When Fragmented Maniacal Behavior Separating Us from Living Becomes Norm – Goya as Not Only a Critical Realist but a Critical Futurist


Francisco Goya, “Yard with Lunatics”, 1793-4

When existential self-realization is blocked by violent, traumatic, distractive or confusing reality (actual and/or internalized from childhood) – life through psychological fragments (without psychological wholeness) becomes a norm. Then our complexes rule over our perceptions and reactions. Impulses and compulsions become the way to react on life, realize ourselves and extend/project ourselves into the world. It’s not surprising that a big chunk of population live without psychological wholeness – without personality (capable to coordinate the “local” desires into some kind of integrity) and a reliable identity (able to mark each wish as a part of uniqueness of the individual character). Then only through impulses and obsessions people can express their psychological particularity, that as if “parodies” with its eccentricity the absent (not developed) personality/identity.

Impulsivity (the basis of consumerism) and obsessions (the basis of addictions) are the only way to live in a society that cannot stimulate and nurture in people psychological wholeness. In “Yard with Lunatics” Goya lets us witness human beings in whom wishes, desires and personal reactions (frozen into fixated postures) have become, as if, a goal in itself, have lost connection with the larger reality, became grotesque, without the opportunity to be “straightened” and softened by reliable psychological energies. All Goya’s “lunatics” are traumatized or extremely confused by the reality of life in society and for this reason they instinctively isolate themselves from it by their specific anti-existential postures and interests.

More than two hundred years separates us from Goya’s “Yard with Lunatics”. No, in fact, these years are not separating us from Goya’s creativity but rather connect us with him. The conditions of life in his times are much closer to our life today, in 21st century, than we like to admit. Our psychological similarity with Goya’s “lunatics” is shocking, embarrassing and shameful. Bit it is real. The psychological condition of his protagonists is today even more widespread than it was in Spain at the end of 18th century.

Let’s start with the woman on the right sitting on the floor and staring at us, as if it is we who are in the asylum, not she, as if we are actors on the stage and she the audience watching us performing our life. She is looking at the yard’s staff, at the visitors, and at life beyond the walls as she remembers it. The similarity between the sitting viewer of life in Goya’s asylum and many Americans today (who watch the world on the screen of their TVs while implying that it is mentally normal to watch what’s going on in the world through a complete media-mediated isolation from it), is impressive. With our technologically induced megalomania we think we are the vanguard of humanity but in reality we are just its vain-guard, like this deprived woman self-entrenched in her vanity of feeling herself in the center of the world. We, like her, feel ourselves in front of TV news and soap-operas as if we are beyond the reach of world’s chilling dangers – that’s the reason she takes the posture of an observer instead of being a living creature, and we also enjoy observing the world as if from the cloud.

Now, let’s look at the woman on the left standing in a as if, Napoleonic hat and trying to impress us. She is kind of opposite of the woman-viewer – she is as if on the stage and is implying that we are her audience perceiving her as a super-star. Again, it’s very hard to avoid comparison with life in today’s society when even the most trivial job transforms you into a performer who is under surveillance of how well you perform your duties, because every job is connected with your career and future! In US – a country of chronic and growing unemployment, everybody advertises him/herself as an impeccable, exemplary, “stagy” performer of job obligations. Almost everybody wants to be “rich/famous/super-star” and dreams of becoming millionaire (“in a Napoleonic hat”).

And now we come to the two wrestlers (occupying a central place in the painting and in life) – the enthusiasts (and slaves) of eternal competition and fight: the majority of businessmen, financial calculators of profits, militaries and ideological (including the religious) militants today. These people wrestle even when they sleep. It is their ontological function to produce sweat of the battle, blood of rivalry, and hope for global glory of total victory.

The guy behind the sitting woman on the right is, again, like most Americans today, is watching who is beating whom, who is prevailing over whom (who is wealthier, who will win the boxing match, who will prevail in a lawsuit battle or in a glamour competition, who will “make it” into American Idol, who will outrival, outrun, outshine, outsmart, outstep, outstretch the competitor). He is located right behind the “spectator woman” – he is the second incarnation of the same universal type.

The man between the standing woman on the left (with Napoleonic hat) and wrestlers is as if inviting god as his witness to what’s going on in factual fallen world. With the pathos of suffering on his face he understands the lunacy of permanent competition or compulsive exhibitionism of performing in front of the world instead of participating in life (or of voyeuristic fixation on the world in general or some particular situation – as an image), but his solution is to appeal to god instead of trying to understand the conditions of life. Appeal to god means being god’s witness – a self-aggrandizing posture that is the equivalent of being, psychologically, a spectator in front of the “stage of life” (the woman to the right and the fan of the wrestling match), of “stage performer” in front of the world as a “spectator” (the standing woman), or of the “ontological” wrestlers themselves (today they are, first of all, the financial speculators who want to be observed and recognized by the world as the ultimate global rulers).

The ecstatic woman behind “the god’s witness” “plays the role” of a priestess presiding over life – she welcomes everything: beauty, greed, hate, murder into her pantheon of virtues and vices. She is morally omnivorous. She plays the saint who accepts everything and who is beyond good and evil. She loves the French and Spaniards, the monarchs and the peasants. She is like today’s democrats beyond political partisanship, for whom there is a place for everything in democracy, which by definition is beyond political fight. If Goya’s “wrestlers” are fighting to get recognition, our priestess is over-tolerant to impress the world (win over it) with her glorious position. Global propaganda of the “greatness of democracy” today whitewashing our wars, financial manipulation, shock therapies and austerity measures, is the verbal equivalent of the very posture of Goya’s priestess from “Yard with Lunatics”.

Other characters are in various degrees subdued by life (one has turned away from it, as if this can help him not to be hurt, another looks at life as if from a protective cave, and some have retreated from life into darkness).

The common psychological denominator of all these people registered by Goya’s super-historical mind, talent and courage to search for existential truth is that these inhabitants of the asylum are not living but are positioned (by their creative mental crippleness) outside living, that each of them is obsessed with a particular defensive posture against their life and the social world. Today’s one percent of American population who are sickly obsessed with unlimited profits by the price of pauperizing and suffocating all of us, are like Goya’s Lunatics who too are outside/beyond/above human world.

The space opened to the sky in the upper part of the painting is, it seems, metaphor of these Lunatics’ religious belief – their world view: for them the factual world is inevitable part of existential misery (the bottom under the abode of the happy eternity). At the bottom of their worldview lies the everyday life signifying their belief that decent people cannot be “normal” participants in fallen world. In other words, for them it is much better to be named as “crazy” in the factual world than to be called “normal” (to be “crazy” here can help them be saved). We today with our feverish ambitions and money-greed and with our need in entertainment and consumption are the offsprings of their belief in possessing the super-existential mandate.