by Grant Smuts

I’m trying to define my existence. Coming to grips with humanity, or rather what humanity means to me.

I wondered about those dreams you have that you can’t remember when you wake up. What you do remember is the feeling they leave behind. Cobwebs without spiders. Empty cocoons.

You have a nightmare and you wake up in a cold sweat, but when you try to think about what it was that was so frightening, you can’t recall it.

Or you rise from a pleasant dream, with a smile on your face, but when you think about it, the details just… Slip through your fingers.

All you’re left with is blind sensation, without reason. And then you start chasing those emotions, those strange nameless passions, born from a feeling that you can no longer define, much less understand.

I think that’s what life is: the search for the ineffable. There are things we’re too small to understand, but we chase them anyway. What else can we do?

Gene Wolfe wrote that there are things weaker than our words for them. I believe ‘humanity’ is one of those words. That thing we hold to a high standard, but which inevitably disappoints. That dream of humanity, of Jean-Jacques Rousseau is something that I can’t believe is possible in the 21st century. Yet I think of the heroes I admire. Everyone likes those gritty anti-heroes – the ones with the tragic backstory, with kindness masked beneath brutal natures. That’s been the flavour of the month.

But I admire paragons. The ones we cannot be, yet strive to emulate. At least, that was the point of their creation. The culture today tends towards a mistrust of those beyond our meager selves. We cannot ‘relate’, so we deny, instead of seeking inspiration. Can we not see anything beyond ourselves? Has humanity become so small that dreams have to be something easy to attain and grasp? Or do we need to learn to push ourselves? To become more than what we are.

The idea is a dream, one that we woke from. The paragon, and the dream of a beautiful humanity has become an empty cobweb. But instead of seeking the spider, we have sought to do away with the web. Will we forget what it is to be better than what we are? Will we accept bitter cynicism as the only recourse when confronted by heroes?

Of course, I’m not free of this either.  I subscribed to the notion that humanity is smaller than fate. Smaller than the cosmos. Smaller than the inevitable, the ineluctable.
Where The Gods Lie Dreaming became a desire to express the feeling one might have, to find yourself in a place that you’ve never been to, but remember, to look upon the ocean or the mountain, and feel a fear older than your memories and never know why, to never understand what it was that guides you, that drives you.

I couldn’t write a paragon in the end. I couldn’t write a hero free of sin, and filled with compassion.

But I will one day.