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Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia Paperback – October 11, 2011

3.3 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Lyrical…A weird, waking-dream of a memoir superbly illustrating the relentless inner spin of the insomniac.” (Kirkus)

From the Back Cover

One of the most acclaimed young voices of his generation, Blake Butler now offers his first work of nonfiction: a deeply candid and wildly original look at the phenomenon of insomnia.

Invoking scientific data, historical anecdote, Internet obsession, and figures as diverse as Andy Warhol, Gilles Deleuze, John Cage, Anton LaVey, Jorge Luis Borges, Brian Eno, and Stephen King, Butler traces the tension between sleeping and conscious life. And he reaches deep into his own experience—from disturbing waking dreams, to his father’s struggles with dementia, to his own epic 129-hour bout of insomnia—to reveal the effect of sleeplessness on his imaginative landscape.

The result is an exhilarating exploration of dream and awareness, desperation and relief, consciousness and conscience—a fascinating maze-map of the borders between sleep and the waking world by one of today’s most talked-about writers.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Harper Perennial ed. edition (October 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061997382
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061997389
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,300,297 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Strangely I have had trouble sleeping since I started this book.I'm 75% through and had the compulsion to look on Amazon to see what experience other readers were having. These three reviews reassured me that I was at least awake and that NOTHING, the book, actually exists. At times it has put me into a trance. If I were to read it again 10 times, I'm sure that each would turn up new observations. It's not an "easy" read but it is rewarding; and filled with original and poetic language and ideas and seeds of ideas. Clues. At times it feels like automatic writing but is rarely indulgent or purposefully cryptic. He's telling the truth, it would seem. At times I let go of my attention and let the words just flow through me like smoke and gradually the stream of logic emerges again. The book is not so much about insomnia as the book IS insomnia itself. I myself experienced enhanced creativity and "looser" thinking and writing when I "suffered" sleeplessness years ago.
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I am looking forward to the upcoming collaboration between Blake Butler and David Lynch. They're made for each other, after all - both are masters at concocting strange rooms illuminated with stranger light. Both are masters at stalking the somnambulistic side of life and reporting back with terrifying accuracy.

OK, the collaboration is a fantasy, at least thus far. But it most certainly doesn't seem inconceivable. There is something cinematic about Butler's ability to describe his bizarre mis en scenes. His three previous books - Ever, Scorch Atlas and There is No Year - were works of powerfully visceral fiction, hallucinatory and troubling and claustrophobic. And now we know why.

Nothing - A Portrait of Insomnia is in fact a portrait of a hyper-sensitive zombie (a contradiction, no doubt, but it feels about right). When he works in an analytical, almost scientific mode, he gives David Foster Wallace a run for his money when DFW was in journalistic mode. But as the hours tick past and exhaustion gives way to hallucination, Butler travels to very strange places indeed.

At times this is a somewhat tragic family portrait, at others a meditation on houses and homes and at yet others a pharmacologists wet dream. It veers into the realm of experimental fiction and as a stylist Butler is up there with Ben Marcus who, indeed, he references in this text.

There are numerous cultural references scattered throughout, from Aleister Crowley to Antonin Artaud to David Lynch and Inland Empire. One that I felt was missing was that of Michael Gira and his band The Swans. In an interview I once did with Butler he commented that: "I've probably listened to the song `Blood Promise' more than any other song.
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Format: Paperback
Reading this was not voluntary on my part and, had I known I would have had to read this, I likely wouldn't have signed up for the course. The damage is done, now it is time to review the impact. Perhaps in a bout of irony, I constantly felt tired when reading the book.

The author seems to be attempting to combine a memoir with some scientific observations and poetic license for the dream scenes. One of the difficulties in reading the book is that the author deliberately tries to mix up the descriptive aspects of the book with the stylistic efforts to replicate the thoughts of an insomniac in his less cogent states. While perhaps entertaining to a person with an interest in experimental writing, it makes it excruciatingly hard for the read to follow a coherent train of though (even if there is one). It isn't as if such tortured writing is necessary to convey the deterioration of thought processes under sleep deprivation (something I know from my own military experience) and the author seems more interested in playing around stylistically than actually conveying useful information.

The various sections are short memoir pieces, some scientific or historical pieces on insomnia and the quest for sleep, and dream pieces inserted without warning. The dream accounts are the most annoying to this reader as then he has to backtrack to see exactly where the factual ends and the fictional begins. His choice of words is both excessively verbose when discussing his obsessions about sleep, sex, and dreams but sparse in the extreme when talking about other people. One does not come away from the book seeing a healthy or decent person.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Parts of that book were locked in a room away from my grasp and I've wrestled with the idea of giving it a four stars ranking because of that, but who am I kidding here? Where the heck am I going find literature even remotely similar to this anywhere else in my lifetime? Blake Butler is a wildly unique and savagely talented author and I'm ready to follow him in his utmost bizarre and poetic quirks as a writer.

NOTHING is part journal, part narrative and a third class on the history of what people learn at night when they don't sleep. Butler's fascination for his house is a recurring theme in his books, but it perhaps never had been so eerie. It wavers between reality and inner fantasy. Between embodiment and disembodiment. Think of it as a Radiohead song meets the creepiest episode of the X-Files. It's tough to follow at times. It doesn't give itself to the reader, but I've never read anything like this. It felt intimate and alive in ways most works of art aren't. That ultimately won me over.
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