Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia by Blake Butler (Harper Perennial, October 2011)
Sleep, and the absence of sleep, has fascinated and obsessed many of the great thinkers and writers throughout the ages (“…to sleep, perchance to dream…” --- Shakespeare or “Sleeping is no mean art: for its sake one must stay awake all day.”---Friedrich Nietzsche). Now, Blake Butler who has the ability to capture the essence of our most fleeting, ephemeral thoughts, traces insomnia throughout cultural and scientific history, positing that it may play as an important role in some psyches as its counterpart sleep does. Is waking the opposite of sleeping? And if so, is insomnia really just being awake? Or rather a third, perhaps dreamlike, state of cognizance? With elegance and sometimes edgy language, Butler explores these states citing empirical data, along with historical references and examples from art and literature, along with his own personal observations and experiences, finds the thing deep inside each of us which we are often afraid of or don’t like to reveal. Thoughtful and thought provoking, Butler frames this thing we often take for granted, the ability to sleep, or not, in an entirely different light.