sees the world and a person or self as an aesthetic situation. It also
sees the various sciences and arts as aesthetic situations: painting, the
drama, chemistry, geology have something in common.
then is, what is an aesthetic situation? An aesthetic situation is one
in which the forces of the world, like rest and motion, tranquillity and
agitation, depth and surface, oneness and manyness, spontaneity and control,
familiarity and strangeness, humor and sadness, are present. We have just
given some instances of what Aesthetic Realism and the English dictionary
The world is
infinite and finite at once. There is a God who is personal and impersonal—that
is, there are both purpose and mechanism in him. These opposites in reality
correspond to our desire for freedom (infinite) and our desire for security
(finite). We also think ourselves fools, but important people: we have
to. We look in the mirror and see a surface, but there is also depth. We
have to take care of ourselves and see ourselves as first, but we also
have to be regardful of other people. We want to love ourselves, and oh,
how much we want to be close to another. We want to be alienated, as the
comic novelist John Updike shows, and we also want to be the life of the
party and say the brightest, most probing thing of a Saturday night.
Are we then
a situation of opposites, dually and in orchestrated form? Do we have to
be ourselves and relate ourselves to our wives and the stars? Do we have
to be aware of our backyard and unexpected happenings in Asia? Are we near
and far at once?
difference between Aesthetic Realism and Freud is that Freud saw nervousness
as arising from what, earlier, was incomplete expression in sex, and, later,
a damming up or conflict in the libido—a prettier word than sex.
Freud would disagree with Aesthetic Realism because he did not see, as
many people don't, that an attitude to the world, to reality, to the universe,
to things, and even to God, governs one in one's everyday life. If you
feel that the world is ill-managed, is contemptible, is unkind, you have
to show that in how you see Mildred or how you see Morton. The world is
in us because self is never accompanied by anything less.
then says that the purpose of life is to see the world in the best way.
Here art is deeply helpful; so is science. In order to see the world in
the best way, we have to ask whether it is against us or doesn't care or
is for us. When we see in art the oneness of beauty and fear, as Aristotle
hinted, the world honestly is more acceptable. We have to put together
cancer and the latest Hollywood sweetness.
Since we are
contraries also, we have to like ourselves as a possible relation of contraries.
When Beethoven had to put the contraries of energy and grace together,
he was in an aesthetic situation. When Mozart had to put together truth
and fancy or inventiveness, he was in an aesthetic situation. We all of
us have this aesthetic situation, and we all should try to understand it.
Click to read this essay in Spanish: "El Realismo Estético; o, ¿Es una
Persona una Situación Estética?"
Copyright © 1969 by Eli Siegel