From 14-20 November, the city of Lancaster will play host to After Dark: Sleep and Sleeplessness in the Modern World, a series of talks, film screenings, workshops and public engagement events designed to showcase work by Lancaster University academics in the field of sleep studies. After Dark is part of Being Human, the UK's only nationwide festival of the humanities. For further information, see the After Dark website: http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/beinghuman/events/
October 2014 saw the launch of the Hubbub project, a two-year Wellcome Trust-funded investigation into the dynamics of rest and busyness in modern life. Research will be conducted by the Hubbub Group, an international team of scientists, humanists, clinicians, public health experts, broadcasters and public engagement professionals who will explore rest, noise, tumult, activity and work as they operate in mental health, neuroscience, the arts and the everyday. Readers of Sleep Cultures will want to check out the first blog posting on the Hubbub website, which contains a brief but fascinating discussion by the anthropologist Josh Berson of his work with the polyphasic sleeping community.
A report by Patrick Levy on a recent roundtable on sleep, agency and activity at the University of Durham. Of particular interest, for readers of Sleep Cultures, will be Cressida Heyes' notion of sleep as a form of "anaesthetic time".
On May 7, the University of Bristol hosted a fascinating half-day postgraduate conference on sleep and related phenomena in literature. Paper abstracts can be found here. An interdisciplinary seminar on sleep was held the following day; we will link to audio files of that discussion when they become available.
On 7-8 May 2014, the University of Bristol will be hosting two inter-related events on sleep: a one-day conference on literature and sleep, and an interdisciplinary roundtable on sleep studies. The full programme for both events is now available here.
The Department of English at the University of Bristol will be hosting a half-day conference, Perchance to Dream: Sleep and Related Phenomena in Literature, on 7th May 2014.
From Medieval Dream Allegory to the lexical recreation of the subconscious mind in Finnegans Wake, literature has often explored the subject of sleep and its related phenomena. This conference aims to consider the many and diverse representations of sleep within English literature, and to explore the ways in which writers respond to this still largely mysterious biological necessity. Professor Garrett Sullivan, of Penn State University, is a key figure within the academic field of Sleep Cultures. His monograph Sleep, Romance and Human Embodiment: Vitality from Spenser to Milton (2012) considers the use of sleep in Early Modern literature as a vehicle for exploring different levels of humanness. Memory and Forgetting in English Renaissance Drama: Shakespeare, Marlowe, Webster (2009) sets the role of sleep within a discussion of forgetting and selfhood in Renaissance drama.
We invite 250-word proposals for twenty-minute papers, indicating any IT requirements you might have, to be submitted by Monday 31st March 2014. Topics might include but are not restricted to:
Sleep and RP Conference, Department of English University of Bristol 3/5 Woodland Road Bristol BS8 1TB, UK
This conference is part of a two-day event on Sleep Studies and we welcome attendees to attend a public interdisciplinary seminar with Professor Sullivan on Thursday 8th May. More details to follow.
On 25 October 2013, the University of Kent hosted a one-day interdisciplinary conference on exhaustion, organized by Anna Katharina Schaffner (Comparative Literature, Kent) and funded by the Wellcome Trust, that brought together scholars from the arts, medicine, sociology, psychology, literary studies and medical humanities. Dr Schaffner opened proceedings with a detailed overview of definitions and models of exhaustion from the 1880s to the present, including neurasthenia, melancholia, depression, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and burnout. A keynote by Simon Wessely (King’s College, London) showed how a cluster of puzzling symptoms – fatigue, lassitude, demotivation – that came to be known as neurasthenia in the late 1880s and 1890s would, a hundred years later, be variously described as M.E., Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome. He also focused on real or perceived causal relations between technology and exhaustion, and discussed the late nineteenth-century perception of neurasthenia as a ‘fashionable disease’, a prestigious complaint associated with the excessive mental stimulations of high-order ‘brain work.’
Wilmar Schaufeli (Social and Behavioural Sciences, Utrecht) made the case for differentiating between exhaustion and ‘burnout’ (the latter a term coined by Harold Bradley in 1969 and popularized by psychologists in the 1970s), arguing that burnout is in some sense a strategy of protective withdrawal for over-extended employees. He also noted that the language of burnout seems to be altogether more prominent in Germany and the U.S. than in the U.K. Addressing similar themes, Greta Wagner (Sociology, Frankfurt) discussed burnout in the context of ‘post-Fordist corporate strategy’, arguing that the pressure to perform, the acceleration of working life and the shortening of intervals between which the individual worker is exposed to competition add up to a perfect recipe for burnout. In Germany, the average number of burnout-related sick days has increased roughly eighteen-fold over the last ten years.
In a discussion of two models of perfectionist behaviour, Julian Childs (Anna Freud Centre, University College London) spoke of the exhausting and/or demoralizing consequences of expectations of perfection in the workplace, especially when unattainably high, all-or-nothing standards of achievement are externally imposed rather than self-imposed. In what might be described as an anti-perfectionist model of creativity, Chris Dooks (University of the West of Scotland) reflected on the methodologies – or ‘M.E.thodologies’ – of fragmented film-making that he has developed as a chronically ill practitioner. Rather than envisioning exhaustion as an obstacle to creativity, Dooks maintains that the ‘predicament itself co-authors the work’.
Examining three recent scholarly works on depression by Alain Ehrenberg, Junko Kitanaka and Anne Cvetkovich, Angela Woods (Medical Humanities, Durham) offered a cross-cultural comparison of understandings of the condition in France, Japan and the U.S. Citing Ehrenberg’s startling claim that depression is ‘the perfect disorder of the democratic human being’, she showed how a case can be made, via Cvetkovich, for thinking of the condition as a political and spiritual resource.
What is the opposite of ‘exhaustion’? One answer to this question might be rest, or restedness. But Felicity Callard (Medical Humanities, Durham) showed how the model of the ‘resting’ or ‘inactive’ – ie non-task-oriented – brain has been demolished by recent work in neuroimaging, leading to a new appreciation of ‘resting’ activities, including mind-wandering and daydreaming, as elements of the productive and generative activity of the brain rather than as pleasant downtime for the grey matter.
How does exhaustion narrate or represent itself? Jenny Laws (Medical Humanities, Durham) raised this question in a talk that probed the rhetorics of energy and desire associated with the ‘active patient’ agenda. Whatever the merits of this agenda, the expectation, or demand, that patients must actively want to get better is a tricky one for those who feel exhausted, and Laws displayed some very striking images in which her interviewees envisaged their own fluctuating energy levels. The aesthetics of exhaustion were also the focus of a talk by Michael Greaney (English and Creative Writing, Lancaster), which explored literary narratives in which the pose of fatigue serves as a refuge from the inexhaustible demands of modernity.
The event closed with a roundtable discussion that re-stated some key questions: Is exhaustion an ever-present in human experience? Or does it have a history? Does it manifest itself in different ways in different eras or in different geographical regions? If gruelling over-work has been the lot of most people for most of human history, then why does exhaustion seem to come into its own as a vogue illness in what is, for many, an age of labour-saving devices and relative affluence? Given the liveliness of these final exchanges, it seems fair to say that these questions are not going to be exhausted anytime soon.
'3am: Wonder, Paranoia and the Restless Night' is a new exhibition curated by Angela Kingston at the Bluecoat Gallery Liverpool (28 September-24 November 2013), in which over 20 UK and international artists explore 'the strangeness of the night and the extraordinary range of emotions, states, and experiences it witnesses'. The exhibition tours to Chapter (Cardiff), The Exchange (Penzance) and Ferens Art Gallery (Hull).
On 25 October, the University of Kent will be hosting a one-day interdisciplinary conference on exhaustion, organized by Dr Anna Katharina Schaffner, with contributions from medical professionals, historians, sociologists and literary scholars.
Earlier this summer, the University of Surrey hosted a roundtable on this topic. Notes on the event can be found here.