The Book of Sleep
‘Written in 2017 and beautifully translated into English by Robin Moger last year, [The Book of Sleep] is a collection of essays, stories, and prose poems—all of them very short, full of thought and feeling that has crystalized into extraordinary shapes.’—Ursula Lindsey, New York Review of Books
What is sleep? How can this most unproductive of human states—death’s shadow or the pinnacle of indolence—be envisioned as action and agency? And what do we become in sleep? What happens to the waking selves we understand ourselves to be?
Written in the spring of 2013, as the Egyptian government of President Mohammed Morsi was unravelling in the face of widespread protests, The Book of Sleep is a landmark in contemporary Arabic literature. Drawing on the devices and forms of poetry, philosophical reflection, political analysis and storytelling, this genre-defying work presents us with an assemblage of fragments which combine and recombine, circling around their central theme but refusing to fall into its gravity.
‘My concern was not to create a literary product in the conventional sense, but to try and use literature as a methodology for thinking,’ El Wardany explains. In this volume, sleep shapes sentences and distorts conventions. Its protean instability throws out memoir and memory, dreams and hallucinatory reverie, Sufi fables and capitalist parables, in the quest to shape a question. The Book of Sleep is a generous and generative attempt to reimagine possibility and hope in a world of stifling dualities and constrictions.
‘The Book of Sleep leaves us with the triad of sleep, revolution, and poetry, each inseparable from the other. . . . El Wardany invites us to consider poetry in its broadest possible sense, as an enervation armed with the logic of metaphor rather than cause-and-effect, which manifests not only in lines, in the streets. Lived universally, sleep and dream have the potential to open us to the collective unconscious and dissolve the limitations of the self under capitalism. When we wake up tomorrow, let’s build whatever we can dream.’—William Repass, Full Stop. Read the extensive review here.
‘[C]ollective sleep is the heart of successful protest, El Wardany writes, cautioning that “any occupation where the occupiers do not bed down in their place of protest cannot be relied on.” But isn’t sleep the antithesis to the vigilance that protest demands? . . . No! The Book of Sleep is the clearest rebuke . . . against the disdain for rest. “The self which does not sleep is a neurotic self, plagued by itself. The group that does not sleep is willful and proud, unable to alter reality because it exists cut off from it.” It is only in sleep, El Wardany argues, that an arrangement with reality can be rebrokered. And if we do not sleep, the hopeful awakening will never come.’—Ania Szremski, 4Columns. Read the brilliant review here.
‘A book rich in unexpected images and interrelations, this engaging volume invites a reader into a deeply rewarding interrogation of a state of being that consumes so much of our existence—one that we tend to accept with our eyes closed, so to speak.’—J. M. Schreiber, roughghosts. Read the detailed review here.
‘Moves between philosophy, anecdotes, poetry, political analysis and story to give us a portrait of contemporary Egypt during the time of former president Mohammed Morsi [. . .] beautifully translated into English by Moger and is a book to be read slowly and savoured.’—M Lynx Qualey, The National
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