For the Harlem characters in Whitehead’s novel, this second segment is used by one of the main characters to engage in behavior that differs quite a bit from their accustomed daytime behavior. This character operates in a “legit” manner during the day—but finds several hours late at night—when awake from the first segment of sleep—to enter a world on the streets of Harlem that are inhabited and controlled mostly by residents who are operating outside the law. Our protagonist can emulate the malevolent inhabitants of this Dorveilles world and engage in activities that are “illegitimate”. Then it is back to sleep and later awakening in a world of legitimacy.
As in the case of the legendary Batman, the late night and Dorveille state in Whitehead’s book is inhabited by those who are dark and dangerous. Jungians (Jung, 2013) would point to the shadow function that resides in each of us as the source of the attraction and fear associated with late night activities and Dorveille states. The state of interrupted sleep poses a challenge for those of us who live with this condition: what do we do during the interval between two segments of sleep? Do we engage in activities that are “forbidden” (such as enjoying that chocolate delight or watching that silly movie about inept burglars)? Not quite as dangerous or destructive as the activities described by Whitehead—yet still in defiance of our sober, judgmental self.
If we have taken an often-dangerous drug (such as Zolpidem), then we might even engage in activities that are unsafe during the bridge between sleep segments – and may not remember what we have done when waking up in the morning. Is there a bruise on my hip where I fell during the night or a left-over plate of food that I apparently heated up and ate during the night? I don’t remember anything happening! We might not have been fully conscious during the bridge period and engaged in sleep walking, talking in an incoherent manner, or even calling someone on the phone. Sometimes, we recall the semi-conscious activities and assume they occurred in a dream—only to discover that they occurred while we were “almost” awake. The Dorveille phenomenon can be quite disturbing. Some Jungians might even suggest that our “Shadow” function has been at the steering wheel during this period of time.
We might speculate that the “myth” of uninterrupted sleep is motivated in part by our concerns about the late night and interrupted sleep. We wish to run away from recognition of our own potential behavior during this interval of time in our 24 hour day. Perhaps there are two reasons why we are hoping that our sleep is not interrupted. It might not only be because the full night of sleep is supposed to be healthy for us, but also because we are fearful of what we might be doing during the bridge between periods of sleep. This need not be the case. Our Dorveille sleep (with two or more sleep segments) might actually be a good thing for many of us.
Activities During the Bridge
What are some of the more productive (or at least pleasurable) activities in which we might engage during the bridge between two segments of sleep? How do we make use of Dorveille—other that wander around the streets of Harlem? I asked some of my friends and colleagues about what they do. I received a wide variety of responses.