Becoming Insomniac: How Sleeplessness Alarmed Modernity by L. Scrivner

By L. Scrivner

A research of the heritage of contemporary insomnia, this booklet explores how poets, newshounds, and medical professionals of the Victorian interval chanced on themselves in near-universal contract that modernity and sleep have been one way or the other incompatible. It investigates how psychologists, philosophers and literary artists labored to articulate its reasons, and its strength therapies.

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For what makes up these states of consciousness, what prompts us to be anticipatory or have worries or insecurities or ambitions, but our physical environment and our physiology—or what we imagine to be our physiology, the material context of our lives? Insomnia thrives at problematic intersections of the psychological and the physiological: it is irritated by the imagined implications and repercussions of our physiological self-conception, what we think—when reflecting upon ourselves—to be our situation in general, our underlying flux of biomorphic materials, structures, and dynamics.

And insofar as insomniacs were thus oftentimes highly distinguished individuals in positions of leadership, power, and acclaim, their struggles with the disorder frequently made national and international news, which telegraphed to the world the existence of an alarming new epidemic. ”30 Another widely reported and fatal case was that of New York entrepreneur and inventor James Billings Fuller, a rival of Edison and his “insomnia squad” who had obsessively labored to perfect a new electric point-to-point lamp.

For it was generally considered to be, in a complex variety of ways, remarkably apt. Both systems, telegraphic and nervous, consisted of main lines and tributary branches; both worked bilaterally: just as telegraphic messages could be sent and received, our nerves could convey sensory information from the physical world to our brain, as well as deliver motor instructions from our brain to our body. And of course both systems coursed with electricity, which gave the impression, at least, of an instantaneity or simultaneity of communication.

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