a dream of the Great City

I was in the Great City; all my companions were familiar with the place, knew where to go and what to do, but I had never come here, and at first just stood where I found myself, gazing about in wonder: for over the whole scene a spirit of adventure seemed to preside, and with elation if anything I followed where it led me.

I soon found myself in the company of a young woman who undertook to become my guide; as the young will sometimes do, she adopted a jocular didactic and over-patient manner towards me, and treated me like a not very bright student who needed to be catechized constantly, making me recite every lesson I was learning under her tutelage. She required me to describe clearly what I was seeing, and to say what I thought it meant, and then rebuked me with sharp questions if she thought I was paying insufficient regard to her instruction.

Our way was crowded and very noisy: powerful music played all around us regardless of where we went. Most remarkable, the streets outside, and the floors within buildings that we entered, all crawled with what looked to be huge insects and many-legged worm-like creatures the size of cats or dogs — but they were all mechanical, made of filaments of the airiest gleaming metal or spun glass, streaming across the walls and ceilings as well as the tiles and pavements, twining the legs of tables and chairs, sliding swiftly about our feet, and occasionally climbing a short way up our legs in a delicate exploratory fashion. But no one paid them any mind, and I felt no fear or revulsion — their touch was gentle, even warm, like being brushed by a bird's wing.

Our group swelled and shrank as we made our way: at times my guide and I were members of a team working on a project, such as fitting together a structure or device whose purpose we did not know, and then, when it was completed, going separate ways to further tasks or explorations. At other times we stood together in a multitude, observing a performance or some kind of rite in the distance, which was reduplicated in huge mirrors on either side of the platform — these mirrors reflected and greatly magnified the image and voices of the performers or celebrants, so that we could hear them whisper and detect the subtlest of emotions pass across their faces.

Only once, or rather more than once but in the same place, I was alone. The first time it seemed as if my companion had directed me there, or had sent me off to explore on my own and this is where I fetched up; at a later time, preceding her down a corridor, I opened a door and recognized the place from a previous visit, and said, "The scene of the crime," as if in jest, which she then repeated, looking over my shoulder, and in a pointed way, as if in confirmation, "The scene of the crime."

The place was a tiny, cramped room, not much larger than a storage closet, on an upper balcony overlooking the street or a large atrium — it was impossible to tell from our angle of approach. Inside it was equipped like an old-fashioned scriptorium, in the center of which stood a steeply slanted writing desk. Some kind of volume was under preparation upon its surface: the page being worked on was inscribed only about halfway down; this page was topmost in a stack about as thick as the end joint of my thumb; another sheaf of pages was fastened to its upper edge, and hung upside-down over the back of the raked inscriptorius; these pages were covered with writings and drawings on both sides, as best I could see from just outside the door.

The walls were fitted with shelves all the way from the floor to the ceiling, except for a casement just opposite the desk, where a pebbled-glass window let in hazy light; the shelves were piled — crammed, really — with papers, bottles, sacks, hand tools, and books on end; the narrow aisle between the desk and these shelves was further constricted at the corners by binding and cutting devices that stood about chest high; suspended over the desk was a low chandelier which provided the flickering smoky light of three candle stubs.

I don't remember seeing anyone in this room — indeed, it could hardly accommodate more than one person at a time — and I cannot tell how many times I returned thither, only that the last time, when I pushed open the door, it stuck, as I was suddenly reminded that it always did, and at that I recognized the room, which prompted me to say, in the bantering manner my guide and I had fallen into, "The scene of the crime," and I recalled quite clearly all those details of the room's contents I just listed, and so concluded that I had been there before, even though I had no actual memory of walking around inside — that is, there was no event to which to tie the recollection, so that I could say, "Ah, *this* is where *that* happened!" — but, of course, as soon as I said, "The scene of the crime," and my companion repeated, in her mock-solemn way, "The scene of the crime," I was provided with the very event that permits me now to remember that scene in my dream, and perhaps the whole dream itself.

I have often had the sensation, when absorbed in this or that Writing in the archive, that I actually lived at the time it describes, in that place, among those people. Others have told of having the same feeling, and this mental phenomenon is often ascribed to the vividness of the writing that gives rise to it. It is true of course that bad writing, with its distracting errors, worn-out phrases, imprecisions, and mishaps of expression, can rarely if ever invoke this sense of utter familiarity. But it is also the case that truly brilliant writing can be distracting in much the same way, calling attention to itself and away from what it is attempting to convey — or rather, as it is a beautiful thing in itself, we gaze at it rather than the scene for which it is but the messenger, like an angel whose glory is so dazzling that we cannot comprehend the message it has come to deliver.

No, this feeling of recollection comes from within; it is not called forth by some external stimulus, or not only by that, but by an inner need — and this need is fulfilled, however briefly and imperfectly, when it meets another's inner need to speak, to tell how it is with him, and with those from whom he came, or was sent.

It is the *need* that is utterly familiar, and that meeting is like the one described by those who say that falling in love is not *discovering* the love of their life but *recognizing* the person they have always been in love with. Even if — need it be said? — they have never met before.