Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Insomnia and Film and Society

Last weekend I participated in Apple's Insomniac Film Festival, where participants are instructed, with the use of props and plot devices, to create a short film in 24 hours. And this prompted me to think about the connection between insomnia and film.

Consider the metaphor that film states are structurally like dreaming states. In film we see a dynamic exchange between values and representations through the official language of universal separation. What we witness when watching a film, or what we are doing when creating a film, is exploring the surfacing and resurfacing of cultural spectacles within our societies. And we notice that the architecture of the dream is like the architecture of the film. Things basically "pop up" in film as they would in a dream, we make dramatic jumps in plot, we reorder sequences, we squeeze time into a picture that we both perceive and real and experience as real for the time being.

I am taking this metaphor to the extreme. It would seem then that when there is no film, there is no sleep. Or perhaps that films are substitutes for sleep. What, then, for the chronic insomniac? Can films be like his insomnia? In some sense, yes, because he is always watching films in the Cartesian theater of the mind, where consciousness "happens". But in another sense, no, if we reject the Cartesian view of the mind. The film of the insomniac would be exactly like his reality. It would be, in effect, a reality television show. Films brought about by insomnia have no potential for fantasy, no potential for metaphor.

This metaphor itself which I am using is apt to explain the various forms of insomnia-induced phenomena in our present spectacle. In societies dominated by modern conditions of production, where sleep disorders and insomnia are common, we see films that imitate the state of insomnia, the state of constant application of caffeine, the circadian rhythm of chaos and disorder. The individual insomniac's film is one with no context, no framing device to explain the disorder of the environments in which we, subjects, live. This sugggests that the societies we live in are societies of insomnia. I should say what I mean by this, because it appears I'm creating a new metaphor for modern society. The insomniac society is a feature of societies bent on performativity (as Lyotard would say about modern society) -- it does not mean everyone literally never sleeps. The deprivation is built into the creation of the society itself.

Descartes says in the Meditations on First Philosophy that if he were dreaming, then in some sense, any mathematical truths he happened to think up would still be true. This is the nature of mathematics. While the caffeinated filmmakers who participated in the 24-hour Insomnia Film Festival may share the creativity and imagination that comes with a good night's rest (the night before), the insomnia embedded into our society gives rise to all sorts of new discoveries and creations that would still be true whether we slept or not. This is the nature of human creativity and imagination, and this is what insomnia means for society. In a sense, life for us is presented as immense accumulation of the products of insomnia.

Now, to say something about the future of awake-ness, which is ultimately what the insomniac cannot live without: if we are truly on the verge of a post-human singularity point, perhaps sleep is something that can be mimicked or obtained in some other way. The limits of human creativity and imagination are bound by the sleep cycle. It has been suggested that sleep is more important to mammals than nutrition, in the sense that a Scientific American study found that mammals die quicker from sleep-deprivation than from lack of food energies. If we surpass this barrier with biological technology, allowing us to live in a constant state of awareness and insomnia and restfulness, we have surpassed not only the limitation of the human body but the limitation of the mammalian impulse to, in fact, sleep. And if this analysis is true, then in this vein of understanding, insomnia is a method and a profound feature of transhumanity.

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