The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
October 26th, 2019
In a caption "Prado" from Francisco Goya’s Los Capricos, he wrote "Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters : united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels."
In this etch resides a duality: There is a need for reason to remain in partnership with faith, because unrestrained fantasy leads to disaster; there is a need for fantasy to remain in partnership with reason, because unrestrained reason leads to disaster.
This is a motif as old as time.
The Ancient Greeks — in their colorful religion — called this moderation, Aristotle — in his process of observation — called this Golden Mean, and Jocko Willink — in his experience as a US Navy SEAL Task Unit Commander — calls this a dichotomy.
In these extremes lives ambiguity, which occurs whenever words, actions, or images may be interpreted in multiple ways.
The Sleep of Reason is an example which leaves the viewer with a strong impression and a number of ambiguous questions.
At first glance, to read just the caption — the first layer — is misleading:
Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters : united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels.
To see why this is misleading, the observer must be willing go deeper, into another layer beyond the first superficial, to find clues:
1."El sueño de la razón produce monstruos." El sueño can be translated as "the sleep" or "the dream".
This may mean the sleep of reason creates monsters, or the dream of reason creates monsters.
2. Around the main person in the etching swirls nightmarish birds and animals: Owls and bats, and behind them a lynx sitting motionless.
Owls are a near universal symbol for wisdom. In Spanish folklore, Owls also represent stupidity.
In Western folklore, Bats are typical symbols of darkness and evil; however, the Lynx — who hunts at night — is presumably observing through the darkness.
Layers upon layers…
3. With this in mind, read Francisco Goya’s motto for the plate again: "Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters : united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the source of her wonders."
Perhaps Francisco Goya is suggesting that both religious reason (scientism) and religious doctrine (dogmatic superstition) are capable of producing nightmares.
Layers upon layers upon layers….
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This post was motivated by the last paragraph in Jules Evans' article Aldous Huxley on upward and downward self-transcendence:
The negative vision shown in Goya’s Sleep of Reason is not the whole story. In fact, the original for the engraving was called The Vision of the Artist, and is arguably a more positive vision."
Etching by Francisco Goya: The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.
Photo taken from Wikipedia.org
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