Sunday, March 2, 2014

A thought experiment

In 1799, Don Francisco Goya de Lucientes advertised  a series of prints for sale: “A Collection of Prints of Capricious Subjects,” [“Los Caprichos].  Plate 43 of a collection is

El sueño
 de la razon
[The Sleep/ of Reason/produces/monsters].

Goya's caption for this print is

“Fantasy abandoned by reason 
produces impossible monsters;
 united with her, 
she is the mother of the arts 
source of their wonders.”

I am intrigued by what Goya saw as monsters† produced by reason's sleep, unaided by fantasy.

Goya lived between end of the Enlightenment†† and the beginning of Romanticism†††. [If you are or wish you were an art critic or historian, see here and here.]  We now Citizens of the World find ourselves near the end of the of the 20th Century's Age of he Million-Killers‡, and the beginning of . . . what?

At least we can say that there is a shortage of  empathy in the world's political life; and a lack of affection.

How would you depict the sleep of empathy?  How would you show empathy aided by fantasy?

In a later post I'll show you how those images seem to me, who am now 80 years old.  They'll probably appear differently to younger folks.


†  From Simon, The Sleep of Reason
The word capricho--in English, caprice--implies whimsicality, playfulness, fancy. But Goya's prints were hardly that: as he himself explained them, their subject matter was selected from "the innumerable foibles and follies to be found in any civilized society, and from the common prejudices and deceitful practices which custom, ignorance, or self-interest have made usual. . . and which, at the same time, stimulate the artist's imagination."
. . . Goya shows a man asleep, his head resting on his folded arms. Owls and bats fly menacingly around his head; at his feet, a lynx sits motionless, alert and staring. Bats, bloodsucking creatures of the night, evoked associations with the devil; owls, . . . were at the time symbols of "mindless stupidities," not, as we might suppose today, of wisdom. Yet there is an intimation of wisdom in this unsettling scene: the ability to see through darkness and perceive truth from error was the special talent of the lynx. The sleeper is none other than an artist himself, offered a piece of artist's chalk by one of the owls. 
††  Google Definition of Enlightenment
a European intellectual movement of the late 17th and 18th centuries emphasizing reason and individualism rather than tradition. It was heavily influenced by 17th-century philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, and Newton, and its prominent exponents include Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Adam Smith.
††† Google definition of Romanticism
a movement in the arts and literature that originated in the late 18th century, emphasizing inspiration, subjectivity, and the primacy of the individual. [Google appears not to think highly of Romanticism.]
‡ We of the West, and especially of the United Sates, think of the Million-Killers as embodied by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, the slaughterers of the Tutsi; We citizens of Germany, Russia, China, Japan may think of Churchill, Roosevelt, Truman. Victors always write history; we who have access to the internet needn't be so provincial.

The English language produced some marvels in the 20t h Century: W. B. Yates, Ezra Pound, Dylan Thomas, Bertrand Russell, Alan Ginsberg, e. e. cummings . . . but Goya wasn't focused on marvels and I'm not either, in this blog.

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