Heavy Dreams (Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky)

Quantin followed the procession for a few minutes out of morbid curiosity. The choice of narrower side streets, where it was easier to enlist the wall’s support, was probably deliberate, he thought, but then a long notice stuck to the stone exactly at eye level arrested his attention and, with it, his progress. The notice—in the manner of a proper, not overly pushy advertisement—listed the advantages ofso-called heavy dreams. Having come across the subject once before, Quantin read the fine print carefully, line by line: “The main advantage of the heavy industry of nightmares over the light industry of golden threads plunged into brain fibrils, over the production of so-called sweet dreams, is that in marketing our nightmares we can guarantee that they will come true, we can hand our customers ‘turnkey dreams.’ Sweet dreams cannot withstand reality, sleepy reveries wear out faster than socks; whereas a heavy dream, a simple but well-made nightmare, is easily assimilated by life. Where dreams unburdened by anything disappear like drops of water in the sand, dreams containing a certain harshness will, as they evaporate in the sun, leave a hard kernel on the roof of Plato’s famous cave: these dposits will collect and accrue, eventually forming a swordlike stalactite.

“Speaking in more modern terms,” the fine print went on, “our nightmares, weighing as they do on the brain, gradually form a sort of moral ceiling that is always about to come crashing down on one’s head: some of our customer’s call this ‘world history.’ But that’s not the point. The point is the durability, unwakeability, high depressiveness, and wide availability of our nightmares: mass-market products good for all eras and classes, nighttime and daytime, moonlight and sunlight, closed eyes and open.”

From Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s short story “The Branch Line,” collected in NYRB’s Memories of the Future (translation by Joanne Turnbull).

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