The Human Self: Yours and Everyone's
Dear Unknown Friends:
There is nothing people need more now than to see other people justly. Therefore, to illustrate Aesthetic Realism — and to show something of how Aesthetic Realism explains the self of every person — I am going to comment on instances of Arabic poetry written between the 6th and 13th centuries.
There is a sense in America now that many, many people who speak and think in Arabic resent our nation, and that some of the resentment is correct. We also know that various people used the Arabic language to plan a horrific, vicious crime against us. Meanwhile, through Aesthetic Realism, what humanity itself is — and that means what each of us intimately is — can be seen in these instances of poetry, written in Arabic.
In the Preface to his Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana: Poems, Eli Siegel explains: "Poetry, like life, states that the very self of a thing is its relations, its having-to-do-with other things." And so, Aesthetic Realism shows, the desire to feel related to other things and people, to feel what's different from me is not only different but like me too, is our deepest desire. But it is in a fight in everyone with another desire. Relation and respect are in a fight with contempt: the desire to feel apart and superior. Contempt in everyone says, I take care of myself by lessening what's not me. And out of this contempt, Mr. Siegel explained, all the cruelty in history has come, from everyday snobbishness to the killing of thousands of people.
Relation Is Honored
Poetry Puts Opposites Together
Eli Siegel is the critic who showed what poetry truly is. In every instance of authentic poetry — of any time, any place — a person is so fair to the object dealt with, sees it with such sincerity and depth and width, that the structure of reality itself is within his lines. That structure is the oneness of opposites. And we hear opposites as one in what Mr. Siegel showed to be the crucial thing in a poem: verbal music.
There is music in the lines of Abd-ar-Rahman, who looked at an 8th-century palm tree, perhaps in Córdoba, far from his home. Even in translation, those lines are at once factual and tender; the opposites of fact and feeling are inseparable in them. Then, in their firmness of statement, their definiteness, the lines also have nuance, delicacy. The last two lines are particularly beautiful. They take in so much — with a great gentleness, they have compassion for many people; yet they conclude simply: "May the beneficent rains besought by the poor / Never forsake you."
All of reality's opposites, including those I've pointed to in that 8th-century poem — richness and simplicity, strength and gentleness, factuality and feeling — are in every person, whatever his or her background. When we see a person that way, as having the opposites of the world, we cannot be unfair to him or her, exploit, mistreat him or her.
Our Need to Make Opposites One
In the lines of Imr El Kais, however, the two are together. There is no rift between the line about meaning and the line about body: a continuity of sound joins them. The translation is by W.S. Blunt and A. Blunt; and all the Arabic poems from which I quote here are from An Anthology of World Poetry, edited by Mark Van Doren.
The Desire to Like the World
Alqamah wants to like the world through seeing something great and beautiful in it, something that is stronger than whatever pain may be, yet which somehow includes the pain. This writing of his is like a Western poem which seems so different: W.B. Yeats's "The Rose of the World." Alqamah makes the camel stand for reality at its most beautiful; we can say it stands for what Yeats called Beauty with a capital B. Reality-as-beauty has endured very much, has been kicked around tremendously by people; yet it goes on, and is the strongest, most countable-on thing there is. That, I think, is what Alqamah has this camel take in. The manner and symbol and emphasis are different. But when Yeats, at the end of the 19th century, made Beauty a woman with a "lonely face," and wrote,
Two Lines about Death
I quote the famous Abu 'L-'Alá Al-Ma'Arrí of the 10th and 11th centuries, on the subject of death:
Humanity Wants Rest & Motion
So I have used five instances of verse from the Arabic to show the desire in all people to put opposites together, and the desire of all people to like the world. Mr. Siegel described the world as the other half of ourselves; and it is that, wherever ourselves are and whatever language we speak, or think in when we're alone. It is my opinion that Mr. Siegel is the person who saw humanity most truly. And, simply, when Aesthetic Realism is studied, people will be kind to each other at last.
In this issue we continue to serialize his landmark lecture It and Self, of 1968, about the relation of art and science. As we reach the following section, Mr. Siegel is showing that however imaginative art is, since an artist wants to see reality justly, truly, art is scientific too.
Science in Art
By Eli Siegel
Note. In his discussion of Walter Pater's 1888 essay "Style," Mr. Siegel has reached the phrase "an all-pervading naturalism."
The 19th century had two things, if not more, that went after science in art. These things are realism and naturalism, and Parnassianism. Balzac saw himself as a realist. Fielding, in the 18th century, though he didn't use the word, saw himself as a realist. He didn't want to pretend. He wanted to show Tom Jones, a person, as he really was. Thackeray would have called himself a realist. But the term realist was given to Stendhal and Balzac.
In the field of the novel, however, with the Goncourts and Zola, there was a feeling that that wasn't enough. You had to have naturalism. That is, anything that a sanitation inspector could find, you shouldn't leave out. So there was naturalism, which was called la vraie verité, the true truth. Then, in the field of poetry, there's Parnassianism, which went after impassibility. That is associated with Leconte de Lisle and somewhat de Vigny.
Was de Vigny after Truth?
There Is Precision
*This magnificent translation is by Mr. 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.
SATURDAYS, 8 PM: “People Are Trying to Put Opposites Together,” Aesthetic Realism Dramatic Presentations
Editor: Ellen Reiss • Coordinator: Nancy Huntting
Subscriptions: 26 issues, US $18; 12 issues, US $9, Canada and Mexico $14, elsewhere $20. Make check or money order payable to Aesthetic Realism Foundation.
© Copyright 2004 by Aesthetic Realism Foundation • A not-for-profit educational foundation