Monique Rooney on Ottessa Moshfegh

Tracing Visible Falls in Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018)

Join us for this week’s CuSPP Seminar

Thursday 12 March, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

In Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018), the unnamed narrator decides to hibernate in her New York City apartment for a year, inducing and extending sleep through excessive use of prescription medication. After finding traces of either semi- or unconscious activity while sleeping, the narrator arranges for conceptual artist Ping Xi to video-record her in her bedroom while she is heavily sedated. The novel’s ‘year’ begins in 2000 and ends on 9/11. Its fascination with discerning a ‘being-in-sleep’ is offset by its invocation of pre-digital media and devices, including both the narrator’s repeat viewings on her VCR of films starring Harrison Ford and Whoopi Goldberg and her interactions with analogue equipment (answering machines, video-cameras). This paper connects the narrator’s voluptuous love of 80s and 90s media with the reader’s reception of the novel in which she sleeps. I elucidate the role and significance of a range of media and devices in Moshfegh’s novel while attending to the limits of sleeper narratability. These limits are made most palpable, firstly, when the narrator experiences loss of her ‘sleep-imaginary’ in the process of viewing Ping Xi’s art exhibition featuring video images of her and, secondly, when she repeatedly watches VCR-recorded images of her friend Reva’s ‘fall’ from the World Trade Centre on 9/11. Both the fall into sleep and fall-toward-death are barely visible records of tenuous life, existing at a threshold where the authentic self momentarily emerges along with its disappearance.

Monique Rooney teaches literature, film and television in the English Program at The Australian National University. Her current research investigates ‘interbrow’—her coinage for middlebrow media produced and received during our time of digital interconnectedness.

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