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March 17, 2005

Man, the Insomniac Animal — by E. M. Cioran

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Whoever said that sleep is the equivalent of hope had a penetrating intuition of the frightening importance not only of sleep but also of insomnia! The importance of insomnia is so colossal that I am tempted to define man as the animal who cannot sleep. Why call him a rational animal when other animals are equally reasonable? But there is not another animal in the entire creation that wants to sleep yet cannot. Sleep is forgetfulness: life's drama, its complications and obsessions vanish completely, and every awakening is a new beginning, a new hope. Life thus maintains a pleasant discontinuity, the illusion of permanent regeneration. Insomnia, on the other hand, gives birth to a feeling of irrevocable sadness, despair, and agony. The healthy man—the animal—only dabbles in insomnia: he knows nothing of those who would give a kingdom for an hour of unconscious sleep, those as terrified by the sight of a bed as they would be of a torture rack. There is a close link between insomnia and despair. The loss of hope comes with the loss of sleep. The difference between paradise and hell: you can always sleep in paradise, never in hell. God punished man by taking away sleep and giving him knowledge. Isn't deprivation of sleep one of the most cruel tortures practiced in prisons? Madmen suffer a lot from insomnia; hence their depressions, their disgust with life, and their suicidal impulses. Isn't the sensation, typical of wakeful hallucinations, of diving into an abyss, a form of madness? Those who commit suicide by throwing themselves from bridges into rivers or from high rooftops onto pavements must be motivated by a blind desire to fall and the dizzying attraction of abysmal depths.

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March 17, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink


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