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.
Walking down the street I entered one of those passageways that are created when a city block is undergoing renovation. It was longer than usual and I was starting to feel hemmed in. Finally it ended and I had a view of the open sky again between the buildings. It was even greyer than usual, the clouds were pregnant with rain. As I carried walking along I kept on staring at the sky, I had this anticipation of some kind of inauguration. The clouds coalesced into an eye enclosed within a triangle inside a double circle. I saw the workings of the system, all the letters and words and symbols revealed their latent content to my new self. The weight of the revelation overwhelmed me and I passed out.
In fact I was sleeping on the bus driving through the countryside, the whole vision had been a dream. I looked out of the window and saw up ahead a massive sprawling council estate that seemed oddly out-of-place in the valley that was hundreds of miles away from any urban area. The ominous feeling that everything was off-kilter only increased as the bus inched closer to the development and I could see the smoke rising from the burning buildings. The bus pulled to a halt at a bus stop even though a riot was in full swing and it was being pelted with bricks and Molotov cocktails. A stone shattered the window and hit me on the temple and I immediately lost consciousness.
But I was actually under sedation the whole time and I was lying in a hospital bed. Coming too I briefly remembered my dream within a dream, before going back to sleep.
Then I woke up for real but it felt like those Russian dolls, you open it and inside is an identical smaller doll that opens to reveal yet another identical doll only smaller and so on. A nausea inducing object lesson in infinity.
Nightly, though sometimes in the daytime too, it has to be admitted, whenever I close my eyes, empty my mind and begin to drift, you appear against a shimmering, shifting background of various shades of blue. Sky, Klein, Royal, Electric. The hues of sex, sorrow and the sense of shame that can only be savoured because there is no succour to be found anywhere in this world.
An anthology of every one of your conceivable postures is imprinted indelibly upon my memory.
Sometimes you tentatively gesture with your forefinger, knowing full well that your feigned shyness is the ultimate aphrodisiac and that I will follow you wherever.
The red zonal markings of your target areas (mouth, tongue, the areola, the labial lips and the cleft of your cunt) beckon to me against the white hesitations of your flesh. You lead me into the shower where the water beats against our shoulders while outside the rain drums against the windows and the roof. I hold your glacial stare with difficultly (never have I known such icy depths) as we embrace each other with one arm (our other hands exploring our respective tropics).
Some nights I am rendered immobile. Yet you still approach, straddle my face with your firm flanks as you take me in your mouth.
While on the still deeper nights, you torment me with black echoes of our imagined union with a succession of strangers –your heavy breasts rubbing against the swollen nipples of a series of sluts or mounted from behind by a stable of studs.
During the interminable nights (and days too, if the truth be told) you taunt me, tease me, tempt me, tie me, bind me… I can never get enough, I will never be sated; this fire cannot be quenched.
Till the time when I unwillingly open my eyes and the vision vanishes, all my lust fades in the grey half-light of an ashen dawn and I am left with an unbearable leaden ache in the centre of my being that weighs down every passing moment. That is, until I fall asleep again.
As I noted in my previous post on the brilliant Brazilian photographer Nadia Maria, Heavenly Bodies, she derives much of her inspiration from the fleeting visions glimpsed before sleep and from dreams themselves, hence the dark evocative atmosphere she portrays so poetically in each image. Nadia Maria manages to capture perfectly the sense of imminent transformation that we all experience when we dream, where nothing is as it appears to be and everything has the potential to become something other. Here on the night-side the uncertain self is confronted with all the sublimity and terror of being.
Why were boys so oblivious? She watched and waited, wet and oh so ready, just inches away from their blatant erections. How ridiculous —a hard-on with nowhere to go. Would any of them even know what to do if they managed to get a willing partner to fuck? Had all their primal instincts been so dulled that a layer of cotton was enough to obstruct what their senses should have detected? What was it going to take? Her guiding a pair of shaking hands to her overheated, soaking flesh? Shoving him flat on his back to sit on his face and drown him in the flood from the delta between her thighs? She bit her lip in frustration.
She liked one boy in particular. Gloomy, androgynous and so very pretty —she had been immediately attracted to him. He was just her type. And although he was initially curt and surly, she could tell that he liked her too. They inevitably found each other at the same parties. And though his attitude remained inarticulately hesitant, his eyes told a different story. He wanted her. The question was how to transform this unstated desire into a demonstrated reality. Surely she wouldn’t have to make all the moves?
Back in her room, she slowly undressed in front of the full length mirror. She studied her body with clinical detachment. What would he see when he looked at her? Would he find the shape of her breasts pleasing? Would he stare at them, unable to resist touching them with his long, clever fingers, caressing them with his palms, running his tongue over the stiffening nipples and across the bruise-colored aureoles? And then would he suck them? Pull each tightened peak into his mouth, simultaneously gaining comfort and driving his lust? Maybe he would French fuck them, thrust his cock between them, rub the tip against her nipples until, at last, the moment arrived and every drop of come had been squeezed out, adorning her elegant neck with a glistening pearl necklace. The girl in the mirror touched those taut peaks, feeling them pucker in anticipation of something more. Would the boy know what to do? Would he know how? Would he be shocked and offended at her lust, the desires that she needed so desperately and immediately to fulfill?
She ran a hand over her heated skin to her navel. Maybe he would flood her belly button with his semen. Maybe he would trace a finger through it and write his name on her stomach or across her rib cage. Her own fingers swirled the four letters of his name. She was soaking now, heart beating rapidly, breathing quickened. What else would he do to her? Would he stroke the peeled wands that were her slender arms, the serpentine smoothness of the skin in the hollows of her thighs? Would he find arousal at the overripe strawberry of her anus? Or would he be satisfied with her breasts, her eager and willing mouth, her slick cunt? Her fingers trailed lower. The girl in the mirror sighed.
Absorption in such questions while you are alone and naked in a room in front of a mirror can only lead to one thing. Her body flushed with the heat of arousal, her depths drenched and aching to be filled with his length, she took one last look in the mirror and moved to the bed. She imagined him coming to her as she lay back and spread her legs wide. With both hands she lightly caressed the inside of her thighs, her need now urgent, the delay a sweet torture. When finally parted her labial lips, she was so wet she could easily insert three fingers. With a soft moan, she pushed in deep.
(This wouldn’t have seen the light of day without the invaluable editorial advice of Megan from Murmer and Sigh. Please visit her wonderful site.)
The ethereal portraits of Brazilian photographer Nadia Maria evokes the mysterious borderland between waking and dreams. Citing the hypnagogic visions glimpsed in the moments before sleep as the primary source of her creativity, Maria shows solitary figures (usually women) enmeshed in constellations of stars or seemingly about to undergo a transformation to an entirely different order of being. These photographs confront us with the beautifully bizarre revelations that we each experience nightly when we close our eyes and that we seek to dismiss every morning; though no light is strong enough to totally dispel that blissful darkness that is the source of all true inspiration.
Although sleep is one of the few shared activities common to all humanity, it is also the most private. What we experience during our sleeping hours is untranslatable during the daylight.
The way we sleep depends upon time and place, especially latitude. The view depicting in movies of our prehistoric ancestors huddled together for warmth and safety from predators in the communal cave as soon as the sun set is probably not far from the mark as the same basic pattern can be found, in a more sophisticated fashion, in Anglo-Saxon and Viking settlements, where all members of the clan would sleep on a raised parapet above a sunken, blazing fire in the Great Hall of a powerful chieftain, who would nevertheless sleep amongst his subjects. In the fortified keeps and castles of the later medieval period in Ireland and Britain elements of social stratification can be seen as now the presiding figures that controlled life within the castle have their own separate bedchambers.
Great changes in societal patterns were occurring in the city states of what is now Italy. A benevolent climate where the amounts of daylight and night-time are more equally distributed throughout the year led to lives less overwhelmed by the struggle for mere survival and the flourishing of the first recognizable modern cities. From these states came merchant princes and an artisan middle class involved in completely new professions. At night the streets were lit and families lived more spaciously in single family dwellings. As lives were less arduous it was no longer necessary to retire as early or to rise at dawn. It is a curious fact that the two presiding genius of the Renaissance, Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci slept for less than four hours a night.
From this point onwards Western society was bent upon colonizing the night. With electricity the conquest was completed. Whereas candlelight and oil lamps seemed to re-enforce the nature of the surrounding night, electricity completely dispels darkness, replacing it with an artificial daytime. Soon the traditional conceptions of diurnal night and day will have no meaning, instead we have a twenty-four hour neuter-time that neither begins or ends. Technical acumen has made possible the manufacture of machines, robots and computers, whose main selling point is that they never tire, never sleep and never stop.
Increasingly prevalent in the work-driven and success haunted West is the idea that sleep is an enemy, only enjoyed by the idle and unambitious. Go getters only unwillingly submit to a hopefully dreamless sleep when absolutely required to preserve sanity, and even then for the shortest period possible. Upon waking the inexplicable images that the helpless dreamer witnessed are dispelled by the light of the working day and dismissed as irrelevant. Are we too far off a time when a sleep deprived scientist, every hour ridden by waking nightmares re-engineers and genetically alters an unborn child so that it will never sleep? And when that happens can we consider that person who, having never experienced nightly oblivion, that plunge into an endless ocean where unremitting self-consciousness is blissfully, if only temporarily relinquished, human at all?
Here’s another chance…
I have never really been present
In the right here,
The right now.
I am never fully awake
Until I close my eyes
And live the dreamlife.
Haunted by the memory of the woman
Who was in turn possessed
By another love
Who bore a supernatural
Resemblance to the original
Girl I loved long ago who was
Haunted by the memory.
But here’s another,
You remind me of someone,
Yes someone I once knew.
If only you were a little blonder
And would change the clothes you wear
That shade of lipstick is all wrong
Here, try this on
It’s not exact
But maybe it will do
In this half light yes
You could even be her.
And while drowning in your grey eyes
I see reflected
Back at me my own copper eyes
Then I see myself
In your body and in turn
Your body in mine
If only we could come
Together as one
After all it may not be impossible
Identities can have a tendency
To converge at a certain intensity
When the world outside this room
Recedes and is finally banished
When the only reality
Is that of pure sensation.
So here’s another,
Here’s another, here’s another:
Here’s another chance
For you to be with me,
Just come to me
And I’ll turn you on to the dreamlife.
Part of the startling, haunted In Rooms series by American photographer and model Brittany Markert, Wake Up, Wake Up, shows a woman (Brittany herself) peacefully asleep in a sunlight room. Hovering above and seemingly emanating from the dreaming figure is a blurred, enlarged astral projection or doppelganger, with a hand clutching the base of the neck and the face contorted in what could be either sexual ecstasy or the distress felt upon waking from a particularly troubling nightmare.
Wake Up, Wake Up, was recently shown at the Magica Sexualis exhibition at the Stephen Romano gallery in New York, another exhibition (see Rituals) highlighting the connection between art and the occult. Influenced by the Surrealists (the work of Francesca Woodman would also appear to be a touchstone), the ritualistic, hallucinatory nature of the photographs of In Rooms suggest a knowledge of certain aspects of the esoteric.