The Inner Night: Towards a Phenomenology of (Dreamless) Sleep

  • Nicolas de WarrenEmail author
Part of the Phaenomenologica book series (PHAE, volume 197)


Is a phenomenology of sleep possible? If sleep is the complete absence of experience, including the self-experience of consciousness itself, how can phenomenology, as a description of lived experience, have access to a condition that is neither lived nor experienced? In this paper, I respond directly and indirectly to Jean-Luc Nancy’s challenge that a phenomenology of sleep is impossible. As an indirect response, my sketch of the contours of phenomenology of sleep investigates Husserl’s employment of the distinction between sleep and wakefulness as a metaphor. Specifically, the metaphorical characterization of retentional consciousness is assessed. On the basis of this metaphorical characterization of time-consciousness in terms of sleep and wakefulness, I turn to Husserl’s account of the constitution of sleep. I argue that Husserl’s phenomenology of time-consciousness remains incomplete without an account of “sleep-consciousness” (by which we mean, in a restricted manner, dreamless sleep). In pursuing Husserl’s phenomenological account of sleep, falling asleep and waking up within the context of his genetic phenomenology, I offer a suggestion for how to understand the sense in which consciousness (temporarily) constitutes itself as sleep – as the absence of itself. I conclude with an analogy with Husserl’s investigations into the imaginary: in both instances, consciousness induces within itself its own suspension or self-abstention. In the particular instance of sleep, consciousness disengages itself entirely from the complex of interests while also immunizing itself to the force of affectivity.


Intentional Object Constitutive Function Original Presentation Metaphorical Meaning Genetic Phenomenology 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wellesley CollegeWellesleyUSA

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