Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep

Verso Books, 2014




  • Innovative


Columbia University professor of modern art and theory Jonathan Crary is a respected social commentator. His work on attention and perception has drawn an audience far beyond academia. In this impassioned argument against the speed of life in the technological age, he warns that being constantly plugged in eliminates reflection in favor of consumption. He cautions against a complete embrace of the digital age, where shoppers buy on impulse to create an arbitrary online identity they can “share” on social media. Instead, he says, engaged political action requires a population with a private life, where people can lose time in meandering conversations with friends and discover new possibilities for a better world. While Crary doesn’t offer much data or many studies in support of his philosophical conclusions, and his writing style can be a bit dense, his polemic will spur you to think twice about the constant rush and stimulation of modern life. getAbstract recommends his insights to students considering the future, professors of social theory, those who yearn to connect in an alienated age and leaders seeking a bigger picture.


The History of Sleep

From premodern times until the early Renaissance, sleep and dreams were important elements of overall human health. That changed with the Enlightenment’s belief in the superiority of reason. Philosophers René Descartes, David Hume and John Locke demeaned sleep as an impediment to the quest for knowledge. Their logical inquiries into reason stood in sharp contrast to sleep’s haphazard dreams. By the 19th century, thinkers regarded sleep as “primitive” behavior, a time of mental waste compared to the abilities of the conscious, scientific mind.

The devaluation of dreams gained currency as the exploding factories of the industrial age sought attentive workers. Yet, plant managers noticed that workers’ performance improved with rest, so they established breaks to ensure continued productivity. Today, globalization removes the need for any halt in a company’s endeavors, because workers stand ready in all time zones to perform and sustain the business 24 hours a day. Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams reinforced the notion that dreams are evocations of humankind’s primitive, irrational, childish minds. The enchantment of dreams, and the...

About the Author

Jonathan Crary, the Meyer Shapiro Professor of Modern Art and Theory at Columbia University, received Getty, Mellon and NEA grants for his research on modern visual culture. This book has been translated into 15 languages.

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