Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion

VI.2 Hudson

​​​​​​For brief moment, Roderick embodies a somnambulist, which pleases Rowland. He is "lazy, listless, and melancholy, but he had never been more friendly and kindly and appealingly submissive." It is apparent the sculptor does so to please Rowland is only able to behave in such a way for so long. In a short time, Roderick asserts that “aesthetically, clock ornaments don’t pay,” suggesting that he cannot embody a physically appealing machine, ticking away for Rowland's benefit. 
Moreover, Roderick frets over his lack of self-control, attributing it to his susceptibility to exhaustion and his need for sleep. According to Roderick, a night’s bedrest is a metaphorical risk for lost genius: “What if the watch should run down, . . . and you should lose the key? What if you should wake up some morning and find it stopped, inexorably, appallingly stopped?" Sleep, then, as a bodily impediment, is a danger to the steady automation of creative genius: “The whole matter of genius is a mystery. It bloweth where it listeth and we know nothing of its mechanism. . . . If it gets out of order we can't mend it; If it breaks down altogether we can’t set it going again.” For Roderick, remaining ever vigilant to the maintenance of one’s genius is necessary. However, he views genius as both autonomous and mysterious, and so has no sure means for keeping it up. Therefore, he is left to anguish over his body’s physical limitations, which he fears may hinder the function of his genius.

Roderick seems aware of the contradictions between himself and his patron, as well as his inability to fully capitulate to Rowland's will--an effort that will only lead to a “fizzle out.” As a result, Roderick predicts his own future deterioration: “What am I, . . . but an experiment? Do I succeed—do I fail? It doesn’t depend on me. I’m prepared for failure. It won’t be a disappointment, simply because I shan’t survive it. The end of my work shall be the end of my life.” Rowland reacts to Roderick’s morbidity by internally wishing that the sculptor “had more of little Sam Singleton’s vulgar steadiness.” Rowland’s wishes for Roderick imitate Singleton’s version of the American male artist, who follows a steady, working-class methodology.

Roderick feels himself to also be the embodiment of a timepiece. However, in his case, it is a doomsday clock: “’I have a
conviction that if the hour strikes here,’ and he tapped his forehead, ‘I shall disappear, dissolve, be carried off in a cloud! For the past ten days I have had the vision of some such fate perpetually swimming before my eyes. My mind is like a dead calm in the tropics, and my imagination as motionless as the phantom ship in the Ancient Mariner!” He keeps count of the passage of time that goes by without his producing any sculpture work. To maintain his genius, Roderick must have moments of creativity that are likened early on to sleep-walking. However, unlike the reliability of routine sleep, Roderick’s moments of dream-like genius cannot be regulated.

Roderick soon learns that spurts of subconscious genius cannot be regulated, and he frets over its uncontrollability. His neurasthenic behavior prevents him from the state in which he needs to be in to produce art. He associates reliable, at least mildly successful, artists with routine and rhythmic output. He, on the other hand, has not control center. His nerves and impulses dictate his behavior and choices. He relies on unconscious abandon to create his artwork and finds himself damned by his inability to master control over his own body and artistic output.
Roderick’s increasing hysteria impedes his artistic output. Rowland does his best to guide the titular character toward a masculinized work ethic, telling him “If you have work to do, don't wait to feel like it; set to work and you will feel like it.” Roderick, however, refuses to set “to work and produce abortions!” and, instead, passively hopes for genius to strike. After exhaustively speculating “as to the possible mischances of one’s genius,” Roderick dramatically declares: “I shall take a nap and see if I can dream of a bright idea or two.”

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