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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 
A PERIODICAL OF HOPE AND INFORMATION
 NUMBER 1863.—December 4, 2013

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

The Opposites, Beauty, & Us

Dear Unknown Friends:

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.

Not Elsewhere

In the second essay, “On Aesthetic Realism as New,” Mr. Siegel, in a lively, exact, and kind way, points out the difference between the opposites as Aesthetic Realism presents them and how they have been presented elsewhere. That difference is tremendous.

Mr. Siegel’s good nature in this essay is remarkable when one considers that what he’s countering has usually come from sheer, vicious ill will for him and his lifework. That is, many times in the history of Aesthetic Realism, a person would say: “This is not new—the Greek cosmologists (or Aristotle, Hegel, etc.) said the same thing.” Such an assertion, taken by itself, is simply ignorant. But the purpose of making it was to show that one had nothing to learn from Aesthetic Realism, and to annul one’s huge respect for Mr. Siegel.

“On Aesthetic Realism as New” is, then, a swift, cheerful, and scholarly placing of both the principle I quoted earlier and the following Aesthetic Realism principle: “The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites.”

And “Husbands and Poems” is certainly a magnificent illustration of the opposites as seen by Aesthetic Realism alone. Neither Aristotle nor Kant, Plato nor Coleridge, in all their lovable might, was able to understand—richly, subtly, vividly—the hopes and disappointment of a wife about a husband. Nor did these persons, or others, see that a wife’s feelings, so intimate, so particular, had to do with the structure of reality itself, and art.

Marriages Now

“Husbands and Poems,” of over fifty years ago, is terrifically contemporary. Wives and husbands today may act ever so knowing, but they still don’t understand what they are looking for from each other. And they make the everyday and ugly mistake people have made for thousands of years: they try to feel at ease, sure, and superior through having contempt.

So often, husbands and wives have contempt for other people together and feel they’re at their coziest as they do. And they have contempt for each other, and pretend their inter-mocking is pleasant banter. Yet contempt, “the addition to self through the lessening of something else,” is, Aesthetic Realism has shown, the source of all unkindness, and that which makes people deeply unsure and ashamed. No matter how much a couple can laugh together as they insult one another with “humorous” put-downs, both are ashamed of their contempt, and also hurt. And though they may feel close while lessening others together—underneath, each despises oneself and one’s partner for this contempt.

What husbands and wives desire most, Aesthetic Realism explains, is to like the world itself through knowing one another. That desire includes the longing Mr. Siegel writes of in “Husbands and Poems”: to feel the person close to one represents rightly the opposites in reality. And Aesthetic Realism makes possible the following great, thirsted-for thing: even as we see something we cannot like in a person, we can see that this person is dealing with the very opposites that make up reality and art. When we see this, we’re able to object to something in a person and simultaneously respect him, see him as large.

Aesthetic Realism, then, meets the hopes of wives, husbands, poets, philosophers—every human being!

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

Husbands and Poems
By Eli Siegel

The genius of Collins was advancing in precision and delicacy.

—Gosse, A History of Eighteenth-Century Literature

It certainly is not the common opinion; yet what a woman wants from a husband is like what should be in poems, and is in the poems which now can truly give honest delight, aesthetic excitement, useful, meaningful emotion. There hasn’t been a poem, having what a poem should have, doing what a poem should do, which did not have energy and grace, or strength and ease, or exactness and suggestion. Certainly, if a wife were asked, “Should your husband have energy and grace?” she could hardly answer, “No, he shouldn’t.” And if she were asked if she would be satisfied with the presence of energy alone in her husband, she could hardly say yes to that; nor would she be satisfied with grace alone. Similarly, if a critic said, “The poem ‘Nothing in the Clouds’ has a good deal of intuitive energy, but lacks grace of expression,” he would be saying the poem was inadequate. And if another critic said, “ ‘Meet Me at Dawn’ is a lyric fashioned with exquisite grace, but hardly has enough body, inherent energy, to meet contemporary demands”—he also would be saying the poem was inadequate. It has always been this way. Force and delicacy, or energy and grace, were looked for by the Greeks in their poetry, the Hindus, the American Indians, and readers at Oxford or in Cambridge, Mass.

And while critics and other readers were looking for energy and grace in the poems they met, women were looking for energy and grace in lovers and husbands. A husband who is not energetic is a tall or not so tall disappointment to a wife; a husband who is not graceful is a subtle grief, a deep dissatisfaction, to a wife. People have looked into each other and have looked into poems for the same fundamental things.

I have quoted a statement of Edmund Gosse about William Collins, an eighteenth-century poet alive in English literature. Gosse speaks of Collins as possibly “advancing in precision and delicacy.” What Gosse said might have been of Collins had he lived, women now hope to see as true of their husbands. Women want to see their husbands as energetic and precise, and more and more so; otherwise these women won’t respect the male nearest to them; and they want these precise males to have the delicacy, the mobile awareness, the alert discernment enabling them to understand their wives as they want to be understood.

Therefore, if husbands wish to feel approved of by their wives, on a basis that is sound and lasting and examinable, they should be aware of the meaning of energy and grace, and the like. I do not believe that women have too high an opinion of men, and a big reason for this insufficiency of interior praise is this: when men are energetic, assertive, forceful (or worse), they lack sensibility, fine understanding, rich sympathy; when they are gentle, sentimental, soft, they no longer seem to have strength, energy, momentum.

I do not mean the foregoing to be a “daring” kind of generalization about the everlasting man and woman duality. I mean it to be a sober, essentially exact description of woman’s mind in relation to man’s possibility. Our desires are aesthetic; and there is no reason why they should not be seen so.

Grace and Firmness

There is William Collins. He is seen as chiefly a gentle, quiet poet. He is not like Byron or Kipling. But Collins’ gentleness or quietness are only what you see first. If there were not something like granite, or cubes, or geometry in Collins, he would be with the forgot of the eighteenth century, of whom there are so many, many. In Collins, there are what we can hear in Mozart, see in Watteau, watch in Markova, find in some aspects of Georgian architecture: grace and firmness. These come in different ways in different poems and works of art, but they are necessarily there. Swinburne once described the quality of Collins, particularly of his “Ode to Evening,” in a critical essay Swinburne contributed in 1880 to Ward’s English Poets. Swinburne, after saying that Collins is like some of the great French landscape painters, goes on:

Corot on canvas might have signed his “Ode to Evening”; Millet might have given us some of his graver studies, and left them as he did no whit the less sweet for their softly austere and simply tender gravity.

Collins, then, has a “softly austere” and a “simply tender gravity.” This is another way of saying that Collins is severe and gentle, forceful and delicate.

We can see all this in a stanza from the “Ode to Evening.” The writer is in a hut on a mountain’s side, and he sees wilds, swelling floods—

And hamlets brown, and dim-discovered spires;

And hears their simple bell, and marks o’er all

Thy dewy fingers draw

The gradual dusky veil.

The stanza is strict and has energy. There is a lovely severity in these four lines, unrhymed. Gentleness, grace, suggestion, however, are in the lines, too. There are the “dim-discovered spires” and the “gradual dusky veil.” Sharpness has merged with slow softness, and energy with sweetness.

Poetry brings together the formidableness of reality with its kindness, sweetness. That is always happening in poetry. It is what husbands can learn from. Whether they do or not, it is what women will be looking for.

In French Literature

There is a famous French lyric, “Les Cydalises,” by Gérard de Nerval, one of the nineteenth-century Romantic poets who haven’t been forgotten. This poem has a first stanza that is considered one of the finest examples of musical expression in French literature:

Où sont nos amoureuses?

Elles sont au tombeau:

Elles sont plus heureuses

Dans un séjour plus beau!

The idea of these lines can be seen in the following rhymed stanza:

Our loving ones—are where?

They’re in the tomb:

They’re now without despair,

In light, not gloom.

Literally: “Where are our loving ones? They are in the tomb: they are happier, in a place more beautiful.”

The lines in French have glide and assertiveness. They affirm as they whisper. They state forever as they comfort forever. They are permanent and energetic as they suggest and pervade. So again, what is in the music or expression of these lines by Gérard de Nerval, women are looking for: they have to be looking for it: for energy and delicacy are not trifling, transitory, this-or- that assets, but profound, indispensable, desperately central things in life or reality.

Two Well-Known Lines

Further to illustrate the similarity between some essentials of poetry and what is sought for in lovers and husbands by women, I quote two well-known lines from Henry King, Bishop of Chichester, a poet of the seventeenth century, to be met in the colleges of America and perhaps elsewhere. These lines affected Poe a great deal and he uses them as the motto for his story “The Assignation.” The lines, from the “Exequy on His Wife,” are:

Stay for me there: I will not fail

To meet thee in that hollow vale.

It can hardly be said that these lines have not energy. They are as forthright as a spear, as an impetuous straight line. They are clear; they stamp. Yet, how gentle they are, how kind. They are redolent of sweet concern, abundant, fine sympathy, sad meditation. They have sentiment and momentum.

All poetry is in its way like the lines from Collins, Nerval, King. It is well to say again that strength without grace goes towards the inconsiderate, clumsy, or brutal; grace without strength goes towards the mawkish, the nerveless, the weak. The problem, then, a poet faces is what a lover or husband faces. Certainly, he should know it.

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On Aesthetic Realism as New

(Not as the Greek Cosmologists, Aristotle, Taoism,
Buddhism, Hegel, Fichte, Coleridge, etc.)

By Eli Siegel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aesthetic Realism is based on these
principles, stated by Eli Siegel:
 

1. The deepest desire of every person is to like the world on an honest or accurate basis.

 

2. The greatest danger for a person is to have contempt for the world and what is in it .... Contempt can be defined as the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it.

 

3. All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.

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TRO: Home |  Current |  Art |  Literature |  Racism |  Education |  Nat'l Ethics |  Love |  Economics |  Memorial |  Site Map
"Is a Person an Aesthetic Situation?" by Eli Siegel: a short explanation of Aesthetic Realism
The Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company in New York City. Authors in the repertory include Ibsen, Sheridan, Shakespeare, O'Neill.
Ellen Reiss, Commentaries in TRO:
The Mideast  |  Poetry of Eli Siegel |  Unions
Lord Byron |  Harry Potter |  Sherlock Holmes
Robert Burns |  The 'criticism' of John Keats
Racism & Its Solution
Aesthetic Realism Resources:
Aesthetic Realism Consultations
Two Biographies of Eli Siegel:
[1]Aesthetic Realism Foundation
[2]Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company Site
Friends of Aesthetic Realism—Countering the Lies
Art and Literature:
The Terrain Gallery / Aesthetic Realism Foundation
The Place of Aesthetic Realism in Culture & Literature

The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method:
Lesson Plans in Diverse Subjects
Teaching Indian Culture in the United States:
The Aesthetic Realism Method
Further Resources:
Essays and News Pieces about Aesthetic Realism
Photographic Education: the Aesthetic Realism Viewpoint
A New Perspective for Anthropology: The Aesthetic Realism Method
Self-Expression and What Interferes: an Aesthetic Realism Discussion
John Singer Sargent's Madame X, an Aesthetic Realism Discussion

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