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Anthony J. Cascardi THE ETHICS OF ENLIGHTENMENT: GOYA AND KANT The drama of the Enlightenment has typically been staged as a struggle between the secular illuminations ofreason and the archaic forces of darkness, superstition, and deceit whose resurgence threatens to demonize the rational world. On the one side stands the Kantian vision of the human subject as guided by rational ideals, as obedient to the claims of reason, and as respectful of the inward call of duty and the moral law; in contrast stands a figure like Goya, whose work is usually read as an attempt to confront rational ideals with the overwhelming force of all that is archaic, demonic, and repressed in enlightened cultural life. Indeed, it may well seem that a figure like Goya roundly contradicts or simply refuses Kant, thus rejecting out of hand the Enlightenment culture project and its attempt to justify morality on the basis of reason.1 In Arthur Danto's review of Goya and the Spirit ofEnlightenment (Madrid, Boston, and New York, 1988-89), for instance, the Caprichos are described as the complete antithesis of the Enlightenment 's moral world; they show us "whores and fools, bawds and ninnies, thieves and asses, all engaged in mutual exploitation, with menacing birds and animals as witnesses . . . there is not even a God to save us. The best we can do is acknowledge the black truth."2 Similarly, it is customary to regard paintings like The Third of May and the etchings in the Disasters of War as Goya's anticipatory attempt to disclose what Horkheimer and Adorno would later describe as the self-canceling effects of the Enlightenment on social and political life.3 While it may be tempting to see Goya's work as the result of such a rejection of the Enlightenment, it remains nonetheless unclear how this work might then be seen as ethical. Having undertaken such a thorPhilosophy and Literature, © 1991, 15: 189-211 190Philosophy and Literature oughgoing critique of the Enlightenment, is it possible for Goya's work to reclaim an ethical force? In the pages that follow I hope to trace out a somewhat more complex pattern in which Enlightenment culture is seen as a contradictory or "detotalized" whole and in which the problem ofethics is defined in terms ofa series ofcontradictory internal demands, such that the various frameworks in terms of which obligations are established cannot be reconciled. By viewing the Enlightenment as a field of internal contradictions rather than as the site of a simple opposition (Goya / Kant), it may be possible to account for the interpretive resistance offered by a painter who respects the Enlightenment's demands in the genre ofportraiture while thoroughly challenging its world in the "black" paintings of the Quinta del Sordo. Thus rather than resolve the apparent contradictions within Goya's work by reference to personal and biographical factors quite alien to the painting (e.g., his shifting political fortunes; his increasing deafness), I propose to accept the various categories in which Goya demands interpretation as themselves irreducible and to view the obligations they impose on the viewer as internal to his work, even though the responses they demand may prove unsustainable by it. Accordingly, I hope to present a picture of Enlightenment culture as a field in which conflicting and sometimes irreconcilable obligations are felt, regardless of the medium through which they may be transmitted. The interpretive model I have in mind would thus displace the importance of the overarching contrast between light and dark in favor of a view in which the structural allegory of enlightenment is subordinated to the various frameworks in which the dramatic encounter between darkness and light takes place. Far from merely contextualizing an opposition that remains otherwise invariant throughout the work, these contexts in fact provide the terms in which the drama of enlightenment can be seen as having an ethical force. Thus despite the fact that critics have for many years interpreted works like Truth Rescued by Time, Witnessed by History (1797-98; fig. 1) along strictly allegorical lines, I would suggest that a fundamental resistance to allegorization reveals the ethical significance of the contradictions embedded within Goya's work. The contradictions just referred...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 189-211
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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