Aesthetic Realism Online Library > Essays

ON AESTHETIC REALISM AS NEW—
(Not as the Greek Cosmologists, Aristotle, Taoism,
Buddhism, Hegel, Fichte, Coleridge, etc.)

by Eli Siegel

There has been a tendency to say that the opposites as Aesthetic Realism sees them have been already put forth here and there in ancient and modern philosophy or criticism. Here are some of the differences between Aesthetic Realism and some of the important presentations of opposites we have had in the past.

1. The Greek Cosmologists. The Greek Cosmologists, in keeping with the term itself, pointed to the fact that the cosmos or universe was made up of rest and motion, hot and cold, low and high, round and straight, and so on. They did not see the oneness of the terms cosmologically used as making for beauty.

2. Plato and Aristotle—in, say, the Philebus or the Phaedrus or the Timaeus of Plato, or the Metaphysics or Poetics or Rhetoric of Aristotle—do not write of the opposites in the world as what are present in the beauty of a tree, a gown, a smile, a poem, a picture, a drama, a vase. That, in keeping with the Greek Cosmologists, there is a feeling that opposites somewhere are one, is quite true. What matters is how they are seen as one, and what is the meaning of opposites when oneness is in them. The work done by Aesthetic Realism, as far as I can see, is work done by itself on these points.

3. The Oriental Philosophies—particularly the Taoism of China, and Zen Buddhism—have in them the seeing of change and sameness, object and universe, infinite and finite as one. Present in them also is the feeling that, ethically speaking, an individual should come to an equipoise of warring forces. Yet the idea of specific beauty containing permanent opposites is not in these philosophies of the Orient. The final assumption by the universe of an individual being, for example, is in the Vedas, the Hindu philosophy in general. But the tingling presence of the universe as such in a thread, or the eye of a kitten, or the leg of a chair—that is not present.

4. In Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Schelling, opposites in varying ways are dealt with as one. Hegel is noted as the philosopher to whom the antitheses of the world were in a synthesis; who saw the contradictions of being, seen as one, as its true being. Hegel saw time and space as one, substance and form, non-being and being, absolute and becoming. And these certainly were present in his Philosophy of Fine Art. In Hegel, however, there is not the feeling that the opposites present in a drop of water are those present in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (which he discusses in the Philosophy of Fine Art) and in a mother's worrying whether her son will come back that evening. Nor in Hegel is present the opposites in an earthy jest or a subtle, lingering observation. The opposites of Aesthetic Realism are present in the thing one will see next. In Hegel, it seems to the present speaker, they are present in what he has chosen, or as a result of abstract selectivity.

5. Coleridge, in the fourteenth chapter of the Biographia Literaria, describes the poetic imagination as containing the power to put various opposites together. Here, too, however, the everyday immediacy of the world as we know it and of poetry as we know it, is not present. Besides, Aesthetic Realism says that opposites are not only present in poetry, but in all the arts, in all instances of botany, chemistry or physics, and in every moment of a person's life. There are things dealt with by Aesthetic Realism, as students of it know, that were not taken up by Coleridge, either in his writings or his conversations as we know them. Of course, however, Aesthetic Realism loves Coleridge.

6. And it may be mentioned that a more thorough showing of opposites as one in beauty and art than is done by Coleridge is in a dialogue by Gerard Manley Hopkins. The clawing of this dialogue, the unrelenting inquiringness, gives it a quality not in Coleridge's writings on poetry as we have them.

Therefore, Aesthetic Realism bases the claim that it sees the opposites in the world in its own way, on the things it has looked at and how it has looked at them.

Copyright © 1979 by Eli Siegel

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