|It is well for something to be known.|
|The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known
|NUMBER 1526. — July 3, 2002||
Dear Unknown Friends:
We are serializing the great lecture Poetry and Women, which Eli Siegel gave in 1949. And we print part of a paper by Harriet Bernstein, from an Aesthetic Realism public seminar of last fall titled "Energy and Femininity — How Can They Make Sense in a Woman’s Life?"
What is it that women of now need most to know? The fight for women’s liberation has essentially been won. Women are eminent in all professions. But women, like men, are still deeply confused about themselves, and about what on earth will enable them to like themselves.
Women, and men, need most to learn what Aesthetic Realism explains: a battle is going on in us all the time, between the desire to like the world, respect it, be just to it, and the desire to have contempt for the world — to feel we’re more by making less of what’s not ourselves. The central feminine battle is between the hope to respect reality and the hope to have contempt. That is also the central masculine battle.
A recent article in the New York Times has to do with how women hope to see the world — though the Times doesn’t know it. The article, headlined "The Talk of the Book World Still Can’t Sell," is about Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s book Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children. It has, we’re told, "generated the kind of publicity authors and publishers usually only dream of." It has been touted in the media:
featured on "60 Minutes" and the cover of Time and New York Magazines. It was promoted on "Oprah," "Today," "Good Morning America" and the "NBC Nightly News." ... But there’s one place you will not find a mention of Ms. Hewlett’s book: the best-seller lists. The most talked-about book in America, which raises the specter that women who sacrifice families for careers might wake up childless at 45, is hardly selling at all.The Times calls the fact that women aren’t buying "a book with such exposure" "the publishing world’s mystery of the year."
But women’s objection to this book, and to being managed by the press into buying it, comes from the deepest thing in women: the desire to like the world. Women profoundly resent being advised to have babies first and career later, and resent being told it’s unwise to try to have a child after age 40. And the reason is: a big part of liking the world is to be able to be in it as fully as possible, have ourselves come forth in it. In not buying this media-acclaimed book, women are saying, "Don’t try to stop me from having a life in which I express myself!"
The way a woman sees her career may have much amiss. A female professional can be as unjust and mean as a male, because femininity is, first, humanity. But women feel this book and the talk shows and publications that are pushing it are telling them to be less than they can be, and they don’t like it. They’re not obeying the press.
A woman may want a child, or she may not. But if she does, she feels she should be able to have a child as a phase of her taking part in life as a whole. The millions of women who were supposed to buy Ms. Hewlett’s book and didn’t, feel — though they may not state it plainly, even to themselves — "I’m first of all a person, and my home is the whole world. And if ‘science,’ according to this book, says I can’t see myself that way, well, I don’t believe it’s really science. It couldn’t be, because what it says is not in keeping with who I am. There must be a way to have motherhood go along with taking part in the world in its fulness."
Both desires, to like the world and to have contempt, are infinite in us and have thousands of forms. I’ve given one instance of the desire in women now to like the world. I mention some aspects of feminine contempt.
It used to be said by women that if only we could run nations there would not be cruelty, there would not be wars, there would be kindness. That has been disproved. Women are in government and are no kinder than men. It is not necessary to mention names; but there have been women in high governmental positions who have represented as sheerly as any man that fundamental aspect of contempt: making the feelings, the selves of millions of people unimportant; seeing people — at home and abroad — as to be managed, made to do things my way, and to be punished if they don’t comply, punished sometimes with bombs. And women high in governmental circles have had contempt for truth: have told the public lies, twisted and created "facts" to suit themselves, as much as men.
In the field of sex too, women have had fundamentally the same contempt as men. And here is where some of the deepest confusion of women is present. Women have resented very much being seen by men in terms of body, with our minds, feelings, selves dismissed. Yet now there is a trend, encouraged by the media, for women to show our "freedom" by being as crude about men’s bodies as men have been about ours.
Women and men need achingly, mightily, to know that the purpose of sex is to see meaning in the world itself. The purpose of love and sex is, as Mr. Siegel writes, "to feel closely one with things as a whole," by being ever so close to a person whom one sees as standing beautifully for the world. We need to know that the huge mistake of both man and woman is to use sex to conquer the world, defeat the world — through having a person please us as we look down on that person.
Eli Siegel saw a woman — whether a woman of the past or a woman to whom he was speaking — with the same kind, deep, learned, imaginative, grandly honest and respectful mind he used in his seeing of literature, science, history. It is my happiness to have known this personally. And through the philosophy he founded, there is a beautiful future for woman and man, and for friendliness between them.
A 17th-Century Woman
by Eli Siegel
Note. Mr. Siegel has just spoken about the 16th-century poet Louise Labé.
Take a woman who wrote poetry in the 17th century in England. While quite different, she expresses, as Louise Labé in her way did, the fact that neither man nor woman, for the most part, wanted a woman to put together herself as a being of general expression, of thought, with herself as a woman. That has made it very hard. Lady Mary Chudleigh (1656-1710) is much less known than Louise Labé. I’ll read two poems of hers from a rather sumptuous book called West-Country Poets. First, a few sentences about her:
Though she was enamoured of the charms of poetry, yet she dedicated some part of her time to the severer study of philosophy, as appears from her excellent essays, which disclose an uncommon degree of piety, and knowledge, and a noble contempt of those vanities which the unthinking part of her sex so much regard and so eagerly pursue.Yes, that is true. Ladies have gone for "vanities" and been false to themselves. They should have gone for pride, not for vanity.
In the poem called "To the Ladies" we have the immemorial doubts of women as to the intellectual attentions of man. Men don’t ask enough about women, and then suffer. Women don’t see to it that men ask enough of them, and they suffer. There is an accommodation which looks like love, and later there is a lot of misery, because people who have asked for little get even less: that is what it comes to.
This went on constantly. A woman could not express the very deepest thing in herself. So she kept it to herself, and sometimes, as I have said, she became a witch or a scold, and sometimes complained as Lady Chudleigh did, but most often there was a tremendous lot of women not talking.
Then, there is a poem by Lady Chudleigh called "Song":
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By Harriet Bernstein
In his Definitions, and Comment, Eli Siegel defines energy as "power thought of as showing itself." The power of women is showing itself more than ever — in industry, sports, government. Yet women can still feel that our dynamism is separate from our femininity, that in asserting ourselves we are somehow less attractive or graceful, and that our mental power has to be disguised or put aside when it comes to men and love.
As a woman who once saw no way to reconcile these two things, I love Aesthetic Realism for teaching that energy and femininity are qualities every woman can learn to put together. They are related to opposites in the world itself — such as force and gentleness in the weather, intensity and subtlety in a sunset, waves crashing into and being received by the shore. A woman can begin to feel they make sense in her life when she learns from Aesthetic Realism what her largest purpose is. Ellen Reiss describes it in TRO 1131:
A woman should have all the true power she can. And ... she will feel good about that power if she is sure her purpose is to like the world: to value what is not herself and have people and things stronger. The authentic purpose to like the world ... makes self-assertion and yielding one; because we all want deeply to yield for that purpose too: to feel we can be stirringly affected by true meaning anywhere.
A Mix-Up Early
In fifth grade I was happy when Howie Skolnick invited me to a party. I wanted him to like me and thought if I acted demure and flattered him, he would. When he asked me to dance and later that night gave me my first kiss, I felt I was on top of the world. But I had misgivings even then, and wasn’t sure it was myself or a picture I arranged that affected him.
Over the years, being strategically compliant to get a man’s approval became a pattern with me — an approach I didn’t respect myself for and thought I could change by being more assertive. I rebelled against what I saw as conventional. I wore my hair wild, dressed in oversized clothes, and scorned makeup. I decided I would set conditions with men and go out with the same man no more than twice. But instead of feeling free, I felt empty, sometimes thinking it best just to be alone. In TRO 1131 Ellen Reiss explains:
Women have been submissive, yielding, passive with the purpose of contempt — to manage surreptitiously the person they are "yielding" to, and to have the victory of feeling they are sensitive creatures in a world that wants to push them around. And women (often the same women) will assert themselves, give orders, run other people and things also for the purpose of contempt — to feel they are superior to a stupid world, which should bend to their wishes. It is contempt that has a woman feel empty, self-loathing, and sometimes agonizingly discomposed.I was 20 when I met Len Bernstein, and as we spoke there was no doubt in my mind I liked him: how he looked and his energetic interest in things, including photography. He seemed genuinely interested when I spoke about myself. Despite my policy with men, I wanted to spend more time with him, and I felt so hopeful that I could be close to another person that within six months we were married.
But soon I was troubled by the way I would suddenly be sarcastic. And sometimes I would become so withdrawn that Len couldn’t pry a word out of me. This frightened us both very much. Then we met Aesthetic Realism!
The Comprehension I Hoped For
Like many women, I saw a man’s job as catering to a woman’s happiness without her having any obligation to know him. In fact, I smugly thought I already knew Len sufficiently; and this contempt was draining the life from our marriage. Now Aesthetic Realism was teaching me to use my energy in behalf of respect — to want to know the depths of another person — and as I did, our marriage blossomed!
As my desire to sum him up was criticized, Len became more interesting and lovable to me. And he was having consultations too. Today, after 26 years of marriage, it is thrilling to study with my husband in classes taught by Ellen Reiss. I love her for teaching, and for showing herself, that there is a beautiful relation of assertion and yielding in knowing a person deeply. I represent women everywhere as I thank Aesthetic Realism for my continuing education!
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