Jorge Luis Borges


In dreams, writes Coleridge, images form the impressions that we believe them to trigger, we are not afraid because we’re clutched by a sphinx, but rather a sphinx embodies the fear that we feel. If this is so, can a mere account of one’s dream-shapes transmit the stupor, the elation, the false alarms, the menace, and the jubilation that is woven into last night’s sleep? I will experiment with this account, without restraint; perhaps the fact that the dream was a single stream of consciousness expunges or mitigates this essential difficulty.

The place was the School of Arts; it was dark. Everything was a ­little different (as the surface of things is in dreams); a slight magnification altered everything. We were picking the department heads. I was talking with Pedro Henriquez Urena, who by this night has been dead for many years. Suddenly — it comes to mind — we were startled by a massive demonstration or the disharmony of rank amateur street musicians. The shrieks and then “The Gods! The Gods!” Four or five beings emerged from the mob and took over the platform of the great hall. We all applauded, weeping; it was the Gods finally returning from centuries of exile. The platform exaggerated their prowess; they flung their heads backwards, and shoved their chests forward, arrogantly accepting our humble tribute. One held laurels, made — without a doubt — from the untouchable botany of dreams; another made a wide gesture, extending his hand which was a claw; one of the faces of Janus looked fearfully on the crooked beak of Thoth. Perhaps incited by our applause, one — I don’t remember which — burst forth in a victorious, unbelievably disagreeable clucking, with something akin to gurgling and hissing. Things, after that moment, began to change.

Everyone began to suspect (perhaps excessively) that the Gods did not know how to speak. Centuries of life in exile, living like wild animals, had atrophied their once humanoid appearance; the Muslim moon and the Roman cross had been ruthless with these escapees. Low down Cro-Magnon brows, yellow teeth, meager Oriental mustachios, and beast-like lips obviously broadcasted the collapse of the lineage of Olympus. Their clothing didn’t allude to decent decorous poverty, but of the garish luxury of gambling dens and brothels. In a buttonhole, a red carnation bled; we detected a dagger’s outline beneath a tight-fitting coat. All of a sudden, we sensed that they were bluffing on their last card, that they were underhanded, dangerously ignorant, and cruel as aging predators, and that if we relented in fear or pity, they would destroy us.

We drew our heavy revolvers (the guns appeared immediately in the dream) and we happily slaughtered the Gods.

— translated from the Spanish by Noah Hoffenber