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And if he left off dreaming about you…
Through the Looking Glass, VI.

No one saw him disembark in the unanimous night, no one saw the
bamboo canoe sink into the sacred mud, but in a few days there
was no one who did not know that the taciturn man came from the
South and that his home had been one of those numberless villages
upstream in the deeply cleft side of the mountain, where the Zend
language has not been contaminated by Greek and where leprosy is
infrequent. What is certain is that the gray man kissed the mud,
climbed up the bank without pushing aside (probably, without feeling)
the blades which were lacerating his flesh, and crawled, nauseated
and bloodstained, up to the circular enclosure crowned with a stone
tiger or horse, which sometimes was the color of flame and now
was that of ashes. This circle was a temple which had been devoured
by ancient fires, profaned by the miasmal jungle, and whose god
no longer received the homage of men. The stranger stretched himself
out beneath the pedestal. He was awakened by the sun high overhead.
He was not astonished to find that his wounds had healed; he closed
his pallid eyes and slept, not through weakness of flesh but through
determination of will. He knew that this temple was the place required
for his invincible intent; he knew that the incessant trees had
not succeeded in strangling the ruins of another propitious temple
downstream which had once belonged to gods now burned and dead;
he knew that his immediate obligation was to dream. Toward midnight
he was awakened by the inconsolable shriek of a bird. Tracks of
bare feet, some figs and a jug warned him that the men of the region
had been spying respectfully on his sleep, soliciting his protection
or afraid of his magic. He felt a chill of fear, and sought out
a sepulchral niche in the dilapidated wall where he concealed himself
among unfamiliar leaves.

The purpose which guided him was not impossible, though supernatural.
He wanted to dream a man; he wanted to dream him in minute entirety
and impose him on reality. This magic project had exhausted the
entire expanse of his mind; if some one had asked him his name
or to relate some event of his former life, he would not have been
able to give an answer. This uninhabited, ruined temple suited
him, for it contained a minimum of visible world; the proximity
of the workmen also suited him, for they took it upon themselves
to provide for his frugal needs. The rice and fruit they brought
him were nourishment enough for his body, which was consecrated
t o the sole task of sleeping and dreaming.

At first his dreams were chaotic; then in a short while they became
dialectic in nature. The stranger dreamed that he was in the center
of a circular amphitheater which was more or less the burnt temple;
clouds of taciturn students filled the tiers of seats; the faces
of the farthest ones hung at a distance of many centuries and as
high as the stars, but their features were completely precise.
The man lectured his pupils on anatomy, cosmography, and magic:
the faces listened anxiously and tried to answer understandingly,
as if they guessed the importance of that examination which would
redeem one of them from his condition of empty illusion and interpolate
him into the real world. Asleep or awake, the man thought over
the answers of his phantoms, did not allow himself to be deceived
by impostors, and in certain perplexities he sensed a growing intelligence.
He was seeking a soul worthy of participating in the universe.

After nine or ten nights he understood with a certain bitterness
that he could expect nothing from those pupils who accepted his
doctrine passively, but that he could expect something from those
who occasionally dared to oppose him. The former group, although
worthy of love and affection, could not ascend to the level of
individuals; the latter pre-existed to a slightly greater degree.
One afternoon (now afternoons were also given over to sleep, now
he was only awake for a couple of hours at daybreak) he dismissed
the vast illusory student body for good and kept only one pupil.
He was a taciturn, sallow boy, at times intractable, and whose
sharp features resembled those of his dreamer. The brusque elimination
of his fellow students did not disconcert him for long; after a
few private lessons, his progress was enough to astound the teacher.
Nevertheless, a catastrophe took place. One day, the man emerged
from his sleep as if from a viscous desert, looked at the useless
afternoon light which he immediately confused with the dawn, and
understood that he had not dreamed. All that night and all day
long, the intolerable lucidity of insomnia fell upon him. He tried
exploring the forest, to lose his strength; among the hemlock he
barely succeeded in experiencing several short snatches of sleep,
veined with fleeting, rudimentary v isions that were useless. He
tried to assemble the student body but scarcely had he articulated
a few brief words of exhortation when it became deformed and was
then erased. In his almost perpetual vigil, tears of anger burned
his old eyes.

He understood that modeling the incoherent and vertiginous matter
of which dreams are composed was the most difficult task that a
man could undertake, even though he should penetrate all the enigmas
of a superior and inferior order; much more difficult than weaving
a rope out of sand or coining the faceless wind. He swore he would
forget the enormous hallucination which had thrown him off at first,
and he sought another method of work. Before putting it into execution,
he spent a month recovering his strength, which had been squandered
by his delirium. He abandoned all premeditation of dreaming and
almost immediately succeeded in sleeping a reasonable part of each
day. The few times that he had dreams during this period, he paid
no attention to them. Before resuming his task, he waited until
the moon’s disk was perfect. Then, in the afternoon, he purified
himself in the waters of the river, worshiped the planetary gods,
pronounced the prescribed syllables of a mighty name, and went
to sleep. He dreamed almost immediately, with his heart throbbing.

He dreamed that it was warm, secret, about the size of a clenched
fist, and of a garnet color within the penumbra of a human body
as yet without face or sex; during fourteen lucid nights he dreamt
of it with meticulous love. Every night he perceived it more clearly.
He did not touch it; he only permitted himself to witness it, to
observe it, and occasionally to rectify it with a glance. He perceived
it and lived it from all angles and distances. On the fourteenth
night he lightly touched the pulmonary artery with his index finger,
then the whole heart, outside and inside. He was satisfied with
the examination. He deliberately did not dream for a night; he
then took up the heart again, invoked the name of a planet, and
undertook the vision of another of the principle organs. Within
a year he had come to the skeleton and the eyelids. The innumerable
hair was perhaps the most difficult task. He dreamed an entire
man-a young man, but who did not sit up or talk, who was unable
to open his eyes. Night after night, the man dreamt him asleep

In the Gnostic cosmogonies, demiurges fashion a red Adam who cannot
stand; as clumsy, crude and elemental as this Adam of dust was
the Adam of dreams forged by the wizard’s nights. One afternoon,
the man almost destroyed his entire work, but then changed his
mind. (It would have been better had he destroyed it.) When he
had exhausted all supplications to the deities of the earth, he
threw himself at the feet of the effigy which was perhaps a tiger
or perhaps a colt and implored its unknown help. That evening,
at twilight, he dreamt of the statue. He dreamt it was alive, tremulous:
it was not an atrocious bastard of a tiger and a colt, but at the
same time these two fiery creatures and also a bull, a rose, and
a storm. This multiple god revealed to him that his earthly name
was Fire, and that in this circular (and in others like it) people
had once made sacrifices to him and worshiped him, and that he
would magically animate the dreamed phantom, in such a way that
all creatures, except Fire itself and the dreamer, would believe
it to be a man of flesh and blood. He commanded that once this
man had been instructed in all the rites, he should be sent to
the other ruined temple whose pyramids were still standing downstream,
so that some voice would glorify him in that deserted edifice.
In the dream of the man that dreamed, the dreamed one awoke..

The wizard carried out the orders he had been given. He devoted
a certain length of time (which finally proved to be two years)
to instructing him in the mysteries of the universe and the cult
of fire. Secretly, he was pained at the idea of being separated
from him. On the pretext of pedagogical necessity, each day he
increased the number of hours dedicated to dreaming. He also remade
the right shoulder, which was somewhat defective. At times, he
was disturbed by the impression that all this had already happened….In
general, his days were happy; when he closed his eyes, he thought:
Now I will be with my son. Or more rarely: The son I have engendered
is waiting for me and will not exist if I do not go to him.

Gradually, he began accustoming him to reality. Once he ordered
him to place a flag on a faraway peak. The next day the flag was
fluttering on the peak. He tried other analogous experiments, each
time more audacious. With a certain bitterness, he understood that
his son was ready to be born-and perhaps impatient. That night
he kissed him for the first time and sent him off to the other
temple whose remains were turning white downstream, across many
miles of inextricable jungle and marshes. Before doing this (and
so that his son should never know that he was a phantom, so that
he should think himself a man like any other) he destroyed in him
all memory of his years of apprenticeship..

His victory and peace became blurred with boredom. In the twilight
times of dusk and dawn, he would prostrate himself before the stone
figure, perhaps imagining his unreal son carrying out identical
rites in other circular ruins downstream; at night he no longer
dreamed, or dreamed as any man does. His perceptions of the sounds
and forms of the universe became somewhat pallid: his absent son
was being nourished by these diminutions of his soul. The purpose
of his life had been fulfilled; the man remained in a kind of ecstasy.
After a certain time, which some chroniclers prefer to compute
in years and others in decades, two oarsmen awoke him at midnight;
he could not see their faces, but they spoke to him of a charmed
man in a temple of the North, capable of walking on fire without
burning himself. The wizard suddenly remembered the words of the
god. He remembered that of all the creatures that people the earth,
Fire was the only one who knew his son to be a phantom. This memory,
which at first calmed him, ended by tormenting him. He feared lest
his son should meditate on this abnormal privilege and by some
means find out he was a mere simulacrum. Not to be a man, to be
a projection of another man’s dreams-what an incomparable humiliation,
what madness! Any father is interested in the sons he has procreated
(or permitted) out of the mere confusion of happiness; it was natural
that the wizard should fear for the future of that son whom he
had thought out entrail by entrail, feature by feature, in a thousand
and one secret nights.

His misgivings ended abruptly, but not without certain forewarnings.
First (after a long drought) a remote cloud, as light as a bird,
appeared on a hill; then, toward the South, the sky took on the
rose color of leopard’s gums; then came clouds of smoke which rusted
the metal of the nights; afterwards came the panic-stricken flight
of wild animals. For what had happened many centuries before was
repeating itself. The ruins of the sanctuary of the god of Fire
was destroyed by fire. In a dawn without birds, the wizard saw
the concentric fire licking the walls. For a moment, he thought
of taking refuge in the water, but then he understood that death
was coming to crown his old age and absolve him from his labors.
He walked toward the sheets of flame. They did not bite his flesh,
they caressed him and flooded him without heat or combustion. With
relief, with humiliation, with terror, he understood that he also
was an illusion, that someone else was dreaming him..

From Ficciones

Translated by ANTHONY BONNER

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