the deaf man’s house: paint it black

Somehow with Francisco Goya, we never quite ask why a man whose friends in maturity were among the most enlightened thinkers and the most devoted moralists of the age of reason; a man who, we have kept telling ourselves, shared their convictions, yet gave so little indication in his powerful art that reasonable convictions can be translated into effective action or even that there is a moral obligation to make an effort in that direction.

Goya. Pilgrimage to San Isidro. Jesse Bering:In a 2007 article published in the journal "Synthese," University of Arizona philosopher Shaun Nichols puts it this way: "When I try to imagine my own nonexistence I have to imagine that I perceive or know about my nonexistence. No wonder there's an obstacle!" This observation may not sound like a major revelation, but I bet you've never considered what it actually means, which is that your own mortality is unfalsifiable from the first-person perspective. This obstacle is why the 19th-century German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe allegedly remarked that "everyone carries the proof of his own immortality within himself." Read more: image:

The answer to the contradiction may be inherent in some of Goya’s last, pehaps greatest, and certainly most personal paintings: the murals in his villa near Madrid, the “Quinta de Sordo” or Deaf Man’s House. He bought the villa in 1819, when he was seventy-two years old, and during the next three years covered its wall with his famous “black paintings”. Black in tone, relieved only by lurid shades of raw color, and black in spirit without relief of any kind, the murals represent a congress of witches, skeletons, crones, violent gods, hysterics, monsters, and lunatics: howling, struggling, dancing, feasting, on one another in a final triumph which was a combination of primeval genesis and the consummation of the power of darkness.

Goya. The Great He-Goat. "This was perhaps the most important painting of the entire Villa, although when the fresco was transferred to canvas it lost a great part in his right end (which causes a strange asymmetry between the young sitting girl and the great he-goat). The painting looks not exactly terrible, but disturbing and even parodic. It is quite suggestive to compare this work with the one of the same subject that Goya painted in 1798 (Madrid , Lazaro Galdiano Museum), in which the figure of the he-goat, looking directly to the observer, is the unique protagonist of the composition, which does not happen here. This fresco was flanked by the terrible "Saturn devouring his own son", perhaps the most famous of the "black paintings", still used nowadays as a symbol of the horror and madness." read more:

These demons were the old man’s chosen companions during his last years in Spain. They had also been, if not the companions, at least the ever-present spirits of his childhood. That he continued to believe in them despite his association with humanistic intellectuals seemed far-fetched; yet one can still respond emotionally to nonsense or fantasies, or superstitions even when , intellectually, one has put them aside. Goya painted his evil spirits with total conviction. In effect, he did believe in them. Nothing could rout the idea that whatever is good in the world exists only in the sufferance of evil.

Goya lived in his Quinta del Sordo a scant for years. In 1823, at age seventy-seven, he gave the house to his grandson and the next year received permission to leave Spain for France. He still held his position as first painter to the court, but even so, with the final triumph of Ferdinand, he had gone into seclusion.

Goya. The Dog. John Sevigny: The Dog is the most unique, modern and remarkable of the group, in part, because it is the least shocking and the most spare. It is a quirky, brightly colored work, almost a cartoon. Polish it up and enhance the colors and it might be taken for a Miro. But this is a deadly serious work that depicts a near-drowning dog, swimming against a cresting wave the color of dried blood beneath a fiery yellow sky. The animal is doomed, soaked and fighting to survive. It contains almost no illusions of depth. Flatness as a positive attribute of Modern painting, which Goya can be said to have pioneered, did not otherwise arrive in the arts until almost a half century later. What frustration was Goya expressing when he attacked the walls of his home with brushes and paints and created this simple masterpiece? We can speculate about political tensions, the crisis of old age, or simple, artistic and human exhaustion but there are no clear answers. No matter. It is a work of artistic prophecy. read more:

Jesse Bering: But one sign of trouble for terror management theory is that other researchers have consistently failed to find any correlation between fear of death and belief in the afterlife. In other words, just because someone has a lot of death anxiety doesn’t mean she’s particularly likely to believe in life after death; there’s simply no connection….

"...not all them were gloomy or terrible. It is true that today almost everybody associates the "black paintings" to "Saturn devouring his son" or to the ruthless "Duel with cudgels", but in the set we found pieces in which the irony flock any vestige of horror -"Two women and a man"- or even the beautiful figure of the "Leocadia", elegant and serene despite of her mourning. In addition, the rooms, with abundant windows opened to the Madrilenian countryside, had to receive an important amount of sunlight, so the Quinta must have been far from being the dark place that many historians seem to suggest." read more: image:

A few researchers, including me, argue increasingly that the evolution of theory of mind has posed a different kind of problem altogether when it comes to our ability to comprehend death. This position holds that, owing to their inherent inability to project themselves sufficiently into an afterlife devoid of all sensation and mental experience, our ancestors suffered the unshakable illusion that their minds were immortal. It’s this cognitive hiccup of gross irrationality that we have unmistakably inherited from them. Read More:


Individual human beings, by virtue of the evolved human cognitive architecture, and specifically the always-on human theory of mind, had trouble conceptualizing their own psychological inexistence from the start. The problem applies even to those who claim not to believe in an afterlife. As philosopher and Center for Naturalism founder Thomas W. Clark wrote in a 1994 article for “The Humanist”:

“Here … is the view at issue: When we die, what’s next is nothing; death is an abyss, a black hole, the end of experience; it is eternal nothingness, the permanent extinction of being. And here, in a nutshell, is the error contained in that view: It is to reify nothingness –make it a positive condition or quality (for example, of “blackness”) –and then to place the individual in it after death, so that we somehow fall into nothingness, to remain there eternally.”

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