The inner night
Towards a phenomenology of (dreamless) sleep
Is a phenomenology of sleep possible? If sleep is the complete absence of experience, including the self-experience of consciousness itself, how can phenomenology, as a description of lived experience, have access to a condition that is neither lived nor experienced? In this paper, I respond directly and indirectly to Jean-Luc Nancy’s challenge that a phenomenology of sleep is impossible. As an indirect response, my sketch of the contours of phenomenology of sleep investigates Husserl’s employment of the distinction between sleep and wakefulness as a metaphor. Specifically, the metaphorical characterization of retentional consciousness is assessed. On the basis of this metaphorical characterization of time-consciousness in terms of sleep and wakefulness, I turn to Husserl’s account of the constitution of sleep. I argue that Husserl’s phenomenology of time-consciousness remains incomplete without an account of “sleep-consciousness” (by which we mean, in a restricted manner, dreamless sleep). In pursuing Husserl’s phenomenological account of sleep, falling asleep and waking up within the context of his genetic phenomenology, I offer a suggestion for how to understand the sense in which consciousness (temporarily) constitutes itself as sleep – as the absence of itself. I conclude with an analogy with Husserl’s investigations into the imaginary: in both instances, consciousness induces within itself its own suspension or self-abstention. In the particular instance of sleep, consciousness disengages itself entirely from the complex of interests while also immunizing itself to the force of affectivity.
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