Energy, Poetry, & Mistakes about Love
Dear Unknown Friends:
We continue to serialize the great lecture Poetry and Energy, which Eli Siegel gave in 1949. And we print part of a paper by Lynette Abel from an Aesthetic Realism public seminar of this July titled “In Trying to Be Important, What Mistakes Do People Make?” As I said last week, in Poetry and Energy one can see some of the rich philosophic logic of Aesthetic Realism. Yet from this logic, in all its strictness, arises what Ms. Abel tells about: the understanding, so personal, so immediate, of an individual self—including the understanding of a woman’s purposes with men. So I’ll comment a little on the principles that this section of Poetry and Energy is about, and relate them to a big aspect of Ms. Abel’s paper: mistakes about love.
Aesthetic Realism is the philosophy that explains that every person is in relation, all the time, to the whole world. I love this idea. I have seen that it is not only true, and is not only the beginning for understanding the previously not understood confusions and turmoil and hopes of people—it gives an authentic largeness to the life of every human being.
Right now a baby is being born, not just to a particular mother and father but into all of reality. And Aesthetic Realism shows that the deepest desire of that baby is to like the reality into which she is born: to like the world. That is the desire which Mr. Siegel, in the present section of Poetry and Energy, calls “the Desire of Desires.” And honestly to like the world itself is our deepest purpose every moment: as we hold a coffee cup, or look intently into a mirror, or look across a restaurant table at a person.
When Mr. Siegel says in Poetry and Energy that in each specific situation of ours there is also “the general,” he is speaking about the fact I have just described: “the general,” present all the time, is the world itself and our need to like the world. It is the world plus coffee cup we have to do with as we touch the cup to our lips. That is why, if the coffee is good, the world itself seems more pleasing to us. If we spill the coffee and say "Damn it!,” the "it” takes in the world as such.
What Makes Love Fail
Aesthetic Realism explains that our huge mistake, the thing in us that interferes with our minds and lives—and also the source of all the injustice that has ever been—is the hope to have contempt for the world: to dislike it, rob it of meaning, get away from it, conquer it. I learned, as Ms. Abel did, what men and women for centuries have thirsted to know: the desire to have contempt for the world is what makes love fail! Here, swiftly, are two chief ways contempt for the world is right now amid the yearnings and the kisses of people on every continent. This contempt is the reason two persons will come to resent each other and feel ashamed:
1) You use a “loved” person to make the rest of the world not matter. You use him to make a separate world in which you are the most important thing. And through this world just your own, you effectively thumb your nose at all other persons and situations. 2) You also use the chosen person to feel the world is at last conquered by you, succumbing to you, through him. You want him to approve of you utterly, see you as the only thing that really matters, because that way reality itself seems to be "nice” at last: it seems not something you need to understand, but something which will glorify you without your having to be fair to anything.
Though of course one doesn’t put it in such terms, what I have outlined is what people mainly call romance and long for. Meanwhile, in using a specific person to lessen that general thing, reality, we are really a horrible enemy to the person we say we love, because we are trying to take him away from his deepest desire: like of the world. We don’t want him deeply enthusiastic about, interested in, anything besides us. In contrast, Aesthetic Realism explains that the purpose of love is, through a particular person, to like the world in all its manyness and strangeness and width. This is the real romance, kind and sweeping!
The Answer Is in Poetry
Mr. Siegel implies in the paragraphs published here what he has stated resoundingly elsewhere: poetry, and art as such, do what we so much need to do—care for the world itself through a specific object or person. The reason is in the following principle: “In reality opposites are one; art shows this.” Let us take one short, famous line, by Edmund Waller: “Go, lovely rose!”
Waller is speaking of, and to, a specific rose. Yet we feel in the line, hear in its music, what the world itself is: the oneness of opposites. Waller gives a command—and is so tender: the line is force and gentleness at once. Then, how tight the line is, in its three words; yet how it has nuance, wonder, expansiveness. And it is excited and also richly reposeful.
Aesthetic Realism is great in showing that a line of poetry is a guide to the just seeing of a person, including in love. Let us take a man, Craig, who a woman, Kerry, hopes will call her. He is a particular embodiment of the very opposites of reality that are in the Waller line. 1) He too is forceful and tender—and he longs to feel these two aspects of himself can go together. 2) He is concentrated and expansive: he wants to be firmly himself yet also be affected by ever so much else. 3) He wants to be excited, stirred, even agog, and also to have authentic composure, or calm. These opposites, and others, are Craig’s very life. The world not only accompanies a person, but is in him. So if Kerry, who yearns to forget the world through Craig’s embrace, thinks she is interested in Craig, she is completely wrong. Someone she calls "Craig” may occupy her thoughts intensely, but it is not he: she is not interested in who he is.
Because of Eli Siegel’s courage and honesty, Aesthetic Realism enables people to be true to their deepest desire—including, grandly, in love!