Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Consummation Devoutly to be Wished

I am a girl who loves her sleep. I've been known to spend well over 12 hours in a row in bed, even when I'm not sick, and the majority of that time isn't while I'm awake, either. Moreover, I don't really look on that as a problem or flaw - I actively desire sleep. It seems like a really good way of spending my time!

My best friend has queried me about that a couple of times, asking me how I could possibly enjoy sleep so much when I don't experience anything whilst asleep and even asking me once why, if I enjoyed sleep so much, I didn't just commit suicide and be unconscious forever. I've answered her in a couple of ways, pointing out that, while I don't experience dreamless sleep, I do experience (and enjoy!) being half-asleep and having dreams. I think these are more or less the appropriate answers, although, obviously, even if I did enjoy being unconscious more than anything else I do (and I don't even enjoy being half-asleep and having dreams more than anything else - narrative art still wins), I think I could still legitimately argue that it's worth not committing suicide, because just because something is one's favorite activity does not mean that one would be happiest doing only that activity. And death is pretty much ONLY being unconscious, forever.

I was reminded of these conversations by this Scientific American article about "why we can't imagine death" (which I found a link to at yhlee's blog. The article makes the point that we can't experience "dreamless sleep," so that it doesn't help us to imagine death. Obviously, therefore, whatever it is that I mean I love when I say "I love sleep" isn't the dreamless sleep. And I'm willing to admit that it's the periods of distorted consciousness - the dreams and the half-asleep bits - that I love. Sleep, therefore, contra my best friend and Hamlet, is not as good a metaphor for death as we might like - in fact, we don't really have any great metaphors for death, because no experience is like no-experience. This makes it kind of hard to look forward to death, even though I can empathize with the desire to avoid life-as-we-know it (although I admit that I've never actually been suicidal, so I'm not sure what suicidal people actually feel).

That having been said, I do spend a perhaps inordinate amount of time thinking about what kind of experience would be my ideal, if there were limits on me except for those of my imagination. I come up with various ideas, and most of the time the one I'm about to mention isn't actually my favorite, but sometimes, especially when I'm feeling particularly melancholy (or creative!), it seems extremely tempting: not to die, but to sleep, and, yes, indeed, to dream, forever. Some of the most pleasurable days I've had in my life have been those where I spend the day in bed, alternately thinking about my favorite stories, dreaming, and having that no-experience dreamless sleep. I couldn't possibly desire dreamless sleep forever; it's a contradiction in terms. And I know that it's impossible to spend a lifetime in bed. Most of the time, I don't even want to. But just because it isn't really my ideal and couldn't be achieved even if it were doesn't mean that it's not more desirable than this existence (I feel this way about some supposed dystopias, too. They may not be the utopias they pretend to be, but they're still better than the real world as we know it!).

1 comment:

Jon Jucovy said...

I sent my Utopia class the Scientific American article, which I found to be quite convincing and provocative and enjoyable, if that is not quite the right word for an article about imagining being dead.