chapter

Day 17: "Cock-Crow"

Today, I read the final chapter of Roger Ekirch's book At Day's Close titled, "Cock-Crow." In it, Ekirch brings together his main ideas, as any good conclusion will do, and gives us a few consequences of our ever-illuminated society. 

Image by Paul Cross

Beneficially, with a light-saturated nightscape, "reason and skepticism triumphed over magic and superstition" (325). Rather than fearing ghouls, ghosties and witches, we began to look at the night as an extension of day - a time when we could go for night walks and entertain. Gone were the days when we believed night air to be toxic (can you imagine?). 

Enter the days of gas lamps and organized metropolitan police. Ekirch reports that in order to combat night attacks from persons with devious intentions, "First in Westminster, then elsewhere, partrols grew more regimented, more numerous, and more aggressive, ultimately culminating in the creation in 1829 of the Metropolitan Police, followed several years later by parliamentary authorization for provincial police" (332). I found this very hard to believe, since the existence of police goes much further back in time than 1829, but here, Ekirch is apparently talking about a specific police force. Eventually though, people came to think of street lamps a a means of surveillance, and in times of turmoil and revolt, they would destroy the glass and break the poles - a symbolic gesture as much as a tactical one. 

Most affectual however, is Ekirch's claim that by losing the night, we are somehow losing a bit of ourselves: "With the transition to a new pattern of slumber, at once consolidated and more compressed, increasing numbers lost touch with their dreams and, as a consequence, a traditional avenue to their deepest emotions" (335). And several pages later, Ekirch writes, "truly a twenty-four/seven society in which traditional phases of time, from morning to midnight, have lost their original identities" (339). As I have conducted this experiment, I have come to think that maybe Ekirch has a point. I'm not sure I agree with him in a lost of 'original identity' - who could ever say what that is? - but I do agree that I feel much more in touch with my individual self - my self apart from the bustle of societal pressures and guidelines. I still am unable to tell whether or not my dreams are more vivid when I sleep in segments, but this may be due to the fact that my dreams have always been vivid. 

Someone asked me (in jest) whether or not our movement out of segmented sleep counts as evolution - clearly it wasn't an evolutionary move, as people changed to seamless sleep in their own singular lifetimes, but did they lose their identities in some way? I don't think so - I envision identity to be akin to matter - it doesn't ever disappear - it just changes into something else. 

Day 13: "Sleep We Have Lost: Rhythms and Revelations"

Once again, I made the correct choice completely by accident. 

On Day 11, I chose to read and respond to a shorter article called, "Modern Life Suppresses an Ancient Body Rhythm," and it turns out that much of the information in this 1995 article, fuels this twelfth chapter in Roger Ekirch's book, At Day's Close. This chapter, above all other chapters in this section on sleep, is about segmented sleep - for the most part. 

Interestingly, while there are names for 'first sleep,' and 'second sleep,' as I may have previously mentioned, there was apparently no common name for the period of wakefulness in between. I have been struggling on a personal level with what to call this period, and the idea that it may never have had a name, gives me less of a sense of a need for one. 

There isn't much left in this chapter which describes how we now believe segmented sleep to have happened - people were in meditative states, the prayed, they had sex, they talked - but the chapter does also mention that the poor often got up to no good: "At no other time of the night was there such a secluded interval in which to commit petty crimes: filching from dockyards and other urban workplaces, or, in the countryside, pilfering firewood, poaching, and robbing orchards" (306). And no wonder, since the poor were likely destitute to the point of starvation in many cases. So much for the rich feeling sad about the perfect slumber the poor workers must have gotten. 

The chapter also notes that the wealthy began first to sleep through the night as staying up late into the evening eventually came into vogue with electric lighting. But this practice would reportedly cut down on the vividness of dreaming that people have when they sleep in segments. 

I am unsure whether or not my dreams have been more vivid than usual, and I am normally a very vivid dreamer, but I'm going to try and pay attention to this, and see what I come up with. 

Day 9 - "Unraveling the Knitted Sleeve: Disturbances"

I find it almost comical, that after I had trouble sleeping, I should read the chapter "Unraveling the Knitted Sleeve" in Roger Ekirch's book At Days Close, as the chapter focuses on the trouble pre-industrial people had with sleeping. Thank God we no longer keep chamber pots in our rooms, as there is a whole section about the stink which kept people awake at night. 

Taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chamber_pot

Taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chamber_pot

This rather short chapter features a lot of interesting facts: people feared the devil in the night, or were typically plagued with bugs such as fleas or bed bugs. Ekirch stresses more than once that pre-industrial sleep was not much like many romanticize it. Near the end of the chapter he states, "chronic fatigue... probably afflicted much of the population" (299). This is not necessarily because they worked too hard, or too much, but because they slept in such awful conditions - knowledge that makes any questionable couch surfing I've done suddenly much more appealing. 

Having terrible conditions is not where it stops. People also typically slept several to a bed and had to put up with the tossing, turning, snoring, farting, and sighing of others. Further, according to Ekirch, "Most mammals, including human beings, appear to sleep best while temperatures hover between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, with 77 degrees optimum" (294). I sleep with my house much cooler, but my body temperature is quite a lot lower than normal, so that may account for a few degrees. The thought of having to sleep with several other humans in one bed who prefer a warmer house sounds, to me, unpleasant. 

And so, it would seem, sleep has never been perfect, or easy for any people, at any time period, electric light or no. Ekirch talks a little about the poor man having a better sleep than the rich out of shear exhaustion. Poor workers however, were also the people sharing beds, sleeping on leaves, or dealing with bed bugs. I think I chose rich and a hard time sleeping, any day. Perhaps this is why the poor often went to sleep drunk.