Aesthetic Realism Is Education
BY ELI SIEGEL
Aesthetic Realism believes that a person who doesn't like the world on an honest basis is not educated. The purpose of all education is, as Aesthetic Realism sees it, to find sense in the world; also honestly to hope to find sense in the world when that finding, as it often is, is difficult. It does seem that if all the knowledge provided by our many college curricula did not culminate in some good feeling about the world itself, this knowledge was not so useful. It is also true that if we have knowledge—even if the knowledge is painful—and we are proud of the knowledge, that much knowledge itself is likable and the world which makes for knowledge is likable.
Anyway, the purpose of Aesthetic Realism is education in the strictest, fullest, most poetic sense of the word. The high point in education is when, through knowledge, the world has some likable meaning in it.
And so, one of these days, a teacher in an elementary school will say to her class: "Today, dear children, we resume our trying to like the world through knowing it. —Eddie, will you tell me first where geography can help one like the world?"
1. Who Are Uneducated?
Education is the oneness of knowledge and feeling; and if a good many facts, observations, data, collegiate examinations, have ended in a bitter, contemptuous attitude to the world, that person with all this is uneducated. The question is whether disliking the world is a high point in undeceived perception, or is it a bitter elevation of oneself as better than the world?
2. Is Liking the World the Same as Education?
This question, quite clearly, cannot be looked at too much. If the world can give us more meaning, or if we can like it more on a factual basis, and we are not giving sufficient meaning or value to the world, or are not liking it enough on a factual basis—it is pretty perceptible that something is not present. Aesthetic Realism is that which studies the world with the conscious, accepted hope of liking it. We all of us in our fashion hope to like the world. There is no deception in hope itself. The deception lies in how we come to feel we have attained the hope.
The chief difference of Aesthetic Realism from Freud and psychoanalysis is that Freud and psychoanalysis—at least in their early days—felt that disorder in oneself or inefficient procedure of mind, distressing procedure of mind, arose from some repression or interference with libido—which in its best days, before it became idealized into an abstraction, was desire for some attractive body and the possession of this attractive body in an eminently pleasing fashion. Reich, as is well known by now, made even more of the necessity to possess on our terms an attractive body. So does that acutely informative journal Penthouse; and that is what the earlier preeminent, carnally informative journal Playboy did a few years ago.
Aesthetic Realism, differing from Freud, Reich, Penthouse, and such exponents of the good life, says that the deepest desire of a person is to like the world on a basis that is authentic, proportionate, daring, mentally adequate.
Aesthetic Realism says that a pretty or engaging body is desired as a means of liking the world. Aesthetic Realism states that a woman cannot like a man, however he is a compound of Benvenuto Cellini, Red Grange, and Adolph Menjou, unless her purpose is to like the world. And Aesthetic Realism asserts likewise that a man can't like a girl who is a compound of Hedy Lamarr, Betty Grable, Mary McCarthy, and Germaine Greer, unless his hope is to like the world on a true basis. Nearly everyone knows that conquering a person is often easier than liking a person.
Further, it may be said that the unconscious hope in every impression, outlook, insight of ourselves is to find the world friendly to what we are; that is, our hope is to like the world. All art has as its purpose the liking of the world. Grünewald in a crucifixion painting, Van Gogh in a flower painting, Seurat in a leisurely French painting of grass and meditating people, and Böcklin in a landscape with sweet terror in it, all go for man's liking of the world.
At some time in the later history of education, it will be felt that arithmetic, geography, statistics, cooking, early Greek literature, Provençal poetry, trigonometry, calculus, American literature, Tudor literature, Portuguese lyric—all these are for the liking of the world. The multifarious courses of the present New School on 12th Street all have in them the delightful possibility of furthering one's like of the world. Some New School teacher will, this summer or fall, once more point to the differences between Karl Marx and Pierre Joseph Proudhon—and once more the differing views of Marx and Proudhon as to what is best for the man who works, can make for an increased liking of the world.
3. Two Things that Dislike of the World Causes
It hasn't yet been seen clearly, but there is evidence that when a child has greater difficulty in learning how to read than seems necessary, it is because the child, in learning how to read, thinks he is giving in to that which he has already seen as an enemy—that is, the external world with all it has and all of its showings. In "The Child" [Self and World, by Eli Siegel] there is a sketch of Michael Halleran, who, in his first years, preferred something of his own conceiving to the external world. The exceedingly young Michael Halleran is more of a diabolist than Baudelaire was. This caring for an evil universe identified with oneself, can make a boy rob a shopkeeper. The insufficient caring for the external world as one knows it, can make it seem impossible for a boy to give himself to the understanding of type on a page.
That persons are affected by some attitude to the world is in the common phrase, "mad at the world." That, however, it is their being angry with the world that makes two boys want to beat up an old lady and go away with her purse, or makes a boy or girl not want to learn how to read—this has to be inquired into fairly. It is not liking the world, a situation frequent with human beings lately come into the world, that makes for the negative social phenomenon of delinquency and for the negative educational phenomenon of inability to read. These statements of Aesthetic Realism will, it is hoped, be looked at critically.
4. The Continuity of Not Liking the World
In the same way as the heartbeat we have at the age of seven days is like the heartbeat we have at seventy, so the possibility we have of being against the world at the age of three is like the possibility of our being against the world at the age of fifty. There are two kinds of being against the world. The first kind may be in a child who has been somewhat ill-treated, has been not respected, has been pushed around in his young life. Ralph's being against the world, then, is clearly a result of the world's not being favorable to him. But there is another accompaniment or cause of being against the world: this can be called the "erudite" cause. A person, sharp, like say a publisher, sees that life is competitive, people have to outdo each other, and he wants to be sure he is not taken advantage of. Suspicion, then, as equivalent to wisdom, comes to be in this publisher's mind, who could just as well be a journalist in Sydney, Australia, or Montreal, Canada, or São Paulo, Brazil, as one in New York. Suspicion is generated by the facts one meets with in one's life and in books.
The fact remains that most people in the world of today do not like the world and are—not gracefully—suspicious of other people. To be gracefully suspicious of other people is to be critical; to be ungracefully suspicious is to be "suspicious" with a touch of inner malady.
5. Ethics and Liking the World
The education that is to be, will, right in the first grade, deal with the greatest questions of ethics and of value in general.
We quoted a teacher of later years saying, "This morning we study how to like the world. Henry, when you like something, even such a big thing as the world, what do you feel?"
Henry may answer: "I feel, Miss Glover, that it is on my side; that if it could speak, it would say it wants the best things to happen to me."
So far in the history of man's thought, his biggest mental endeavor was to feel that the world and what or who runs the world was in some way for him. When Milton said, in the beginning lines of Paradise Lost:
That to the highth of this great argument
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to men—
the poet wanted to justify the ways of God to men. But the heart and logic of man go farther than this. Heart and logic want to see meaning in, want to like the ways of God to man.
We believe that if the minds of the Watergate-invading personnel were looked into, they would be seen as disagreeing with the hope of Milton. People generally disagree with Milton. They disagree also with Dante's statement, so often used by Thomas Stearns Eliot:
E la sua volontate è nostra pace—
"And his will is our peace."
We do not wish to insult the early Freud or the early psychoanalysis, but we are compelled to say that the world point of view of difficult readers, housebreaking delinquents, headquarters-breaking-into officials, and many executives, is nearer to that of Freud than to the view of Milton, Dante, Pascal, St. Francis. These last did so much to like the world.
Aesthetic Realism says that the greatest repression, the most hurtful repression is not that of sex, but of a possible like of the world. Education has as its purpose the bringing out at its strongest of man's unquenchable desire to see the world as friendly. Facts, to be sure, are needed for this. Are they there? Aesthetic Realism says many more facts and organizations of fact making this world likable, are in the world than are known.
To see that ordinarily distressing facts can have a valuable meaning is part of the work of aesthetics. Aristotle saw this in giving a useful psychological purpose to tragedy. That a disorderly fire escape, as the American "ashcan school" saw, may be deeply more beautiful than an aggregation of jonquils, is another sign that the world can be liked in hitherto not used ways.
And we must differentiate our achievements in liking the world from our hope to like it. Our hope to like the world cannot be utterly repressed. Nervousness arises, not from the cause given by classical Freudianism, but from the possibility and desire we have of repressing our liking the world—for the purpose of building up ourselves. Failure to like the world is not so good, but hope not to like it is the most enervating, crippling hope we can have.
Education, then, is to know and like the world. Aesthetic Realism sees the second verb, like, as inseparable from the first verb, know. When our desire to know a thing is seen as deeply equal to our desire to be for it—and that is the relation of science and art—man will be educated.
Meanwhile, Aesthetic Realism serves education as well as it can. If some person says Aesthetic Realism is the same as education, it won't recoil in embarrassed astonishment.
6. Concluding Anecdote
Someone asked Somebody: What is the secret of the world? The answer was: It wants to be liked.
Later both Someone and Somebody went home.