James Baldwin x Margaret Mead


BALDWIN: When we talked earlier about poverty and rage…I am one of the dispossessed. There is that difference. According to the West I have no history. There is that difference. I have had to wrest my identity out of the jaws of the West. It’s a very different endeavor. We, the blacks, have been told nothing but lies. So have you been told nothing but lies. 

MEAD: That’s right. We have both been told lies.

BALDWIN: But there is a difference in that you —

MEAD: Whether one was lied about or not.

BALDWIN: — you are identified with the angels, and I’m identified with the devil. We are living in a kind of theology. Therefore my situation — our situation, really — presents itself to me as exceedingly urgent. I cannot lie to myself about some things. I cannot. I don’t mean anybody else is. I mean that I have to know something about myself and my countrymen, and the most terrible thing about that, the most terrible about it, is not the looting, the fire burnings or the bombings: that is bad enough. But what is really terrible is to face the fact that you cannot trust your countrymen. That you cannot trust them. For the assumptions on which they live are antithetical to any hope you may have to live. It is a terrible omen when you see an American flag on somebody else’s car and realize that’s your enemy. In principle it is your flag too, but the man who is flying the American flag is going to kill you. You, his brother. You, his countryman. That is what that flag means.

MEAD: I am not denying any of these facts. What I am trying to consider is whether there is an inevitable difference in the spiritual stance, for you who are black and me who am white. 

BALDWIN: We can’t talk about the spiritual stance unless we are talking about the power!

From A Rap on Race, 1971

[…] The name Power Nap comes from the term describing the thrusting executive’s purported ability to catch a restorative forty winks in 20 minutes but the functioning of Apple’s feature symbolically implies a yet more ultra-modern and frankly inhuman aspiration: to be “productive” even while dozing. It is the uncanny technological embodiment of the dream most blatantly sold to us by those work-from-home scams online, which promise that you can “make money even while you sleep”.

Sleep, indeed, is a standing affront to capitalism. That is the argument of Jonathan Crary’s provocative and fascinating essay, which takes “24/7” as a spectral umbrella term for round-the-clock consumption and production in today’s world. The human power nap is a macho response to what Crary notes is the alarming shrinkage of sleep in modernity. “The average North American adult now sleeps approximately six and a half hours a night,” he observes, which is “an erosion from eight hours a generation ago” and “ten hours in the early 20th century”.

[…] Crary is worried about the encroachment on sleep because it represents one of the last remaining zones of dissidence, of anti-productivity and even of solidarity. Isn’t it quite disgusting that, as he notices, public benches are now deliberately engineered to prevent human beings from sleeping on them?

While Apple-branded machines that take working Power Naps are figured as a more efficient species of people, people themselves are increasingly represented as apparatuses to be acted on by machines. Take the popular internet parlance of getting “eyeballs”, which means reaching an audience. “The term ‘eyeballs’ for the site of control,” Crary writes, “repositions human vision as a motor activity that can be subjected to external direction or stimuli … The eye is dislodged from the realm of optics and made into an intermediary element of a circuit whose end result is always a motor response of the body to electronic solicitation.”

You can’t get more “eyeballs” if the people to whose brains the eyeballs are physically connected are asleep. Hence the interest – currently military; before long surely commercial, too – in removing our need for sleep with drugs or other modifications. Then we would be more like efficient machines, able to “interact” with (or labour among) electronic media all day and all night. (It is strange, once you think about it, that the phrase “He’s a machine” is now supposed to be a compliment in the sporting arena and the workplace.)