Vol. XXI, #1 David Antin
Review of Contemporary Fiction
Dream of Dreams, by Antonio Tabucchi
reviewed by Allen Hibbard
Trans. Nancy J. Peters. City Lights, 2000. 136 pp. Paper: $10.95.
“I have often been seized by the desire to know the dreams of artists I have loved,” Antonio Tabucchi writes in a brief note preceding this little book. Propelled by this desire, Tabucci fabricates short dreams of Dedalus, Ovid, Apuleius, Angiolieri, Villon, Rabelais, Caravaggio, Goya, Coleridge, Leopardi, Collodi, Stevenson, Rimbaud, Chekhov, Debussy, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pessoa, Mayakovsky, Lorca, and Freud. (The list itself says a good deal about Tabucci’s tastes and interests.) As intriguing as the conceit is, these dreams hold little surprise; they are all too predictable. Rabelais meets the fantastic glutton Sir Patagruel in his dream. Coleridge’s dream holds a vision of a captain, a ship, and an albatross. In his dream Caravaggio receives the vision for The Calling of St. Matthew. The night before his death Sigmund Freud dreams he is Dora, and as Dora he seems to enjoy the advances of a young man. And so on. “The Last Three Days of Fernado Pessoa: A Delirium,” which follows these ficticious dreams, blurs the line between reality and fantasy, or illusion, in more satisfying ways. As in Broch’s Death of Virgil (though far more compressed), Tabucchi conveys the marvelous sense of a whole life as the modern Portuguese poet conjures imaginary conversations with a handful of old friends: Alvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis, Alberto Caeiro, Bernardo Soares, and Antonio Mora. Clearly Tabucci (qua Pessoa!) creates these characters, or “heteronyms,” as they are termed: “voices that spoke in him and had autonomous lives and biographies.” All of this imagining is exhausting business. “But now I’ve had enough, dear Antonio Mora, living my life has been like living a thousand lives,” Tabucchi’s Pessoa sighs wearily before expiring.