Wednesday, June 8, 2022

In My Forgotten Library

It happens every few months. I pull aside a screen, or open a curtain, or reach into an obscure corner of a room, and open the door to a library wing of my house that is not so much secret as forgotten. This library is immense, with bookcases that rise to the ceiling, suffused with light that seems natural, though I see no windows. The nearest bookshelves at my left hand are filled with European history. I recall that last time I was here, I dipped into some books about John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough.

In the early hours this morning, I step into the library room again. It is as I remember it. However, the room from which I enter is different. With its deep green wallpaper, I think it belongs to my next residence, which we are currently renovating, rather than my present house. Lucid inside the dream, it strikes me that I have not gone to the far end of the library wing and should explore what is there. I am surprised to find several people working at a large table.

When one of them turns, I see he is my favorite dead professor. I had many encounters with him over the years since his death, often in a very special research institution. I am skeptical about whether he is really here now, in this time and place. He laughs and peels off a mask. As the goatee and bald pate and glinting spectacles are removed, I see that my helper has been wearing a familiar face. I’m not sure, but I suspect he is the young historian inside my own psyche. A large, comfy lady at the table seems quite solid. In her shapeless print dress, she’s not putting on any fa├žade. Her name is Maureen, and she is available for research assignments. The third figure, male, is not introduced.

“What are you working on?”

“Parallel lives.”

Of course. A perennial theme. When I met my dead professor at a research institute twenty years ago, he showed me this was his main work. Not simply Parallel Lives as Plutarch wrote them, coupling biographies of prominent Greeks and Romans, but a branch of Metahistory: the study of how the dramas or people living in different times and places can turn on each other, shifting each other’s lives. Back them, my dead professor was studying the interaction between the lives of Lenin and an ancient tyrant. Dionysius of Syracuse. I wonder who will most reward my study now? Maybe Maureen can tell me.

- Unedited journal report, June 8, 2022



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