The Understanding of Women & Men
Dear Unknown Friends:
With this issue we begin to serialize an important lecture Eli Siegel gave on May 15, 1952: Some Women Looked At. And we print an article by Aesthetic Realism consultant Bruce Blaustein. It is a portion of a paper he presented last month at the public seminar titled “Men Want Praise, Kudos, Cheers—but How Can We Be Sensible about These?”
So this issue of TRO spans over half a century, with Aesthetic Realism principles true about our very moment, all the centuries before, and, I’m sure, all that will follow.
Women, Truly Seen
Aesthetic Realism is great on the subject of women. With the many changes that have taken place since 1952, including the women’s liberation movement, there’s still a tendency to say that men and women are after fundamentally different things—that one sex is “from Mars,” the other “from Venus,” etc.
Aesthetic Realism explains—beautifully, richly, and clearly—that the questions of men and the questions of women are essentially the same. Our largest hopes are the same, and so are our largest mistakes. The big fight within every person is between respect for the world and contempt for it. Whether we’re Mike or Megan, Lola or Lyle, Craig or Kristen, we’re in a battle all the time between the hope to like the world honestly, to know it, be just to it, and the desire (in Mr. Siegel’s words) to get an “addition to self through the lessening of something else.” That second desire, which is contempt, is the ugly, hurtful thing in man and woman. It’s the source of all unkindness, no matter what one’s gender.
And this great Aesthetic Realism principle is true of men and women alike: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves” For example, a woman right now wants to feel she can be both strong and gentle. She doesn’t know she’s pained because when she’s gentle she doesn’t feel she’s strong, and when she’s strong she feels she’s no longer considerate, delicate, tender. And she doesn’t know that the man she’s close to has these same opposites, that he too is troubled by them, and wants to make them one.
As we begin to serialize Some Women Looked At, I’m going to quote two passages from an Aesthetic Realism lesson in which Eli Siegel spoke to me and a man I was then close to. I’m doing so because they represent the grandeur, accuracy, and immortal kindness with which he understood both women and men. This understanding continues now in Aesthetic Realism consultations.
The person I’ll call Jim Blair and I cared for each other yet were giving each other pain. In the following passage, Mr. Siegel spoke to Jim about the fact that I, a woman, was a critic of myself—as a man is. “Do you believe,” he asked, “Ellen Reiss is afraid of her own criticism?” “Yes,” said Jim Blair, doubtfully. And Mr. Siegel continued, with cultural width and then kind humor:
ES. That is something that is hard for a man to realize: that a woman is criticizing herself.
Ms. Reiss does describe herself, and it is quite true, as George Sand described herself, as Mary Wollstonecraft described herself: she sees there are two forces in her that are not in the most blissful state of compatibility. Ms. Reiss can at any moment feel there’s no hope for her and she should be given back to the Aztecs.
You don’t know the power women have of dismissing themselves from reality. Do you believe that?
ES. You think that all inner turmoil is masculine.
So men—confused, even tormented, about women—have not seen that we question ourselves, sometimes severely. And women too have not seen that men are inward critics of themselves: that, like us, they inevitably object to themselves, feel agitated and low, because they (like us) have seen reality and people unjustly. Women have wanted to feel that we are the sensitive ones—that we question ourselves and hope to respect ourselves, while men are crasser, cruder, principally interested in sex, and selfish without any qualms or unease about their selfishness.
Yet we all have those “two forces” Mr. Siegel spoke of: the desire to be just and the desire to have contempt. And when men and women see that we both dislike ourselves for our contempt, a deep inter-respect between the sexes, new in human history, takes place at last. This occurs through the study of Aesthetic Realism.
The Tumult about Mind & Body
In the lesson from which I’m quoting, Mr. Siegel spoke about the tremendous opposites of mind and body, logic and sensation, the intellectual and the earthy. People haven’t known these are aesthetic opposites: we want to make them one in us in the same way that an idea and the senses are one in every work of art. He said, “Jim Blair has a question that is about two souls fighting for mastery in him,” and, speaking to him, explained:
ES. In the field of corporeal expression, enjoyment, or sex, we hope to be proud and pleased at once. Ellen Reiss hopes to be proud about her manner of taking earth—in the same way that she would take the page of a book. The difference between the two things is felt by man and woman: “I’m a different person making love from him or her who goes after knowledge.”
Do you think if Ms. Reiss could solve this problem of somatic expression and cerebral expression, you could?
ES. Do you think, then, the fate of man depends on the fate of woman?
That is just a little from one of the many Aesthetic Realism lessons it was my good fortune to have. Aesthetic Realism is that in the history of thought which understands the self—the feminine self, the masculine self. Everyone is particular, and when Eli Siegel spoke to me, I felt comprehended in all my individuality. At the same time, what he explained about me, and about every individual person he spoke to, is classic knowledge for all humanity.
As one can see in the passages I quoted, his spoken words have a prose style powerful, charming, important as English literature. That is because of his honesty and scope of knowledge. The fact that he, a man, so deeply understood women, is itself the greatest evidence I’ve seen that men and women can be kind to each other, can know each other truly.