‘How do you sleep at night knowing all this?’: Climate Breakdown, Sleep, and Extractive Capitalism in Contemporary Literature and Culture

Diletta De Cristofaro*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Contributing to the emerging field of critical sleep studies, and developing an intervention situated at the intersection of the environmental and the medical humanities, this article breaks new ground using media and scientific discourse on sleep and climate change as a lens of enquiry for approaching a range of contemporary texts: Jenny Offill’s realist novel Weather (2020), Karen Russell’s Sleep Donation (2014), Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves (2017) and Hunting by Stars (2021)—three examples of the ‘sleep-apocalypse’ genre—Finegan Kruckemeyer’s play Hibernation (2021), and the Perfect Sleep app by Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne (2021).

I show how these texts do not just simply reflect the negative effects that climate change has on sleep health, which are manifold, as scientific research evidences. Rather, cultural production arguably draws attention to structural parallels between the climate crisis and the so-called sleep crisis, namely, contemporary society’s presumed widespread sleep deprivation and rise in sleep disorders. Both crises are the product of a necrogenic capitalist system geared towards continuous extraction—and exhaustion of resources, from the Earth and human bodies. Thus, in the texts considered, sleep, and more broadly rest, are explored, on the one hand, as a casualty of the climate crisis, specifically, of the extractive capitalism at the crisis’ heart, and, on the other hand, as something whose value we need to reassess as part of our ongoing work to avert climate collapse.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalTextual Practice
Early online date4 Oct 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Oct 2023

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