Literature and Poetry

Issues written by Eli Siegel

Down With Beauty! / Number 149, February 4, 1976

Aesthetic Realism has been saying for a long time that the problem of madness is the same as the problem of poetry. In madness, a person’s desire for symmetry and order is not at one with his desire for freedom or abandon. Human life with its constant temperature—when things are well—of 98°, accompanied in the body by all kinds of unsymmetrical tendencies, instances the fact that a person is order and disorder. Health is not just order; it is the oneness of order and freedom, or order and new possibility. Poetry, like the body at its best, is order and freedom at once, logic and impulse fairly had at the same moment

What I have written is illustrated by the history of all the arts, including, surely, poetry. It is necessary, though, to see the reasonableness of this statement: Poetry is sanity. It is necessary to see the reasonableness of: Art is sanity ....more

The Fight / Number 151, February 18, 1976

The greatest fight man is concerned with, is the fight between respect for reality and contempt for reality that has taken place in all minds of the past and is taking place now. There are three places in literature which make the fight between respect and contempt clearer. These places are Sonnet 66 of Shakespeare; Baudelaire’s “O Mort, vieux capitaine”; and Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind.”

Certainly there are many more illustrations in literature of that fight between respect and contempt which Aesthetic Realism sees as the beginning and most important fight in every mind. Still, the three instances of literature that I have mentioned can serve richly to tell what the fight in man is. The large fight, again, in every mind, every mind of once, every mind of now, is between seeing the world or reality as having meaning, aesthetic order, and some friendliness, a world which one can truly like; or seeing the world as disorderly, causeless, uncaring, something one cannot truly like....more

The Gods Are Lessened / Number 153, March 3, 1976

Contempt spares nothing. An important portion of history is how man has wanted to have contempt for the gods he has made and thought he needed. We see from history itself and from the history of religion that there is a desire in man to own and manipulate whatever he might respect....

There is something, we think, that makes gods of ourselves if we can either dismiss the world or find it tedious. And certainly, if along with dismissing the world or finding it tedious, we can swallow it—as Baudelaire intimates—our god—like possibilities are more than ever asserted. There is, at least, a relation between boredom and self-divinity.

The history of religion—or non-religion—tells a great deal about contempt and how it has been in man....more

Look Who's Here! / Number 154, March 10, 1976

...If...Aesthetic Realism is correct and the self is a constant aesthetic debate, then it is not hard for one to see that the two possibilities of self may both be regarded with contempt by a living person. This means that the self given only to care for itself is seen with contempt by that in a person which wants to be more comprehensive or larger. Also, the self which tries to be or wishes to be larger and more inclusive, is seen with contempt by the self-regarding person, the person who thinks that taking care of just what he is, is work enough for one life....more

Care for Self / Number 155, March 17, 1976

It is rather clear that if a person is to care for himself, he must make some sense of our great desire for love and our great desire for contempt. Man is both a diminishing and an enhancing animal. He would like to make everything smaller, more wretched, less important, so that amid the unattractive ruins he might be distinguished. And then there is a tendency in man, rather unsuccessful, to give more meaning to all things.

Unless both possibilities—lessening and increasing—are seen as of man himself, there will be pain...

In the life of Sara Teasdale (1885-1933), one can see quite well what I am talking about.... more

The Shakespearean Awareness / Number 156, March 24, 1976

Every dramatist has to be aware of the three great emotions which, when used not in behalf of a more just world but in behalf of a superior self, can do such harm. These three great emotions which may be used in behalf of a falsely advanced self are: Fear, Anger, Contempt.

Shakespeare says much of fear, anger, contempt. Some of the highest points in the world's literature have Shakespeare's awareness of these three emotions. And Shakespeare has hardly neglected contempt. Sometimes this contempt is readily seen—as when Hamlet satirically and poetically describes his usurping stepfather, Claudius. Everyone, then, would agree that Hamlet had contempt for King Claudius; also for Polonius. However, that he had contempt for Ophelia is a more difficult matter. And, changing plays, it is even more difficult to see that Othello had contempt for Desdemona. ... more

The Hawthorne Omission / Number 157, March 31, 1976

In this number of TRO, I shall give evidence that Nathaniel Hawthorne knew he was driven by a deep contempt; and he also knew that he might die of it. Yet Hawthorne, even when renowned in America as the author of The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables, did not know an syone who was so concerned as to take his own statements about himself and others seriously; and so be of friendly use to him. Nor have critics taken many things Hawthorne said with the amiable gravity they deserved.

Consequently, dear unknown friends, the Hawthorne Omission is persons’ failure to see a great, constant fear of his. Perhaps this letter or essay is the first attempt to take a deadly concern of a noted writer as truly that.... more

Missed by Edgar Allan Poe / Number 158, April 7, 1976

I shall try in this number of TRO to give the first evidences that Edgar Allan Poe felt that he had put aside good will in his life; and that for the rest of his years, he was hoping to have it back. It is good will, essentially, who is or which is missed in his poems like “Ulalume” or “The Raven.” It is good will which is sadly killed in Poe's “The Tell-Tale Heart” and also in “The Black Cat.” It is good will who is or which is the other self of William Wilson, attacked by the more assertive self. I believe, dear unknown friends, when all the evidence is looked at, it will be seen that good will, presented as a lost woman, is regretted in “The Raven.” So let us see....more

Ah, to Dismiss / Number 159, April 14, 1976

Years ago, through Trent’s American Literature, I learned that Edgar Allan Poe had a hold on Europe which hardly any other American writer had....

We have to ask, what is the nature of this hold of Poe on the reading world? I am matter-of-fact when I say that the reason Poe has a hold on the reading world is that he tells so well of persons' desire to dismiss the world. When you do well with the general desire to dismiss the world, you can become internationally indispensable. That is so with Poe. It became clear while Trent was writing his rather popular work on American literature....more

The Two Pleasures / Number 162, May 5, 1976

One thing that is clear in the history of man is that he has had pleasure of two kinds. Man has had pleasure from seeing a sunset; from Handel's Messiah; from seeing courage in someone; from a great rhythm in words. He has also had pleasure from making everything he can meaningless; from changing architecture into broken eggshells; from making the mighty malodorous; from trivializing. Man, then, praises; he also diminishes. The same lips that can curve and droop into a sneer can be apart in astonishment. Seeing meaning, then, has given pleasure; taking it away has also given pleasure. —Eli Siegel

This issue includes discussion of Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire, Ludwig von Beethoven, Emily Dickinson, William Shakespeare—and others.... more

The Three Failures / Number 181, September 15, 1976

A fair idea may be had of what Aesthetic Realism is by considering The Three Failures, as Aesthetic Realism sees these. The failures are different, are in different fields; but they all arise from the seeing of the world and persons representing the world, in an inaccurate and unjust way. These three failures, in contemporary terms, may be described as: One, The Freud Failure; Two, The Greenspan Failure; and Three, The Eliot Failure.

Because Aesthetic Realism sees Sigmund Freud as having failed the mind of man; sees Alan Greenspan as failing now the economics of man where economics is ethics; and sees Thomas Stearns Eliot as having failed poetry as meaning and music at once—an idea may be had of what Aesthetic Realism regards as not failure, or success. For the purpose of understanding Aesthetic Realism, is it not necessary, dear unknown friends, to know what Aesthetic Realism regards as failure and regards as success?... more

All the Arts / Number 212, April 20, 1977

Aesthetic Realism has tried to make two things clear, both of value to the life of man. The first of these is that all the arts, at their beginning, have something in common; and that this common thing in all the arts is the oneness of opposites, felt and worked with by an individual mind."...more

Includes discussion of Byron, Beethoven, Delacroix, and Michelangelo

 America Has Literature / Number 284, September 6, 1978

The first American novel that impressed Europe was The Spy of 1821 by James Fenimore Cooper. This book is deeply ingenious; but one aspect of it has not been dealt with by the critics. Harvey Birch, who seems to spy both for the British and Americans, is an example of double personality that has taken an external form. Cooper himself was a mingling of naiveté and caution. He was gentle and irascible. Nevertheless, he had one of the greatest imaginations the world has seen..... more


This is the text for the course The Aesthetic Realism Explanation of Poetry, taught by Ellen Reiss

Aesthetic Realism as Poetry / Number 521, March 30, 1983

We are proud to reprint in this number of TRO Eli Siegel's Statement with Comments, "Poetry Is the Making One of Opposites." Aesthetic Realism as philosophy that has beautifully revolutionized people's lives, arose from Eli Siegel's seeing of what poetry is. He writes of the first Aesthetic Realism lessons, which took place in 1941: "Aesthetic Realism, as taught by an individual, arose from requests from people in my poetry classes who asked if they could talk to me privately. In my talks on poetry, I mentioned often the fact that what makes a good poem is like what can make a good life. This I see as still true, for poetry is a mingling of intensity and calm, emotion and logic" (TRO 316).

The explanation of poetry presented here is asked for by the whole history of literary criticism; for every important critic has had some sense that opposites matter in poetry.... more

Knowing, Feeling, & America / Number 1946, February 8, 2017 

Here is the final section of the landmark 1973 lecture we have been serializing: The Scientific Method in Feeling, by Eli Siegel. It is about the opposites of knowing and feeling, opposites that have seemed to people to be at war within them. Today, as in other times, men and women have (though they may not articulate it) an abiding sadness, shame, anger because as they’re stirred with emotion they don’t seem to themselves to be logical, to be the same person who reasons. And when they go for careful reason, they feel they must be unstirred, lack warmth.

Aesthetic Realism magnificently—and logically—shows that knowing and feeling are aesthetic opposites: that 1) both are always in us in some way; 2) they can be beautifully, proudly one in us; and 3) it is our deep need to try to have them be....more

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Will It Be Knowing or Contempt? / Number 1945, January 25, 2017 

[Eli Siegel's lecture The Scientific Method in Feeliing] is about two tremendous opposites in everyone: knowing and feeling. There has been trouble, pain, shame in about every life because the two have seemed at odds. Both men and women have felt that emotion, especially big emotion, made them less logical; and that to think carefully one had to put aside feelings, that to be reasonable was to be unstirred, rather cold.

Aesthetic Realism shows, magnificently, that knowing and feeling are always together. On how they’re together will depend our integrity or lack of it. And all art, true science, real intelligence, authentic kindness are, each of them, a oneness of mental exactitude and emotion....more

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Feelings, Facts, & What We Do with Them / Number 1944, January 11, 2017 

[The great 1973 lecture by Eli Siegel we're serializing] begins with his describing the rift people make between feeling and knowing. It is a division men and women take for granted in their everyday lives, even as they’re weakened hugely by it and ashamed of it. Throughout the world and throughout the years people have seen their feelings as things they need not—and cannot—be exact about. Scientists too have severed knowing from feeling; they have seen feelings as essentially unknowable. But early in the lecture, Mr. Siegel says: “The purpose of the real scientific method would be to know a thing in the best way....The question is: can there be scientific method which isn’t at the same time fair to feeling?”

The disinclination to see our feelings exactly, be accurate critics of them, is as frequent as breathing. Yet the danger of not trying to see ourselves truly is gigantic....more

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King Richard III & Everyone / Number 1943, December 28, 2016

[The lecture we're serializing is about] two tremendous opposites in every person: knowing and feeling. Just about everyone has the sense “I’m a different person reasoning, knowing, from the person with emotions.” People have taken this rift in them for granted. Yet it has made them ashamed, and pained, also unkind. In the lecture we’re serializing and in Aesthetic Realism itself, Mr. Siegel shows that the division doesn’t have to be. In fact, feeling and knowing are always simultaneous. Feelings themselves can be known, seen accurately, and it’s necessary for us to want to know them.

In the lecture Mr. Siegel uses an anthology of English literature to show that true knowing is inseparable from feeling....more

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We Feel & Know—What’s the Relation? / Number 1942, December 14, 2016

With this issue we begin to serialize The Scientific Method in Feeling, a 1973 lecture by Eli Siegel. It is a thrilling work about something very ordinary, something people take for granted—but which makes for daily misery and also for cruelty, sometimes on a world scale. The lecture is about the fact that people have made a division between knowing and feeling, and they do not see their own feelings as things to be exact about, to know.

Scientists have made this division too. They haven’t seen feelings as knowable—the way the structure of an atom is knowable, or the makeup of an apple is. Here, there has been immense conceit: the fact that oneself with one’s degrees is unequipped to know something, does not make the thing unknowable; yet that’s the unstated basis various persons have gone on in the matter of how much feelings can be known...more

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We're Related to Everything / Number 1927, May 18, 2016

...What is the self; what is its nature?—that seems to be a philosophic question, and of course it is. But it is also an immediate question, inseparable from the daily life and most intimate feelings of everyone. The rightness or wrongness of every choice we make depends on whether the choice is true to what the human self as such is, the self which has become so particularly our own. Just as we’ll sabotage our own body by eating something incompatible with how the human body is made, so we sabotage our own life by going after things that are not in keeping with the purpose and structure of our self.

Aesthetic Realism is the philosophy to explain that the human self is an aesthetic matter....more

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Beauty & Dissatisfaction / Number 1922, March 9, 2016

We are proud to reprint here two reviews written by Eli Siegel. One is of 1937; the other, of 1926, when he was 24 years old....Both reviews contain some of his early work as a critic. He was, with ever-increasing clarity, coming to the answer to the centuries-old critical question: What is beauty—what is the criterion for art? In 1941 he would begin to teach Aesthetic Realism, which has the answer in its foundation principle: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”

The criterion given in that landmark principle is at once terrifically discriminating and terrifically inclusive.


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Poetry, Love, & Dissatisfaction / Number 1920, February 10, 2016

…I have written that “A Marriage” is one of the finest poems in the literature of America. It is fervent, philosophic, tender, logical, vivid, wide, throbbing—immensely musical. It is composed of twenty sections, and we have reached Mr. Siegel’s discussion of the final two. Section 19, with its thirty lines, is the only part of the poem in rhyme. It can be seen as a poem in its own right, though it is certainly part of the whole. There are some lines in world poetry that have been, historically, memorable: lines readers have said stayed with them and came to their minds again and again. Two are here: “And don’t you, however, suppose / The eye is for the rose?”

What does this section, about the eye, the rose, and the world, have to do with the subject of the whole poem, love?... more

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Love—& the Mistake / Number 1919, January 27, 2016

The ideas in [Eli Siegel’s poem “A Marriage,” which he discusses in the lecture now being serialized,] he said, are a prelude to what would be taught in Aesthetic Realism lessons. And they are a prelude to what people are learning about love in Aesthetic Realism consultations now….

What is love? What is it for? And what is the big mistake people make about it? What is it that ruins love? People want the answers to those questions as achingly as they ever did. And they’re not getting them from the various mental practitioners, relationship counselors, articles, talk shows, and websites. The answers are in Aesthetic Realism….more

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Love & the Philosophic Opposites / Number 1918, January 13, 2016

...What [the poem "A Marriage," by Eli Siegel] says about love—so musically, mightily, warmly, penetratingly—prefigures what people would learn in Aesthetic Realism lessons and classes beginning in the 1940s, and what men and women are learning in Aesthetic Realism consultations and public seminars today....In [the section of his lecture on the poem printed here], Mr. Siegel is speaking about sections 8 through 11.

The central matter about love has been articulated, for the first time, by Aesthetic Realism. It can be put this way: Is love about the world; is it an honoring of the world, a care for multitudinous reality? Or is love a refuge from people and happenings, a consolation against the world and a victory over it?...more

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Love: Two People & the World Itself / Number 1917, December 30, 2015

...“A Marriage” [the poem by Eli Siegel that he's discussing in the lecture being serialized] was written in 1930, and appears in its entirety in TRO 1915. It is one of the important poems of America—for what it says about love; and also for its musical might. In his discussion Mr. Siegel points out that the way of seeing in this poem—the way of seeing the world, people, and love—is a prelude to Aesthetic Realism itself, the philosophy he would begin to teach a decade later.

And as Ms. Tarrow makes clear, Aesthetic Realism is teaching men and women today what people have needed to know these many centuries—have needed hugely, achingly....more

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Love—& How We Talk to Each Other / Number 1916, December 16, 2015

We are serializing a beautiful, definitive lecture that Eli Siegel gave in 1964. In it, he discusses his 1930 poem “A Marriage” and how it preludes what Aesthetic Realism explains about love. With enormous pleasure and gratitude I say: Aesthetic Realism is that which makes clear what love really is, and also what the big interference is—the huge mistake people have made about love for centuries and are making right now.

The purpose of love, Aesthetic Realism shows, is “to feel closely one with things as a whole”—to like the world itself through one’s closeness to a person. And the mistake—the immensely popular mistake—is to use a person one says one cares for to get away from the world, lessen it, feel superior to it together.

“A Marriage” is a poem in 20 sections. It is musically sweeping and vivid, logical and throbbing. And our current issue has Mr. Siegel’s discussion of sections 2 through 5. He is showing that any two people, however alone together they may be, are always related to the whole world, and have the world in them. Even the troubles in marriage—for instance, the way two people can go from sweetness to rage—have their inexpungible likeness to outside reality....more

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What Marriage Is Really For / Number 1915, December 2, 2015

It is an honor to begin serializing the lecture Eli Siegel gave on April 3, 1964, on the tremendous and everyday subject of marriage. He explains, with ease and might, definitively and gracefully, what marriage means, what people hope for in relation to it, and what interferes with love. In the lecture, he discusses his 1930 poem “A Marriage.”

There are probably more poems on the subject of love than on any other, and I consider “A Marriage” one of the greatest of all. I’ll be commenting on why as our serialization continues; but the reason is in the relation of what is said, and the music, the sound, of how it is said. The poem is in 20 sections. Eli Siegel wrote it on the occasion of a particular marriage, but, as he describes in the lecture, it is not about that marriage and those people: it’s about what love truly is....more

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Always with Us: Lightness & Weight / Number 1914, November 18, 2015

In this issue we publish two very different works by Eli Siegel. First, a poem of 1961, in which he writes about words, sounds, that have taken on a certain new meaning in our own time—tweet and twitter. Second, we reprint a work that is ever so literary, rich in culture, philosophy, kindness (also playfulness): “Death by Various Hands,” first published in the August 1930 issue of Poetry World. It is composed of short essays on the subject of death, written in the manner, and from the viewpoint of five different authors. And Eli Siegel is able to convey the quality of each of these writers, be within their various ways of seeing and expression. He doesn’t necessarily agree with what he has these persons say; but in each instance, what he has written is beautiful....more

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How Alive? / Number 1913, November 4, 2015

We are honored to reprint a review by Eli Siegel. It appeared in the New York Evening Post Literary Review of May 1, 1926, and in it we can see something of the beginning of Aesthetic Realism. He was 23 years old then; and this short article about the critic Samuel Johnson is itself literary criticism that is important, big. Mr. Siegel’s writing here, his prose style, is wonderful—with its aliveness and exactitude, untrammeled feeling and precision, earthiness and grand intellect. For all the brevity of this article, the reviewer places, as I have seen no one else do, just what it is that makes Johnson “one of the great and permanent critics of the world.”

The approach to reality and beauty in the 1926 review is also at the heart of the philosophy Eli Siegel would found fifteen years later. We can see this fact through the second work in the present issue: an article by Aesthetic Realism consultant Derek Mali....more

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The History of Feelings / Number 1912, October 21, 2015

In this issue of TRO we reprint a quite early article by Eli Siegel. It is a review, published in the New York Evening Post Literary Review in April 1926. He was 23 years old. He had won the Nation poetry prize for his “Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana” the year before. And here, he is reviewing three anthologies of poetry and prose.

This article contains a new and great way of seeing literature and the human mind: that of Eli Siegel. And we see something of who he himself was. His tremendous scholarship and knowledge were there even then, at that early time in his life, and they would grow and grow. In the article we see that this knowledge, this scholarship, learning, erudition, were inseparable from great feeling in him, and from a down-to-earth care for immediate life....more

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Walt Whitman—& Who Should Own America / Number 1911, October 7, 2015

It is an honor to print here an important American essay, originally written and published in 1938: “Walt Whitman, Agitator,” by Eli Siegel. While there is in it a sense of that year, it is also immensely immediate, of our own very moment. It explains what Americans are looking for, tumultuous for, clamoring for right now.

The essay is important literarily. As literary criticism it is great. And the writing in it is beautiful: the prose has the scholarship, grace, vividness, and throbbing comprehension that are Eli Siegel’s. This essay is great too in its understanding of history, and economics.

Mr. Siegel wrote “Walt Whitman, Agitator” before Aesthetic Realism formally existed. But the philosophy he would begin to teach three years later was developing in his thought....more

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Our Selves & Ernest Hemingway / Number 1906, July 29, 2015

Here is the conclusion of the magnificent 1972 lecture Hail, Relation; or, A Study in Poetry, by Eli Siegel. In this section, he speaks about a matter that is intense and constant in everyone’s personal life: the relation between one aspect of ourselves and another. That relation going on within each of us can take the form of: What do we want from ourselves? Why do we disappoint ourselves? Is there something in us stopping us from being how we truly want to be? Can we ourselves interfere with what we are?

And this final section, though brief, is definitive about an important American writer: Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961). It has in it the comprehension of something critics noticed but could not explain: why Hemingway’s work became much less good in his later years. And Mr. Siegel gives, too, the large reason for Hemingway’s anguish and self-dislike.... more

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Art versus Racism / Number 1905, July 15, 2015

...I will comment on a matter that has to do centrally with relation, and is a horrible mis-seeing of relation. That matter is racism. Since June 17, when 21-year-old Dylann Roof entered a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, sat among the men and women there, then opened fire, murdering nine people—racism has been talked of in the media with somewhat more urgency. The need to end it has always been vitally, utterly urgent.

Aesthetic Realism explains the cause of racism. And, I say soberly and passionately: the study of Aesthetic Realism can end racism. I have written about this fact before; others have. I do so freshly now....more

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Day & Night, Awake & Asleep—We Are Related / Number 1904, July 1, 2015

...[The 1972 lecture by Eli Siegel we're serializing] can be seen as illustrating the following sentences from the Preface to his Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana: Poems:

Poetry, like life, states that the very self of a thing is its relations, its having-to-do-with other things. Whatever is in the world, whatever person, has meaning because it or he has to do with the whole universe: immeasurable and crowded reality.

Mostly, people do not feel that the things they meet, the persons, the occurrences, are related to each other—let alone to millions of other things and people of now and the past. Therefore, they have a pervasive yet taken for granted feeling that most of reality is messy and dull. If we do not see things as related, we have to feel agitated and feel too an essential emptiness, absence of meaning....more

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Relation: The Most Important Subject / Number 1903, June 17, 2015

[The lecture by Eli Siegel we're serializing] is about what Aesthetic Realism shows to be the most important subject in the world. Relation is, on the one hand, a philosophic matter, and in this talk we see some of the philosophic logical might of Aesthetic Realism. But on the other hand, relation, and how we see it, has to do with our biggest worries.

For example, loneliness is about relation. So is cruelty. Loneliness is the feeling that one does not have deeply to do with other things: it is a denial of relation. And cruelty always begins with the denying another human being feelings, hopes, a life, related to and as real as one’s own. Meanwhile, central to both kindness and intelligence is the sense that other things and people are related, vibrantly related, to ourselves....more

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How We See Relation / Number 1902, June 3, 2015

...I remember hearing Mr. Siegel say that there is no word more important than relation. Aesthetic Realism itself arose from his passionate and scholarly search for the relation among things—all the things of the world. In a 1944 article on him in the Baltimore Sun, Donald Kirkley writes that years earlier, even before the time Eli Siegel won the 1925 Nation poetry prize,

he wanted to investigate the whole reach of human knowledge, past and present....He thought “all knowledge was connected—that geology was connected with music, and poetry with chemistry, and history with sports.”... He wished to find something, or some principle, unifying all the various manifestations of reality....more

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Trains, Beauty, Profit, & Shame / Number 1897, March 25, 2015

...The profit way, [Eli Siegel] made clear, was always unethical, always ugly. After all, the profit motive is the looking on a fellow human being not for the purpose of understanding him, wanting him to fare well, to get what he deserves, wanting to relate him to oneself and use him to know oneself. Rather, it is the seeing of another with the motive of aggrandizing oneself through this person: you hope the person is so desperate that you can pay him very little for his work—or charge him very much for something he needs.

That (despite all that’s been done to glamorize it) is the profit motive. It has made for sweatshops, child labor, thousands of industrial accidents (because safety measures cost money and cut into profits). It has made for poverty, and hunger. And Mr. Siegel explained that this motive which for centuries was unethical and cruel now is also inefficient: it is a victory for humanity and ethics that the immoral is now also the impractical.

It is nearly 45 years later, and he was right....more

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We & the World Are Intimate & Wide / Number 1893, January 28, 2015

...The very basis of Aesthetic Realism is that we—at our most personal, our most everyday, our most confused, our most hoping, our most worried—are like the world that philosophy looks at, and like art. “The world, art, and self explain each other,” Mr. Siegel wrote: “each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites.”

The biggest opposites in our lives are me and all that’s not me, or self and world. And our constant battle, in everything we do, is about how we should relate these. In the lecture being serialized, Mr. Siegel describes the battle this way: should we try to know what’s outside us—or use it to make ourselves comfortable? And he shows that those two battling desires correspond to disagreeing approaches in the history of American philosophy. The approaches take many forms, but they always have to do with notions of fact and notions of value....more

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We—& Children—Are Philosophic / Number 1892, January 14, 2015

In [his lecture about instinct we are serializing] Mr. Siegel shows that the big battle going on in people’s lives every day is also the continuous conflict in a field that seems so different: the history of philosophy. This conflict is about fact and a notion of value, and it takes many forms in both philosophy and us. Centrally, it takes the form in us of the desire to see, to know, versus the desire to have things make us comfortable and important....

In the present section..., Mr. Siegel speaks about two opposites in thought: reality as definite, immediate, the objects right before one; and reality as indefinitely wide, expansive—as illimitable. In each of these opposites, the fight he has been describing is present: we can use each in behalf either of knowing or of making ourselves contemptuously comfortable....more

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Philosophy, a Famous Song, & You / Number 1891, December 31, 2014

…In his lecture [Philosophy Consists of Instincts], Mr. Siegel explains what no other philosopher has: the biggest conflict in every person, he says, the turmoil that goes on in people every day, corresponds to the largest matter in philosophy:

There is an instinct on the part of everyone to see or be honest; there is also an instinct to be comfortable....Perhaps the best way to see what this conflict is, is to see how it is present in the history of...American philosophy....more

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Art, & the Insistence of Good Sense / Number 1889, December 3, 2014

In this final section [of Eli Siegel's lecture Mind and Insistence], he speaks about a passage from Vachel Lindsay’s poem “The Congo.”

The poem was published 100 years ago, in 1914. And there are some things in it (not in the lines Mr. Siegel discusses) that are difficult to hear today. I am quite sure they would not seem as offensive if Mr. Siegel’s magnificent explanation of “The Congo” and of what was impelling Lindsay were widely known. Here, he shows that Part 2 of the poem is about various big insistences in all of us, and in reality itself....more

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Science, Art, & Insistence / Number 1888, November 19, 2014

...Both [the section of Eli Siegel's lecture and a poem of his published here] have to do with the biggest matter in everyone’s life: how we relate two tremendous opposites—our dear, intimate self, and the world in all its width and particularity. “We all of us,” Mr. Siegel writes,

start with a here, ever so snug and ever so immediate. And this here is surrounded strangely, endlessly, by a there. We are always meeting this there: in other words, we are always meeting what is not ourselves, and we have to do something about it. [Self and World, p. 91]

The ways we insist are forms of our “do[ing] something about it.” Some of our insistences we’re aware of; many, we are not....more

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The World Seen Truly, & with Love / Number 1887, November 5, 2014

This week is the 36th anniversary of the death of Eli Siegel. As a means of presenting something of who Mr. Siegel was, the beauty and grandeur of how he saw, we publish 8 poems of his here, and I will comment on them. He wrote 5 of these in the very last year of his life, 1978; he wrote the others at least 50 years earlier, between 1926 and 1928.

In 1925, Mr. Siegel won the Nation poetry prize for his “Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana.” And no American poem caused more stir across this land than “Hot Afternoons” did. He later said that the beginnings of Aesthetic Realism itself were in that poem, which is about the fact that every person, thing, happening has “something in common with all things.” In the decades that followed, Mr. Siegel wrote hundreds of poems—in different verse forms and styles. In fact, no poet is more varied in form and content. And every one of his poems has that thing which Aesthetic Realism shows to be the sine qua non of good poetry, the thing distinguishing a true poem from a false: poetic music—sound that arises because the person writing has seen with a oneness of logic and feeling, exactitude and largeness, power and grace....more

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The Battle of Insistences / Number 1886, October 22, 2014

We begin to serialize a lecture Eli Siegel gave in 1949: Mind and Insistence. I find it amazing—great. He describes with richness and delicacy the various kinds of insistence everyone has, which are not understood by or even known to us.

There are, Aesthetic Realism explains, two big purposes that insist in every person, and battle with each other. There is the purpose we were born for: to respect the world, see meaning in it. That is at war all the time with another purpose, false but tremendous: to have contempt, to lessen what’s not us as a means of elevating ourselves. This second purpose is the source of every cruelty. Yet the first—to see things and people with vibrant justice—is the larger, deeper insistence. No matter how much we try to submerge it, it’s what our minds are for....more

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Literature, the World, & Aesthetic Realism / Number 1885, October 8, 2014

From the late 1920s through the mid ’30s, Eli Siegel wrote many book reviews. There were those, for example, that appeared frequently between 1931 and ’35 in the noted Scribner’s Magazine. We reprint here his review in The Book League Monthly, August 1930, of a book on the history of American magazines.

In those early reviews by Mr. Siegel we see some of the tremendous scope and depth of his knowledge. He discussed novels, biographies, books on history and America, literary criticism and mind. Whatever the subject, whoever the author reviewed—whether someone famous, like Theodore Dreiser, or someone little known—the reviews have, for all their brevity, Eli Siegel’s greatness as critic. They have his discernment, his oneness of clarity and subtlety, passion and ease….more

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Intelligence; or, Do We Like Our Thoughts? / Number 1882, August 27, 2014

It was fifty years ago this month that Eli Siegel gave the lecture [on intelligence] we are serializing....The knowledge in it is fresh, great, and tremendously needed—because there is, including among the supposed “experts,” so much fakery, ignorance, and cruelty about what it means to be intelligent. Mr. Siegel defined intelligence as “the ability of a self to become at one with the new.” And in the lecture he shows that intelligence is always a oneness of opposites—such as precision and scope, fact and imagination, oneself and the outside world in its width and particularity. Intelligence is described centrally in this Aesthetic Realism principle: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”

The present section is about the fact that intelligence and foolishness have been so intertwined in history—and in individual lives. What Mr. Siegel shows is about all of us, because every bright person has also felt, with much pain, “How could I have been so stupid!” And people have been disgusted by the brutal unintelligence of various persons who govern nations....more

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Intelligence & Freedom, in Life & Art / Number 1880, July 30, 2014

In [the present lecture by Eli Siegel], he is describing what that great thing, mysterious thing—that thing people can be so mistaken about—really is. He speaks about various aspects of intelligence, so different from each other. As he noted in an earlier (1949) lecture on the subject:

Intelligence is that which enables you to repair a faucet, understand a child, get a bus sometimes, do well when you are cleaning your clothes, be more sensible in politics; and then, it is about the very biggest question of all: how to spend one’s life. [TRO 706]...more

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Intelligence, Words, & Our Largest Hope / Number 1879, July 16, 2014

...In [the lecture by Eli Siegel that we're serializing], with depth and kindness, great intellect and humor, he is explaining what intelligence truly is. There have been so much pain, cruelty, and confusion around this subject. There have been noxious feelings of superiority, and also of inferiority, and often the same person has both.

This lecture is a rich illustration of the central principle of Aesthetic Realism: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.” Intelligence, Mr. Siegel is showing, always has to be fair to two opposed things. For instance, it has to be practical, deal efficiently with a problem before one—and also care for the largeness, the majesty, even the mystery of the world. Real intelligence, too, is both logical and daring. And it is care for self at one with generosity....more

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What Is Intelligence? / Number 1878, July 2, 2014

With this issue we begin to serialize Intelligence Is You and More, a remarkable, kind, clear, immensely important 1964 lecture by Eli Siegel. Every person has seen himself or herself as intelligent in a big way—as keener, sharper, deeper than others. Every person has also called him- or herself stupid, foolish, and worse. A woman right now, for instance, a Boston lawyer, feels that she’s very knowledgeable about jurisprudence and that she’s the brightest partner in her firm, able to outwit anyone. But she has also told herself she’s been an idiot as to love or else she wouldn’t have suffered so much about the various men she was close to. She feels she’s smart in her ability to impress a jury, but again and again feels inept after a conversation with her mother....

What is intelligence? It’s certainly not what IQ tests—those grossly inadequate and cruel things—delineate....more

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Intensity, False & True / Number 1877, June 18, 2014

We are honored to publish “Reflections on a Certain Lack of Intensity,” by Eli Siegel. This great essay was written, it seems, in the early 1950s, and what Mr. Siegel describes in it has to do very much with the literature of that time. Now, more than sixty years later, various ways of literary expression have changed; but the matters, the troubles, the mistakes that he explains—magnificently explains—are with us still, both in art and in life itself. I’ll mention some of those troubles about intensity as they’re present in lives of men and women day after day.

Mostly, people are intense in ways that make them ashamed—so much human intensity is anger that’s inexact and selfish. One result of this inaccurate intensity is: since people are ashamed of having it, they try instead to be unruffled, unaffected, cool. Meanwhile, people, often the same people, also feel bad because they lack intensity: they’re not for anything passionately...more

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Slowness & Speed: Poetry’s Opposites & Ours / Number 1875, May 21, 2014

…The Aesthetic Realism explanation of poetry—of what distinguishes a true poem from something not that, why poetry matters, what it has to do with the life of everyone—is central to Aesthetic Realism. And as I have said many times, I know of nothing more important, more beautiful in the world. Eli Siegel is the critic who showed that the questions of every person's life are answered in the technique of a good poem—because the opposites that are in us, that bewilder and battle in us, are made one there—in various ways but always vibrantly and powerfully. A line of good poetry is always a oneness of such opposites as activity and calm, familiarity and strangeness, freedom and order, and the opposites told of in the essay printed here: slowness and speed.

As introduction, I'll comment on some of the ways people are mixed up, often steeply, by speed and slowness in their lives. For example, every day throughout this land people feel both agitated (badly speedy) and torpid (badly slow); they shuttle between those two feelings, profoundly disliking each....more

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The Battle in Us All—& Matthew Arnold / Number 1874, May 7, 2014

It is an honor to publish the essay “Conflict as Possibility,” by Eli Siegel. He wrote it quite early in his teaching of Aesthetic Realism—the late 1940s, I estimate, or the beginning of the ’50s. That word, conflict, is not used as much now as once to characterize the turmoil in people, but the thing itself certainly exists just as much. In the 21st century, as in others, battles are going on within everyone, battles that put people in a whirl, and can make them feel bogged down, angry, disgusted. Aesthetic Realism is that in the history of thought which shows that these conflicts are aesthetic: they are answered in the technique of art. “All beauty,” Aesthetic Realism shows, “is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”...more

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Poetry, Impediment, & the Big Mistake / Number 1871, March 26, 2014

The essay published great in the history of literary criticism. It is also about the personal life of everyone, because Eli Siegel is the critic who showed this tremendous thing: every good poem, whatever its subject—whether it’s about a rose, a war, a mountain, a kiss—does in its technique what we need to do in our lives.

“Poetry,” he wrote, “ the oneness of the permanent opposites in reality as seen by an individual.” And those same opposites are ours too: our lives are, every day, rest and motion, junction and separation, for and against, known and unknown, logic and feeling. The opposites so often fight in us, whirl about, seem divided and at odds. We long to make them one—which is what poetry does....

Since the magnificent essay printed here is on the subject of impediment—and its opposite, freedom—I’ll comment briefly on the biggest mistake people make about impediment....more

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Shakespeare and Mandela / Number 1865, January 1, 2014

We are honored to publish “Shakespeare’s Eighth Sonnet & Self,” an essay by Eli Siegel. It is mightily important as literary criticism—and for everyone’s understanding of our own lives.

I could write lengthily about Mr. Siegel’s love for and explanation of the work of Shakespeare....He enabled people really to love Shakespeare, and understand him....Through what he said about Shakespeare’s plays, people can feel at last that the play is about them, their immediate lives, their inner tumults, and can feel inextricably too its true, full grandeur....

Here I make a relation to something that seems very different from a Shakespeare sonnet. Less than a month ago, one of the most important people of the last century died: Nelson Mandela. And there were the memorial service and so many adulatory statements by press and government leaders about him. From what I know of those statements, at least those in the western media, there has been a tremendous inaccuracy in the placing of his life and meaning. That inaccuracy and who Mandela really was, concern the same opposites as those in Shakespeare’s sonnet: self and world. They are opposites central to how a nation should be owned....more

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The Opposites, Beauty, & Us / Number 1863, December 4, 2013

It is a pleasure to publish here two essays by Eli Siegel. The first, “Husbands and Poems,” originally appeared in 1960, in the magazine Today’s Japan. Its basis is this principle, central to Aesthetic Realism: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.” I love that statement—see it as great in the history of thought, for the reason “Husbands and Poems” illustrates: not only has Eli Siegel defined what makes for beauty anywhere, in Paradise Lost or a rosebud, Brahms or a friendly smile; he has defined what we want for and from ourselves—the absence of which makes us pained.

Aesthetic Realism is the philosophy which shows that the questions we have are nothing less than aesthetic questions. All our hopes, our woes, and our confusions are about that which makes for beauty itself: the oneness of such opposites as freedom and accuracy, individuality and relation, separation and junction, difference and sameness....more

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The Ordinary, the Strange, & Ourselves / Number 1862, November 20, 2013

[Eli Siegel's 1963 lecture Romanticism and Guilt] is a cultural first, groundbreaking both as literary criticism and in the understanding of mind. Mr. Siegel shows that every new movement of art has arisen from artists’ welcoming of a deep guilt: the feeling, We have not seen the world, and things and people in it, fairly enough! We have shamefully summed up what beauty is! We must correct this terrible injustice!

Romanticism, which began around the start of the 19th century, was the movement that most richly and fundamentally honored, expressed, and acted on that guilt....more

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Guilt, Profit, & Poetry / Number 1861, November 6, 2013

[The subject of the article printed here from an Aesthetic Realism public seminar] has much to do with a poem of Wordsworth spoken of in the lecture [Romanticism and Guilt]. It is a famous poem, but its meaning is made clear for the first time by Mr. Siegel.

The opposites in the seminar title, care for self and justice to what’s not us, are the biggest opposites in our lives. And, Aesthetic Realism shows, all the cruelty in the world comes from dividing them—from feeling that the way to take care of ourselves is to lessen and look down on other people and things. That feeling is contempt. It’s immensely ordinary, and also the worst thing in humanity. Mr. Siegel explains—and I find these resounding, vivid, deep, clear sentences beautiful:

There is only one thing that is immoral in the world: liking oneself too much and the outside world too little....Once you feel what is owing to yourself is more and what is owing to other people is less, you can rob people’s purses, tell lies, keep back things that would do good to people, start wars....

Contempt is also the cause of guilt—or, as it’s often called today, low self-esteem. Guilt can take such forms as anxiety, nervousness, excess unsureness....more

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Wordsworth—& the Fight in Everyone / Number 1860, October 23, 2013

Mr. Siegel is in the midst of speaking [in the lecture being serialized] about the poet William Wordsworth, and describing, as no other critic did, a fight that went on within him. That fight is literarily important—it has to do with why some of Wordsworth’s poems are much better than others. But it corresponds to a battle going on right now in every person. And one of the contenders is the cause of guilt....

“The greatest fight man is concerned with,” writes Eli Siegel, “is the fight between respect for reality and contempt for reality”(TRO 151). From the desire to respect the world—from the desire to know it and give it justice—has come all art, and, mightily, that movement in art at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, romanticism. For example, as Wordsworth, in his 1800 Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, describes a new approach in poetry, we see him respecting what others had spurned, belittled, taken for granted: the ordinary. He wrote:

The principal object...proposed in these poems was to choose incidents and situations from common life, throw over them a certain coloring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual aspect; and...above all, to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them...the primary laws of our nature....more

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Originality, Convention, & What's True / Number 1859, October 9, 2013

Part of [the] greatness [of the lecture we're serializing] is Aesthetic Realism’s explanation of guilt. Whether guilt is searing or murky, whether it shows itself as agitation or emptiness or “low self-esteem,” it is the sense that we have been unjust to the world. Guilt does not come from society or religion or our upbringing. It comes from what the human self is. If we are unjust, whether we’re clear about that or not, we have to dislike ourselves—because our purpose from birth is to be ourselves through seeing truly what’s not ourselves. This purpose is in keeping with the aesthetic nature of the human self: each of us is, all the time, a situation of opposites needing to be one, and the chief opposites are self and world. Writes Eli Siegel in two clear, resounding, and beautiful sentences:

The basis of the Aesthetic Realism method is that every human being is a self whose fundamental and constant purpose is to be at one with reality. It is impossible for that self to evade this purpose, although he can curtail it, obscure it, limit it.

That is how “The Guilt Chapter” of his Self and World begins....more

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Guilt, Art, & Us / Number 1858, September 25, 2013

...The 1963 lecture [by Eli SIegel] we are serializing [is] historic in the understanding of both art and the bewildering self of everyone....

He is presenting this big, new idea: every important movement in art has come from various persons’ welcoming a certain feeling of guilt. That guilt—felt keenly by an artist but present, however murkily, in others too—is: “Art so far, mind so far, our minds, have been UNFAIR to many things! We’ve deprived them of their meaning. We have not wanted to see all that may be beautiful, meaningful. There are beauty, form, even nobility, to be found in things and people we’ve passed over, spurned, sneered at. This is terrible!” The artist feels: “I’m ashamed of our injustice—yet as I try to remedy it, I’m proud, expressed, free!” A highpoint in the welcoming of this guilt and changing it to justice, was the romantic movement of the late 18th and early 19th century.

While the lecture is great in the history of literary criticism, the comprehension of guilt that is in it is something people need in order to like themselves, be at ease, kind, and truly expressed. Today guilt is often called low self-esteem or anxiety. And a sign of how much it’s with people is the fact that for over a year the New York Times “Opinionator” blog ran an “anxiety series,” posting over 70 essays by persons about their ongoing agitations and self-accusations. The essays are various. Yet in none is there a comprehension of why a person can feel so against herself or himself; be so often excessively worried, even panicky....more

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What & Who Are Important? / Number 1856, August 28, 2013

[In the lecture by Eli Siegel being serialized here,] he shows that every new movement in art arises from the sense that the world has not been seen with enough justice; things have not been valued; their meaning has not been brought forth! We’re ashamed, we have guilt, when we’re unjust. And an artist welcomes the guilt and feels, I must give to these misseen, undervalued things the form, the beauty, they deserve!

Never was such a feeling stronger than during the romantic movement, at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries. Romanticism said: The ordinary things you take for granted have wonder! Things you consider distant from you, strange, even grotesque, can tell you about yourself! People who have been thought lowly have importance, dignity, even grandeur! ...more

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A Magnificent Self-Dissatisfaction / Number 1855, August 14, 2013

It is an honor to begin to serialize a lecture that is groundbreaking, mighty, and beautiful in the understanding of art and of the human self—the self that belongs to each of us. The lecture is Romanticism and Guilt, and Eli Siegel gave it in 1963.

Today the word guilt is not used as much as once. Yet that dislike of oneself, which can be gnawing, or sharp, or take the form of agitation or unsureness, is with people as much as ever. Often it is called “low self-esteem.”

It was over 70 years ago that Mr. Siegel began to teach the philosophy he founded. Aesthetic Realism explained then, as it does now, what guilt is and comes from—which is one of the many things psychologists today still do not understand. Guilt, Aesthetic Realism shows, is always about the opposites of self and world. Guilt is the inevitable self-dislike with which we punish ourselves for having contempt for the world…. more

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Feeling—& the Fight about It / Number 1852, July 3, 2013

[In the section we have reached of] Aesthetic Realism Looks at Feeling, a 1964 lecture by Eli Siegel…he shows that every science has feeling with it, of it, in it. As one sees this, one can see that the rift people make—sometimes with great pain—between knowing and feeling is unnecessary and false.

What Mr. Siegel does in this section is also a magnificent combating of something immensely hurtful that people go after. That is, right now millions of men, women, and even children are trying to be cool, unfeeling, often without knowing they’re doing so. One reason people try to be unstirred is that they’re so confused by and ashamed of the feelings they have. However, this sought-for coldness is a form of what Aesthetic Realism shows to be the most hurtful thing in the human self: contempt....more

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Feeling, Knowing—& Anger / Number 1851, June 19, 2013

In [the lecture by Eli Siegel we're serializing] he defines feeling in a way that I think is great. The definition gets to what every feeling is—from the most intense to the most tepid; from the feelings we’re proudest of to those that make us ashamed; from those we’re keenly aware of to those that subtly and intricately mingle with other feelings, so that we don’t know what they are. He defines feeling as “any instance whatever of pain or pleasure.” And he says, “A feeling is always a for and an against.”

One can see, in this 2nd section, that Eli Siegel’s spoken prose is beautiful. And through it, one has a sense of who he was—of his own feeling and knowledge. In all his lectures, Mr. Siegel spoke without notes, and here one can see in the sentences the inseparability of scholarship and pleasure which stood for him so much. He is humorous, playful, yet utterly serious and exact. I love, more than I can express, his remarkable and so respectful ease amid, and delight in, the literature of the centuries.... more

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What Our Feelings Are / Number 1850, June 5, 2013

It is an honor to begin to serialize Aesthetic Realism Looks at Feeling, a 1964 lecture by Eli Siegel. Nothing is closer to us than our feelings. Nothing confuses us more. Since every human act of kindness or beauty began with a person’s feeling something, and so did every vicious or ugly act, it is mightily important to know what feeling is. Aesthetic Realism is the means to that knowledge...

In this lecture, Mr. Siegel describes what is fundamental to all feeling, however complex. Feeling—whether a child’s on touching a cat, or Hamlet’s during an intricate soliloquy—is always a matter of pain or pleasure; it is always for or against. In any day, every person has feelings about hundreds of things. That means we are for and against in ever so many ways. And Aesthetic Realism explains this: in order to like ourselves, we have to be for and against in a way that makes us proud. A huge cause of shame and tragedy in the lives of people is, they’re not proud of their feelings. They’re not proud of why they’re for and against.... more

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Homer, Cynicism, & Goodbye Profit System / Number 1849, May 22, 2013

...It was 43 years ago today that Eli Siegel gave the first of his landmark Goodbye Profit System lectures. In them he described a huge, irreversible occurrence in economic history. He showed that an economy based on contempt—on seeing human beings in terms of how much profit you can make from them—could no longer continue successfully. He wrote:

There will be no economic recovery in the world until economics itself, the making of money, the having of jobs, becomes ethical; is based on good will rather than on the ill will which has been predominant for centuries.

...I’m going to comment on a New York Times article about the recent factory building collapse in Bangladesh. That collapse is an instance of what Mr. Siegel once called a “horror story of free enterprise.” It killed more than 1,000 people....I’m commenting on this because, with all the horror (and, really, murderousness) of what occurred, the factories in that building are emblematic of the one way the profit system can now go on.... more

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There Are Babies, Art, & Ourselves / Number 1848, May 8, 2013

[The lecture by Eli Siegel we are serializing] is very much about two tremendous questions critics have tried to answer for centuries: What is art? and Why does art matter? Aesthetic Realism answers these questions—truly and greatly.

Aesthetic Realism also explains that the way of seeing which makes for art, and the purpose in us which enables us to be affected by art, are completely opposed to another way of seeing we have: contempt. Contempt is the getting an “addition to self through the lessening of something else.” It is the ugliest, stupidest, most hurtful thing in every person. Yet people have mistakenly felt that this ability to look down on the outside world made them clever, secure, and even creative....more

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Our Lives, Art, & How We Judge / Number 1847, April 24, 2013

This issue has to do with something great, beautiful, necessary-to-be-known—something Aesthetic Realism is the body of knowledge to show. It is this: What makes a critical judgment in the field of art right or wrong, has everything to do with what choices we make in our lives. What makes a critic judge a work of art wrongly and what makes us judge wrongly in our life are the same….

To place a little the paragraphs from the 1972 lecture [by Eli Siegel serialized here]: Paul Elmer More (1864-1937) was a literary critic with right wing views—views Mr. Siegel disagreed with adamantly. Yet Mr. Siegel praises More’s large care for Milton and sees it as important….more

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The Fight of Large & Small / Number 1846, April 19, 2013

...[The 1972 lecture we're serializing] is about a central idea of Aesthetic Realism: that the way of seeing which is in all authentic art is the way we need to see in order to have lives, selves, minds we like. “All beauty,”Aesthetic Realism explains,“is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”

There are the opposites in the lecture’s title: known and unknown. And Mr. Siegel has been showing that all art arises from a person’s desire to know truly, both what he or she feels and the object being dealt with. In art, this desire to know is so powerful, exact, deep, wide, that the result has too the unknown as beautiful. That is: whether in a good poem, concerto, painting, or dance, there is—along with something ever so immediate—the sense of wonder, of something unbounded, of the world in all its fullness.

A different way of seeing, however, is the source of bad art, and is also the big weakener of every person’s mind....more

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Do We Want to Know Our Feelings? / Number 1842, February 13, 2013

[The lecture by Eli Siegel we are] about something which Aesthetic Realism, of all the world’s philosophies, has shown to be a matter of the most vital importance in every person’s life. Along with the fact that one’s own personal happiness and one’s kindness or cruelty depend on this matter, it is central to the conduct of nations, to world economics, to how justly or brutally human beings treat each other. One way of describing it is: How much do we want to know truly what we feel, be critics of our own feelings, see them accurately?

People mainly go by the unstated notion that one’s feelings are one’s own, and therefore one can do with them as one pleases. That includes not looking at them. It includes lying to oneself and others about them. This ordinary way of seeing is the complete contrary to what happens in art—because all art comes from a person’s wanting to see his or her feeling and deal with it accurately, widely, deeply. Sometimes the accuracy is a wild accuracy, has strangeness to it, but it is accuracy nonetheless.... more

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Do We Like the Way Our Minds Work? / Number 1841, January 30, 2013

With this issue we begin to serialize The Known & Unknown Are Kind in Poetry, the lecture Eli Siegel gave on October 11, 1972. Like Aesthetic Realism itself, it is philosophic, literary, scholarly—and at the same time vividly, mightily, plainly, and urgently about the life of every one of us.

At its basis are two Aesthetic Realism principles. First: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.” Aesthetic Realism is the philosophy which explains that the questions of a person—including the most tumultuous questions—are solved in outline in the technique of art. This is because every good poem, painting, song, dance makes a one of the very opposites that fight in us—including the opposites Mr. Siegel speaks about here: the known and unknown, and truth and imagination.... more

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Shelley and Love / Number 1840, January 16, 2013

...We find in this section [of a 1965 lecture by Eli Siegel] an understanding of [Percy Bysshe] Shelley that is great, that is beautiful, that is unprecedented, that is true. What drove Shelley in the field of love—drove him superbly, yet also blunderingly, and painfully? And what is the relation of Shelley’s confusion, in all its grandeur and sinking, to what men and women are going through today?... more

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The Opposites Are Philosophy—& Your Particular Life / Number 1821, April 25, 2012

With this issue we begin serializing the lecture Eli Siegel gave on April 10, 1970: the great Philosophy Begins with That. It is about one of the big matters distinguishing Aesthetic Realism from other philosophies. Mr. Siegel explains that philosophy is in things as such: ordinary things; things we bump into, use, discard. It is in everyday happenings; in moods; in disappointments; in clothing, trees, and every human being.....

Aesthetic Realism explains that there’s that in everyone which wants to find the world dull, also ugly, also unkind—because we feel the way to make ourselves big is to be superior to what’s not us....

Meanwhile, our deepest desire is to like the world honestly—as Mr. Siegel has put it, “with the facts present.” Is this possible? How? ....more

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The Great Barbarity—& What Can Oppose It / Number 1762, August 9, 2006

The great barbarity of human beings, in history and now, is not to want to see the feelings of people other than oneself. This lack of desire to see others as having feelings as real as one's own is fundamental contempt. That is, it's central to the way of mind Eli Siegel described as "the addition to self through the lessening of something else."...more

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Art versus Cruelty / Number 1755, October 14, 2009

We publish here, from notes taken at the time, the lecture Eli Siegel gave on February 27, 1947, at Steinway Hall: Why People Hurt People. It is definitive on its subject, a subject that alarms and stymies people now.

For example, discussions of bullying are taking place all over America. Teachers, parents, and school administrators don’t know what to do about it. The New York Times of September 22 described the bullying going on in a school honored last year as “the best high school in the state” by New Jersey Magazine...

Mr. Siegel shows that we shall never understand the overt, fierce ways people hurt other people until we understand contempt—and how it is present in everyone....more

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The Comprehension Men & Women Desire / Number 1712, February 20, 2008

With clarity, depth, often humor, always kindness and style, [Eli Siegel] comments on various descriptions, literary and historical, of women [in his lecture Some Women Looked At]....We see opposites in women—in the same woman: such opposites as sweetness and fierceness, yielding and assertion, humility and pride. And we see both men's and women's confusion about the opposites.

In this issue there appears only a brief section of Some Women Looked At, because I want to join with that 1952 talk another instance—20 years later—of Eli Siegel's beautiful comprehension of women. In 1972 he lectured on the novelist George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans). At the time, I wrote a report of the lecture, and it is this report which is printed here."...more

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The Human Self: Confusion & Grandeur / Number 1707, December 12, 2007

Mr. Siegel wrote the poem [published here] about [writer Norman] Mailer in 1956, when that author was quite controversial. Meanwhile, years later, when he came to be treated as a literary elder statesman, Mailer was still, like every person, controversial to himself. We don't know how to see ourselves; how to be for and against ourselves; how, as this poem says, to make sense of our mind and body, modesty and boldness, our desire to be exact and our desire to be completely free....more

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What Does a Child Want Most? / Number 1681, December 13, 2006

[Recently] a dramatic presentation titled "Parents & Children—What Do They Really Want from Each Other?" took place at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation. It was cultural, kind, deep, often funny. And it had the knowledge that all people concerned with children are longing for—are, really, desperate for. We are publishing, as an article, a section of that event: "Why Have Children Loved These Songs?," written by performers with the Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company. What is a young person hoping for?

What is it within the child himself or herself that can have this child be distressed? People are as mixed up as ever on the subject....more

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Always: Love of Reality / Number 1626, November 3, 2004

We approach the 26th anniversary of the death of Eli Siegel. And it is an honor to publish in this issue writing that, though brief, stands for the grandeur and kindness of his mind and the philosophy he founded. ....more

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Mind and Sherlock Holmes  / Number 1624, October 6, 2004

...The psychiatry of today consists, to a large degree, of medication. Yet the crucial questions still are: What interferes with mind—what makes it fare ill? Also, what does it mean for mind, including one’s own, to fare well?...Aesthetic Realism’s showing that the human self is aesthetic. That is, each of us is composed of reality’s opposites. And how our lives fare depends on how much we can do what art does—make a one of those opposites....

     In keeping with that great principle, I’m going to something in literature that has been popular for more than a century, as a means of asking: When anything in art continues to please people, is it because it makes a one of opposites—opposites that we are trying to put together and that may fight in us? ....more

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Justice and Punctuation / Number 1616, June 16, 2004

We’re very glad to publish in this issue “What Is the Best Punctuation for the Self?” It is one of the many, wonderful “bulletins” Eli Siegel wrote for Aesthetic Realism Dramatic Presentations during the 1960s and ’70s. The impetus to our printing this bulletin now is the fact that a book about punctuation has been high on the bestseller lists, in both America and Britain. The book is Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, by Lynne Truss....more

Poetry, Self, and Love / Number 1605, January 14, 2004

Eli Siegel explained that what makes for a true poem is the very thing that will make a person’s life happy, intelligent, proud. What takes place in the technique of a good poem is what we need, and we suffer because we do not have it: "All beauty," he showed, "is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves." We publish his 1960 essay "What Aesthetic Realism Adds to Poetry; or, If One Wishes, Just Says about It."

The title is very modest—because what Aesthetic Realism adds to poetry is the biggest thing in the centuries-long history of poetic criticism. It is what such critics as Aristotle, Longinus, Horace, Boileau, Coleridge, Matthew Arnold thirsted to see: the thing that makes one arrangement of words poetry and another not....more

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What Interferes with Justice / Number 1602, December 17, 2003

We are serializing a work of philosophic, historic, and immediate importance: Eli Siegel’s 1968 lecture We Are Unrepresented. Quoting John Stuart Mill, Aristotle, and articles from current newspapers, he describes what that tremendous, needed thing, representation, is. It is "to have the power that is in things and people bring out, with respect, what is in a person or persons." He speaks about the need of people to be represented in the workings of their nation, and about the interference—the fact that so much throughout the centuries, people have stopped others from being represented....more

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The Purpose a Woman Wants / Number 1527, July 10, 2002

The question which torments women now, even though a woman most often does not articulate it: How can I love a man and be loved, and yet be fully myself? This matter has not fared well because, for one thing, men haven't wanted it to. We know that men, and that thing called society, for ever so many centuries did not permit woman to be all she could be. But what has not been seen is that a woman herself has had purposes which make for a profound schism in her, a feeling that she is a different person in love from the person who wants to express herself in the wide world....more

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Woman Always and Now / Number 1525, June 26, 2002

We begin to serialize the historic lecture Poetry and Women, which Eli Siegel gave in 1949. So much in women’s lives has changed since then. Women now do just about everything men do. Yet though it is expected that girls play soccer, and female doctors and lawyers abound, and no one is surprised to see a woman wield a hammer, there is still a difference between woman and man. The question What is a woman? remains....more

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Nature, Romanticism, & Harry Potter / Number 1420, June 21, 2000

Eli Siegel is the critic who showed that romanticism did not stop by the second half of the 19th century, as is generally thought — and it has never stopped...."All romanticists," he wrote, "have tended to make reality and wonder akin, the fact and strangeness like each other." ...Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is, I believe, true literature....the ordinariness and strangeness of reality are more deeply one in it, more sincerely joined, than in many contemporary presentations....more

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Conversations in Marriage—& Poetry / Number 1413, May 3, 2000

...Aesthetic Realism is that which understands, as nothing else can, the big, beautiful, yet so often painful subject of conversations. I have written on the matter in other TROs; but for now, I say this: What that seminar showed is that if men and women have trouble talking to each other, it isn’t for the reason given in current books—that the male approach to talking and the female are just different. The reason is, persons do not see reality and other persons justly. The man or woman you have to do with stands for reality and humanity; and as that person is in a close and crucial and prolonged relation to you, the amissness in how you both see the world will come forth in your seeing of each other, dealing with each other, speaking with each other....more

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Poetry—& How People Affect People / Number 1411, April 19, 2000

...Aesthetic Realism explains that the one effect we can ever respect ourselves for going after is that through us another person like the world more: that we are a means of this person’s being more interested in, fairer to, more richly and accurately joined with reality’s things and people. And the reason people can feel uneasy and sometimes desolate about their effect on others, is that this is not what they have gone after. People live whole lives feeling they have not steadily affected another person in a way that makes them proud. They may have impressed persons stupendously; they may have lived with someone for 60 years and gotten and given devotion; yet there is an unarticulated emptiness and shame—because through them a person has not liked the world more, and may, in fact, like the world less.

This matter has to do with poetry; because all poetry that is the real thing, Aesthetic Realism magnificently explains, is like of the world....more

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Sincerity with Words / Number 1401, February 9, 2000

As we continue to serialize Eli Siegel’s magnificent 1949 lecture Poetry and Words, I want to comment on a matter that has been in the news lately. It is the dispute about the flying of the Confederate flag above the South Carolina statehouse. I will be speaking about it in relation to words, and what Aesthetic Realism considers most important as to words: sincerity, honesty. But I’ll say immediately that I think the presence of that flag on a government building is completely shameful.

Sincerity or honesty with words is the using of words to show what you truly feel, not to hide and pretend; and the using of words to be exact about the world. Falsity with words—twisting and changing facts, using words to construct some picture convenient to one’s ego whether it is true or not—this goes on so much, in politics, the press, social life. People come to expect a certain dishonesty with words, and engage in it. However, they despise themselves for it, and despise others. This fact is beautiful.....more

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The Sanity of Poetry; or, H.D. / Number 1316, June 24, 1998

[The life of poet H.D., Hilda Doolittle,] is a means of seeing Aesthetic Realism’s greatness in explaining something not understood elsewhere, something still looked at in a barbaric fashion: the relation between art and mental difficulty or depression...more

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What Love—and Strength—Really Are / Number 1313, June 3, 1998

It is an honor to print an introduction that Eli Siegel wrote in 1973 for a public seminar presented by Aesthetic Realism consultants, “Why Does Love Change to Something Else?” Accompanying it is part of a paper by consultant Derek Mali from a seminar of this spring....And I am tremendously happy, as preliminary, to comment a little on this fact: Aesthetic Realism is that which explains at last, with grandeur and infinite practicality, the bewildering, thrilling, tormenting subject of love.

I begin by quoting William Butler Yeats, musical and pained on the subject Mr. Siegel writes about here....more

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What Man Is / Number 750, August 19, 1987

Aesthetic Realism arose from the greatest desire ever had by one person—to see all people truly and the world itself truly. This was Eli Siegel's desire. He was unswervingly and gracefully faithful to it, and he achieved it....

We print Mr. Siegel's “Questions for Everyone,” first published in 1949. Because Aesthetic Realism understands man, it is able to ask the questions, not asked before, that people need most to hear in order to have the lives they want....

The 1966 lecture by Mr. Siegel reported on here [about the work of African-American poet Sterling A. Brown] contains two urgently needed things: the Aesthetic Realism way of seeing poetry, and Aesthetic Realism’s justice about race.... more


The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known online:

*Current Issues: The most recent issues in which Aesthetic Realism explains the news, happenings in people's lives, events in history, and some of the most moving works in literature.

*National Ethics: What honest criteria can we use to be good critics of ethics on the national and international levels? Aesthetic Realism looks at ethics as to loyalty, international affairs, & more.

*Literature / Poetry: Discussing many great works of poetry and prose. Criticism, wrote Eli Siegel compactly, is showing "a good thing as good, a bad thing as bad, and a middling thing as middling."

*Love: How Aesthetic Realism describes the purpose of love—"to like the world honestly through another person." Discussion of what interferes with having real love—today and in history.

*Racism—the Cause & Solution: The Aesthetic Realism understanding of contempt as the cause of racism, and the place of aesthetics in respecting, pleasurably, people different from oneself.

*The Economy: Why our economic system has failed to meet the needs of the American people, and the Aesthetic Realism understanding of good will as the basis for successful and fair economics

*Education: The success of the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method in having students learn to read and write—learn science, social studies, art, every subject—and be kinder, less angry, less prejudiced.

*Eli Siegel Day in Baltimore: Talks given on August 16, 2002, Eli Siegel's Centenary, placing Mr. Siegel and Aesthetic Realism, his work, in terms of world culture and history.

*Art: "Aesthetic Realism sees the purpose of art as, from the beginning, the liking of the world more..."

*Archives: The rich education provided by Aesthetic Realism in issues of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known which are online.

Aesthetic Realism Foundation online

The most comprehensive source of information about Aesthetic Realism is the website of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation—and the sites connected to it, including this one. You can start, for instance, at the Foundation's home page. Then, go on to biographical information about Eli Siegel, who founded Aesthetic Realism in 1941. You will see how the education he began teaching in those years continues now in Aesthetic Realism consultations and in public dramatic presentations and seminars at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation—as well as in the Foundation's Outreach Programs for seniors, young people, libraries, teachers. Meanwhile in the schools of New York, the dramatically effective Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method has enabled students to learn, to love learning, and to pass standardized examinations for three decades. And artists since 1955 have exhibited at the Terrain Gallery for which many have written commentaries (including on their own works), based on the philosophic principles of Aesthetic Realism. You can read about Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education online, as well as about every person on the faculty of the Foundation. As editor of TRO her commentaries are in every issue (see, e.g., "Nature, Romanticism, & Harry Potter"; "Clothing and Emotion"; and "Jobs, Discontent, and Beauty"). In the Aesthetic Realism Online Library, you'll find the largest single repository of reviews, articles in the press, lectures, poetry; and The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known. In 2002, Eli Siegel' s centenary, the Governor of Maryland and the Mayor of Baltimore, the city where he grew up, wrote on the meaning to America of Aesthetic Realism and its founder. So did the former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, in the U.S. Congressional Record.

Selected Resources online

People in America's diverse professions—the humanities, the arts, education, the social sciences, medicine, labor—have written on the value of Aesthetic Realism. They describe the way Aesthetic Realism teaches people how to understand themselves more accurately; how the ability to be just to other people is enhanced; how one's professional attainments are augmented. Language arts teacher Leila Rosen, for example, writes on the Aesthetic Realism teaching method. Anthropologist Arnold Perey writes on the way Aesthetic Realism opposes prejudice and improves international understanding. And there are many others. Historically, new knowledge has often been met unjustly. This was true about the new, innovative thought of Louis Pasteur and John Keats, Beethoven and William Lloyd Garrison, Jonas Salk and Isaac Newton. And it has been true about Aesthetic Realism. Documenting and opposing this, the website "Friends of Aesthetic Realism — Countering the Lies," written by more than 60 individuals, refutes the falsehoods of the few persons who have attacked Aesthetic Realism and lets the facts speak for themselves. People who want to express their opinion of Aesthetic Realism, and have the knowledge to back it up, have created blogs and websites and have written numerous articles. See, for example, composer and educator Edward Green; essayist Lynette Abel; photographer Len Bernstein; teachers Ann Richards, Christopher Balchin, and Alan Shapiro. Others are listed in "What People Are Saying." The education of Aesthetic Realism enables a person to understand oneself more exactly than has been possible before, and to like the world honestly, authentically.

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