Lévi-Straussian sleeplessness

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It’s 3 am and I can’t sleep. I’ve had a stressful week and now I’ve spent almost the whole evening preparing for tomorrow’s lecture. And now I’m having a sleepless night. My mind is buzzing with all the stuff I’ve been reading.

I’m doing a lecture series on Design / Communication theory for designers. The course is one of my favourites. It’s my own concoction combining all kinds of theories which might benefit designers in their theoretical thinking. Communication theory, semiotics, media culture, memetics, etc. I run it once a year, and every time I try to improve it. So while I already have good slides and materials, I’m always rewriting the course and adding content etc. I know, being a perfectionist sucks.

This time I’m including more details from structuralist theories, for example from Claude Lévi-Strauss. I might not personally agree with his theories, but he is such an influential name in culture studies & semiotics that a course like this cannot ignore him. And while I might find his stuff somewhat outdated, it might be just the thing for some student. And structuralism is one of those things that design students should know about, even if they cannot really use the theories anymore. At least they won’t be surprised if someone conjures up these famous names at a cocktail party or elsewhere.

I’ve been thinking all evening how ridiculous Lévi-Strauss’ idea is about how everything could be divided into binary opposition. Apparently, he based the idea on research of the brain’s neural functions of his time. I feel that one of his biggest mistakes was not to check on how the later findings completely changed the way we see the brain. Unlike he thought, the brain is not a computer. It does not operate in binary opposition.

Even if you just think about it with common sense, it feels very very unlikely that your thinking and culture would be always constrained into binary pairs. Yes, our world is often divided into binary oppositions: us/them, good/bad. But it doesn’t take a genius to realise how much more there is to our culture. And the concept of “anomalous” categories is not enough to explain it. Quite the opposite. There are so many occasions where one wonders how easy it is for us humans to see, feel and adjust to gradual shifts. It feels impossible to fit our culture into black-and-white settings where all the gray areas would be “anomalous”, taboo or special in some other way.

Anyway, I wasn’t planning on ranting about his theories right now. I intended to do that only later. But what I’ve been chuckling about now for the last hour is that in this sleepless state Lévi-Strauss’ binary opposition makes quite a lot of sense.

So according to the theory the world can be divided into a binary pair of sleep / being awake. And what makes sleeplessness so troublesome is not that you feel miserable, both physically and mentally. And not that realise how tired you will be tomorrow, which makes you even more stressed. And not that you can already see how this one bad night will ruin several days of your week when you try to recover from it. But the real cause is that you are now being in the “anomalous” category. Somewhere in-between. :D

So how do you solve the situation? You need a ritual to cross the boundary between the binary pairs. Some well known rituals are marriage, graduations etc. My ritual right now is listening to soft relaxing music. Here’s my playlist called “binary sleeplessness”:

  • Is That What Everybody Wants, Cliff Martinez, Solaris
  • First Sleep, Cliff Martinez, Solaris
  • Can I Sit Next to You, Cliff Martinez, Solaris
  • Will She Come Back, Cliff Martinez, Solaris
  • Death Shall Have No Dominion, Cliff Martinez, Solaris
  • Maybe You’re My Puppet, Cliff Martinez, Solaris
  • Don’t Blow It, Cliff Martinez, Solaris
  • Wear Your Seat Belt, Cliff Martinez, Solaris
  • We Don’t Have to Think Like That Anymore, Cliff Martinez, Solaris
  • Noah Visits, James Newton Howard, The Village
  • What Are You Asking Me?, James Newton Howard, The Village
  • Will You Help Me?, James Newton Howard, The Village
  • I Cannot See His Color, James Newton Howard, The Village
  • Rituals, James Newton Howard, The Village
  • The Gravel Road, James Newton Howard, The Village
  • Race To Resting Rock, James Newton Howard, The Village
  • The Vote, James Newton Howard, The Village
  • The Coral Atoll, Hans Zimmer, The Thin Red Line
  • The Lagoon, Hans Zimmer, The Thin Red Line
  • Journey To The Line, Hans Zimmer, The Thin Red Line
  • Light, Hans Zimmer, The Thin Red Line
  • Beam, Hans Zimmer, The Thin Red Line
  • Stone In My Heart, Hans Zimmer, The Thin Red Line
  • The Village, Hans Zimmer, The Thin Red Line
  • Silence, Hans Zimmer, The Thin Red Line
  • Spiegel Im Spiegel, Arvo Pärt, Fratres – Tabula Rasa – Spiegel im Spiegel – Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten
  • Tabula Rasa: Ludus, Arvo Pärt, Fratres – Tabula Rasa – Spiegel im Spiegel – Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten
  • Tabula Rasa: Silentium, Arvo Pärt, Fratres – Tabula Rasa – Spiegel im Spiegel – Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten

And sometimes cultures create mediators to move between harsh oppositions. Such as werewolves (man – animal), vampires and ghosts (living – dead), Jesus (man – god). So I’m using red wine as a mediator to take me to the other side. :P

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