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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


78. [Plate 64]
The Dark Night of the Soul

Someone wakes up in the middle of the night. A man, or possibly a woman. It hardly matters which. Perhaps it's three a.m. It could as easily be four. The waker doesn't know because the clock has stopped. In any case, it's a long way to dawn.

Perhaps the dawn will never come.

The insomniac may try to dismiss the thought. But it won't go, though it's commanded to do so. It wants to be listened to. It needs to be heard. Perhaps the dawn will never come.

And if it doesn't? What does that mean?

Why, that she - or possibly he - is the only being in all the universe.

All those others? Dreams. Phantasms. The delusions of a diseased imagination. The night is still, and though the insomniac strains to hear the least human noise, there is none. Nor would such a noise prove anything. One thinks, and therefore one knows one is. Anything beyond that is a blind leap of faith into infinite darkness.


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There is no way of proving that those schoolyard bullies, that abusive teacher, that first and faithless love, that despised in-law, those hideous politicians, those bores and tyrants and hypocrites one despises so heartily have any external reality at all. The insomniac could have made them all up an infinity ago, and still be carrying them about because he - maybe she - is simply incapable of imagining anything better.

This would mean that the insomniac is God. But it would also mean that, contrary to all reasonable expectations, God doesn't amount to very much.

Oh, it's a terrible, terrible world, all right, filled with cruelty and greed and despair. But suppose it doesn't exist. Would that really be an improvement?


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This is the 78th of 80 stories by Michael Swanwick written to accompany Francisco Goya's Los Caprichos. For a listing of the most recently available stories, go to The Sleep of Reason.

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