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Sleeping Giants: Theories of Sleep in Art and Philosophy from Ancient Greece to the Present Night

Hermaphrodite © National Museums Liverpool

Hermaphrodite © National Museums Liverpool

Taking place in conjunction with the Ancient Greece episode at Tate Liverpool, this panel reflects on sleep, as an important, but often overlooked part of culture, and also the object of numerous artworks at all stages of art history. 

The panel will present the work of two writers who each propose theories and philosophies of sleep. Here, sleep is understood as a space about which stories are told, as intimately woven in with fabulation. Equally, sleep is something that takes us into another relation with the times of Ancient Greece, among others. Rather though than offering a neo-classical version of sleep, this pair of talks asks whether we can see sleep as a Dionysian act, full of delight and materiality. Against the contemporary neoliberal medicalisation of sleep, the speakers also stress its character of resistance towards the market-driven acceleration of social life under late capitalism.

Sleeping Beauties and Vigilant Monsters, on the Politics and Aesthetics of Sleep

Dr. Alexei Penzin will discuss Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, linking its interpretation to the problem of vigilance and sleep in the ancient Greek philosophy, as well as to medieval and early modern political theology of sovereignty and to early capitalist modernity and elaborate an aesthetics of sleep in the contemporary context.

The Elements of Sleep

Prof. Matthew Fuller will draw on his book How to Sleep, in art, biology and culture, in order to discuss the relations between sleep science and an aesthetics without a subject. In most accounts and representations of sleep, the sleeper becomes a null field, a placeholder for a thinking being, something that will come back to its senses in due course. Drawing on the pre-socratic philosopher Empedocles, an aesthetics of sleep as a bodily, mediatic and ecological admixture of forces is counterposed to this imagined emptiness of sleep.


14 October 2016, 6-8pm


Tate Liverpool
Albert Dock
L3 4BB

Open daily 10am – 5.50pm, Free

TicketsFree, booking required