Conversations in Marriage—& Poetry
Dear Unknown Friends:
Here is part 6 of the magnificent 1949 lecture Poetry and Slowness, by Eli Siegel. And with it we publish portions of a paper by Aesthetic Realism consultant Ernest DeFilippis, from an Aesthetic Realism public seminar titled “What’s Missing When Husbands Talk with Wives?” Aesthetic Realism is that which understands, as nothing else can, the big, beautiful, yet so often painful subject of conversations. I have written on the matter in other TROs; but for now, I say this: What that seminar showed is that if men and women have trouble talking to each other, it isn’t for the reason given in current books—that the male approach to talking and the female are just different. The reason is, persons do not see reality and other persons justly. The man or woman you have to do with stands for reality and humanity; and as that person is in a close and crucial and prolonged relation to you, the amissness in how you both see the world will come forth in your seeing of each other, dealing with each other, speaking with each other.
The big interference with conversations, and with love, is that thing which Mr. Siegel showed to be the big interference with every aspect of life: contempt, “the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self—increase as one sees it.” The fundamental way contempt works as to people is the feeling that to see another human being truly, justly, in keeping with all the facts, is unnecessary. Hour after hour, the people of the world do not feel they need to understand who someone else deeply and exactly is, though they may live with the person for sixty years. This fundamental contempt—that it is unnecessary to see a person truly—is, for example, in all racism. But it also happens to be present in adoration. Whether one longs for a person or loathes a person, or anything in between, one generally sees a person in terms of: how does he make me feel; does he make me seem important (either through his praising me, or through my ability to feel superior to him)?—not: who is he?; what are his thoughts, his feelings, and not just about me?; how does he see everything?
Amid dates and kisses, wedding plans and honeymoon, this is still largely the way a man and woman see each other, in terms of one’s own importance. And therefore when the thrill of conquering someone fades, there is a dullness, including conversational dullness—because neither has been interested much in who the other really is.
The Purpose of Love
There is another huge reason, inextricable from the one I just gave, why so often in marriage conversations have a feeling of resentment in them, irritation, and emptiness, and why there can be a disinclination to speak at all. The purpose of love, Aesthetic Realism explains, is to like the world. And as I write that sentence, I am struck afresh by how surprising it is. That to like the world, its people, objects, knowledge, is what love is for—this is backed up by the great literature of the world, but it is so far from what people generally think and what the advice columns and books encourage. What happens is that two people make the mistake of using each other to get away from the world, to feel they can be in a separate world together, where they are superior to everyone. This choice makes for inevitable resentment, narrowness, emptiness, and shame—because it is against the very purpose of their lives: to be fair to reality in its fullness.
Also, when two people make less of the world, there has to be boredom, and the conversations have to be flat—because they have flattened, in fact tried to wipe out, the source of everything interesting: reality itself. Since conversations are about the world, you can’t make less of the world and then expect to have good conversations.
Besides, Aesthetic Realism shows that a person is the world, in his or her particular form. Whether that person is a stranger or shares a love nest with you, he or she is composed of the opposites that constitute reality itself. “The world, art, and self explain each other,” Mr. Siegel wrote: “each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites.” And in sentences I love, sentences great in English prose, he explains: “To know a person is to know the universe become throbbingly specific. It is always the universe on two feet, with two eyes, and an articulate mouth.” That is how people all over the world long to see another human being. It is the opponent of the contemptuous way of seeing a person, the possessive way, the bored way, the irritable way.
The World in a Person
Let us take the opposites with which the lecture we are serializing is concerned: slowness and speed. These opposites are often sources of annoyance and inter-punishment with couples: one walks too slowly, the other too fast; she wants things done in such a hurry, he waits so long before answering a question. But a woman can look at her husband, and a man at his wife, and ask: How are the opposites, reality’s opposites, of slowness and speed in this person I married? Is he, is she, trying to make them one?
A man might say: “This woman who woke up beside me in bed happens to be the result of centuries: it took evolution or history or biology so long to get to just her. Yet this same person runs swiftly into the ocean surf on a summer day!
“I have seen that she has thoughts that can linger, on a leaf, a cloud, a cat, a situation in the news; yet a memory can come suddenly, so quickly, to her mind. Also, I have seen her sitting quietly in a chair, while blood was moving rapidly through her veins and ideas were in much motion in her mind.
“I see too that these opposites may trouble her: she can feel lethargic, and also agitated. Yet even when they are awry in her, they are still the world’s opposites, art’s opposites: she may not know what to do with slowness and speed, but in having them within her she has what all music, for example, depends on. In needing to make sense of fast and slow, she has the problem Beethoven dealt with in all of his symphonies.”
Eli Siegel showed and honored all the time the true grandeur of every human being, and reality itself. Because he did, Aesthetic Realism exists. And people can learn to see another proudly and kindly at last, to love truly, and to have the conversations we thirst for!