Excerpts from: The Hanging Garden of Sleep

Translated by Robin Moger

The people of the cave

Disaster is the point at which the nature of the struggle undergoes total change to become another kind of struggle, which thus requires another kind of resistance. In this sense, disaster is not an extension of struggle but rather the locus of its radical transformation, a point whose afterwards has no connection with what came before, and so requires no search for solutions nor a widening of the struggle, but wants instead a new beginning to create new tools of resistance—that eagerly-awaited new start that is not generated by managing the disaster or ameliorating its impact but rather by acceptance, of permitting the collapse it occasions to run its full course. And this is sleep’s function, to take us to the very bottom, without touching which we are unable to rise back up to the surface. Sleep, with all the brokenness and surrender it brings, is not a tool of resistance in the struggle, it is the labour pains that come at the moment of the struggle’s transformation. It is disaster’s dark shadow, the twin without which it cannot come into being. When the youths take refuge in their cave from the cruel city they do not found a just society based on the precepts of the religion for whose sake they were persecuted, nor make their refuge a fortress from which they sally forth against those who did them wrong. They simply sleep. For three hundred and nine lunar years they do nothing but sleep. The sun dawns and sets a thousand times, their recumbent bodies motionless, and then the disaster passes and they wake. The cave where they repaired is not, therefore, a site of resistance. It is a place of absolute brokenness and the final disjuncture. A place that can only be exited via a fresh bout of labour pains. The sleepers do not wish to resist: they are giving birth to a new beginning, and the new beginning that emerges from the womb of their disaster is the awakening that follows their sleep. Each awakening is an attempt, however weak it may seem, to begin a new day.


The social may stop being a space for negotiation and struggle, a space for the exchange of views and dialogue, and another hidden aspect emerge: an arena for shared silence. Sleep on public transport, in the squares and lecture halls, at work, is a redoubled rejection of the social act for it does not take place in bedrooms but in the traditional sites of social interaction. The sleeper at work prevents himself working, the sleeper on the bus stops viewing the roadside advertisements, the sleeper in the squares aborts his communication with others. Sleep taps the public sphere with its wand and transforms it from a space for negotiation and struggle into a site of silence and absence, both of which become a collective activity and not a private matter. Yet for all its social inadequacy, sleep does not transform the public sphere into a place of coldness and deliberate disregard but, how strange!, into a site of trust and reassurance, for there, at the heart of the social disengagement created by sleep, a new trust in others can be made out. A trust whose origin remains mysterious, for the public sleeper neither negotiates nor struggles with others, doesn’t ally or interact, but instead surrenders himself to them, reveals his weakness, his insubstantiality, his incapacity. Sleeping in public is, therefore, a declaration of faith in the random other. The other of the public squares, beside whom the sleeper contentedly lies, is not one individual but a group of strangers, a group whose members the sleeper has no desire to know but is reassured by their plurality, letting himself become, like them, a stranger.


If revolution—as an exceptional act, long-awaited after years of a deep collective slumber—is an awakening, then is not sleep a return to that same slumber, and a synonym for failure? The failure to reshape reality, to change circumstance, to redefine the self? However, a close look at the moment of entering sleep tells us something different, for this moment does not authorize the beginning of a failure, it just concedes it. It is the moment in which the sleeper surrenders to his drowsiness and his failure to stay awake. Failure comes first—whether the failure of the self to stay in control or the defeat of the group in the battle for change—after which comes the moment of sleep: the moment at which failure is conceded and defeat is accepted. Sleep is not the cause of defeat and failure. Individual sleep is the act of a self relinquishing control, and collective sleep is the act of a group acknowledging that the battle has been decided and that to fight on is suicide. Sleep, then, is a shield against madness or self-harm. The self that does not sleep is blind and self-obsessed, while the group that does not sleep is an arrogant group, unable to change reality because it lives disconnected from it. To restore contact with reality, to regroup, to wake, you must slumber for a while. For the sleeper who sleeps in hope will soon reawaken to reality inspired by a new dream. Failure to change reality is a failure that can be overcome and escaped, but the failure to apprehend this first failure and accept it is more complex: a coma that is hard to come round from, rather than a sleep that will pass.

A real battle

One evening my mother stood in the bedroom of my small apartment, telling the sick man that she was unable to look after him right then and promising him that she would do so shortly, while he sat there, chiding her and attempting to emotionally blackmail her, to make her feel guilty. He was wearing a white robe and his breathing was laboured. He was nothing like my father but I was unable to dispel the sensation that this is who he was, the father who had passed away months before from an illness. I was distracted, having trouble following what was happening because I was preoccupied with arranging my day-trip to prison. For reasons I wasn’t fully apprised of, for all that they appeared reasonable enough, I was to take the place of a friend of mine in detention. I was speaking to this friend on my mobile, him telling me exactly what it was I had to do and passing on details about the cell and life inside it, and from time to time turning my attention to the conversation between my mother and the sick man, then quickly back again to my affairs. I asked my friend if torture took place, and how to get to sleep in the cell, and he told me not to worry and to bring two wraps, one to wear as a blanket, the other to tie round my waist. Then I remembered I had to email my work to warn them I’d be absent the day I was inside and as I wrote it I noticed that my mother was sticking to her refusal to care for the man in the face of all the arguments he could marshal. I felt no fear as I readied myself to go, just tense. I had no intention of putting up a fight. I was going to tamely hand myself over into the clutches of a brutal power of which I knew nothing. My mother on the other hand was shedding her skin, putting herself first as she never did. She had entered a real battle—summoning all she had, fighting her own weaknesses and tenderness—and was on the verge of emerging victorious.

Who is the sleeper?

One member cut off from the group? A solitary self? A small group at rest? At the centre of every group is an unhealed wound, its pain renewed with every part of it that is shed unseen. Yet the group always resolves to cleave to its visible parts, to privilege the living over the dead, and to gamble on the future: that the wound will heal in time. The group sees itself as a narrative of renewal and evolution and turns a blind eye to its parallel history of loss and shedding. Sleep does not turn away, cleaving directly to that same parallel history, drawn to what is no longer visible, driven on by the disaster of loss. This is why the sleeper’s gaze is always trained on the departed; all they see of the group to which they belong is that which is absent, the splits and cracks which grow day after day. The group to which the sleeper belongs is a lost group, marching toward the open wound, united not by cohesion and their forward-looking gaze, but by weakness and the gaze trained backward. Sleep does not seek to inhabit the wound that sits at the heart of every group, only to approach it.


The paradise of the mortal, which blossoms each night, is only rendered complete when it is exited. For the sleeper sinks into a rapture he imagines will last forever. It is not the bliss of the diligent nor the joy of the pious, but the rapture of mortal man, escaping the linear progression of his empty day and entering another time, boundless and endless, which is none other than the past: a past rendered eternal by the gradual loosening of the bonds that hold it to the hidden present. For the past is no longer the shadow of the present moment and its train. It stands by itself. The past, freighted with lessons and wisdom, summoned in every waking moment, now breaks its bonds with the present and summons the sleeper, who is drawn towards it, a sleepwalker. Sleep’s present is the past, therefore. Asleep the sleeper hears only its call and plunges into it, down into its folds and nooks, to the point of drowning. He drowns and thinks it deliverance. But the past’s call is not seeking out such deliverance; it is nothing like the sweet voices of the Sirens which bewitched Greek seafarers and drowned them—it is a call that comes from the heart of all the past’s squandered opportunities and frustrated desires. The past’s call looks for another deliverance. The hordes of lost hours, deferred questions and deep cuts that inhabit the past do not make their way back into the sleeper in order to stop their loss by losing him inside them; rather, they return so he might see them. Nothing more. The dream is this seeing: the sleeper’s unawake awakening. The dream is the other present which rises in the heart of the past via the rockiest of roads, and the moment in which the sleeper perceives that he is drowning in the eternal past is the moment in which the past rises up for the sleeper’s gaze to light on it. Beneath this gaze, life pulses through the past: it abandons itself and it becomes itself and the dream takes shape like a parallel history. Only when the past revisits the sleeper—not as a pale witness to what is been and gone but as a power that creates real and present possibilities for what seems to have slipped away—only then does it become the past. The past is not a memory of what has been, but a rich present of what refuses to pass away. And with this deliverance takes place. For the past needs no deliverance other than the gaze that lets it be born anew. Every night, an eternity blossoms and is not fully completed until it is exited through the wakefulness of dream, at its heart a new past gleaming, one that has yet to happen.

Starship 14: A Plastic Island of the Mind - Cover Julian Göthe
  1. Cover Julian Göthe
  2. Contents
  3. Editorial 14 Starship, Nikola Dietrich, Martin Ebner, Ariane Müller, Henrik Olesen
  4. Topless Heike-Karin Föll
  5. I am a Poster Valerie Stahl Stromberg
  6. Reflection Paper No.4 Evelyn Taocheng Wang
  7. Waeshful Thinking Robert Meijer
  8. An amount eats a spot Hans-Christian Dany
  9. Öbel Olfe Karl Holmqvist
  10. Divine Christopher Müller
  11. Politics Chris Kraus
  12. Oh dear! Vera Tollmann, Stephanie Fezer
  13. Entwürfe zum Selbstporträt Judith Hopf
  14. * Jay Chung
  15. Eier legen Tenzing Barshee
  16. Die Treppen der CUJAE Florian Zeyfang
  17. No-90ies Francesca Drechsler
  18. Scrolling Down the Digital Side of Contemporary Art Mercedes Bunz
  19. Über: Hans-Christian Dany Schneller als die Sonne Wolfgang Gantner
  20. Alien Bogs Jakob Kolding
  21. Plastic Island Nikola Dietrich, Daniel Reuter, Cameron Rowland, Michael Pfrommer, Nina Rhode, Ed Steck, Cheyney Thompson, Eileen Quinlan, Heji Shin, Helena Huneke, Thomas Locher, Amelie von Wulffen, Kirsten Pieroth, Mark von Schlegell, Jimmy DeSana, Yuki Kimura, Anders Clausen, Bernadette Corporation
  22. O I 8 something queer Gerry Bibby
  23. Swallow This. On Gays, Pills, and Markets Nicolas Linnert
  24. Acc-ess John Beeson
  25. Plastic Island Revisited Ariane Müller
  26. Apologies Julian Göthe
  27. Excerpts from: The Hanging Garden of Sleep Haytham El Wardany
  28. Still life #6 Juliette Blightman
  29. Picture Talk Mihaela Chiriac, Mark van Yetter
  30. Thalassoma bifasciatum Friederike Clever
  31. Find 8 differences Lou Cantor
  32. N Martin Ebner
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