Scanning the Hypnoglyph

Sleep in Modernist and Postmodern Representation


Nathaniel Wallace’s Scanning the Hypnoglyph chronicles a contemporary genre that exploits sleep’s evocative dimensions. While dreams, sleeping nudes, and other facets of the dormant state were popular with artists of the early twentieth century (and long before), sleep experiences have given rise to an even wider range of postmodern artwork. Scanning the Hypnoglyph first assesses the modernist framework wherein the sleeping subject typically enjoys firm psychic grounding. As postmodernism begins, subjective space is fragmented, the representation of sleep reflecting the trend. Among other topics, this book demonstrates how portrayals of dormant individuals can reveal imprints of the self. Gender issues are taken up as well. “Mainstream,” heterosexual representations are considered along with depictions of gay, lesbian, and androgynous sleepers.

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Nathaniel Wallace, a comparatist by training (Ph.D., Rutgers), teaches English at South Carolina State University. He has published on varied topics, sleep included. He has held NEH and Camargo fellowships and lectured in Norway (University of Bergen) on a Fulbright.
"Wallace offers a fascinating exploration of how humans have sought to represent that most elusive cousin of thanatos, sleep itself. While setting his parameters within the modernist and post-modernist eras, W. engages with a wide-ranging swath of discourses (from Platonic philosophy to 17th century French painting to contemporary cognitive science), all of which have addressed the challenges of speaking the unsayable nature of dormancy. The author identifies sleep’s critical function as resistant to narrative processes, as humans alternatingly cede to and resist psychic maturation. In the process, if somewhat paradoxically, his investigation reveals much about how we tell stories of the self (the diarist’s impulse), or seek to escape the grasp of those stories.
Taken discretely, Wallace’s analyses of verbal and visual representations of sleep initiate the reader into various interpretive strategies that allow us to better contemplate sleeping subjects (though our full comprehension of those subjects may remain just out of reach). Particularly impressive is Wallace’s understanding of Baudelaire’s sonnets as heralding a modernist approach to sleep, one that reflects upon the precarious realities of urban sprawl. Cumulatively, Wallace’s readings chart conflicted but entangled attitudes toward sleep that, on the one hand, uphold its salubrious restorative potential and, on the other, condemn its allure as an escape from industry and cognition. A well developed and erudite approach to sleep that is anything but soporific, Wallace’s book should prove a critical conversant in the ever evolving debates that surround discourses of sleep as well as its antithesis, the vigilant Argos that is twenty-first century surveillance."
- Hunter H. Gardner, University of South Carolina

"Scanning the Hypnoglyph is a trove of fascinating and surprising references. Wallace's deciphering of sleep gives elegant and extensive voice to the unsayable, thereby enriching our imagination and understanding of how subjectivity can become shaped and reshaped through sleep. This is a must read for comparatists, not simply for its content but also for its methodologies."
- Wenying Xu, Jacksonville University, Florida, in The Comparatist, vol. 44, October 2020

"Wallace casts his net wide, providing detailed analysis of writers from North America, France, and Japan and no less detailed scrutiny of the work of visual artists from North America, Germany, and France. The book is handsomely illustrated and Wallace reads visual texts as patiently and astutely as he reads literary ones. [...] It is difficult to imagine a reader interested in the history of sleep who would not learn something from every chapter of this book."
- Michael Greaney, Lancaster University, in MLR, vol. 116, iss. 3, 2021
List of Illustrations

I. Introduction: From Hypnos to the Hypnoglyph
Formatting the Hypnoglyph
Sleep and Narrative Resistance
Sleep and Cognitive Study
The Dream, Textual Servant
Fighting Sleep:
Persons & Baxter: The Case of the Christian Directory
Descartes’s cogito & Pascal
Baudelairean Backgrounds
Sleep amid Mid-Nineteenth Century Migrations of Religious Discourse

II. A Life in the Day of a Hypnoglyph: Vertical Slumber and Other Typicalities
Elizabeth Bishop’s “Sleeping Standing Up”
Robert Lowell’s “Man and Wife”
Vincent Desiderio, The Sleeping Family, The Interpretation of Color

III. The Size of Sleep, Sizing the Self
Thomas Mann’s “Sleep, Sweet Sleep” (“Süßer Schlaf”)
Richard Wilbur’s “Walking to Sleep”
Anselm Kiefer’s The Rose Gives Honey to the Bees (Dat Rosa Mel Apibus)
Fran Gardner’s No Need for Wings and Orienting the Self
David Yaghjian’s Sleep

IV. Latter Day Ariadnes: From Hypnoglyph to Somnoscript
Marguerite Duras’s The Malady of Death (La maladie de la mort)
Anselm Kiefer’s Brunnhilde Sleeps (Brünnhilde Schläft)
Yasunari Kawabata’s “House of the Sleeping Beauties”

V. Alternate Endymions / Other Ariadnes
Gustave Courbet’s Sleep (The Two Friends)
The Plurisexual Marcel Proust
The Queer Schlaraffenland of Paul Cadmus
Signorelli’s Afterlife from Sigmund Freud to Jacques Lacan
Andy Warhol’s Sleep
Marguerite Duras’s Blue Eyes Black Hair (Les yeux bleus cheveux noirs)
Mark Tansey’s Utopic
Vincent Desiderio’s Couple

VI Conclusion: The Hypnoglyph and the Missing Closure of the Postmodern

Works Cited
Readers interested in the boundaries between modernism and postmodernism, in gender theory, or in inter-art studies, and anyone following current scholarship concerned with the cultural status of sleep.
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