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.