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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 
A  PERIODICAL OF HOPE AND INFORMATION
 NUMBER 1680 —November 29 , 2006
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

How Should We Think about People?

Dear Unknown Friends: 

ere is the final section of the great lecture we have been serializing, There Are Two Freedoms, by Eli Siegel.

     It is one of his 1970 Goodbye Profit System lectures, in which he showed that economics based on contempt, on seeing fellow humans as creatures to be used for one's monetary aggrandizement, was no longer able to prosper. And it would never prosper again.

     The profit motive—to get as much money for oneself as one can from other people's needs and labor, and give them as little as possible—was always ugly. It made for poverty, child labor, sweatshops, occupational diseases, for millions of misused lives. But now the profit motive is unable to bring in the kind of fiscal returns it once did. Further, though some persons, of course, are still very rich, and though profit economics may be kept going for a time, people across America increasingly resent how they're being used. They're angry at having to struggle financially while working to enrich somebody else. “Man was not made to be used by man for money,” Mr. Siegel explained: “...That was justice five thousand years ago, but it didn't have a chance to show its power until now.”1

Economic Good Will

e made clear what it is that must replace economics based on contempt. It is something that has not existed before: economic good will, economics based on aesthetics. What that means is the subject of the lecture we're serializing.

     Mr. Siegel speaks about opposites that are one in art and need to be one in economics: letting go and exactitude; free expression and justice. He calls these the “two freedoms”—because unless we see accuracy or justice as part of freedom, inseparable from freedom, we will be deeply sloppy and also mean. That is so of an economy too.

     In the lecture Mr. Siegel gives many examples of the two freedoms, and of the good will that is present when they are one, and the ill will when they are not. He speaks about a poem of Wallace Stevens, Ruskin on the Mona Lisa, a stockbroker's newsletter, a Mother Goose rhyme, a prose passage by Milton, an anecdote from Boswell's Johnson, and more. To preface this final section, I'm going to comment on two poems by Eli Siegel himself.

Art Opposes the Profit System

henever art, authentic art, deals with a person—whether in a painting of Rembrandt, a novel of Tolstoy, a play of Ibsen—the artist always shows that person as real, as alive, as having the stir of reality in him or her. Art, therefore, is the big opponent of profit economics—because it's impossible to see a person as fully real, as having all the humanity and feeling you do, and yet want to exploit that person.

     Art shows there is Meaning, Import, Life in all it deals with. It shows that a little girl in a dirty dress, perhaps with the sniffles, is as real as a duke; that a lonely old man with tired feet is as meaningful as a senator. A motto Eli Siegel used in an early printing of his poem “Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana” is: “All existence is one hundred hundredths.” Every person is one hundred hundredths, as existent as every other person: that is what art shows. And it is impossible to see people as equally real and yet feel that the world should belong much more to certain people than to others.

She Is Real

n page 40 of his collection Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana: Poems, there is a poem Eli Siegel wrote in the 1930s, during the Depression, titled “Depression Song of a Girl.” This girl is suffering from economic ill will, but in the way the poem is written, in the way she is thought of, there is the good will that economics needs to have. The poem consists of only eight short lines; yet in them a human being is seen with fulness. This young woman of the '30s says:

I walk around without hope;
I haven't a cent in my purse;
I'm at the end of my rope—
A grave without a hearse.

I don't know what it's all for,
I don't know what's required;
I know I can't stand more,—
And I know I'm tired, tired.

     In a lecture he gave nine days before the one we're serializing, Mr. Siegel read this poem and commented, “Not having money has troubled people, so unnecessarily and so horribly.”

     The poem is very orderly, with its rhyme and three-beat lines. Yet it is beautiful because with that quiet order is a person's tumult.

     For example, the first line is a statement, simple and utter: “I walk around without hope.” But in its rhythm there is an uncertainty too and even a weary slouch. The music gives us the pain of this girl, and also, with the richness of its vowel sounds, has us feel her dignity.

     In this poem we have phrases that are colloquial; we have the ordinary. But we also have a feeling of grandeur and wonder.

     In every line of the poem there is a sound of thrust, a rhythmic punch; and also sinking. A person has both. Every person does feel with an inner assertiveness, I am I! And every person can be in a situation that feels unbearable. Economics has made the girl in this poem feel that way. And her feeling has been made real to us.

The World Is in Everyone

esthetic Realism says that every person has the whole world in him or her. That is because the structure of the world, the oneness of opposites, is in everyone. For example, wherever we were born, whatever language we think in, whatever color our skin, whatever our age, we all have rest and motion, and often in ways that confuse us. We can all go from being excited to being torpid, and not understand why. And we all long to be agog and calm at once.

     Every person feels both high and low: arrogant and humble. Every person is concentration and expansion: just one's own particular self, yet related to everything.

     Art comes from an individual's seeing and showing the world in anything—as Beethoven could have us feel reality's force and gentleness together in a passage of his Fifth Symphony; as Cézanne could show a drama of closeness and separation, friendliness and suspicion, in two apples on a table's edge; as Eli Siegel had us feel the world's thrust and sinking in that young woman he wrote of. For unkindness to end and civilization to be—in homes, in economics, internationally—it's necessary for people to learn to see each other the way art sees. It's necessary to learn that the parent you summed up and a person whose customs you see as strange are both trying to put together nothing less than reality's opposites, the same opposites that nestle and whirl under your own skin. This is part of the education that takes place in Aesthetic Realism consultations.

A King Too

n the same page as “Depression Song of a Girl” is a poem by Eli Siegel about a person very different from her: “The Best Surmises about the Feelings of Louis XV.”

     It is so easy not to think about a person's feelings, really not to see him as having them. That is a primal form of contempt, and Aesthetic Realism explains that contempt is the source of every injustice. It's “the addition to self through the lessening of something else.” Every day we make the feelings of other people nonexistent. We see our feelings as vivid, as precious, as terrifically important, as what matters most in the world. Occasionally we get a sight sharply of feeling outside ourselves. But mainly, other persons' feelings, if we think of them at all (we usually don't), are pale to us, theoretical, dim.

     So I present, as standing for the way of seeing needed for successful economics, this poem about a monarch. Eli Siegel considered monarchy a false, unethical, and ridiculous institution. I remember a riddle he asked: “How is a pimple like a king? Answer: Neither is worth having.” Yet he thought that the feelings of every person should be understood. (Understanding a feeling is not the same as praising it.) And he said that the feelings of people who lived two centuries ago, four centuries ago, and more, are as real as the feelings you have right now.

         The Best Surmises about the Feelings of Louis XV

Comes then the necessity of thinking about Louis XV,
Who had thoughts of his own there in 1740.
The royal feelings are as mysterious as those of anyone not royal.
Kings have evanescent emotions, too.
Their feelings about a tree will not stay fixed.
(It is well to consider eighteenth century trees.)
Louis XV was as confused as anyone.
The mysteries within the head on his shoulders!
As he walked, he knew what walking was:
And what he was walking on he felt he was walking on.
The feelings of Louis XV are unknown.
They haven't been put forth.
They can be surmised.
What else can we do about eighteenth century feelings?
Let us hope for the best surmises about feelings of royalty.
It will help (the best surmises will) feelings everywhere.

The Message of Art

rt has cried out through the centuries, without articulating the cry: See a person as real! Aesthetic Realism makes clear this message of art, and says too: The seeing of other human beings as real, as having feelings as full as your own, has to be the basis of economics.

      As a person who had the happiness of being a student of Eli Siegel's for many years, I saw that he lived the justice that is in his poems, the justice-as-freedom that he speaks of in the present lecture. It is what he had always. It was in his logic, his humor, his intellect, his whole life.

ELLEN REISS, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

Literature & Poverty
By Eli Siegel 

hile any child needs something he or she hasn't got, the profit system is a failure. That's the way it will be seen in perspective. There's a poem of Blake that has in it a feeling which stockbrokers should look at. It's “Holy Thursday,” from the Songs of Innocence:

'Twas on a Holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean,
The children walking two & two, in red & blue & green:
Grey-headed beadles walked before, with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Paul's they like Thames waters flow.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The hum of multitudes was there, but multitudes of lambs,
Thousands of little boys & girls raising their innocent hands.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor.
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.

     Cherishing true pity is a form of good will, and Blake knew it wasn't done. It hasn't been done.

Humanity & the Profit System

n the history of the world, there are many beautiful things dealing with the profit system. They are not beautiful because of the profit system; they're beautiful because of that mingling of eternal, interesting, likable humanity and the profit system. For example, one of the passages in the collection I'm reading from, London Is London, is about a pawnbroker, here called a “spout,” also “uncle.” Offhand, a pawnbroker is not so likable. Still, there is a literature about him which is very taking. These paragraphs are reprinted from Pierce Egan's Life in London, a book which deals with London of the first two decades of the 19th century. In this passage there's a mingling of the accuracy of the pawnbroker and the possibilities of getting ready money by leaving something with him:

But the history of the Spouters, and the various curious acts performed by this numerous class of persons in the Metropolis, was a perfect riddle to Corinthian Tom.

Tom is a person from the country visiting London . And spout was a term used in pawnbroking. If you brought something, where the pawnbroker would put it was “up a spout.”

The idea of a mahogany table going up a spout to liquidate a man's rent, or a mirror to produce a joint of meat; and a new suit of clothes, after having given a hero a day's decent appearance, vanishing, by this sort of means, in order to make the first payment to a tally tailor, was a kind of necromancy he could not altogether comprehend....
     Experience would point out “his uncle” to be...ready at all times to supply his wants.... His trees might be turned into cash, without cutting any of them down; his carriages might produce Banknotes without coming to the hammer; and his wardrobe might not only make money, but be taken care of into the bargain.

     Some of this feeling is in Sheridan 's School for Scandal, where Charles gives away things in order to get ready money. There's an abandon and an accuracy about it, because even Charles had to be aware a little. In fact, he stops at one painting—won't give up that one.

     So the pawnbroker has to do with these two things I'm talking about, which are the two freedoms: energy, and the seeing of energy, the being accurate about energy.

A Passage by Dickens

n this book is a character who represents the two freedoms. There are three characters in Dickens' Pickwick Papers who represent energy given a rightness through the persons having the energy. One is Mr. Pickwick, who is his own giver of rightness to his energy. Then there is Sam Weller. The third is most questionable, but I think he also is on the side of good: Alfred Jingle is a character who has energy and accuracy. Both are in his use of those short phrases: “Saw the man. Looked at the dish. Saw it was a very old dish. Told it was an old dish. Told me, he never knew he had such an old dish. I said—glad to tell him so—I have studied dishes for years. Know antique Portuguese dishes. Knew a Portuguese and we looked at dishes for hours. This is an antique Portuguese dish. Dish antique.”2

     Sam Weller gets into this collection. There have been many descriptions of people who are poor, and all stockbrokers should read a work called The Life and Labour of the London Poor, by Charles Booth. In this passage from Pickwick we have Samuel Weller with his energy and accuracy, and also a description of a cheap lodging house. The surprise of waking is here a little too—Mr. Pickwick is speaking with Sam Weller, who has good will even though he's, well, dashing:

    “And pray, Sam, what is the twopenny rope?” inquired Mr. Pickwick.
    “The twopenny rope, sir,” replied Mr. Weller, “is just a cheap lodgin'-house where the beds is two pence a night....Wen the lady and gen'lm'n as keeps the Hotel first begun business, they used to make the beds on the floor; but...instead o' taking a moderate twopenn'orth o' sleep, the lodgers used to lie there half the day. So now they has two ropes, 'bout six foot apart, and three from the floor, which goes right down the room; and the beds are made of slips of coarse sacking, stretched across 'em.”
    “Well,” said Mr. Pickwick.
    “Well,” said Mr. Weller, “the adwantage o' the plan's hobvious. At six o'clock every mornin' they lets go the ropes at one end, and down falls all the lodgers. Consequence is, that being thoroughly waked, they get up wery quietly, and walk away!”

     Poverty should be only in books. Meanwhile, that passage has to do with literature and what life has been like, and it is being commented on by what's going on in the world.

     There is also the fierce energy of Dickens and the fact that as artist he saw the fierce energy. It's this energy and seeing that are the two freedoms. Every person is looking for that from himself, and there's more of a chance of America 's finding it now. It will be the America that Columbus and Cabot and Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin and Andrew Jackson and Eugene V. Debs, and also the characters in James's Portrait of a Lady, are looking for. They are looking for the America of energy and the America that sees. With what's happening, there is more of a chance for it.   


1Goodbye Profit System: Update (Definition Press), pp. 70, 82
2This wild, charming passage is not from Pickwick Papers . Mr. Siegel is composing it extemporaneously, to show the Jingle manner.

Aesthetic Realism is based on these principles, stated by Eli Siegel:

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.

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Photographic Education: the Aesthetic Realism Viewpoint
A New Perspective for Anthropology: The Aesthetic Realism Method
Self-Expression and What Interferes: an Aesthetic Realism Discussion
John Singer Sargent's Madame X, an Aesthetic Realism Discussion

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