Are Feelings Objects?
or, The Alienation of Any Time
By Eli Siegel
The position of Aesthetic Realism is, that if we don't want to see our feelings as objects, or can't see them as objects, we are that much alienated. The first step in alienation is to regard what goes on within ourselves as having a different reality from that which goes on elsewhere.
To see the outside world as the same stuff as that of which our most secret or unknown thoughts are made, is a fine necessity. Where people haven't, in any age, it has not been good for them.
Alienation, then, is philosophic choice: a miserable philosophic choice. There is a quality of murky grandeur we give ourselves in having our own feelings, recoiling, separate from other things.
One doesn't have to be a philosopher to make this philosophic choice. All you have to be is alive with a desire to protect yourself.
Still, the philosophic choice is made, and therefore it is well to appraise it as if it were like any other philosophic choice.
The first thing to look at is the meaning of the word object. An object is anything whatsoever thought of as being looked at or having something done to it. A thing can be seen with two possibilities: as doing something or having something done to it. A certain kind of thing—an individual—can be seen as thinking about something or being thought about. Thinking about something or being thought about is an aspect of the doing-something-or-having-something-done-to-it possibility of all things.
It would seem that feelings are objects, for they can be thought about; and, insofar as they can change, they can have something done to them. And anyone in this world can think about our feelings. Thought can go anywhere. What matters is why it goes where it does.
We are in the pretty sad situation of wanting our feelings comprehended without our wanting to see them as objects. It is only by having our feelings seen as objects that they can be seen fairly. Love can be described as the feeling that our feelings have fared well by our seeing and being affected by the feelings of another considered as objects.
To think that we can care for another without feeling that the feelings of this other do us good, is to be wrong about care. To feel that we can care for ourselves without seeing our feelings as objects and liking them as objects, is to be wrong about care for ourselves.
We have considered objects a little. We now consider feelings.
A feeling can be described as the self in any attitude of for or against whatsoever. The first thing in feeling is that it is for or against something. Feeling begins in a going forward or recoiling.
Life begins in a towards or a from. Life here is feeling itself, with a body to show itself with.
Life is a constant presence of fors and againsts. Along with for and against, there is the don't care feeling, which can justly be described as a negative or tepid againstness.
And we come to this big, crucial, frightening thing about the life of all time. Man has been afraid to look at his feelings for only one reason: it might make for some actual, true criticism of himself.
We are not afraid of the fate or value of anything except where it says something of ourselves.
It is so easy to be doubtful of ourselves. And it is so uncomfortable.
Further, every judgment of a thing has in it some judgment of ourselves. That which makes for a judgment of ourselves not to our liking, is that much opposed by ourselves. It might be expected that we'd rather think something ill of what is not ourselves than of ourselves. And that is the way it is: always. When we think ill of ourselves, it is for the purpose, through our suffering, of making the score even, of arranging things so that, it seems to us, we have the right to be unjust to things or lessen them some more.
The only time a self can be trusted to judge things fairly—which here is the same as to feel about them fairly—is when the self is sure that in thinking well of something else, it is good to itself.
Man hasn't come to this yet.
Another question about feeling is whether any feeling we have has in it some judgment of the world.
Aesthetic Realism says that it does. And one reason for our forgetting feelings which may be good in themselves, is that they make ourselves look less acceptable to ourselves.
Again, we come to this: the self simply must learn that in liking something else, the self is liked, too—not disparaged. This is the most important thing in all education.
We have to look again at whether any feeling has in it a for and against; or value.
Feelings begin with sensations: warm, cold; rough, smooth; sharp, blunt; round, angular; large, small; wet, dry, and the like. (The meaning of sensation, even now, as in the time of Locke, is not agreed upon.) What concerns us at the moment is whether in having the sensation of wetness or dryness, warmth or cold, smoothness or roughness, at that time we are for or against what is in our sensation. Where does value begin?
Value begins with what is called matter or body: that is, it begins with what causes sensation.
Sensations, too, can be bound up with how we see ourselves. And we never want to see ourselves as not so good, unless at that very moment we see the usefulness of the criticism as more powerful, in the field of good, than the gliding approval of ourselves.
Criticism as just has to have the power of a sensation before we can welcome it.
There is a disposition to feel—even these days—that all criticism of ourselves has its source elsewhere than ourselves.
This is not so, for the self is always criticizing itself. Since the self feels itself, and since what the self feels about itself is like what it feels about anything else, there is a for-and-against in what the self feels about itself.
This would follow if in every feeling there is a for-and-against.
But the self cannot bear the idea as yet that the way it sees or that it itself is criticized by it itself.
That we have to wash our faces, or remedy our French accent, or play a piano piece otherwise, we can bear to see; but that the way we see as such is not so good, or just, or complete—that we find it most uncomfortable to welcome.
Yet it can be said that the greatest desire of every human being is to welcome the fact, as object, that the way he sees, or judges, or feels is not as fair as he wants it to be.
We don't want to see our feelings as objects because in doing this we get nearer to the fact that we don't like the way we see as such.
As I said, we hope to see this ever so much: it is our greatest desire.
But we can be for something as a pure accomplishment, tidy in just being, while hating the detail, imperfect suggestion, awkward process necessary for this tidy, profound, sheer accomplishment.
And if there's anything we don't want to see, we are alienated.
Alienation is a disbelief in a world that has made us doubtful of how we see ourselves—and this last has made us not want to see our feelings as objects.
It follows that if at any time we do see our feelings as objects, or look at a feeling of ours as if it were an object like anything else, we are at that very time less alienated from the world; also at that time we are less doubtful of ourselves.
Only a self ready to see its feelings as objects can be not doubtful of itself. Doubt of self does not arise from conclusions; it is the fear of going after conclusions that makes for doubt.
Only a self ready to look at itself and its feelings can be not alienated.
And when a self is ready to look at itself and its feelings as objects the way other things are, self and things other than it, or self and world, are an aesthetic one. Self and world as two opposites, like moment and time, detail and composition, thing and meaning, are in a state of aesthetic oneness or factual beauty.
I think the world of the newspapers, gossip, weekdays is an illustration of this.
Copyright © 1986 by Definition Press