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David John Watkins

Between sleeping and waking: towards an aesthetic of interstices

Doctoral Programme in Studi Linguistici e Letterari (Università di Trieste e Università di Udine)

How to define the state between sleeping and waking? It is one process whereby we sink into sleep and the other whereby in specular fashion we resurface into a state of semi wakefulness that is in no way definitive. Rather than a certain state or a specific condition of our consciousness, it is a place of transition, a threshold that can only be defined by holding together the two opposite poles between which it perpetually swings.

How, why, and where is it depicted? Maybe it is precisely because of its inherent propensity to move across dimensions, that this brief interstice which simultaneously separates and joins the nocturnal and diurnal sides of our lives plays such a significant role in the literature of the last century. There is hardly any great twentieth-century writer who has not at one point or another confronted this ambiguity: - Proust’s Recherce would be unthinkable without the experience of being between sleeping and waking with which it opens and which disrupts, from the outset, the linear unfolding of time; - the “yes” with which Molly punctuates and disrupts her final monologue in Joyce’s Ulysses is uttered haltingly and faintly while she is between sleeping and waking; - any reflection on Kafka’s characters will soon summon the image of bodies trapped in their own torpor, wriggling in that liminal space between sleep and waking (“the most dangerous moment of the day”) that Kafka himself recorded and described in his journals; - a similar drowsiness often seems to envelop the characters of Federigo Tozzi, and hold them back on the threshold of life, suspended “amongst those dreams one has while half-awake when it seems one can decide whether to cease or continue sleeping”. What connection can exist between being half asleep/half awake and literary creativity? - To this day no study seems to have investigated the link that connects the state of being half asleep and half awake with literary creativity. - Without claiming to be exhaustive, this research project intends to delineate the journey from the French psychology of the second half of the nineteenth century to Georges Perec, covering, along the way, authors such as Proust, Bréton, Benjamin and Michaux. Why should we explore this constellation of literary works? To explore this constellation of literary works, in which very similar scenes seem to migrate from one text to the other, in an uninterrupted play of intertextual echoes and variations on the state of suspension between sleeping and waking, will mean above all to suggest a way of thinking that overcomes those traditional binary oppositions that have traditionally characterized our cultural tradition.

An aesthetic of interstices? While we are used to contrasting conscious and unconscious, real and imaginary, attention and inattention, reason and folly, interior and exterior, human and non-human, a state between sleeping and waking seems to open up a space in which, each time, these antinomies no longer contradict but rather influence each other. This weakening of boundaries will constitute the inherent connection between the state of being between sleeping and waking and literature; this will be the fundamental characteristic of an aesthetic of interstices.

Authors and affiliations

David John Watkins1,
1Dipartimento di Lingue e Letterature, Comunicazione, Formazione e Società (DILL) - Via Mantica, 3 - UDINE


David John Watkins, email:


David John Watkins
“Au seuil du rêve. Le demi-sommeil entre Psychologie Expérimentale et Marcel Proust”, Traum-Wissen-Erzählen, Fink Verlag (forthcoming).

Informazioni aggiornate al: 09.11.2020 alle ore 11:46