Bewildering Stories

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Welles and Borges: Two Dreams

by Steven Utley

I once listened with a sort of envious horror as Bruce Sterling described a dream of his in which he had been trapped aboard a whaling ship infested with gigantic centipedes. My own dreams tend to be drawing-room tragicomedies, in which the most nightmarish occurrence is that I inadvertently use the wrong fork at table; inasmuch as my dreams give steady employment to a repertory company comprising old lovers, friends, and family members, you may imagine my humiliation.

Occasionally, though, there are guest stars, recurring guest stars — and not just any old recurring guest stars, either, but Mozart, Artie Shaw, and John, Paul, George, and Ringo (never together, as The Beatles, always separately, as former Beatles; you tell me). And, every now and then I intercept something Dream Central patently intended for my friend Howard Waldrop, the sort from which he always awakens determined to write The ______ (fill in blank) Story, and for which, meticulous researcher that he is, he then sets about devising all the rationalizations necessary to support its premise. If what follows isn’t a Waldrop-story-idea type of dream, I’d like to know what is:

Sometime during the early 1950s, Orson Welles found himself on the outs with every major Hollywood studio and, so, being desperate for work, accepted an offer from Republic Studios to make a movie serial. The major portion of this dream was taken up with the serial itself, a crime saga that wasn’t literally Touch of Evil melded with Fighting Devil Dogs, but something awfully like that. It starred Dorothy Dandridge and (my impression was) other screen notables of the day who were willing to appear in a serial, for scale, simply to be able to work with Welles.

I dreamed that in April 1999. Early in June 2002 — probably apropos of my then-current (and, up to and beyond that point, unsuccessful) efforts to devise fresh solutions to the same old story-telling problems, and undoubtedly inspired by Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature (1980), which I had kept handy while reading Joyce’s Ulysses — I dreamed that I was back in college, living in a two-room suite atop a coed dorm, and taking a course in painting taught by Jorge Luis Borges. I was not making progress. Finally, in desperation, I went to him and said, I don’t think I can finish this course. I’m lousy with colors, whatever I put on canvas ends up looking like mud.

It’s okay, Borges may have replied, I’m blind anyway.

You tell me.

Copyright © 2004 by Steven Utley

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