Hybrid Locations: Thoughts on Dreaming or Insomnia and Language

Blake Butler


Dreaming takes place during the low voltage, high pulse period commonly known as rapid-eye-movement. The REM period is associated with restoration of cognitive energy, where as NREM (non-rapid-eye-movement) is more essential to physical energy. REM sleep deprivation has been shown to affect memory consolidation and retention of new knowledge––perhaps, too, a hyper-working of those familiars into the fabric of the what, where, when of slumber worlds.  In not sleeping, then, another kind of logic begins to take hold of the human head. A mode of intuition inherent and coherent only in the realm of that whole sleeping––”meta cognitions”––which outside the dream it often sounds confused or aphasiatic. It often can not be expressed directly in human language, but either must be taken as granted, or simply silently inferred, such as:

“I knew inside the dream that you were going to stab me in the chest ten years later, but for right then you were my good friend, and we were holding hands and taking pictures, and there was a mold growing on the moon.”


“The shortbread smelled like babies, but I couldn’t breathe through my nose because there was so much hair up my nostrils, and yet the smell got in and I could feel it in my belly. It was making me pregnant with you.”


“Before I’d died before, I’d been a dog, and inside me there was a window to the bedroom where your parents made me, but I couldn’t fit my arm quite down my throat.”

Clearly the pull here is of an interior logic, one that lingers only briefly even in the unconscious brain where it was born––as, often, if we do not write down or think incessantly upon the idea, these areas and our performances there inside them slip away, become impossible to drum up, no matter how clear they’d seemed even in waking. Sometimes just a feeling or a terror bulb is left behind. Sometimes a blank beyond the blanking, made of knowing without knowing what you will never know again. Other times those images might sear themselves so hard on the brain it is impossible to shake them, and nothing thereafter quite seems where it was. There might be whole batteries of back language in a second of those hallways. A whole kind of leering might derive from one way of being looked at by someone in some small room in a building you know you’ve been in but can’t remember where. A whole life might be contained inside one head nod, one second walking in a night.

The populations of these “dream districts often also function in meta-juxtaposed conditions, adding layers of experience to a person or a place by what you experience of it in your mind:

(1) People you know inside your every day: the ones you live or work with, love or hate, see constantly and might even sleep beside––who herein operate among a way you’ve never known out of them, uniquely terrified, or saying words you’d never heard out from them, but herein press so hard into your skin you can hardly see.

(2) People you used to know a long time ago but haven’t seen in forever and are suddenly there inside your mind, or ones you might not know at all really but have spent short time with somewhere, or caught looking one way on the street––revealing themselves as wedged or buried deep within you, layers in layers you’d folded or forgot, clammed so well in there they have been not blinking, but still singing thought inside your thought.

(3) People you have never seen outside your sleeping, and yet who seem to have existed to you for all time, or who are so new in their light they seem someone you could live with, live inside of, love, ornately know––these are those who might only exist again forever in those few minutes of the sleeping, in that light, which make their closing out or on that much more horrendous, like extermination, resulting in a haunting in you, fat with dead.

You might hear music made of hours, walk through buildings that branch of ones you thought you knew. Time might be a liquid worn inside our bodies, years passed in hours on the blip. Light might speak in languages that making clothing on your skin. Whatever form of other the sleep state manifests, it is often of a language and a breadth available nowhere but in that brain, a medicine of nothing, self-created––if formed of those waking parts rendered in tracing. The sleeping’s skewed up reconstruction lends our waking light another light of several kinds, both in transition and in what is held, what is coming and has been.

The dream cycle is therefore important as a kind of wiping of the brain’s lens, the integration of language and image collected through the waking periods––something indefinably valuable in the garble-hash of dream immersion and unconscious negotiation of where you have and have not been. In many ways it seems that dream speech and making is just as important, if not more so, a part of conscious understanding, as if those worlds contained only in-brain are just as real and palpable a part of life architecture as any waking. Finding one ejected and cut off, then, can feel like rooms of your home have been rendered underwater, new locks on old doors.

Put to paper, in the notation of actual dreaming, the hyper-senses recorded among increasing waking seem bizarre, sometimes profane. Here, bits of doubled nodules of sound and sense as found in Joseph Cornell’s supposed 30,000 pages of journaling, snippets of the nowhere sent to page

the astonishing “ice” image

talking to Uncle Frank K. over phone thinking description of knot of large tree (seemingly a flower too narcissus?) would cheer him up––then told over phone he’d just passed on

a fantastic object a wicker form swan? inside a cage mounted high; cage comprised of thick wicker pcs. widely spaced––dark marble base or the like, tremend. heavy––immensely appealing but did not want it for self

We all can understand these modes in their diffusion, if not by waking translation of the moving art, like cinema, then in the experiential residue we’ve been supplied with in our own exploration––and yet, we can’t quite name the name of these hours, ours or anybody’s without eventually ending up silented or digressing, embarrassed, covered on––as Cornell himself saw no difference between waking and dreaming––as these are rooms like wombs where the time is our time and translatable in us as only we can laugh. I can listen all day to you tell me the light of that magic but will only ever understand it as in mine. And yet this is our air.

Less direct but just as apt comes the hyper-senses and other-modes of a sort of stolen speaking––stolen, I mean, from those nested worlds, their logics. Other, waking speakings might gain the most propulsion off the same gas as those hid under sleeping, but translated through another conscious pen––finding the tunnels and enmeshings where those sunk worlds hit the ice of light any one of us around can see ever, if at angles. Here, a bit from Heather Christle’s poem, ‘The Fledgling Crocus’: “It is all there. In the short books / of the future. What is here, in this / room, is a small lamp and a vase / that needs changing. Is cubic / space interfered with by hi, / my human form. And there are / other rooms with other forms, / there is a future not prone / to contain me.”

Here time is not time. Light is not. The question of “cubic space” quantifiable not by something with a name or number, but a body fit full of further bodies, surrounded inside and out. Sleeping while not sleeping. Blue air. America, Not America. If there is anywhere beyond the cranium these disappearing walls can remain held, while maintaining those hyper-senses estranged so real inside of sleep, it is in infernal languages and attuned speaking. Black books fatter than they look. Not even photographs, or music, of the fusion of the two, in film, seem capable of making the meta-senses replicate. This seems because in concrete speaking media, there is a definition gazed––the walls here have a color, a hallway, they will replay and replay. And yet, inside of language, there is an other: the uncontrollable control. Even the code disrupts the code, its very fulfillment upon entering the mind ill-defined, a representation to be affixed like a blank drug upon the head. The word into the eyes into the body is a reflection of reflection, the signifier’s signifier’s signifier, in some ways, with the right spells and a good mind, reopening those unworlds.

Joyelle McSweeney’s novel Flet is stuffed end to end with trembling example of the transduction of new senses. In the midst of scenery where sound is meat and eyes see through their lids, the titular narrator continues strobing forth in and around herself in the midst of cities evacuated for “Emergency,” attempting to locate among file transmissions and weird architecture some kind of attitude of palpability or sense. Via McSweeney’s predatory language that mixes the visceral with the defunct, the reader becomes literally thrown along inside replicating hallways and fluorescent air shafts, trafficking in terrain stolen deep from in some other sleep:

Each fall made a channel. Each time split. Each catastrophe acquiesced to its event, welcomed her into its principles. What lapse had allowed them to conduct her hence. Calm at the center like all storms and narrow enough for one traveler. Through primary-hued sweating structures, faces and arms of little children poking from slides and bars. Her spread hands ripped with thorns and closed on water, a stinging fragrance stopped her mouth and her pasted-over eyes, and when she opened her mouth to scream she was converted to a metallic fish that could breathe through a laking mask.

By giving buildings human properties, weather the texture of organs, smells fat as potatoes (and yet without name), metamorphoses invoked by involuntary response, Flet invents a whole horrific catalog of nightmare movement, as stung among itself as in its general insistence of abstract specificity in imbibing. They recall the sound-image and number-color of synesthesia, wherein the body, by new default, bears sensory linkings in its pathways, such as numbers occupying space (the number 1990, for instance, somehow seeming nearer to the body than 1965, or a stretch of time occupying 3D space) and the relation of emotion (or even orgasm, pain) to a specific color, sound, or smell. Often those experiencing these kinds of default relations do not realize them as unusual until suddenly brought into the light of different mounts; others keep them private in the finding, hidden in themselves––each way a method of staying rapt within the body, set off, in the way one opens new land, in the texture, of the right-there-nowhere of the dream. Severe conditions of synesthesia have been found to cause mental disorder in the form of sociopathic behaviors, also much like the state caused in advanced cases of the lack of or burps in sleep, as well as sometimes in hypnosis.

Some of this fever-riding writing seems rooted at least in the spirit of the tongue inventions in James Joyce’s professed dream manual 68 years earlier, the terrific monster of Finnegans Wake. Famously beginning and ending in the middle of the same sentence, Joyce’s seventeen-year composition operates as perhaps the most acutely rendered guidebook for the nowhere of the night, or as Donald Barthelme described it, “the book remaining always there, like the landscape surrounding the reader’s home or the buildings bounding the reader’s apartment. The book remains unproblematic, unexhausted.” A sleepless architecture, combed and uncombing, eating and eternally uneaten. Many casual references to Wake in online forums in association with insomnia refer to the book as an antidote to the phenomenon, referring if not to the hypnotizing onset of the dream language, then simply the tendency for most readers to be put to sleep by its ramrod syllables in collision, speaking from a multi-meter and melodious kind of incursion, like sleep itself on paper. One can almost hear the rhythmic breathing of critics and grad students in their beds for years and ever with the book fat and folded soft against their chests. In certain ways surely the book could be seen as improbable object, a rune, a maze laid in language to direct the reader away from any center and toward the sort of nowhere by physical requirement removed from written text.

More directly, among the whole 628 page monolith there are only two direct references to the term insomnia, one a kind of incantation or a spell: “He points the deathbone and the quick are still. Insomnia, somnia somniorum. Awmawm” (120) and the other an instruction for the navigation of the text itself: “look at this prepronominal funferal, engraved and retouched and edgewiped and puddenpadded, very like a whale’s egg farced with pemmican, as were it sentenced to be nuzzled over a full trillion times for ever and a night till his noddle sink or swim by that ideal reader suffering from an ideal insomnia: all those red raddled obeli cayennepeppercast over the text, calling unnecessary attention to errors, omissions, repetitions and misalignments: that (probably local or personal) variant maggers for the more generally accepted majesty which is but a trifle and yet may quietly amuse.”

These are literal invocations among the stream of otherwise entirely sleep ripped goings, on and on. Any sentence of Wake could in a sense by seen as part of a catalog of every hour sub-aware, line by line in reeling and yet in great attendance to the letter and the whole. A line at random, picked with eyes closed: That’s how our oxyggent has gotten ahold of half their world.

Half the world, yes. Half-embedded, half sunk in some unburst body ruined for deep. But how long, trapped in a body, can this kind of physical nowhere be held off? Despite whatever totems replicate the district, there is a wanting in the body for its true entry, the dissolve. The residue piles up. Terror. Magic hours. Stuffing in and stuffing in. You begin to feel thicker and thinner at the same time. Fat in new places, with a strange flesh. A gleam in the forehead or the shins. Blood in your blood from other bodies. Overflowing. When did this room shrink this small?

1st image a box construction by Joseph Cornell

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