Sleep Modes

Wintersemester 2023/24

With reliable regularity, humans take themselves out of the world; they spend a third of their lives asleep. During this time, we are like “unborn,” Sigmund Freud once wrote. “Every awakening is then like a new birth.” And vice versa, it might be added: With each birth begins a lifelong relationship with sleep and awakening. A look into the history of sleep reveals that this relationship is neither “natural” nor free of complications, but is closely related to the sleep cultures of their times. How children are introduced to a sleep rhythm suitable for everyday life; what is imagined by good or healthy sleep; how sleep disorders are dealt with, and how sleep is medically monitored and promoted, has varied historically.

Since the late 19th century, sleep has become the focus of collective attention. Developments such as the mechanization of work and the invention of electric light abolished the traditional division into daytime work and nighttime rest – work could now theoretically be done at any time. In this context, sleep appeared to be a questionable necessity that needed to be understood, researched, optimized or even overcome. The surveying and economization of sleep initiated at this time by entrepreneurs, doctors and sleep researchers continues to this day and has increasingly become a self-technique: with the help of special apps, we can precisely monitor the rhythm and quality of our sleep; sleep meditations are designed to help us fall asleep; medicines and sleep therapies are available for nocturnal restlessness.

In the winter term 2023/24, the Mosse Lectures will explore the economic, cultural, and political significance of sleep and its counterpart, insomnia: Where does the unbroken fascination with sleep stem from, and what challenges are still associated with its scientific and artistic exploration? How has sleep been politically metaphorized and what role does it play in narratives of individual and political passivity? Under which circumstances can sleep become an emancipatory act of resistance to the demands of a society focused on maximizing performance and efficiency?

Please note that the lectures are located in the auditorium of the Jacob-und-Wilhelm-Grimm-Zentrum during this winter term, Geschwister-Scholl-Straße 1–3, 10117 Berlin.



The MOSSE-LECTURES at the Humboldt University in Berlin are a cooperation of: