Wether you like or reject this seems to depend on how well you sleep. Or how you fall asleep. The other person who shares my sleeping space can usually fall asleep quickly and deeply. She doesn’t identify with this at all, and criticised the style. I fret a bit more, glad when I hear her sleeping breathing but unable to wipe the patterns of thought and do that myself. This is from a poet whose writings I just discovered.
The meeting of eye and pillow gives birth to a mountain, a fairly gentle slope forming a quarter circle (or more precisely the lesser arc of a circle) that stands out in the foreground, darker than the remaining space. This mountain isn’t interesting; it’s normal. For the time being your mind is absorbed by a task that you must perform but that you are unable to define exactly; it seems to be the sort of task that is scarcely important in itself and that perhaps is only the pretext, the opportunity, of making sure you know the rules: you imagine, for example, and this is immediately confirmed, that the task consists of sliding your thumb or even your whole hand onto the pillow. But is doing this really your concern; Don’t your years of service, your position in the hierarchy. exempt you from this chore? This question is plainly much more important than the task itself, and there is nothing to help you solve it, you didn’t think that so much later you would have to account for things in this way. Besides, on further reflection you realise that the problem is still more complicated: it isn’t a matter of knowing whether or not you should slide your thumb in a manner befitting your rank your duties, your seniority, but rather of this: sooner or later in any event, you will have to slide your thumb up, but on top of the pillow if you have sufficient seniority, underneath ; if you haven’t, and of course you have no notion of your seniority, which seems considerable but perhaps not considerable enough. Perhaps they have even picked a moment to ask you precisely this question when no one, not even the most upright of judges, would be able unquestioningly to assert that you have or have not got sufficient seniority?
The question could also be asked about your feet or thighs. It in fact means nothing: the real problem is one of contacts. There are theoretically two kinds of contact: between your body and the sheets, as in the case of your left thigh, your right foot, your right forearm, part of your belly—a contact that is fusion, osmosis, liquefaction; and between your body and itself, where flesh meets flesh, where the left foot is crossed over the right foot, where the knees meet, where your elbow ventures against your stomach—these contacts being sharp, hot or cold, or hot and cold. Obviously it’s possible with hardly any risk to reverse the whole operation and assert that, on the contrary, the left foot is under the right foot, the right thigh under the left thigh.
What is most clear in all this is that obviously you are not lying down, either on your right side or on your left side, legs slightly bent, arms embracing the pillow, but that you are hanging head downwards like a hibernating bat or, more, like an overripe pear on a pear tree: which means that at any moment you may fall, something that in fact strikes you as not particularly bothersome, since your head is perfectly shielded by the pillow; but you are duty bound to escape this ranger, even if it is minute. But if you review the means at our command, it does not take you long to realise that the situation is more serious than you first reckoned, if only in that loss of horizontality is rarely conducive to sleep. Therefore you must make up your mind to fall, even though you foresee that this will scarcely be enjoyable (one never knows when the fall will end) but above all you don’t know how to go about falling, it’s only when you aren’t thinking about it that you start to fall, and how can you not think about it since it so happens you art thinking about it? It’s something no one has ever seriously faced and that nevertheless is of some consequence: there ought to be texts on the subject, authoritative texts that would enable one to deal with these situations, far commoner than is generally believed.
Three quarters of your body have taken refuge in your head. Your heart has settled in your eyebrow, where it has made itself perfectly at home, pulsating like a thing alive. with, at the most, a very slightly exaggerated acceleration. You are obliged to perform a roll call of your body, to verify the wholeness of your limbs, your organs, your entrails your mucous membranes. You would certainly like to rid your head of all these lumps that encumber and weigh it down, and at the same time you are pleased at having saved as much as you could, for everything else is lost, you have no more feet, no more hands; your calf has quite melted away.
All this is more and more complicated. First you would have to remove your elbow, and in the space thus vacated you could place at least part of your belly, continuing in this manner until you were more or less reconstituted. But it’s frightfully difficult: some parts are missing, of others there are two, others have swollen to inordinate size others put forward utterly insane territorial claims. Your elbow is more elbow than ever (you had forgotten that anything could be so thoroughly elbow), a nail has replaced your hand. And of course it’s always at that very moment that the tormentors decide to intervene. One sticks a blackboard eraser in your mouth, another stuffs cotton in your ears; several pit sawyers have started working in your sinuses; a pyromaniac sets fire to your stomach, sadistic tailors squeeze your feet, cram too small a hat on your head, force you into too tight a coat and use a necktie to strangle you; a chimney sweep and his accomplice have let a knotted rope into your windpipe which in spite of their praiseworthy efforts, they are unable to extract.
They are there nearly every time. You know them well. It’s almost reassuring. If they’re around, sleep isn’t far away. They will make you suffer a little, then get fed up and leave you in peace. They hurt you, it’s true, but you keep towards your pain —as towards all the other feelings you discern, all the thoughts crossing your mind, all the impressions you receive —an attitude of complete detachment. Without astonishment you see yourself astonished, without surprise surprised, without pain assaulted by the tormentors. You wait for them to calm down. You relinquish to them every organ they want. From afar you see them wrangling over your belly, your nose, your throat, your feet.
But often— so often— this is the ultimate trap. The worst then comes to pass, emerging slowly, imperceptibly. At first everything is calm—too calm; normal—too normal. Every-thing seems set never to move again. But after that you are aware, you begin to be aware, with a certainty more and more relentless, that you have lost your body—no, rather you see it, not far away from you, but you will never be one with it again.
You are no more than an eye. A huge, steady eye that sees everything, your limp body as well as yourself, the beholder beheld, as if it had turned completely round in its socket and without uttering a word was gazing on you, your inside, our dark, empty, sea-green, startled, helpless inside. It looks at you and pins you down. You will never stop seeing yourself. You are unable to do anything, you are unable to escape yourself, you are unable to escape your gaze, you will never be able to: even if you managed to fall asleep so deeply that no shock, no summons, no searing pain could wake you up, there would still be this eye, your eye, which will never shut, which will never fall asleep. You see yourself, you see your-self seeing yourself, you watch yourself watching yourself Even if you woke up, your vision would abide, identical, unchangeable. Even if you managed to accumulate thousands, or thousands of thousands of eyelids, there would still be, behind them, this eye to see you. You are not asleep, but sleep will not return again. You are not awake and you will never wake up again. You are not dead, and not even death could bring you deliverance.
Between Sleep and Waking Modified from Paris Review
Translated from the French by Harry Mathews