DOCTORAL THESIS

Prototypes and archetypes in the representation of sleep paralysis: an artistic approach, 2020

Complutense University of Madrid (UCM), Spain

Supervisor: Tonia Raquejo Grado

During my doctoral thesis called "Prototypes and archetypes in the representation of sleep paralysis: an artistic approach", I analyzed, as its title indicates, the different artistic prototypes and archetypes that have emerged around a neurological sleep disorder known as sleep paralysis. This parasomnia is situated between the frontiers of sleep and wakefulness, in an altered state of consciousness, responding to common symptoms that cause great suffering and fear to those who suffer it, through sensory hallucinations, (mainly visual). The objective of the research covers three aspects:

  • The analysis of this parasomnia allows for an in-depth analysis of its historical-medical, psychological, anthropological, and, above all, artistic context. Through its cultural evolution in the anthropological area, we can see how the use of mythology around the figure of the incubus and succubus has been frequent in its artistic representation over time. Their respective interpretation and interiorization as real beings will provide, through the association of ideas and the collective imagination, different social behavioral values to people regarding their experience with this sleep disorder.

  • A fundamental part of the dissertation examines how the artwork The Nightmare (1781) of Henry Füssli originated as the first prototype and archetype of representation of sleep paralysis, influencing the way we artistically represent this experience to this day. Positioning ourselves before an exhaustive analysis of categorization and methodological chronology of the different analogous works from the 18th century to the present day, together with the current collection of testimonies of patients affected by this parasomnia in diverse demography, perceptive and reiterative patterns of representation have been identified.

  • As a proposal, a new subjective artistic creation is originated that allows creating a new approach of how to visually and sensorially represent this experience through photography, allowing the spectators to immerse themselves in the hallucinations as a tool of understanding. A relational analysis of the interactions and sensations obtained between the body and the environment is created as a construction of a process, allowing the reflection of different concepts such as identity, memory, recall, and the emotion of fear.

Abstract

During this research called Prototypes and archetypes of the representation of sleep paralysis: an artistic approach, the different artistic prototypes, and archetypes that have emerged around a neurological sleep disorder known as sleep paralysis will be analyzed, as its title indicates. This parasomnia is situated between the frontiers of sleep and wakefulness, responding to common symptoms that cause great suffering and fear to those who suffer it, through sensory hallucinations, mainly visual.

Due to the limitation and scarce information found about this sleep disorder as a subject of research in art, a medical approach has been maintained in the first and second chapter with relevant psychological aspects to be discussed in order to better understand the anthropological field that follows it. This allows us to enter into the third chapter, where we investigate the cultural evolution in the anthropological area through the use of mythology around the incubus and the succubus. Both figures are very frequent hallucinations in sleep paralysis. Their respective interpretation and internalization as real beings will provide, through the association of ideas and the collective imagination, different social behavioral values to people regarding their experience with sleep paralysis. In the fourth chapter, we position ourselves before an exhaustive analysis of the prototypes and archetypes that have emerged from the artistic representation of sleep paralysis, focusing on the study of the work The Nightmare (1781) by Henry Füssli. A categorization and methodological chronology of different works from the 18th century to the present day will be carried out in order to understand and study their analogous representation in art. In the fifth chapter, a reflection on the artistic representation and interpretation of different concepts linked to sleep paralysis, such as identity, memory, recall, and the emotion of fear, will be undertaken, which may help in the understanding of this sleep disorder. At the same time, a specific study is carried out for this research, collecting testimonies from people who have experienced this parasomnia, in order to be able to study their visual patterns in the hallucinations from their descriptions. In the sixth and last chapter, a new perspective on the representation of sleep paralysis is proposed through the creation of subjective visual works (based on the testimonies) using photographic techniques.

One of the main objectives has been to develop a codified study of the myths and legends in different cultures and countries, understanding their symbolic representation based on their popular imagery and the existing tradition in the category of the monstrous and the figure of the incubus in art. Specifically, the work The Nightmare by Füssli mentioned above has been traced, a work whose influence we can see to this day, being the most representative prototype and archetype of sleep paralysis. All this will allow us to reflect, recreate, and question the existing representation of sleep paralysis in art to this day. The final objective is to approach the subjective representation of the experience of this parasomnia, breaking with the prototype and archetype created over the years. To this end, new patterns of representation will be proposed through my own artistic creation based on the testimonies gathered, with the aim of being able to create visual information that serves as a means of understanding a society that does not know it.

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