Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion

III.2 Hudson

Rowland frets over Roderick’s inability to distinguish between productivity and leisure, patronage and privilege, and artistic agency and unconscious abandon. The correlation of genius with subconscious performance underscores the invisible effort behind conspicuous consumption. Roderick’s complaint to Rowland after their first few months abroad provides insight into the complications that the somnambulist metaphor poses, along class lines, between physical labor and the creativity of artistic genius: “I want to dream of a statue. I have been working hard for three months; I have earned a right to a reverie." Roderick conflates the two supposedly separate and classed modes of production.

Interestingly, his observation comes closer to articulating the more medical ways in which somnambulism was conceived during the period. In the 1869 study A Physician’s Problems,* Charles Elam defines somnambulism as a medical condition: “As night and day are united by twilight,—as the two great divisions of organic existences merge into each other . . . so sleep allies itself to waking by dreaming, by sleep-talking, and by . . .  Somnambulism . . . [which] expresses only the activity of one function,—locomotion” (341). He argues that the activities a body performs while in a somnambulist state are “mere mechanical repetitions of daily performances” (343). He associates the condition most commonly with working-class men who perform routine forms of manual labor: “It is those acts which are most habitual by day that are most frequently re-enacted by night, and these are sometimes of an extraordinary nature. The simplest are those connected with visiting the various scenes of labor. A young man being asleep in the pump-house of the mine in which he worked, rose and walked to the door” (344). Elam enumerates several examples of industrial laborers who, in their sleep, carry out the same tasks they had taken on the previous day. It is interesting then that, in Roderick’s mind, months-long labor entitles him to the somnambulist strain of true genius.

*permalink: https://archive.org/download/physiciansproble00elam/

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