Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Sleepwalkers

An announce- ment was made on the news this evening that the Marines were going to be holding manoeuvres here in Indianapolis. They declined to say what they were or when they were going to be, but, the news anchor said, they were to train the Marines to act efficiently and effectively in the event of a terrorist attack in the area. Whatever it was and whenever it was, its happening is only a drill and not the real thing.
Now safely past twilight, large Chinook helicopters have moved swiftly and at low altitude over our neighborhood, heading northwest. Not long after, they moved in the same path right back to the southeast. Hopefully they won't be doing horse-laps over the Metro area all night keeping everyone awake...

A few months ago, I heard a radio show on Memory which gave, as one of the examples on how strangely memory works, a man who, in a traumatic accident, even today remains in a state of complete and never-ending amnesia. He isn't the classic made-for-TV-movie example, wherein one suddenly wakes and starts all over. He can make no new memories whatsoever. Of the things he carries with him, he remembers language perfectly, and he remembers his wife, though rarely can he remember her name. His face lights up when she comes to visit: Thank God you've come. He constantly has moments of complete clarity, but they are almost instantly lost. He looks across the room and exclaims I'm awake! I'm awake! When he is led to his old church and placed in front of a choir with a score, his old profession comes to him automatically--he conducts wonderfully, sculpting the sound from the air there in the loft. When asked about what he'd just done, he has no memory of having done it. He looks at wonder at video of himself doing the conducting, the expression on his face there on screen, living in some sort of other present where a past doesn't so much matter; where the music is all that there needs to be. But outside of music, how exhausting it must be, to work at forming those connections, to piece together where he is, who he is, who these people are. He figures it out, the synapse fires, the spark jumps across: I'm awake! I'm awake! And then it's gone. He pieces these things together again and again until his nameless wife opens the door--some small bit that he can fall back on, that will allow him some rest.

I found a book not long ago by Rene Daumal, someone who died young and whose work is haunted by the need to be conscious; of being awake. "Awakening," he says, "is not a state, it's an act. " He continues:

"A man wakes up in the morning in bed. Scarcely on his feet, he's already asleep again. Going through all the automatic impulses which make his body get dressed, go out, walk, get to work, go through the prescribed daily routine, eat, chat, read a newspaper (as it's generally the body which takes care of all that by itself)--doing all that--he's sleeping. ... He can thus spend entire days without waking for a single moment. [...] And it's easy for slumber, which is the inertia of consciousness, to catch man in its traps; for man, being naturally and almost irremediably lazy, might indeed be willing to awaken. But since the effort is repugnant to him (and naively he thinks it is possible ) in a permanent or at least lengthy waking state. Then wanting to rest in his awakening, he falls asleep. Just as one cannot will oneself to sleep, since willing, in whatever form, is still an awakening, one can remain awakened only if one wills it at every moment.
"And the only direct act which you can carry out is that of awakening, of becoming conscious of yourself. Look back on what you think you've done since the beginning of today: this is perhaps the first time you have awakened. And it's only now that you're conscious of all you've done as a thoughtless automaton. In most ases people never awaken even enough to realize that they have slept. Right now, go ahead and accept, if you wish, this sleepwalker's existence. You will be able to behave in life as an idler, a worker, a peasant, a merchant, a diplomat, an artist, a philosopher, without ever awakening more than just enough, now and then, to enjoy or suffer from the way in which you sleep. It might even be more convenient, without changing anything in your appearance, not to awaken at all."

--All rather heady stuff for someone writing this in his early twenties. Even more interesting that this man so concerned about remaining ever-conscious was hooked on huffing dry-cleaning chemicals, weakening his lungs to the point that tuberculosis saw its opportunity, killing him off at the age of 36.

photo: Davo: museum exhibit, Loveland Museum, interior of wrecked Pullman car.

1 comment:

Tess said...

David my Love. Thought I'd check in and see how you're doing. I love your post for today. How dost thou fare? I'm checking in on my blog every day now, so you could in theory reply to my query here or there. Be well til then!