The Sleep of Reason

goya-capricho-431
Francisco Goya-The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters 1799
The Spanish artist Francisco Goya (1746-1828), along with the English poet and artist William Blake (1757-1827) and the French pornographer and philosopher the Marquis De Sade (1740-1816) completed the Enlightenment by showing its reverse. These very different figures with very different opinions and beliefs instinctively realised that humanity cannot bear the harsh glare of reason for too long, and that you ignore the dark irrational impulses residing within the mind at your peril.

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters is No 43 of the 80 etchings that comprise the satirical series Los Caprichos. Showing the artist asleep at his work desk, he is surrounded by the creatures of the night, including owls, which from the Middle Ages symbolised folly, and bats.The full epigraph for this etching states, ‘Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels.’

Goya however was fascinated by these monsters produced by the sleep of reason. From 1790 onward Goya produced one searing work after another on the subjects of the Witches Sabbath, the disasters of war, the continued presence of superstition and the horrors of the Inquisition. In his home outside Madrid in the last years of his life he produced the brilliant yet extremely  disturbing murals known as the Pinturas Negras (see Painting It Black and The Dog).

The last thirty years has seen an excess of rationality, a supposed end of history as the globe embraced free markets and liberal democracy and we all bowed to the logic that quantity would bring quality of life. As Goya, De Sade and Blake showed us at the end of the eighteenth century, examples that Nietzsche and Freud followed and expanded, reason only satisfies so much before it becomes too much. At the moment we are drifting off into sleep, waiting for the monsters produced to be unleashed.

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87 thoughts on “The Sleep of Reason

  1. Wonderful! I have the complete etchings of Goya in my library and thumb through them from time to time. The Disasters of War are horrific. I have tried to imitate them in some of my poems, but words can never match the brutality of those thick, sketched lines. And you are right: I fear some of the nightmares are waking up and may soon come back to haunt us.

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    1. i tried to be balanced here. Surrealism was obsessed by the irrational, but so was Fascism. I do believe that we can only bear so much rationality. I also tried to link with other figures, blake and De Sade, but the analogies are not far-fetched. They all saw, in completely different ways the flaw with the enlightenment project. Neo-liberalism is an extension of that reductive philosophy and at some point its got to go. Question is;what will replace it.

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    2. By the way I wasn’t ignoring your point regarding The Disasters of War. No writer ever could capture the visceral impact of that series. The old cliche about a painting saying 1,000 words is true, and then some. However language has its advantages as well.

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      1. Alas, that is so true of Goya’s best art. Just sit and wonder. Reason’s Dream seems to mark a transition from social satire to a more elevated Jungian style exploration of the dream universe. Very interesting.

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  2. Excellent write up. The scales are never balanced, are they? It’s too heavy on one side then the other. As if reason and fantasy, love and logic, art and science, cannot mutually exist. And politically… don’t the extremes always seem too wield the most power? Or at least have the loudest voices? It makes me a little queasy to talk about this. I feel we are on the brink of an enormous nightmare. With greater monsters than owls and bats and coyotes. (If those are coyotes, its something I have in common with Goya – they inhabit my dreams often) I’m sorry it took so long for me to comment. I couldn’t formulate my thoughts very well this morning, especially on such a depressing subject.

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    1. Sorry I didn’t mean to be depressing, though I did get carried away with my join the dots between Goya, De Sade and Blake and the people Cake likes with my usual bleak commentary on human nature. I do think that the excesses of unshackled capitalism over the past thirty years (ever since the Berlin Wall fall, there was no longer a competing system after that) has been reductive. People need more, especially as we were told this is the best system we were ever going to get. Hence the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, populism etc. I will try to do a cheery post next time.

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  3. Timely and so well written. Thank you. Blake is a favorite for the reasons you mentioned. I liked how you describe “the harsh glare of reason.” Really theres a point where it’s not reason anymore. In the work I do in special education I had a mentor who said about behaviorism, “for it to work you have to be contingency driven not rule governed.” I think people confused empiricism with truth.

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    1. Excellent point. The Enlightenment and the various liberalisms deny human nature or better yet ignore it all together. And empiricism isn’t necessarily truth and human nature is frequently perverse and yet longs for transcendence. Thank you for the kind comments.

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      1. I think that’s the biggest paradigm to shatter that “empiricism isn’t necessarily truth.” I believe people search for evidence through the scientific method only to reinforce their own limited truth. We see it all the time in psychological, scientific, and medical research & practice. We are always aghast when we find out that we are wrong yet we keep repeating the same problems.

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      2. Will science only really got going after Cortes met Montezuma, an event Marx called the most important event in history, because for the first time capital could go global. You have your philosophy to fit the reality on the ground. Materialism as a theory could be utilised as a way of life for every soul on the planet. And that is where we are at. But it’s limitations are quite apparent.

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    2. Hecate, or The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy-William BlakeWilliam Blake is the occult artist.  Drawing from the various dissenting and mystical currents…
      The Marriage of Heaven & Hell
      magic,william blake,the marriage of heaven & hell,the doors of perception,hecate,elohim creating adam,romanticism,art
      https://cakeordeathsite.wordpress.com/2016/07/23/the-marriage-of-heaven-hell/
      Here is a link to my previous post on Blake. Hope you enjoy.

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  4. Wonderful post Mr. Cake. Three major players! When does too much of a good thing, become too much of a good thing? Who sets the standards? Why wait for sleep, we walk among the nightmares everyday. As Vic mentioned, a very thought-provoking post. ~ Miss Cranes

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    1. Thank you Miss Cranes I am glad you enjoyed. I know the three major players do not have much in common apart from living in roughly the same era, but I do think they all saw the flaws in the Enlightenment project. I also think they are not mere historical curiosities but have a lot to say about any given period because they concerned themselves with human nature. I suppose my main point is summed up in the full epigraph, we have been living in a period of rationality and it has ignored those aspects of human nature in its quest for quantity. Glad you think it is thought provoking, I look forward to hearing if I am way off base or if I have touched on uncomfortable truths.

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      1. Denial and complacency perhaps at least in this here western culture of which I am a part. It certainly looks as though we’re about to embark on this cyclical dark course again, difficult to not be apprehensive.

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  5. Hi Cake… I have always loved “Los Caprichos” and this one especially.
    I didn´t know what Sade & Goya had in common. That´s very well pointed out!.
    Something that I´d like to say is that probably the artists related to the Jewsih Holocaust, mainly the Frankfurt School members seem to retake this idea of Reason becoming crazy, so to speak.
    I am thinking of Walter Benjamin´s interpretation of Paul Klee´s painting “Angelus Novus”. Check this out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angelus_Novus . Sending all my best wishes for a new week ahead 😉 ❤

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    1. Thank you so much for the link. Brilliant. I have read a fair amount of Benjamin’s Arcades Project and his essay on Surrealism but hadn’t come across that. The Sade/Goya/Blake connection is own I made myself so it mightn’t exist outside my head (I have written a bit about all three and like most people I long for a grand unifying narrative) though strangely enough Adorno devotes an essay in Dialectics of Enlightenment (I think that is the title) on De Sade’s Justine (maybe it is Juliette, it has been a long time since I read it) where he positions the novel as a logical extension of the Kantian categorical imperative into the sexual sphere and hence De Sade as an enlightenment figure. Obviously from my post I would refute that line of reasoning, though they belong to the Enlightenment they are figure of the counter Enlightenment, hence their modernity. As for Reason, I would reiterate that their is only so much Reason humanity can bear before it goes crazy. Thanks for the detailed comment, hope I haven’t contradicted myself here, I fear that you would destroy my arguments with your intelligence in a second.

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      1. I liked the fact that you described De Sade’s Justine as a logical extension of the Kantian categorical imperative into the sexual sphere. A good way to mix it up. I see what you are pointing out. However I just read some excerpts of that book. In fact, once we have done a sort of literary meeting, a male friend read an excerpt. I remembered I blushed, I was a mere teenager 😉 It was the first time I smoked weed, all too odd 😀 Anyway back to your reply: yes as To Adorno. I knew someone from The Frankfurt School had written a more specific essay and it was him. Its title is: “Dialectic of Enlightenment”. I recommend you to read Benjamin´s biography. He died as a jew, just after he was caught by the nazis, he commited suicide…. Thank you for your post & comments. Love & best wishes. 😉

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      2. Thank you Aquileana, I am kind of thrilled to hear that little biographical nugget there, I like confidences. I have written a series of posts on my neighbour the Divine Marquis as he was certainly a fascinating character. I will send you the links if you are interested. I will read Benjamins biography, I knew about the suicide, also that he was a gambler. My love and best wishes in return.

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