Prose adaptations of Francisco Goya’s Caprichos, I-XXVIII



Artist Portrait

His expression is a pretence at inscrutability, but it gives him away: there is that haughtiness of the besieged, the embittered mercifulness, that tense, intermittent truce of compassion and disdain that distances a man from mankind as he finds men caught in the crossfire and sees them hurt…


They Say Yes and Give Their Hand to the First Comer

Every man is a boatman on the infinitely branching river of his possible lives, and every man is condemned to the course ordained by those faults and misfortunes particularly his, and she will marry one and embark, as first mate, siren and captive, with those faults and misfortunes particularly hers, to certain death amid the wreckage.


Here Comes the Bogeyman

A mother and her children cower before a hooded figure, who is perhaps the bogeyman, or a comparable human evil, as he prepares to eat the children, or extract his payment, or drag his family back home.


Nanny’s Boy

Image: an adult son and mother in gross embodied union; some strange hermaphrodite metaphor of their bond, and of the inner incest of all affection, in particular that secret, implicit narcissism of familial love, that loves the mirror of mere blood relation.


Two of a Kind

Man and woman, equally culpable, by each other, through the perennial game that culminates in reproduction, of each other and the replenishment of the game, do here, with a few twists and variations, perhaps, and another trick or two, as they always have done.


No One Knows Himself

All the world a masquerade, lurid and absurd, these masquers, clad in absurdly inadequate disguise, have nakedly unmasked it, and revealed its absurdity, as a mask confirms by disguise the real vocation of the face.


Even from there He Cannot Make Her Out                                                                                       

Her client fails, she thinks, in this early stage, to recognise the professional occasion of her displays of affection, or, she considers, he is pretending love out of form or convention, or, perhaps, he is taking residence in the distance form and convention afford to compose, from a vantage of inward removal, a shadow-play of distant silhouettes, in which he and she act to his liking.


So They Carried Her Off!

Hooded figures, faceless as distant silhouettes, who embody predation or oppression, carry off her whose face is for the moment still visible, to make her a bride, or a whore, or a nun, or other archetype, or fellow hooded figure, or distant, barely visible silhouette.



She was stiff and deathlike with undisguised effort as she was dying in his arms, as when in bed she would taunt him by hysterically faking, as if it would never come, what he would soon deliver her. What her body felt fit to show him she would perform to subvert, and so she went, in histrionic mockery, rigor mortis majoris as minoris, where she went, and where he, in his own capacity, soon followed her.


Love and Death

Love and Death, passionate and tragic lovers, look down on the earth, and see below their strange love reflected in a living body, as an end to a tragic, splendid and absurd story, wrapped against another by it killed.


Lads Making Ready

Dishevelled soldiers, who are perhaps irregulars, or merely bandits, or one of the above in transition to another as opportunity or necessity dictates, or as idealism in alliance with opportunism elects, gather and plan, in implacably tacit agreement with all nature, that what will be done will be done, and what will be will be.


Out Hunting for Teeth

The night after the battle, she is looking for teeth, which, to supplement to her wages, she extracts and sells to the denturist. She finds, hanging from a scaffold on the citadel walls, a young man’s body, replete with the full and clean set, and she begins to extract, and recalls her sore tooth removed as a girl, her mouth clenched while she awaited the end, and she unclenches, in sympathy with the floating man’s soft dead mouth, that neither yields nor resists, and she smiles, and pulls out his tooth.


They Are Hot

Monstrous figures, probably anticlerical caricatures, glut themselves on over-hot food, and discuss their place in this creation, which seems meaningful, and which has included them, but is inscrutable. They are priests – might they be there to edify? One burns his mouth. Another’s stomach rumbles.


What a Sacrifice!

Arranged to be married to the rich old man, she acquiesces, and is midwife and concubine to that old perennial arrangement, which is variably performed but always paid for, and is mother to the cause of the children she will bear, and is their priestess and fellow sacrifice to the immolation of birth.


Good Advice

The old woman (wisdom embodied by the body’s attrition), whispered some wisdom that she had bought with damage to the young woman, who disregarded this stream from life’s craggy mountain, until pricked by a touch upon the subject of wild and dubious flowers of that mountain, of which women talk in pairs, and which are hidden, and may remain so.


God Forgive Her, it was Her Mother!

The girl, apprenticed far from home, and enriched by a lottery win, ignored the beggar woman who a decent glance would have revealed to be have been her mother.


It is Nicely Stretched

The young prostitute stretches her stocking as tight as her skin, and her madam watches, and then looks away, caught by surprise to be implicated not only in a particular indecency, but in a general fact and an allegory: that the wages of sin are attrition and death, and the wages of life are the same.


And the House is on Fire

Drunk, and with his house burning, he laughed contemptuously at the littleness of that which he had to lose, which included his house, and his life, and he did as he had always done in life: he paused, and out of irresolution and a stubbornness that was hardened irresolution, did not move, until he did.


Everyone Will Fall

The witches catch the man-headed birds and pluck them of their every feather – absurdity has its protocols, and fever its customs, and strange things call, accordingly, for strange acts.


There they Go – Plucked!

Always and everywhere the same hunt, with the same traps, and the same pattern of victim and predator: the victims also predators, and the predators victims, as the roles of man and woman ordain. When there are no more feathers left, throw them out. Others will come.


How they Pluck Her!

Behold the failed wile of the bird in the grip of the cats – she had intended to fall within reach of each cat, but not into any pair of particular claws, and certainly not into the mauling grip of all…


Poor Little Girls!

The two hooded women, with their faces turned away, may be young orphans or old widows, and are both in that they are children, lost and stranded in the wilderness of the world, and made old by it; so they weep to each other, and to the world.


This Dust

The condemned is in a penitential dress, shackled under a conical hat, and she sits, before the inquisitor and the devil, and the riotously complicit crowd of this horrible circus, in isolation from mankind, and its general complicity with the same circus.


There Was No Help

The condemned woman, in her penitent dress, is paraded by the mob to her death, and though she is innocent, she is ashamed, for the verdict of the world, though corrupt and blind, impresses on her spirit beyond its power to refuse, or survive.


Yes, He Broke the Pot

The boy broke the pot, and so it follows that he is beaten. There is a kind of logic to it, a ledger of the strike and the damage.


They Are Already Seated

Standing with inverted chairs seated on their heads, the girls, having upturned with their chairs the right order of the world, grin with profound silliness. All the world silly, even absurd, they have absurdly inverted it, as a mirror inverts the image it verily reflects.


Who is More Overcome?

He is hinting at marriage, though he won’t stay long, and she half-knows this. He is a man among many, scheduled for a particular hour, and though he half-knows this, he plays his part, for his share of the prize, and to leave an impression before he departs, though it will be indistinct among others.