Thinking from the bed

Thinking from the bed

Carl spitzweg: the poor poet (neue pinakothek). Image: the yorck project/cc0

Where do we get the decision to get out of bed every morning??

From the conviction buried in our bowels of the finiteness of our life.

That we get up early is a proof of our knowledge of death, because without this knowledge nothing would be urgent, and we could calmly lie down. On the other hand, this knowledge should paralyze us, because it condemns from the beginning all our undertakings to failure. It is of little help to defer death to future generations or to some afterlife: it remains a black hole, in the direction of which we slide.

Thinking from the bed

Typical bedtime thoughts. They are contradictory, wadding and not really fabbar. They dissolve like fog as soon as we open the window, and they nevertheless, or precisely because of that, consider the essentials. This comes from the bed: it stands in that area of fog in which birth and death, love and illness, dream and wakefulness cover each other. One can try to direct these fogs of thoughts, as they spill out of the bed area, against the bed itself, to think about the bed itself, to see what comes out of it.

As soon as we begin to think about anything, we break it down into sections, into portions. We can not help but be rational, to cut into rations. And this, even though we know that we have destroyed what is to be voted for. In the case of the bed: as soon as we begin to consider it, it disintegrates into categories of type "barbary bed", "sickbed", "love bed", "deathbed" or "sleep bed". This is disgusting, because the bed is not the place where rational thinking takes place. It is a place of the dark passion of the night, not the clear reason of the day. But even this division into dark and clear, into suffering and doing, into night and day, is a rape of the bed. In bed, these two opposites overlap as well. And at this overlapping, namely at the insomnia, the bed worry can begin.

We lie down to sleep. To say so is already a grammatical mistake. One cannot want to sleep, but one falls spontaneously into sleep, as into death and love. But in order to fall into it, you have to let yourself fall. Indo-european languages, however, do not have the grammatical form that lies between active and passive to express serenity. So: one lies down calmly to fall spontaneously into sleep. Sleep notices the intention, is disgruntled, and locks up. We lie there on the bed, sleep lies under the bed, and the bed barrier remains closed. But we must sleep. We do not know why we have to do this, but we know that we have to do this, and that we have to forget this must if we want to sleep. We have developed techniques to force ourselves to fall asleep. Serenity techniques, for example sheep counting. We hope that sleep will not get behind our technique and accept it for real serenity.

But the sheep counting is a dangerous thing. It can be fascinating, and make you forget that you want to sleep. First i let my sheep go by in a row and pay them one by one. But they seem to want to form groups by themselves and look at me idiotically-innocently with their sheep’s eyes. To pay them mubte remember the set theory. It occurs to me that russel and whitehead did not actually succeed in bringing logic and mathematics to a common denominator. And what was it like when russel sent wittgenstein to frege to talk about the possibility of a propositional calculus?? So: instead of falling asleep, i have become sleepless. It is of no use to tell me that i don’t care whether and why russel sent wittgenstein to frege, but that i only want to fall asleep at last.

I lie in bed and am sleepless. I do not turn the thoughts, but they turn. And i watch them as if i could watch them from below, that is from the bed. Sometimes i interfere with them in order to scare them away, because i am getting tired – and i need to sleep. And then again they take hold of me, and try to drive me along. They turn, so they are empty thoughts. Perhaps they are, as kant thought, analytically a priori. How was it then with newton, when he brought the heavenly with the earthly mechanics on a denominator, and so built the edifice of the modern science? The apple is only a pious legend. Probably newton lay sleepless in bed and observed his circling thoughts from there.

Insomnia is a disease. You can die from it. However, it is in a sense a reverse disease. In insomnia i become incorporeal, and what remains of me are my thoughts circling above me. With the other diseases, i tend to become more and more corporeal. What is left of my thoughts revolves around my sick stomach, my sick lung. When i am ill, i become less and less a thinking thing and more and more an extended thing, more and more geometrical and less and less arithmetical. Death occurs when i am only extended.

How was it? Insomnia is only thoughts that do not interest me at all, but that i can not get rid of because they have carried me away? And in the case of the other diseases, the few remaining thoughts are becoming more and more interesting, because they concern my pain? Can i draw conclusions from this concerning interest? The more interesting a thought, the more pain? And vice versa: the more painless, the less interesting? Is this what kant meant when he defined the beautiful as that which falls without interest? And vice versa: does this mean political engagement, if it only considers thoughts about starving children, social injustices or piles of corpses in a colonial war to be interesting?? For example, can newtonian mechanics be located as a product of insomnia at one of the two poles of interest and political commitments as products of unbearable pain at the second of the two poles of interest? And can then the bed be seen as a bridge between insomnia and pain, between pure lack of interest and engaged interest, between the passion of thought and the suffering of the body?

But isn’t there also a suffering of thinking and a passion of the body, and isn’t it also localizable in bed? The suffering of thinking is known to be "concern". I can go to bed with the intention of forgetting my worries at once. If sleep is a small death, then this situation is a small suicide. The technique to be used here cannot be satisfied with sheep numbers, because worries drive away all sheep. One has to resort to sleeping pills, and then again the difference between the small and the gross suicide becomes a question of the amount of drugs taken. Worries are interesting thoughts, and sleeping pills are devices to kill the interest. They are to put an end to the suffering a thinking. An increasingly clear concept of happiness is expressed in them: thinking is a misfortune hanging over us. And this is the basis of drug culture.

There is an argument against drugs. It comes from the passion of the body. It is about the peculiar ability (reserved for the human species) to break out of the i and the thou into the we by means of merging two bodies, and thus to overcome death. I will die, we are immortal. This orgiastic overcoming of the self by being absorbed in the other is what the scholastic philosophy called "love" "the glory of being in the body" without being allowed to confess this literally.

The body can wriggle passionately so that it overcomes itself in the body of the other. And when he has learned this (because this is also a technique), then he can transfer these turns into the convolutions of the brain. In the current terminology, the "neurocerebral orgasm". In medieval poetry, this was the "high minne", plato called it "eros", and in the judaeo-christian tradition there are "love of god through love of the neighbor". This is a strong argument against drugs. They did the peculiar human ability to penetrate through the passion of the body to love.

The ancients distinguished between three types of art: "ars vivendi" = to live the technique, "ars amatoria" = to love technology, and "ars moriendi" = the technique to die. The somewhat fragmentary reflections on the bed presented here are intended to illuminate some aspects of these three categories of art. For the bed is the place in which we live, love and die. The bed is the place in which we hover between birth and death and between so-called reality. Shakespeare says that we are made of the same stuff that dreams are made of. This is also the material in which we make our bed when we lie down. And from which we have to decide to get up every morning again.

More essays by vilem flusser

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