|NUMBER 1881.—August 13, 2014||
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941
Dear Unknown Friends:
The wonderful 1964 lecture we are serializing—Intelligence Is You and More, by Eli Siegel—is definitive on its tremendous subject. And we see that intelligence is described by this central principle of Aesthetic Realism: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”
Published here too is part of a paper by singer Kevin Fennell, a critic and scholar of rock ’n’ roll. It is from a seminar of last month titled “The Real Me; or, What Is True Self-Expression?” People long to be expressed, yet don’t know what being expressed means, and don’t know what holds them back. And, as Mr. Fennell describes: people don’t know there is a kind of “expression” we go for that interferes with our having authentic expression and cripples our ability to be truly ourselves.
This, Too, Tells of Humanity
I’ll comment here on a recent occurrence that involved self-expression of a horrible and shocking kind. I’m doing so because that event, in all its horror, is a means of understanding some quite ordinary notions people have of what it means to express themselves. A June 6th New York Times article about it reports that a 12-year old girl in an upper middle class Milwaukee suburb nearly died from “19 stab wounds...inflicted by two friends who had lured her into a park to kill her.” The Times calls this attack “unfathomable.” But it is not: it can be explained, through Aesthetic Realism.
The two attackers, also 12 years old, said they were inspired by a fictional Internet figure, Slender Man. According to the Times:
They believed Slender Man was real, that he lived in a mansion in the Northwoods of Wisconsin and that they needed to kill to prove themselves worthy to him.
Strange as these girls’ awful belief may seem, it is, as I’ll describe, related to other things. It is related to gangs, in which persons have to show they can beat up someone on the street. It is related to fascism, to Nazism. It is related to more everyday things. It arises from that in the human mind which Eli Siegel showed to be “the greatest danger or temptation of man”: contempt, the getting “a false importance or glory from the lessening of things not oneself.”
A big aspect of contempt is the feeling in people, representative people, that they belong to a world superior to the one they’re in, and that they are superior to the human beings around them. There is the feeling that the world you’re in is essentially no good, and you want to express your scorn of it. That can happen in various ways, some quiet, but all contempt. For example, you can feel you’re going into a superior world as you go to sleep at night: at last you’re able to wipe out, make into nothing, the persons and happenings to which you were subjected all day. People have also expressed their contempt for the world through verbally insulting human representatives of it, and even when one’s insults are urbane, there are violent terms for them: you verbally level a person, flatten, demolish a person; you make cutting remarks. Then, persons have expressed dislike of the world more resoundingly: through bullying someone who stands for reality different from themselves.
What went on in the two Wisconsin girls was an extension, an intensification, of the instances I just gave. There was a feeling in those 6th graders that their dislike of things should not be tailored, watered down, patted into place. They wanted a contempt that was utter. What they felt was like what young people felt who were of the Hitler Youth: I belong to the Master Race, and with that comes the ability to subjugate and wipe out others. The Wisconsin girls felt they belonged to and with Slender Man, who is debonairly and creepily evil. Their attack on their friend did not begin with their knowing her, and it didn’t begin with Slender Man. It began with a dislike of the world itself, and a desire to have a fullness of contempt for it through a human being representing that world.
What a Figure Can Stand For
The Times describes Slender Man as “one of the Internet’s best-known urban legends.” “A tall, faceless figure, dressed in black, lurking behind children,” he first appeared “on an online forum devoted to fake paranormal pictures.” Well, whatever the “paranormal” or supernatural is—it’s useful only if you see it as a means of being definitely fair to the world right before you. That is what happens, for example, in Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” But interest in the supernatural is most often a preference for a world that seems apart and more powerful, which one can use to lessen and punish the immediate world. Slender Man, with his facelessness and sleekness, his hiddenness even as he’s shown, is a dapper embodiment of a phase of contempt.
We’re told that the girls “had apparently learned of Slender Man from a website...where people can submit short horror stories.” Why do people go for horror stories and horror movies? Mostly because there’s a desire, which is part of contempt, to find excitement, a thrill, in seeing things as ugly and bad. (There is also a desire to be scared as a means of opposing one’s conceit.)
And we’re told:
They said they believed they needed to kill someone in order to become a “proxy” to Slender Man....“It seemed necessary,” one of the girls told the police.
Yes, it can seem “necessary” to the ego to show an utter dislike and contempt, to be unequivocal in one’s scorn for the reality around one. That is why, historically, various people found it necessary to see themselves as witches, communing with Satan. Not as many as, or in the way that, Salem citizens wanted to think; but it does seem there were people who felt being a witch would express them. You settle something—your confusion about the world, your being both for and against the world—by making your againstness utter.
The girls from Wisconsin didn’t like the world. They were confused by the world. They settled their confusion—or tried to—through the expression of untrammeled contempt. All expression arises from either a desire to respect the world or a desire to have contempt for it. The first is true expression; the second is dishonest and false. Eli Siegel is the philosopher who provided the beautiful, needed means of distinguishing. And his Aesthetic Realism is (in keeping with the two subjects of this issue) the means of humanity’s being, grandly, both intelligent and expressed.
—Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education
Intelligence Is There
By Eli Siegel
I am presenting today various aspects of the world and of its thought and its writing to make alive the definition that I have given: “Intelligence is the ability to use one’s mind, as opposites, for oneself and the world.” Intelligence is shown in the fact that we wear clothes, have houses, warmth, the telephone. And we can do many things. We have games. The first person who came to chess must have been mighty intelligent. The first person who came to cards, if there was a first person, was intelligent, because think of all the hours in history when people did not know what to do and a deck of cards was a gift of God. Also, every animal has to be intelligent, or it loses its Darwinian rating.
I’ll read for a while from The Story-Book of Science, by Jean-Henri Fabre, who lived from 1823 to 1915. Fabre was one of the greatest observers of the world. No person observed insects better—and some other things—than he did. In chapter 15 of this book there is conversation about the wool taken from sheep, the fleece. And we have the following:
“With this wool they will make you stockings and knitted things for this winter; they will even make cloth, fine cloth for clothes.”
[The Century Company, 1922]
A Thing Is—& Can Change
There was a time when all clothes were ready made: that is, you killed something, and what that something, that animal, had, you wore. Hercules looks that way in the best pictures; so does Samson. The toga was a great refinement. So it was intelligent to see that the sheep had something. Then:
“Peuh!” exclaimed Emile. “This wool is too dirty and ugly to make stockings, knitted things, and cloth.”
“Dirty at present,” Jacques agreed, “but it will be washed in the river....Mother Ambroisine will work it on her spinning-wheel and make yarn of it. This yarn knitted with needles will become stockings....”
“I have never seen red, green, blue sheep; and yet there are red, green, blue, and other colored wools,” said Emile.
“They dye the white wool that the sheep gives us; they put it into boiling water with... coloring matter.”
Dyeing has a long history—how to color things. The dealing with color requires chemical intelligence.
“Cloth is made with threads of wool like those of stockings; but in order to weave these threads...and convert them into fabric, you must have complicated machines, weaving looms.”
Every machine that now exists is owing to intelligence somewhere. And the simple machines—the spade has been called a machine—are owing to some people’s intelligence.
The Oneness of Part & Whole
There is intelligence that begins where life itself begins, and there is a relation of intelligence to aesthetics. Some of that relation can be seen in the passage I’ll read next, about the nervous system.
Coleridge, in his Biographia Literaria, says that a poem is that in which every part goes along with the purpose of the whole. That is, the diction is of such a sort that the whole purpose of the poem is vividly, intensely, justly, properly, discernibly, deeply served by every part of it. The relation of part and whole is a big thing in intelligence. Intelligence does have analysis in it: to find the part in the whole is analysis. The other thing, the putting together, or synthesis, is also in intelligence. The nerves, insofar as without them there would be no intelligence in man, have to be considered. I read now from Outlines of Physiological Psychology: A Textbook of Mental Science, by George Trumbull Ladd (1891). Ladd was a careful student of physiology where it had to do with the nervous system and mind. He writes:
In the plant,...every part acts directly and slowly upon contiguous parts only, for the effecting of those changes upon which its life and growth depend. But in the case of the animal, by the mediation of the nervous system, an effect produced in one part of the body may make itself quickly felt in every other part. A draught of cold air, for example, strikes some portion of the surface of the body. Immediately, the heart and lungs modify their action; the muscles contract; the secretions are disturbed; a shudder runs through the body....
Intelligence is much concerned with putting the parts of ourselves in accurate relation to ourselves as one thing, and using ourselves as one thing to help the parts of ourselves. This has to do with construction, or composition. The nervous system, which, after all, makes for intelligence, must have something of intelligence itself. That which causes intelligence cannot be wholly separated from intelligence. So this passage hints that the nervous system is a point in the intelligence of reality.
What Is True Self-Expression?
By Kevin Fennell
True self-expression, I learned from Aesthetic Realism, is expression of the deepest, most insistent desire we have: our desire honestly to like the world. I also learned, and it revolutionized my life, that what stopped me—what stops every person—from having the self-expression we most yearn for is our desire for contempt: our hope to lessen the outside world as a means of elevating ourselves. Studying what it means to like the world, and also how contempt interferes, has enabled the real me to come forth, and I thank Eli Siegel with all my heart.
Two Kinds of Expression
Growing up in Yonkers, NY, I had, as all children do, a deep drive to find the world exciting, lovable, and worthy of respect. From as early as I can remember I liked hearing songs, and loved it when our whole family sang together. Later, when the Beatles swept the world, I was mesmerized. I loved the way they poured forth big feeling with such life, joy, and beautiful control. I thought, “I’d like to make a sound like that!” and I’d play their records for hours and sing along energetically. Also, in 10th grade I fell in love with Euclidean geometry. I felt it had a logical, beautiful form, and I had great satisfaction completing a proof. At such times, I felt expressed in a way I was proud of.
But this kind of expression got terrific opposition from a very different purpose in me. I was the youngest of four children, and my mother often praised my mild behavior and good looks. I envisioned myself as an angelic prince to whom the world and people were unjustly harsh and mean. And though my sister Marion and I sang together, we often gave each other the message that we were above what we considered the rest of the family’s noisy fracas. We saw ourselves as allies against a world that (in our view) didn’t appreciate us.
This way of seeing interfered with true expression. I came to the unintelligent opinion that not much in the world was good enough to interest me, excite me, spur me into action; that I should just be cool, quietly scornful. This choice made me dull. By the time I was in high school, I mainly kept myself apart. But the other side of my blandness was anger at people, including my classmates, for not seeing me as special. I told myself they were callous and mean. During college, though I made more friends and knew how to seem jolly and get laughs at a party, and sometimes even had a good time, I felt I was essentially an empty fake.
All the while I longed to do something of value, express myself in some way that had big meaning. But I felt incapable, frozen, and would call myself names like “lazy” and “coward.” This would have continued had I not had the good fortune to learn of Aesthetic Realism and find out what in me was smothering my expression.
In Aesthetic Realism consultations, I was spoken to with an honesty and comprehension I’d never experienced before. For example, there was the time when I was sharing an apartment with two roommates and found myself getting very irritated—with their habits, how they put away objects in the kitchen, etc., and the fact that they didn’t seem to see it as a privilege to live with me. My consultants asked: “Do you think you’re too good for them?” And, “How interested are you in their lives—what excites them, what they hope to accomplish, what they might fear, what they’re proudest of? Would it do you good, would it encourage your own expression, to try to see the depths of a person?”
I embarked on the most wonderful journey of a lifetime as I began to see how much contempt had hurt me and how much better life could be with a whole different purpose. I was given assignments, including to write “25 Things I Have in Common with My Father,” and a soliloquy of my mother, describing thoughts she might have.
I learned that the great opposition to contempt is to see that everything—every object, every person—has the aesthetic structure of the world: the oneness of opposites. I saw that a tree is both strong and yielding; that the strings of my guitar, the pick in my hand, my own arm, and my own feeling as I strummed, all were a relation of firmness and flexibility, hardness and softness, motion and rest. I saw that a man I worked with was hoping to make a one of lightheartedness and tough-mindedness, just as I was. So at the very same time that I was learning to be a critic of my contempt, I was finding there is a far greater pleasure in seeing the world as it truly is, and respecting it.
The Real Me
A natural result of liking the world more is the feeling you inevitably have, This is the real me! I came to feel: I’m in a world that matters, that deserves my respect and my doing something about. And I found I had plenty to express myself about, including music, politics, economics, and the great value of Aesthetic Realism itself. In my everyday interactions with people—a friend, coworker, person I met for the first time—I felt more and more it was me that person was seeing, not some arrangement or mask I could hide behind.
I fell in love with a woman: Carol McCluer. The first time I saw her, I saw right away how pretty she was and how sweetly and kindly she smiled. As we talked, I felt she wanted to see the real me and I wanted her to know me as I’d never wanted someone to before. And I wanted to know her! In our marriage, Carol has encouraged my self-expression as a man, a friend to others, a singer, a writer, and as the father of our daughter, Sara. I love her so much!
Aesthetic Realism is knowledge needed by every human being, because it offers a clear, learnable path to the real self-expression we have longed for from the moment we were born. True self-expression is exactly the same as justice to the world and people.
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.
Editor: Ellen Reiss
Coordinators: Nancy Huntting, Meryl Simon, Steven Weiner
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