In Vicious Circles: The Physiologies of Exhaustion

  • Lee Scrivner


We have suggested that insomnia is largely a paradox of volition, since getting to sleep is often problematized by the desire to sleep. We have also claimed that insomnia is a problem of the attention, where the objects of our cognition get the upper hand, and even the most comforting or calming thought, under intense focus, loses all proportion. But identifying these mental faculties of volition and attention in insomnia’s pathogeneses still fails to explain why the condition emerged into such prominence in the late nineteenth century. Surely, in ancient times, a senator or silversmith or poetess would have similarly engaged their volition and attention in seeking slumber. So, too, would they have likely tried to fix their thoughts on calming objects or memories. And surely these dynamisms of mind would have occasionally caused problems for them in largely the same phenomenological parameters as they later did for Victorians—and as they do for us today. What explains, then, the Victorian epidemic of insomnia, our malevolent modern inheritance? The sudden late-nineteenth-century rise of the disorder may be attributable to the concurrent increase of inquiry into—and discourse about—not only insomnia itself, but also these faculties of volition and attention as delineated in the previous two chapters.


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© Lee Scrivner 2014

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  • Lee Scrivner

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