Sleep Spaces

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Robert Desnos-Man Ray

In 1922 Rene Crevel told his friend and mentor Andre Breton about a visit he had made to a Spiritualist seance. It was the time of  the mouvement flou, the increasingly nihilistic Dada had negated itself out of existence and Surrealism was yet to come into being. Breton was intrigued and arranged an event with his friends. The results were startling; and this was the beginning of the Period of the Sleeping Fits. Crevel and Robert Desnos (see I Have So Often Dreamed Of You) were particularly  susceptible to  falling into the trance state and answering questions that was put to them by the group, sometimes with unnerving effect. Each day they would spend longer in a trance, Desnos even had the ability to write while asleep. Both Crevel and Desnos began to rapidly lose weight and Desnos became convinced that he was possessed by Rrose Selavy, Marcel Duchamp’s female alter ego, even though he had never met Duchamp. Events began to spiral out of control and the experiment with trance states was abandoned completely when Crevel led a group suicide attempt.

Desnos loved to sleep (most photographs show him asleep) and his poetry vividly evokes that universal yet nebulous state  Below is  his 1926 poem Sleep Spaces, translation by Mary Ann Caws.

Sleep Spaces

In the night there are naturally the seven marvels of the world and greatness and the   tragic and enchantment.
Confusedly, forests mingle with legendary creatures hidden in the thickets.
You are there.
In the night there is the nightwalker’s step and the murderer’s and the policeman’s     and the streetlight and the ragman’s lantern.
You are there.
In the night pass trains and ships and the mirage of countries where it is daylight. The last breaths of twilight and the first shivers of dawn.
You are there.
A tune on the piano, a cry.
A door slams,
A clock.
And not just beings and things and material noises.
But still myself chasing myself or going on beyond.
You are there, immolated one, you for whom I wait.
Sometimes strange figures are born at the instant of sleep and disappear.
When I close my eyes, phosphorescent blooms appear and fade and are reborn like carnal fireworks.
Unknown countries I traverse with creatures for company.
You are there most probably, oh beautiful discreet spy.
And the palpable soul of the reaches.
And the perfumes of the sky and the stars and the cock’s crow from two thousand years ago and the peacock’s scream in the parks aflame and kisses.
Handshakes sinister in a sickly light and axles screeching on hypnotic roads.
You are most probably there, whom I do not know, whom on the contrary I know.
But who, present in my dreams, insist on being sensed there without appearing.
You who remain out of reach in reality and in dream.
You who belong to me by my will to possess you in illusion but whose face approaches mine if my eyes are closed to dream as well as to reality.
You in spite of an easy rhetoric where the waves die on the beaches, where the crow flies in ruined factories, where wood rots cracking under a leaden sky.
You who are at the depths of my dreams, arousing my mind full of metamorphoses and leaving me your glove when I kiss your hand.
In the night there are stars and the tenebral motion of the sea, rivers, forests, towns, grass, the lungs of millions and millions of being.
In the night there are the marvels of the world.
In the night there are no guardian angels but there is sleep.
In the night you are there.
In the day also.

 

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47 thoughts on “Sleep Spaces

  1. This is so wonderful I don’t even know where to begin. Wow, I love this so much. The patterns at the contrasts, the ‘you’ always there. And the beginning with seven wonders and the concluding with them too. Oh, there’s so much…

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      1. Yes, very informative. That’s crazy about the group suicide. And the amount of time spent in trance. How does one get anything done? Believe me, Cake I wish I could write something this beautiful, too. Although I think your style comes close. I am really in love with this.

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      2. I’m not discounting it completely. Do you think he might have been putting it on just a little? Although people have been known to get up prepare elaborate meals all while asleep so I suppose it’s possible.

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  2. Mr. Cake, a brilliant post, you could become a serial napper, producing otherworldly poetry! The poem by Desnos is magnificent, so out of body. I like having the thought, “You are there.” All of the men mentioned in this post are extremely interesting, let me not forget Rrose Sélavy. Wonderful photo by Man Ray, always terrific. Very creative, I hope you are able to reproduce the experience, write while you’re asleep. ~ Miss Cranes

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    1. Thank you it is a magnificent poem and the whole period of the sleeping fits is interesting and bizarre. Let’s not forget Rrose Selavy either. I will do a post about Rene Crevel at some point, but his story is extremely distressing to me. Rest assured I will certainly try to write while 😴.

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      1. Yes, the photos are brilliant, you could feature both of them together if you desire. I think the term, “sleeping fits” in itself is a little disturbing, and yes, eerie too. It does point in the direction of the supernatural to be sure, and yes, it is in the mind so to speak.

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    1. This is a particular crazy Surrealist adventure, however this is the birth of the New Spirit that Andre Breton said would be funny if it was loose in the world. And it was let loose. I know the Surrealists fall in and out of fashion, but they had an undeniable impact on the world.

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      1. I love Octavio Paz’s poetry. It has a similar rich deep vein of unbridled sensuality. I guess it happens when we tap something deep within ourselves, something related to Jung’s archetypes that then rove round the world on their own, without an owner and without a name.

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      2. The secret is to manipulate that archetypal landscape … that’s what Paz did. He refused the “losing himself” bit and really exploited the beauty of the discoveries. I think García Lorca did the same thing. I think of it as deeply rooted imagery produced on the banks of a deep underground river. It’s most certainly what I try to do. I know I don’t always succeed. I also know that the efforts are not always appreciated by the wise men of the creative writing schools. Monkey has a message for them. As does a certain eyeball and a certain razor blade.

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      3. Excuse my French but fuck the creative writing wise men. There is more than one way to write. You should read Bolano, he breaks every single rule in the creative writing handbook and yet he his almost 900 page literary work was lauded by the critics and was a choice on Oprah’s book club, in translation and as dark as it comes. Heavily influenced by the surrealists of course.

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      4. Love your French: and it’s exactly what I feel about them. Cervantes wasn’t exactly a literary success ether and Lord knows he wrote a lot prior to the Quixote. When the FrenchAmbassador came to Madrid and asked to meet Cervantes he was told that there were several decent authors around, like Lope de Vega, and Cervantes wasn’t worth bothering with!

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      5. I went to a couple and was told not to put dreams in a story, also that all sentences should be short, never use long words, and everything should be grounded in a recognisable social reality. That discounts most of world literature.

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      6. I know what you mean. Alas, I have attended many and run a few myself. The ones I run are NOT like the ones I attend. I have added another French word to my vocabulary: ouanquères … I use it for many literary critics.

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