“The wakefulness was always beside me”: Sleeplessness, Embodiment, and Female Agency in Haruki Murakami’s ‘Sleep’

© Media Watch 12 (1) 46-57, 2021
ISSN 0976-0911 | E-ISSN 2249-8818
DOI: 10.15655/mw/2021/v12i1/205457


“The wakefulness was always beside me”: Sleeplessness, Embodiment, and
Female Agency in Haruki Murakami’s ‘Sleep’


Avishek Parui 
Indian Institute of Technology Madras, India



This article will draw on contemporary clinical scholarship on sleeplessness, cognition, emotional empathy, and memory, and attempt to map it a reading of Haruki Murakami’s short story ‘Sleep’ from his 1993 collection The Elephant Vanishes. Such study will situate sleeplessness as a cognitive/embodied and agentic/extended condition, whereby the female subject feels alternately alienated and empowered through complex forms of memory and embodiment. The article will also examine how the hyperactive and hyper-productive orders of embodiment exemplified by the sleepless subject do not conform to the capitalist masculinist notions of endless productivity but increasingly undercut the same through the caricatured representation the subject’s medical/entrepreneurial husband. This article aims to examine the interface of cognitive studies, cultural studies, and literary studies drawing on an interdisciplinary theoretical framework to connect to the broader research in cognitive and clinical psychology on sleeplessness. 


Keywords: Agency, embodiment, fiction, memory, murakami, psychology, sleeplessness



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Avishek Parui (Ph.D., Durham University) is an Assistant Professor in English in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at Indian Institute of Technology Madras, India and Associate Fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy. He researches on medical humanities, memory studies, masculinity studies, and critical theory. He is the principal investigator of two interdisciplinary research projects titled Sleepless Cities (IIT Madras) and Animated Agents, Interface Cognition, and VR Technology (TCS and Marks & Spencer) and one of the faculty coordinators of the Memory Studies Research Network at IIT Madras. He is the winner of the 2019 Meenakshi Mukherjee Award for the best-published paper conferred by IACLALS. He is the author of Postmodern Literatures (Orient Blackswan, 2018) and is currently contracted with Rowman and Littlefield for a book titled Culture and the Literary: Matter, Metaphor, Memory.


Correspondence to: Avishek Parui, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences (Alumni Avenue), Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600036, India