Housman Lecture 2019: Victoria Wohl

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Bentham House SB31

Denys Holland Lecture Theatre

4–8 Endsleigh Gardens

London

WC1H 0EG

United Kingdom

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The sleep of reason: the psyche and the subject in ancient Greece

Freud tracked the psyche along the paths of sleep, following the royal roadof dreams. For the ancient Greeks, too, the psyche was revealed in sleep, not through the semiotics of dreams but through the peculiar state of being we occupy while asleep. Twinned with thanatos in art and literature, hupnos afforded a living experience of death, as Heraclitus writes: A man kindles a light for himself in the night when his eyes are extinguished. While he is alive, he touches the dead in his sleep; waking, he touches the sleeper(fr. B26 D-K). What does that nocturnal touchallow us to grasp about our nature as human beings? For Heraclitus and his contemporaries, sleep affords us rare contact with the psukhê, that living image of eternitywithin us that becomes active when our bodies and minds rest (Pindar fr. 131b M-S). Releasing aspects of our being that elude consciousness, sleep raised questions about the coherence of identity, our existence in time and space, and our connection to the material universe. My paper explores the experience of sleep and its relation to the psukhê in early Greek philosophy, literature, and art. In so doing it follows in Freuds steps but discovers a subject and an unconscious markedly different from those imagined by the psychoanalyst.

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Bentham House SB31

Denys Holland Lecture Theatre

4–8 Endsleigh Gardens

London

WC1H 0EG

United Kingdom

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