The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941

About Love, Need, & Pride

Dear Unknown Friends:

It is an honor to publish part of a 1965 Aesthetic Realism lesson conducted by Eli Siegel—on the magnificent, confusing, thrilling, tormenting subject of love. The woman having the lesson, here called Colette Grayson, was in the situation of millions of people today. She and her husband, married for two years, were both disappointed. They were causing each other pain, and were for and against each other in a way they didn’t understand.

What Mr. Siegel says in the lesson is grandly clear, deep, logical, subtle, down-to-earth, kind. It is knowledge that’s simply far beyond what people are hearing from counselors and therapists: in all politeness, the difference is that between civilization and barbarity. Aesthetic Realism’s understanding of love is real understanding, and men and women are thirsty for it.

What Love Is

Mr. Siegel speaks here about the Aesthetic Realism definition of love: “proud need.” I think that definition is great. And since, for reasons of space, I must be brief, I’ll only add: I’ve seen with tremendous happiness that the definition is true, and I’m grateful for it with all my heart.

The distinction Aesthetic Realism makes between two kinds of need, one that we can be proud of and one that can never make for pride, is new in the history of thought. The difference, in relation to how we see a person, is this: our need for the person is either to like the world—which he represents, which made him, which he has to do with, without which we both couldn’t be—or our “need” for the person is for him to make us superior to everything and to provide a world apart from the large world of people and happenings. The criterion, then, is the following: A true need—for anything—is one that has in it respect for reality. A false need is impelled by the desire for contempt, and we can never like ourselves for it.

Let’s take, for example, the big matter of sex. So often sex has been used to fulfill that second, fake need. It’s been used to feel palpitatingly victorious getting rid of the world and making ourselves the intensely glorified focus of everything. This use of body and thought for contempt is the reason there can be a feeling of emptiness after sex, and self-dislike, and resentment of the person one was close to. It is not what touch and mind are for.

The false “need” to have contempt for the world can also take a quiet, seemingly cozy, domestic form: the feeling, “Here, in our home, we can belittle and forget other people, and things that took place outside. Together we can look down on it all.” Inevitably, the persons who join in fulfilling this “need” become ever colder to and angrier with each other.

The Largest Need

Aesthetic Realism is the philosophy that explains: our largest, deepest need from birth is to like the world through knowing it. That is what education is for; what love—mind and body—is for; what our very lives are for. Through Aesthetic Realism we can learn what this means, in all its richness and exactitude. And two results of the learning are: real love can at last be ours, and so can real pride.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education


Proud Need: What Is It?

From an Aesthetic Realism Lesson

Conducted by Eli Siegel

Note. Mr. Siegel is responding to a question asked by Colette Grayson: why does she feel bad when her husband is away from home for some length of time?

Eli Siegel. The answer to your question is: if you’re proud of a need for something, you can do better without it than if you are not proud.

Colette Grayson. You can do better without it?

ES. That’s right. Let’s say a husband has to go to Asia for one reason or another, and the wife remains in America. If she is ashamed that she needs him, will she do better than if she’s proud that she needs him?

CG. If she’s ashamed, I think she won’t do well at all. But why is that?

ES. Because if you’re proud of something, it’s a source of strength. Consequently, the absence of it can be better taken.

CG. I see.

ES. There’s much more to it. Aesthetic Realism recommends life as that in which we can find what we need more and more and be proud of it. Once we’re ashamed of what we seem to need (and need has to be looked at), there’s nervousness on the subject; there is a pretense. Whenever a woman marries a man and she’s not proud that she needs him and he’s not proud that he needs her, there has to be inter-punishment. Do you think you and Max Grayson are punishing each other because you’re not proud that you need each other?

CG. Yes, I think that’s true—we are!

ES. So if he could be proud that he needs you and you could be proud that you need him, I think the situation would be better.

CG. Mr. Siegel, what is it—I don’t know how to put this question—what is it that we need? I do want to be proud that I need Max.

ES. The only way we can be proud that we need a person is if we feel reality is present in that person. We can respect a person and our need of the person only if we feel that our need of reality itself is represented by him or her—which makes it an aesthetic matter. Once a person represents the universe, aesthetics is beginning.

CG. I felt differently about Max two years ago. Did things change because I didn’t really see that?

ES. A person is a process and you were in a certain situation then, and he was. You were looking for the best things in each other, and you didn’t know all the possibilities. You’ve now seen other things—which happens with many people. A need has changed into an obligation, and the situation is very unhappy. With both men and women, this is the way it goes: first, I need her; second, I’m obligated to her; third, I’m trapped by her. And the trapped feeling can occur at any time in married life. So some of that feeling has been between you and Max Grayson?

CG. Oh, yes, it has.

ES. Therefore, the original possibility of proud need has to be thought about. If we are with a person and we’re not proud to need that person, there has to be something like hell. And it happens that most people, having contempt, don’t want to need anything. Contempt is your great enemy to needing. We pretend we need something—we don’t really feel that.

CG. Why would a person pretend that he needed something?

ES. Because there is a desire to like oneself and also a desire to please another. If we pretend to need someone—partly we do, there’s something there—but we also know that if we show we need a person we can have that person do more what we want him to. Suppose a woman clings to a man at a football game. What do you think her motive is? To cling is to woo the man.

CG. It’s twofold, I think.

ES. All right. But do you believe that when we show we need something we’re making up to that thing?

CG. Oh, sure we are.

ES. The question is: how much? Let’s say that a ring had a little bit of real gold in it; the real gold is there. Though our good emotions are never without alloy, there’s something there. The gold in a bad ring is as much gold as gold anywhere, only there’s not enough of it.

CG. Sometimes you don’t even know it’s there.

ES. Well, we’ll assume that we know. The desire to need proudly is in everyone. It’s, however, not believed in by a person because, as most people see it, to need is to be ashamed. Therefore they go after having other people need them. —Ms. Towser, you want to be needed unlimitedly but you want to need with limitations, don’t you?

Julie Towser. Yes, that’s right. You described it!

ES. Who does not feel that?

JT. I don’t know. I can’t think of anyone.

ES. The question is how well it works. Everyone would like to be needed without limit, but everyone would like to be able to take things or leave them. However, as Aesthetic Realism sees it, to need something without limit is success in life. Success is need you’re proud of; it’s also love.

Two Ways with the World

Colette Grayson. Mr. Siegel, something I very much need to distinguish is: there are certain things in Max that I seem proud to need, but there are other things that I, well...

Eli Siegel. You’re suffering, Mrs. Grayson, from two ways of seeing, first the world, and now your husband. Once we go in for seeing things two ways, we try to have that in every field. It’s easier, and most people think it’s more clever. Who doesn’t think that having two ways, being able to take or leave the same thing, is more sensible than just having to take it?

CG. It seems to me everybody thinks that.

ES. But deeply, having to take it is freedom. That’s the hard thing to see. There are two aspects of having two ways: one is the utmost in politics, and the other is the utmost in nervousness. People are political and nervous, or nervous and political. Every woman says, “I can be very much for this lug, but when I choose to I can be away from him in my mind.” That’s two ways. A man has those same two ways. And people prefer it. Do you think you prefer to see your husband in one way only, or two ways?

CG. Two ways.

ES. Speak up for your preference.

CG. One thing I can say is, you have to protect yourself.

ES. All right, good. But what happens as you protect yourself? The other person thinks that way too. Both have unlimited devotion, but they have to protect themselves. Out of this comes what the Good Book calls spats. So we come down to this: is it better to need a thing utterly and be so sure that it is right to need it that one is proud of doing so; or to need something and then feel one doesn’t and go through life that way? Most persons would say it is better to be able to have a cold opinion than a warm one. They would be afraid of the warm one. However, in the deepest unconscious, everyone is looking to love something—to feel there can be no change; it is loved completely for the next million years to begin with; 100% for all time. But that would frighten every person: it’s too much; it can’t be conceived.

CG. Is it that a person really can’t conceive of it, or he’s just against it?

ES. He doesn’t think there is any such thing. But everyone is going for it. Our hope is that which frightens us most.

Weak or Strong?

Eli Siegel. The question is: as a woman needs a man more, does she think she is weaker or stronger?

Colette Grayson. Weaker. I’ve felt weaker.

ES. But at the same time, she doesn’t need him enough: her emotions are tepid. So there’s another kind of weakness.

CG. Yes, that’s right!

ES. Which one do you prefer?

CG. The second.

ES. You’re with most women there, and most men: “Have my emotions be tepid, as long as what seems my freedom is had by me.” It seems the one prudent thing to do.

CG. I see what you mean.

ES. Most women now in the married state are hoping to lose love. And they succeed too. Love a person and you’re in the command of that scoundrel.

CG. You mean they command you?

ES. That’s right. To love a person is to be at that person’s mercy—that’s the way people see it. It can seem all right if you’re in Arizona and the other person is in Vancouver, but not if you’re under the same ceiling.

CG. Oh, that’s very true.

ES. All right. So what do you think married women are looking for? It’s true they can say, “I wish I’d find my husband more interesting,” but do you think they’re also trying to lose love?

CG. I don’t think so, but I’m not sure.

ES. Let’s be leisurely about this—this matter of needing. Many persons say, “I want to be interested in a person.” That sounds quite noble. The idea of needing the person is frightening; however, you can’t be interested in a thing without needing it. You can’t be interested in coins without needing to get some. Need frightens people. “Interest” is that which leaves you at your own disposal.

CG. That’s right. It’s very different.

ES. But where is it different? How is it different? What I’m speaking of is proud need. That is the important thing: if it’s proud need. Need by itself can be like Phaedra’s in the Racine play: it’s a need she’s not proud of and therefore there’s a tragedy, one of the important tragedies. Proud need, though, there cannot be too much of. If you need Max Grayson, are you proud of it now?

CG. I don’t think so. And I would like to be, very much.

ES. This is what has occurred: deeply, as women are with their husbands, the more they need them, the more they’re ashamed; however, the more their husbands need them, there is something they like. And there’s a mix-up between need of husband and husband’s need of oneself, which usually is not solved. That is true too of how a husband sees a wife. Roughly, the ego wants people to need us without limit, but we want to put limits on our need of others. Out of this comes much misery. Women are trying to lose love: that is, they like to be approached, but the actual need by them is not something that they want to see.

CG. I’m understanding this better.

Part of Education

Eli Siegel. Human beings have not felt proud, as such, of needing anything. To need something and be proud is part of education. There are love, want, and need. People will say they love something; they’ll even say they want something; but “I need something”—that is more humiliating. The question is, does it have to be that way? The need of things other than oneself is the beginning of false shame. Most people have it and therefore they want to put a limit on it. But for other people to need them—that’s fine.

Julie Towser. Mr. Siegel, I have felt that!

ES. Here we’re going into the very depths of mind. When a couple has difficulty with each other, it’s largely because need and triumph are had by two people and there is a mix-up. A wife triumphs because the husband needs her, and a husband triumphs insofar as there is some achievement on his part. Things get mixed up—need and triumph—and there’s misery. That is what is going on at the present time with Max Grayson and Colette Grayson. There are two examples of triumph and two examples of need and they’re whirling around.

Colette Grayson. I feel that’s so.

ES. Are you interested in triumph?

CG. I definitely am.

ES. How is it related to need? A human being is a needing being who wants to be triumphant. How can he manage this? He says to himself: “Corn grew specially for me—that’s how I can manage it. I don’t need the corn; the corn threw itself my way so I could have it.” Do you believe a woman gets a triumph in being able to bother a man?

CG. Absolutely!

ES. Have you been able to bother Mr. Grayson?

CG. Yes, I have.

The Object of Life

Eli Siegel. Conceit is an inaccurate dependence on oneself. However, I say that something good can happen to oneself through another and one can be proud. So far in the history of the world, the tendency is to feel that this has to be disguised as something else. But if you cannot need something and be proud of it, there is no hope for love. We’ll have children being born with no love. Sex will go on, but love will slink away to the barnyard. In terms of life itself, there ought to be this: “God, how much I need this person! God, how proud I am of that!”

Colette Grayson. I want to have this combination of need and pride.

ES. The purpose of Aesthetic Realism is to show that any honest need is a source of pride. If a person, for instance, needs water, that can be a source of pride. If need is shame, then life is a mess. However, in individual life every person has whirled about. The woman or man who gives us a triumph is also the woman or man who makes us feel ashamed.

CG. That’s happened with me.

ES. The need by a person of the world is not shame— it’s pride. Man needs more than any other animal; but he’s also the proudest being, in a way, because he needs so many things: he not only needs oats, he needs music. He needs some things with tremendous intensity. The making one of pride and need is the whole unconscious object of life.