'I think therefore I am.'  Descartes            'I AM THAT I AM.'  Exodus.3.        'I am what I am.'  La Cage aux Folles

16 May 2011


Below is reproduced an article sent to me by Prof. Stefano D'Anna which he wrote recently for the Italian magazine IQuality. We have been corresponding a little of late and this is printed with Stefano's kind permission. Originally in Italian. Images can be enlarged.


By Stefano E. D’Anna

The invitation to write on such an interesting theme, so close to our existence and yet so misterious and in many ways still unexplored, has received my immediate assent. In fact it has been for me a precious pretext to compress in the few pages of one article the ideas and the material that since many years I am gathering on this wonder of our life, on this amazing phenomenon.

From the first draft of this article, and procedeeng with the iconographic search and selection of the images that could illustrate my ideas about sleep, I realised the extent of the subject, its multi-faceted nature and complexity. My first choice then has been to limit the investigation to some aspects of sleep as an intimate, individual phenomenon, and to some reflections which cannot commonly be found in the existing literature on this theme.

Keeping in mind the final development of this work, my excursus moves from the apology and praise of sleep - in a vision which considers it a pleasure, a phisiological function and a natural right given for granted - to the exploration of more misterious sides of sleep, depicting it as rather an uneasy, unquiet state, till the consideration of some disturbing aspects of it.

Beauty, Eros and Sleep
An aspect of sleep, as part of its collective imagery, is certainly the sensual sleep. The sleeping Venus, one of the last works by the Italian renaissance Master Giorgione is an extremely influential painting. It portrays a nude woman whose profile seems to follow that of the hills in the background. This painting, also known as the Dresden Venus, is an hymn to beauty, sleep and eros. Erotic implications are made by the placement of her left hand on her groin and Venus's raised arm. To show one’s armpit for a woman still today, in many cultures, is considered an indecent gesture.
The choice of a nude woman marked a revolution in art, and is considered one of the starting points of modern art. The painting was unfinished at the time of Giorgione’s death (1510). The landscape and sky were later finished by Titian, who later painted the similar Venus of Urbino.
Sleeping Venus
Giorgione, c. 1510
Sleep after sex
In 1866 a Turkish Diplomat Khalil Bey ordered a painting to the French artist Gustave Coubet, the foremost realist painter of mid-19th-century. The image of a pair of entwined sleeping female bodies far from being a purely erotic painting has undeniably an element of transgressive sensuality which cannot be lacking in a short but comprehensive research on sleep.

Coubet’s work also gives the cue for a quick note on how fundamental has been the transgression in art to push further the frontiers of our freedom and intelligence, which are one and the same thing.
Gustave Coubet  Sleep (Le sommeil)
The tight connection between sleep, sex and death is more visible in some masterpieces that represent the human condition (especially man’s) of unguarded sleep after sex. Botticelli’s Mars and Venus shows through the face of Mars how deep is the intuition built in the French language which names the condition post coitus ‘la petite mort’, the French expression for orgasm.
Botticelli - Mars and Venus
Ascetic, meditative, prophetic sleep
A very rilevant observation is that sleep is in time. An ordinary person who is sleeping is fully immersed in time and has a very limited control, if any at all, on his body, on his life. As I will try to dimostrate at the end, this unguarded condition of limited awareness is not very different from what happens in men’s (so called) waking state. Nevertheless there is a dimension of sleep which opens the doors to timelessness. Intentional day dreaming, divinatory and meditative states are somehow induced by sleep but do not imply a loss of control on oneself. Just the opposit. And yet they are intimately connected to sleep and carried by it.

This timeless condition of sleep is well expressed by this image of sleeping Budda, carved in one inestimable block of white Jada, which I have captured in a visit to Hufo temple in Shanghai. It is the rappresentation of wide open eyes sleep of a timeless, alert being.

In the Greek mithology there has been just one man, Endymion, who was given by Hypnos the privilege to sleep with open eyes.
White Jada Budda
Hufo Temple - Shanghai
Sleep as flight
In Georgia, in his modest studio of Tiblisi, I met Koka Tsikhelashvili and his extraordinary art. This painting in particular I brought with me to exhibit at the Aria Gallery in Pietrasanta, Tuscany. It is named ‘the Flight’.

I found it a very poetic, fairy-tale representation of sleep as an escape from the so called reality. Men turn their impotente and sadness into sleep and entrust themelves to its wings when life becomes too painful, suffocating and one doesn’t know how to deal with it, how to transform it.
Ordinary men wake up and as first thing they meet with their inner song of unceasing sorrow. They do not want to listen to it nor want to face that pain they bring deep inside. Men drown their sorrow in a coffee, plunge into their daily worries and same worn-out routines; they let themselves be caught by their laborious existence, because they do not want to know.

But their flight in sleep reveals to be ephemeral and that neglected pain becomes more and more acute. One day we will discover that that dark corner of our being we never lighted is the very source of all the difficulties and failures that then we meet in our life.

The Monster of Sleep
"I have often imagined the monster of sleep as a heavy, giant head with a tapering body held up by the crutches of reality. When the crutches break we have the sensation of falling" - Salvador Dali

This pulpy head looks very ugly and restless.., It depicts sleep as rather an uneasy, unquiet state. The body is useless and almost dead (hanging on just one crutch), the head is loaded and functioning, though not fully capable of feeding awareness (eyes and ears are closed). It has indeed no control on reality, thus desperately depends upon thin and short crutches which hardly manage to keep the head from totally collapsing.

Moreover, it seems there is a tremendous struggle going on. The loaded, heavy head pushes downwards, uncomfortable with the interference of the crutches...yearning to fall into the dark (might be interpreted as night or maybe forgetfulness and death).
Dali's Sleep
In your next visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art you can admire a rare 1st century Roman bronze statue of Hypnos. Classical mythology represents him, the personification of sleep, as a gorgeous young man neked, with wings attached to his head. Son of goddess Nyx (Night), his power was such that not only men but even gods couldn’t resist him. According to one story, Hypnos lived in a cave underneath a Greek island; through this cave flowed Lethe, the river of forgetfulness.
But the part of Hypnos’ myth which is more interesting for the purpose of this article is that he has not just a brother but a twin brother: Thanatos, personification of death and mortality.
Sleep and Death
somnus mortis imago
The School for Gods
To go deeper into this important, disquieting vision of “somnus imago mortis”, sleep as representation of death, I shall introduce you to the work of an ancient School and to the ideas of a peculiar figure of a philosopher-monk called Lupelius, a free spirit of the Dark Ages, and a native of Ireland - in those years a refuge for learned men, a land at the crossroads of cultures and traditions, tormented by every war and conflict imaginable.

At a crucial point of my life I met an extraordinary being, a timeless man.

In my Book: The School for Gods, I called Him the Dreamer.

I wish all of you, readers of this article, to meet Him soon in your life. He changed my destiny. Among other difficult undertakings of my apprentship, He pushed me to a disperate, hopeless quest for an original manuscript 1.000 year old, written by Lupelius in the ninth century and whose traces had been lost for centuries.

After indescribable vicissitudes, bringing my quest in three continents, I found the Lupelius’ manuscript in Everan, Armenia, at the Institute of Ancient Manuscripts.

What follow are splinters of wisdom, extracts from the content of this priceless masterpiece.

Sleeping is a bad habit
With his inimitable black humour, universal jester and master of disguises that he was, Lupelius claimed that every night men play out the dress rehearsal for their own final exit from the scene. Persevering in their ‘bad habit’ of sleeping, half the planet goes to bed, its inhabitants bidding each other good night without even realising what a macabre ritual they are performing....

“When you know that sleep is the representation of death, you can no longer approach it as you did before…In any case, whatever precautions or methods you adopt, you must never let anyone, not even your woman, see you sleeping…Exercise the art of staying awake!...A warrior knows that to be caught napping is to expose his vulnerability…it is like inviting the world to attack and strike us to death.”

Fall asleep awake
People fall asleep in the same way as they hope to die…suddenly…But, whatever time it is, however long your day has been and however hard your battle, make sure you ‘fall asleep awake’…Those who do not know how to manage their energy, fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day, more dead than alive…If you really have to sleep for a few minutes, then you must approach sleep from a state of wakefulness. This will prevent you from falling  into the infernal depths.”

Why are we awake?
Antropologists, sociologists, experts of customs and usages, scientists above all, have tried to discover the mechanism which oversees and regulates sleep, so scattering the mist around the enigmatic cause of sleep. But up to now there is no concrete answer to this question: why we sleep?
It is my belief that following a less travelled scientific path the comprehension of sleep becomes deeper and reveals unsuspected secrets if we move the focus of our inquiry from the sleep to the waking state and we ask: why are we awake? Or more simply: what is the real difference between beeng asleep and being awake?

The Endymion Syndrom
What if we found out that the sleeping condition is not limited to the night sleep but were a life time condition? What if we would discover that in reality an ordinary man never wakes up; that what he calls wake were in reality the natural continuation of a state of continuous sleep through which his entire life runs out?
The myth-theme of Endymion being not dead but endlessly asleep, by Zeus’ decree, and who received from Hypnos the special capacity to sleep with open eyes, can well become the crucial symbol of ordinary man’s condition.
The final thesis I am bringing forth is that an hypnotic sleep tyrannically rules every man’s existence. The ordinary man, plunged in a hypnotic sleep, lulled by a song of pain, will keep on lying to himself. No matter how terrible his life may be, he will continue to indulge in it, and will never ever find the will and enough energy to escape.
I will try to go into this matter thoroughly in this last part of the article.

Hypnotic Sleep
The hypothesis of a planetary population of 7 billions of “sleepwalkers”
who work, teach, pollute, riproduce, and above all get in each other’s way and fight, in a state of drowsiness if not of hypnotism, without a real will, driven by strings like puppets, is shocking but has the very fascination of all great pre-scientific hypothesis, of those powerful heresies that later in time have been recognised as corner stones of the history of ideas and of scientific thought.

“Men meet each other in a somnambulistic state, troubled by worries, clouded by doubts and fears, lost in daily discord. They meet so as to pursue insignificant objectives and external, vain advantages.” – says the Dreamer.

The discovery that we do not just sleep at night but that, with the exception of few fleeting moments of lucidità, of real waking, we spend our entire life in a state of unconsciousness, could change our vison forever, and with it our destiny. No political, religious or philosophical system can change society from the outside. Only an individual revolution, a psychological rebirth, a healing of the being, man by man, cell by cell, will free us from an hypnotic vision of the world, from a self-created prison. It will lead us towards a more intelligent civilization, truer, richer, more happy”. For this we need a School, schools of responsibility, schools of wakening. In them the cells of a new humanity will learn the art of dreaming. Dreaming means to be awaken, alert, to keep out of any hypnotism. It means stopping self-sabotage, any self-distructive activity. It means stopping to be in fear, in uncertainty, indulging in any negative mood or emotion. The Art of Dreaming is to realize to be the creator of your reality, that life is as you dream it. It means to stop being a victim of the worls, a victim of your own creation. And if the schools and universities which we know are for men, then we need Schools for Gods. Now we can understand the deep meaning of the Greek mith of Hypnos twin brother of Tanathos.  Hypnotic sleep is moral, psychological death. The opposite of a sleeping state is not to be sleepwalkers, sort of zombies, but to be really alive, alert, aware. It means to lead and not to be led, it means to have a will. Ulysses orders his crew to tie him to the mainmast so as not to obey to the sirens’ song and abandon, not to fall in “mare magnum” of the planetary hypnotic sleep. The ropes bind him to his principles. His decision is the act of a real heros, of a ‘man of the School’. He emblematically shows the way to a new humanity to persue lucidity and freedom. Their motto, has been coined long ago for the worrior-monks of Lupelius: sleep less, die less, dream more. 
Herbert James Draper
Ulysses and Sirens

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