The Softness of the Pillows: Quirks and Perks

Quotes from Bruno Schulz and Anne Carson on sleep and waking.

Imaginary beings live on the thin strip of fancy between sobriety and nonsense—the one we all walk at least twice a day on most days, just before and just after sleep (the hypnagogic and hypnopompic states). To complete the previous two posts on imaginary beings, Hamlet and the n-dimensional Hyperplane and The Goofus Bird Flies Backwards, today I offer two quotes, from two very different authors, describing this creative threshold of consciousness.

The first is from Bruno Schulz’s short story Mr Charles, included in his collection The Street of Crocodiles (translated by Celina Wieniewska). He’s the only European I’ve come across who writes magical realism with a panache to match South American authors (I touch on this in Between Infinity and a Sneeze and Charged With Eternity). Note the richness of metaphor and simile.

Groping blindly in the darkness, he sank between the white mounds of cool feathers and slept as he fell, across the bed or with his head downward, pushing deep into the softness of the pillows, as if in sleep he wanted to drill through, to explore completely, that powerful massif of feather bedding rising out of the night. He fought in his sleep against the bed like a bather swimming against the current, he kneaded it and molded it with his body like an enormous bowl of dough, and woke up at dawn panting, covered in sweat, thrown up on the shores of that pile of bedding which he could not master in the nightly struggle. Half-landed from the depths of unconsciousness, he still hung on to the verge of night, grasping for breath, while the bedding grew around him, swelled and fermented—and again engulfed him in a mountain of heavy, whitish dough.

He slept thus until late morning, while the pillows arranged themselves into a larger flat plain on which his now quieter sleep would wander. On these white roads, he slowly returned to his senses, to daylight, to reality—and at last he opened his eyes as does a sleeping passenger when the train stops at a station.

The second quote is from Anne Carson’s verse-novel Red Doc> and is written from the point of view of Io, a musk-ox (I discuss Io’s exploits in The Not-So-Mild Hallucinations of a Musk-Ox).

It washes her up from
the bottom. Slow fluids of
dark slide past each other at
different speeds. Light she
ignores. Waking is gradual
lines of dark into sounds.
They line up. Before they
do is a moment of terror
happening every day she
every day forgets.

I wonder which imaginary beings Mr Charles and Io would come up with. Just imagine what imagined characters could imagine? That’s prosopopoeia squared!

(This not quite the same, but if you need an idea to get you started, consider the hypogriff. In The Book of Imaginary Beings Borges called it a second generation monster of invention, because it’s the offspring of a horse and a griffon—already an imaginary creature.)élivrant_Angélique_by_Louis-Édouard_Rioult.jpg
Louis-Édouard Rioult depicts a scene of Orlando Furioso (1824)


Author: A Quiver of Quotes

Jousts with words, jaunts through all genres. In favour of hendiadys, synaesthesia, and the transferred epithet. Books, books, books. Writing. Author of

11 thoughts on “The Softness of the Pillows: Quirks and Perks”

  1. Sleeping and waking can be terrifying – I feel for Io’s moment and for everyone whose sleep is like a journey through a battlefield. Brilliant quotes that capture our human fear of letting go and of re-remembering. Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

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