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There are short stories I read and respect. The author wrote them well, perfect technique, clever words, and fine, fine phrases. Just one of those phrases, I know, would take decades for me to conjure. Thanks to the spread of writing workshops no one will ever again be at a loss for finely crafted short stories such as these.
But there are also stories that after reading leave me raw in the gut. These stories also have perfect technique and clever words and fine, fine phrases, but they possess another mysterious element that makes them seem written for me alone. Their revelations are so true that I feel not so much taught as reminded. They remind me of my nature and my past and give words to the indefinite parts of my being.
This for me is one of those stories. I could find it nowhere else online, and the collection it is from is hard to find in bookstores. So here is
In Dreams Begin Responsibilities by Delmore Schwartz
I think it is the year 1909. I feel as if I were in a motion picture theatre, the long arm of light crossing the darkness and spinning, my eyes fixed on the screen. This is a silent picture as if an old Biograph one, in which the actors are dressed in ridiculously old-fashioned clothes, and one flash succeeds another with sudden jumps. The actors too seem to jump about and walk too fast. The shots themselves are full of dots and rays, as if it were raining when the picture was photographed. The light is bad.
I am not a great drinker but today I understandably wanted whisky and I took another double shot of Black Label. From the skyscraper I could contemplate the air of Chicago on this short December afternoon. A ragged western sun spread orange light over the dark shapes of the town, over the branches of the river and the black trusses of bridges. The lake, gilt silver and amethyst, was ready for its winter cover of ice. I happened to be thinking that if Socrates was right, that you could learn nothing from trees, that only the men you met in the street could teach you something about yourself, I must be in a bad way, running off into the scenery instead of listening to my human companions. Evidently I did not have a good stomach for human companions. To get relief from uneasiness or heaviness of heart I was musing about the water. Socrates would have given me a low mark. I seemed rather to be on the Wordsworth end of things —trees, flowers, water. But architecture, engineering, electricity, technology had brought me to this sixty-fourth story. Scandinavia had put this glass in my hand, Scotland had filled it with whisky, and I sat there recalling certain marvelous facts about the sun, namely, that the light of other stars when it entered the sun’s gravitational field, had to bend. The sun wore a shawl made of this universal light. So Einstein, sitting thinking of things, had foretold. And observations made by Arthur Eddington during an eclipse proved it. Finding before seeking.