David Blaine, the endurance artist lived without any food in a clear box suspended over the Thames River for 44 days, has decided to take on sleeplessness. In September he plans on going 11.57 days without sleep, the number chosen because it's exactly one million seconds. He is hoping for permission to do this in Central Park in Manhattan. Blaine says he will not use stimulants.
I need a lot of sleep, and I resent it (I wrote Beggars in Spain, about people genetically engineered to never sleep, out of envy.) Nonetheless, there's something creepy about deliberately depriving your body of something so essential as a form of entertainment. I wouldn't have wanted to watch Blaine starve, and neither would I want to watch him go semi-psychotic, which is what happens if you go more than about three days without sleep. Reality blurs. You hallucinate. Your vision blurs and your body cannot process glucose. This is art?
Which raises my central question: When does performance art shade over into mere narcissistic attention grabbing? Nearly all artists, of every kind, want public attention (or they'd lock their work in a drawer, like Emily Dickinson, who was the exception). But doesn't "art" require more than physical peril? Shouldn't it somehow deepen our perception of the world? Even the silliest, most formulaic shoot-'em-up offers reinforcement of values we'd like to believe in: good can triumph over evil.
Or just call me a fuddy-duddy and have done with it.
This fuddy-duddy leaves tomorrow for Seattle, to teach a writing workshop at Hugo House. Blogging will resume from The Damp City.