Francisco de Goya created an 80-piece edition Los Caprichos, or The Caprices, at the very end of the 1700s as a flinty sociopolitical commentary on the rude vices of his native Spain. At the time they weren't popular with only twenty seven sold (Ascarelli 2007). He sold them at a scent and liquor shop in Madrid instead of at a more traditional bookstore (Ascarelli 2007). Perhaps the most famous of Los caprichos is "El sueno de la razon produce monstruos": the sleep of reason brings forth monsters. It is said to be a a self-portrait of the artist surrounded by demonic-looking animals. It was intended as the frontispiece for the series, but instead, Goya created another, more traditional, self-portrait as the frontispiece and buried 'The Sleep of Reason produces monsters' well within the series, as plate 43 (Johnson). The Spanish word 'el sueno' can be interpreted as either 'dream' or sleep. Therefore, there is debate over whether he meant 'The sleep of reason produces monsters' or 'The dreams of reason produce monsters?' (Ascarelli 2007). Reinforcing this dispute, Biebricher (2007) suggests the title may be understood as either a 'Modernist motto' or a 'sceptical statement' that seems more in line with Postmodernism. The former being a commitment to reason while the latter suggests it is dangerous to dream the dream of reason. Similarly, Kearney (2003) suggests two different meanings based on the dream/sleep debate. Firstly, 'reason must govern the imagination', it must be watchful, otherwise the 'forces of darkness', will be 'unleashed on humanity'. Alternatively, a more romantic approach is that the 'rationalist dreams'promoted by the 'Enlightenment' are just as capable of producing their own 'monstrous aberrations'. A visionary work he linked it to the art of Blake's Tiepolo. A piece from early in his career, it is said to be a critisism of human errors and vices (Ascarelli 2007). The meaning behind it is difficult as much of the subjects in Goya's works are often obscure and interpretation is purposely difficult. However, Professor Blackburn (1999) discusses its meaning in his book Think. He suggests that Goya believed that many of the 'follies of mankind resulted from the sleep of reason' (Blackburn 1999, p. 10). In other words, when we omit critical thinking or analysis of beliefs or ideas, our perceptions are often distorted. He suggests that 'convictions are infectious' (Blackburn 1999, p. 11) therefore, we must be alert to this. He proposes that we reflect regularly on our beliefs and ideas to question whether our perspectives on a situation are either correct or misguided. The "monsters" are bats and owls flying around Goya in his dream. Robert Hughes (2003) suggests the owls do not represent wisdom; but rather 'the stereotype of mindless stupidity', which apparently was how owls were seen in Spanish folklore in Goya's time. Similarly, he suggests the bats are 'creatures of night, and thus of ignorance-and possibly of bloodsucking evil as well, in their association with the devil'. These animals are balanced by the watchful lynx, a creature, it was believed, that 'could see through the thickest darkness and immediately tell truth from error' (Hughes cited in Uglow 2003, p.1). The dozing intellectual is seen as Goya himself with the owl offering him an artist's chalk Goya's full motto for his etching is: 'Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the source of her wonders'. It would appear the etching highlights the value of rational thought and reflection. Without this process there is no correction of thought or elimination of bad elements in our practices. In the words of Foucault (1990, p.9) .....what is philosophy today [...] if it is not the critical work that thought brings to bear on itself? In what does it consist, if not in the endeavor to know how and to what extent it might be possible to think differently, instead of legitimating what is already known...... Targeting modern day evils Enrique Chagoya known for his subversive, cartoony and collaged images later made prints that updated Goya's demons. He depicted Tomahawk missiles and Apache helicopters insted of the bats and owls (Ascarelli 2007). This appears to be a reference to the 'monsters' of modern war. "Imagine Baghdad under fire," Chagoya says, "and you don't know where to hide for a whole night, weeks, months, years. That's worse than any bat or devil. We're worse than any devil cheating you to get your soul to Hell. In this case, you send people to Hell, whether or not you have any thought. To me that's Hell. And to me that's the sleep of reason today." Also according to Ascarelli (2007) one of the quirkier links is that Goya's name is embedded in Chagoya's, something which the contemporary artist plays with when signing his Goya-inspired prints: "Cha Goya."
References Ascarelli, B. 2007, Proto-Modernist: Two centuries after Goya, the Sleep of Reason snoozes on, accessed 13 December 2008. Blackburn, S. 1999, Think: A compelling introduction to Philosophy, Oxford University Press. Biebricher, T. 2007, Habermas and Foucault: Deliberative Democracy and Strategic State Analysis, Contemporary Political Theory, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 218-245. Foucault, M. 1990, The History of Sexuality. Vol. 2. The Use of Pleasure , Vintage Books Inc, New York. Hughes, R. 2003, Goya's sleep of reason, accessed 13 December 2008. Johnson, H. F. Museum of Art, Cornell University, accessed 13 December 2008. Kearney, R. 2003, 'Terror, Philosophy and the Sublime: Some Philosophical Reflections on 11 September', Philosophy and Social Criticism, vol. 29, no.1 p 28. Uglow, J. 2003, Bringing Forth Monsters, New York Times, accessed 13 December 2008.
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The cast of The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters - 2008 includes: Jason Rackow as Radio Announcer
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Francisco de Goya .
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