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This article is taken from PN Review 215, Volume 40 Number 3, January - February 2014.

Insomnia Iain Bamforth

Vladimir Nabokov wrote that the world's population divides into two categories: those who sleep peacefully at night, and those who sleep badly. He himself was a notorious insomniac: he was afraid of the night, which he called a 'giant'.

E.M. Cioran, the Romanian desperado who became a celebrated French diarist, was of the same opinion. 'Human beings,' he wrote in History and Utopia, 'are divided into sleepers and wakers, two specimens of being forever distinct from the other, with nothing but their physical aspect in common.' This, he thought, was enough to account for a person's 'extravagances', although what he had in mind was surely his own writing style. In 1982, he wrote: 'It's not so overwhelmingly bad to have suffered from insomnia in youth, because it opens your eyes. It's an extremely painful experience, a catastrophe. But it makes you understand things which other people can't: insomnia puts you outside the living, outside humanity. You're excluded. […] What is insomnia? At eight o'clock in the morning you're exactly where you were at eight in the evening! There's no progress. There's only this immense night around you. And life is only possible through the discontinuity which sleep gives it. The disappearance of sleep creates a sort of dreary continuity.'

I imagine Cioran as an ungrateful descendant of the two little children in Adalbert Stifter's famous Christmas story Rock Crystal who err in a snow-storm on their way home to their alpine village in the next valley and end up on a glacier ...

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