the white noise of the universe. Everything shudders, as when a truck rolls by. My nerves shudder, I shake myself to stop them. They shudder. I don’t sleep, yet I’m sleeping. If I listen closely, the sound of a heartbeat and a strange interior landscape, bubbling and gurgling. I don’t sleep, I slumber in the hollow of the night, trying not to listen to his snores, trying not to smell his bad breath, trying not to think. The insomniac tries to draw everything into himself while everything pushes him away. Even his own weariness disregards him.
At night I lie awake for a long time. There’s a moment in half-sleep when a voice tells me, You’re insane to live like this! The voice wakes me and brings me back into wakefulness, out of the sleep I love. I hear the shrieks of the young seagulls learning their calls. X snores lightly on the floor. All is still, yet nothing’s ever still: a mystery. All is silent, yet nothing’s ever silent. I hear the tree’s new leaves and branches rustle outside the window. In a strange room, my own, but with him in it. I try to empty myself for sleep. Think of nothing and sleep. What am I then, when I try to think of nothing? And when I do sleep, what am I? When I sleep I’m closest to you. I tried to sleep and when I couldn’t I learned to scribble like this, I learned to address you without expecting an answer. I tell a lie. You taught me to wait, but I’m a poor student. In a strange room, mine, which isn’t even mine. Sleep is where I never was, which is why I fear it. Sleep: the preliminary death I’m afraid to give myself over to, just as I’m afraid to give myself over to you. The fear that I’ll have to pay for the day’s crimes in sleep, not only mine but X’s, on the other side of time, in night time, dream time, planetary time.