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COMMITTING A DREAM, the title of the second theme of Invisible Light, comes to us from Mahmoud Darwish. In Journal of an Ordinary Grief, a collection of autobiographical essays published in 1973, the Palestinian poet writes, “Sometimes they arrest you while you are committing a dream.” The book details the tragedy of Palestinian lives lived under Israeli occupation.
The title of this new theme is a play on the forbidden nature of dreaming, as invoked by Darwish. But it also speaks to the idea of being a committed dreamer notwithstanding the forbidden, much like Darwish.
Committing a Dream picks up where our opening theme Jagte Raho (Stay Awake/Woke) leaves off. Jagte Raho is a call to staying awake, to being woke to possibility, but it comes embedded with the dream of rest. A dream made impossible by ‘surveillance capitalism’.
“Sleep is the elixir of life,” writes neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker. “It is the most widely available and democratic powerful healthcare system I could ever possibly imagine.”
It goes without saying then that sleep is a luxury. A fundamental right transformed into a luxury because, but of course.
Circadian rhythm be damned, quite literally so. ‘Big picture’ social determinants that affect the quality of sleep, and by extension dreams, include income, education, housing, work (job security, and stress), social isolation, and they affect our ability to engage in other healthy habits. Minding that sleep gap is essential because it is caused by social inequalities and also perpetuates them viciously.
Research shows that black Americans don’t sleep as well as white Americans. Other minority groups, like Asian Americans and Latinos, also don’t sleep as well as white Americans, but the gap is starkest when it comes to black Americans. The particular starkness is also increasingly understood as being a function of sleep deprivation stretching back to the time of slavery, where sleep deprivation was deployed as a means of control.
The titular provocation of Kristen Ghodsee’s Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism: And Other Arguments for Economic Independence lays the ground for her argument that unregulated capitalism is bad for women, and adopting democratic socialist attitudes, if done ‘right’, would enable greater gender parity.
As if bad sex was not bad enough, allow me to argue that the unholy entanglement of unchecked patriarchy, capitalism and chauvinism, in that order, also causes women to lose sleep.
Meet to Sleep (MTS) — one of Blank Noise’s core projects — “invites women, girls and all persons beyond the gender binary to take sleep in public parks. We sleep, asserting our right to live defenceless, and free from fear,” states the Blank Noise (BN) website. Since 2016, through this seemingly simple intervention, BN has been reclaiming sleep and public space in one sweet go.
It could be said that the 500 women who have so participated in MTS interventions in more than 20 cities/towns/villages across 30 locations, including Muzaffarpur, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Bidar, Delhi, Hazaribag and Patna, have to some extent been able to come to terms with their own fears, which are far from unfounded. The fear of humans, however, which is also far from unfounded, is now forcing mammals to become more and more nocturnal.
In the wild, animals like deer and antelope would rather find themselves in the path of an apex predator like the lion, which mostly hunts at night, than cross paths with a human being out on some recreational tour during the day. Sleep patterns established over millennia have been transformed by the anthropocene. It is hard to predict what such a significant shift might precipitate, but this sounds somewhat depressing already.
Speaking of apex predators, to live in an epoch of accelerated capital is to live under it.
According to Marxist theology, no one sleeps or rests or what have you, under the sway capitalism. Not even the ‘one per cent’. If ever an upside, then this probably is it. Alienation affects all classes; it is universal. Schadenfreude much.
All these provocations beg the question I’ve been avoiding from the word go but can do no more: Is rest at all possible?
Or will the dream of dreaming forever remain a utopian dream? You know, to be pursued wholeheartedly, and yet with the awareness that it is as improbable as every other utopian dream.
In a contemporary moment defined by its velocity, the slow marinating world of dreams is forever pushed against the wall. But, in the face of so much uphill, Darwish will also have you know that “every beautiful poem is an act of resistance.”
We can acquire the vocabulary of a new language during distinct phases of slow-wave sleep and that the sleep-learned vocabulary could be retrieved unconsciously in our waking hours. From these new languages follows the promise of more dream poetry leaking into our daily lives. And with them some nightmares will, no doubt, slip in too.
Committing a Dream is a commitment towards impossible dreams and about eking out places of improbable — the word is used twice at close quarters for extreme emphasis — rest; and launching headlong into unending searches for dreamers, and along the way taking on whatever might come with the territory i.e. the good, the bad and the ugly.
Committing a Dream: Index of Chapters
Chapter 2: It’s Tango Time with Ratna Gupta
Chapter 4: Opening the door to Prajakta Potnis
Invisible Light (Curatorial Note and Themes)
Jagte Raho (Curatorial Note and Chapters)
Gitanjali Dang is a curator, writer and overall shape-shifter. In 2012, she founded Khanabadosh, an itinerant arts lab.