Dear Unknown Friends:
We continue serializing the great 1964 lecture Aesthetic Realism Looks at Feeling, by Eli Siegel. One of its historic aspects is his showing that knowing and feeling always take place together. Indeed, he explains that every science has feeling in it. And he comments on feeling in relation to 14 sciences, providing a particular illustrative sentence for each. The sentences and comments are surprising, vivid, charming, sometimes humorous, often poetic, always exact. The discussion of 7 of those sciences appeared in our previous issue. The final 7 are here.
We print too an article by actor and Aesthetic Realism associate Carol McCluer. It’s part of a paper she presented this spring at a seminar titled “To Manage People or Understand Them: The Historic & Intimate Debate.”
People often complain—most notably in the field of domestic life—that somebody is trying to manage them. And sitcoms and films are filled with comic examples of spouses trying to out-manipulate each other. Aesthetic Realism, while valuing the comedy that can be found in the subject, is the philosophy that says plainly: the desire to manage someone—have your way with the person rather than try to know and be fair to the person—is the ugliest thing in the human self. It is contempt, “the addition to self through the lessening of something else.” And it always makes the manager ashamed, unsure, and intellectually weakened.
In Science Too
What Aesthetic Realism shows to be the big fight in everyone—between respect for reality and contempt for it—takes many forms. One is the battle in us every day between our desire to know the world and our desire to manipulate it. That is also the huge fight in a field seen as so apart from personal life: it’s the fight throughout the history of science. Every instance of bad “science,” fake “science,” hurtful “science,” has arisen from contempt. These come from the very same thing that makes for troubled social life and all cruelty: the desire to manage reality, have it on one’s own terms, rather than see it truly.
Take an article that appeared on June 16 in the Independent (UK), with the phrase “The Bad Science Scandal” in its headline. The British government, we learn, is trying to stop something which has proliferated in America too: the falsification of data by scientists working at “leading science institutions.” We’re told that “corrupt data,” “elaborately-faked data,” and “fact-fabricators” are so legion that there’s an effort to discover “how the ethics of British scientists can be policed.”
The word science comes from the Latin scire, to know. Mr. Siegel defined science as “the known desire to know.” And real science is beautiful, and tremendously kind. But whether one is in a laboratory or a living room, the desire to know has a competitor. The competitor is told of in the following statement from Eli Siegel’s Self and World: “The fact that most people have felt...they had the right to see other people and other objects in a way that seemed to go with comfort—this fact is the beginning of the injustice and pain of the world.”
So a scientist can manipulate data to attain money, position, prestige—each of which is a form of “comfort.” Further, he may want his research to lead to a certain conclusion that suits his sense of self—and if it does not, he’ll falsify the data to make it do so. Take the eugenics movement of the early 20th century. Various scientists wanted to prove that certain races were superior to others, for such a conclusion would bolster these scientists’ own way of seeing themselves and persons different from them. No data justified such a conclusion. So all sorts of impressive scientific-seeming illustrations, logic, and statistics were manufactured—in support of a hideous lie.
The Same Desire
A scientist’s desire to manipulate facts is really no different from someone’s desire, in everyday life, to manage the people he or she knows. However ordinary it is, and however laughed about, the desire to manipulate what’s not ourselves is never cute and is always harmful.
Eli Siegel showed that the desire to know is the most beautiful and necessary thing in the world. He loved that fact, and represented it with passionate fidelity.
—Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education
There Is Feeling in Science
By Eli Siegel
Note. Mr. Siegel has just looked at seven sciences: astronomy, biology, botany, ethnology, anthropology, geology, history.
One has a feeling about the word jurisprudence which quite clearly is different from a feeling about apple peel. There’s a science of jurisprudence, which is the same as law. Jurisprudence is law when it’s dignified. And we can have a feeling of dignity. In the words dignified and dignity we can see something like feeling. To say, “I have a feeling of self-respect because I didn’t do that” is quite possible. We likely wouldn’t say, “I feel dignified now,” but we could say it. The statuesque and the casual are in feeling. Feeling has every possibility that objects have, and objects have more possibility than has been imagined. Otherwise art would have stopped long ago.
A sentence for law is: Law tries to keep up with quarrels. Law is a word that is on the side of coherence, but it’s usually thought to be about quarrels and disagreements. Feeling is like that. Feeling by its very nature has to compose. Any new feeling we get has to find its place among all the feelings we already have, most of which we don’t think about. It seems we can welcome a new feeling and find it lodging.
Biology has its divisions, quite a few of them. One is mammalogy. Mammalogy is that part of biology or zoology which deals with organisms that suckle their young. There is this sentence, which is not too scientific but is still part of mammalogy: Mammalogy includes some of the nicest animals we know. So there’s a feeling about mammalogy.
The word mammalogy is tremendously related to mother. Meantime, the word animal is in the sentence, and the word nice. Each of these words can make for a feeling. As I said earlier, every word and every thing can.
Mammals can give feelings and coins can give feelings. Numismatics deals with coins and medals. A sentence is: Well, so here’s a coin of the 5th century AD! If you don’t get a feeling seeing a coin of the 5th century AD, you should look to it. There are older coins. It is to be presumed that a coin collector looking at his coins must get a feeling, as a stamp collector does.
Many people could see a coin from the 5th century AD and, as far as they’re concerned, it could be of any century—it’s one of those foreign things. But to know that a coin is of the 5th century AD, and to feel (which is usually the case) that you don’t know very much about the 5th century AD and here’s a coin, gives you a chance to come home and know something.
People have gotten various feelings from coins, also emotions, and in certain instances there would be a passion. If a person trying to get a coin of the last century of the Roman Empire, the 5th century, didn’t get it and then at last found it, he would be in a great passion about it—the passion of acquisition.
In geology there’s a certain section called petrology, which deals with rocks and their makeup. The sentence is: How the split stone shines inside. That’s an emotion, and a feeling. A certain writer could compare the way a split stone looks to the heart of man shining at twilight. There are emotions in petrology. The fact that emotions can come from anything, is in poems. It’s also in painting.
For zoology we have: Watch the frightened antelope. Fear is something we can watch in another. Fear is one of the very big feelings. The first are pleasure and pain; and we have love and hate; also hope and fear.
We have a feeling seeing fear in another. We get feelings from feelings. That shows how complicated feelings are. Feelings themselves are objects. This could be exemplified in the following sentence: “When I feel how I felt last year about something that doesn’t bother me at all now, I see how silly I can be.”
To see anything having fear can, on the one hand, cause fear in us. On the other, it can also, as Aristotle said, do away with our fear, because to see an emotion we don’t like in another is a good way of making it less in us—if we really see it. That is what Aristotle meant by the purgation of the tragic feelings.
For the science of optics we’ll say: How, after all, do we see? In feeling there’s the unknown. Two sorrows having to do with feeling are the sorrow of boredom, or a too great familiarity, and the sorrow of not knowing where we are, where we stand. We can have feelings, then, of amazement, puzzlement, uncertainty, insecurity; and of routine, just-the-way-it-was-yesterday, old hat, and the like.
In the sentence How, after all, do we see? there are familiarity and also wonder. One can get this feeling in saying, “Who am I after all? What am I doing here after all?” It’s in my poem “One Question”: “I— / Why?”
The last of these fields is grammar, with: That sentence was so clumsy and unwieldy and crowded, it made one uncomfortable; and besides, the singular noun was used with the plural verb: look—“The history of ideas and people are”!
How words are used can give us feelings. Hearing the phrase “The people of New York isn’t too intelligent,” for a while you think, what kind of a world are you in? Or “France are very good things, aren’t they?” Or “Shoes was there.” It’s pretty hard: we feel the world is askew.
Managing vs. Knowing: The Fight
By Carol McCluer
Years ago a friend let me stay with her for a few days while I was waiting to move into my own apartment. The first day, before she went out, she said, “Don’t rearrange anything, okay?” I gave her a smile: “Okay.” Later I looked around and thought, “I’ll just organize her stuff a little. She’ll be glad I did.” When she saw what I had done and was furious, I was amazed and even hurt, thinking how ungrateful she was for my having tidied up.
Fortunately, some years later, I learned from Aesthetic Realism about the fight that goes on in everyone between managing people and understanding them. “Respecting a person,” Eli Siegel has explained,
is the biggest value in life, [and] understanding another person is the most active thing in the world. Manipulation can often seem the most expressive thing...but what it comes to is, one is going after being praised or flattered through another.
This was true of me. And the more I saw that I wanted the real self-expression of understanding people, not the fake “self-expression” of manipulating them, the more my mind became keener and my heart warmer.
The Fight from the Very Start
As a girl in suburban California, in some ways I went after understanding people. In first grade, I was excited to meet Dick, Jane, and Sally, Puff the cat, and Spot the dog, in our basal reader. Then and later, through books I felt related to people different from myself.
But I had another desire, completely opposed to understanding: the desire to manage people and get their praise. I got a thrill at recess taunting the boys to chase me and pull my arms, one on each side, competing for me. I saw I could get my parents’ and teachers’ approval by seeming a “sweet girl,” though I knew I wasn’t just that. As a teenager, if I didn’t feel sufficiently adored by someone, I’d be moody and mean.
My father was the person I could win over most easily. I thought he was a softy, and didn’t understand me. But it never occurred to me that I didn’t understand him. He was the first of many males I would go after trying to manage—though I could never mold any of them into what I saw as just the right fit for me. My trying to do so caused pain to others and myself, and one relationship after another ended.
In college, nothing I was learning seemed to matter much. I was more interested in having a career singing and acting. Meanwhile, the fight between managing and understanding was raging, and I was growing cynical and sarcastic. I wrote in my diary: “Why won’t Luke pay attention to me? The awful question I must ask myself is: Would I care even if he did?” I decided the only answer was to get rich and famous. Then I could have, as I scornfully thought of it, “the pick of the litter.” But the truth was I didn’t like myself, and I felt hopeless about love.
My Great Education Begins
At 25, when I learned about Aesthetic Realism and began to study it in consultations, I found out that what I was desperate for was not to succeed better at managing people, but to hear accurate criticism of my motives with them. My consultants made conscious a feeling I realized I’d had for as long as I could remember, when they asked, “Do you have the ‘Lord, what fools these mortals be’ attitude?—that other people are foolish creatures that should be managed by you?” And I learned, to my everlasting gratitude, about another motive, for which I could like myself: to understand people. My consultants asked: “Did your parents ever think you were inconsiderate?”
CMcC. Oh, yes. With my father, I’d wheedle him into buying me things.
Consultants. We’re always in a fight about whether we want to respect the world or run it in some way, have contempt for it, manipulate it. This is the beginning cause of pain among people. People have been devoted, but haven’t thought enough about who each other is.
In another consultation, they asked: “Do you feel every fact you meet, you’ve got to do something with to make you feel complimented by it? Do you think it’s possible to like the world as it is, without McCluer-ifying it?” I saw that what I had considered my special charm—an ability to shape things and people to my specifications—was conceit and stopped me from liking myself.
I studied this Aesthetic Realism principle: “The one way to like the world honestly, not as a conquest of one’s own, is to see the world as the aesthetic oneness of opposites.” I wrote assignments for consultations and saw, for instance, how my mother was trying to put together the opposites of mind and body as she taught elementary school and also loved to grow tomatoes. I wrote 18 points on “Things I Don’t Understand about My Father” and saw how much I had summed him up. It spurred me on to want to know him, as I never had before. My parents’ selves became real to me for the first time.
Studying Aesthetic Realism gave me an increasingly perceptive mind. I had mostly stopped reading, and now was appreciating such books as Adam Bede, Jane Eyre, and The Portrait of a Lady. I studied Shakespeare, economics, Van Gogh, all kinds of music. I studied singing and acting at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, did some television work, and in time had the honor to be part of the Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company.
I’m proud to be married to Kevin Fennell, singer and critic of music, notably rock ’n’ roll. And my education happily goes on. For example: once when Kevin and I were making a home video about his thoughts on being a father, I kept stopping the camera to make suggestions about what he should say. Though I insisted that I was “encouraging his expression,” he objected. When I spoke about this in an Aesthetic Realism class, Ellen Reiss asked: “Is there any emotion you don’t have if you’re going after managing? Do you think Mr. Fennell is forty times more interesting than you see? When you’re managing a person, you can’t see him as interesting.”
I thank Ms. Reiss for making so clear one of the greatest downfalls of managing. When we manage, we aren’t really interested in anything but ourselves.
In another class, I asked what it would mean to understand someone—for instance, Kevin Fennell. I love what Ms. Reiss explained:
The understanding of a person would always be a oneness of opposites. You would have to see Kevin Fennell as a unity with diversity: see his many aspects and how they become that one person. You would have to feel that you saw a person as just themselves and also how they are related to everything. You would have to see where they are like other people and also different. Where is there something luminous in the person, and also where is there the unknown, the shadowy, even the darksome? Everyone is a rich study in how the world is in a person.
This is the way of seeing that people everywhere are hoping for.