If sleep deprivation is affecting writer/critic/raconteur/bon vivant/curmudgeon RM Vaughan, then what hope is there for us mere mortals?
The thesis of Vaughan's Bright Eyed: Insomnia and Its Cultures is that lack of sleep is not only creating health and mental health issues, it is also, and much worse, leading to the creation of mediocre art. He doesn't need to convince on this point, most of us are aware that even mild sleep deprivation leads to distraction, sloppiness and an urge to just get tasks over with. States not conducive to the thought-provoking, life-altering art that Vaughan believes we deserve.
I must confess: while reading Bright Eyed, I was in the midst of switching from daylight hours to overnight shifts and the resultant sleep disturbances forced me to concentrate to keep my focus on the text rather than just luxuriate in the effervescent vitriol of Vaughan's prose.
Vaughan himself states in the very first paragraph that he is an insomniac and has been since childhood. Much of Bright Eyed concerns Vaughan's bitter reminiscences of how restless leg syndrome and the resultant insomnia have plagued his existence. It is both funnier and less comical than it sounds. Vaughan also recounts his search for cures and the hapless doctors, fellow sufferers, experts, snake oil dispensers, and Douglas Coupland, he consults along the way. Perhaps because of the seriousness of his quest -Vaughan never lets us forget that he desperately needs a good night's sleep - all of the subjects get off with being, at worst, gently mocked. There are a few zingers but I sorely missed Vaughan's usual vivisection of the pompous.
Bright Eyed also consists of a diatribe, a dire warning, of the consequences of our culture devaluing sleep. It is a passionate illustration, the scariest of speculative thought, of just what could happen when we all attempt to work 24/7, glued to our cell phones and devices.
Western culture is moving toward an acceptance of of insomnia as part of the cost of contemporary life, or at least a successful contemporary life. A world full of people like me is terrifying to me, and ought to be terrifying to you, as it will not be an easygoing, frolicsome world. A world run by insomniacs will be a resigned world, one with little energy to confront challenges and zero desire to be or create anything that is more than mildly stimulating. Such a world will also be, perversely, a comfort-geared world, one overstuffed with soft textiles and twinkling, subliminally nod-along-(but never dance-) worthy music, a world of bubble baths and clean, fresh scents. A dull hell.
If a mind and pen as razor-sharp as Vaughan's surrenders to the inevitable, if our Cassandra, our canary in a coal mine succumbs, what hope is there? As I slid into bleak despair, exacerbated by my own need for sleep, I realized that Vaughan has the last laugh: Bright Eyed is an elegant conceptual embodiment of his central thesis. Bright Eyed is a good book, an enjoyable read, but if Vaughan could get some sleep, he would achieve the intensity of which he is capable.
It is a cliché to type that a brilliant artist can create a stellar work of art "in his sleep." Let's hope Vaughan gets to do so.