Andrew W. Mellon Penn Faculty Fellow in the Humanities
2004—2005 Forum on Sleep and Dreams
Associate Professor, Romance Languages
The Contours of Sleep in the Italian Renaissance (1420-1720)
Dr. Cracolici considers the culture of sleep during the Italian Renaissance, in particular, the epistemological prospect of talking about a culture of sleep without addressing the culture of dreams. This qualified approach allows the consideration of sleep not as a threshold that the sleeper crosses to enter the fantastic, but rather as a physiological break between one state of wakefulness and another. Arguing for a definition of sleep as a physical and psychological experience radically opposed to the one we ordinarily live while awake, Dr. Cracolici examines the set of beliefs, discourses, and behaviors—private or public—that Italians historically have developed to incorporate this experience into their daily habits.
Presented in these terms, the culture of sleep could be more appropriately specified as a culture of wakefulness that embraces and organizes sleep as the kind of performance we execute every day; a culture, that is, which actually falls into the province of the contours of sleep: those habits, practices, and ceremonies that usually accompany, on the one hand, the moment in which a person goes to bed and starts to fall asleep, and on the other, those moments in which a person wakes up and starts his or her daily life. What are the ways in which the contours of sleep were acknowledged and subsequently handled in Italy between approximately 1420 and 1720? This period begins with the discovery of optical perspective, which stimulated the emergence of an epistemological skepticism towards the oneiric experience, and ends with the elaboration of a new historiographic paradigm that valued that same oneiric experience as raw material for a cultural and anthropological investigation—in synthesis, from Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) to Giambattista Vico.