Worldlessness and the Worst in Goya’s Disasters of War

Although often heralded as a passionate denunciation of the mayhem of the Peninsular War, Francisco de Goya’s The Disasters of War (1814-1820) was not published during the artist’s lifetime. My wager is to treat Goya’s desistance not as evasive but as intrinsic to the Disasters itself, now seen as an artistic practice and an experiment in living that takes on ruination without necessarily metabolizing it. Goya releases his images by denying them refuge in the visibly social. In what ways are traces of this abstention legible in the aquatints themselves? The fact that the prints remained uncirculated during Goya’s lifetime threads together life and work, wartime and the aesthetic, survival and ruination in ambiguous but mortalizing ways, and puts to us that, for a time, for the decade that they took to engrave, and then for the remainder of his life, the inventor and then the archivist of the series learned to live alongside disaster in a condition that I call “worldlessness.”