|NUMBER 1880.—July 30, 2014||
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941
Dear Unknown Friends:
We are serializing Intelligence Is You and More, a 1964 lecture by Eli Siegel. In it, he is describing what that great thing, mysterious thing—that thing people can be so mistaken about—really is. He speaks about various aspects of intelligence, so different from each other. As he noted in an earlier (1949) lecture on the subject:
Intelligence is that which enables you to repair a faucet, understand a child, get a bus sometimes, do well when you are cleaning your clothes, be more sensible in politics; and then, it is about the very biggest question of all: how to spend one’s life. [TRO 706]
In the present discussion, Mr. Siegel is showing what all authentic intelligence has in common. And that thing in common is told of in a landmark Aesthetic Realism principle: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”
We print too part of a paper by Meryl Nietsch-Cooperman, from a public seminar of last month titled “What’s the Freedom a Woman Wants Most?” And does freedom ever have to do with intelligence! We can think we’re smart about what will make us feel free; do or get that thing—and then feel more confined, stifled, bogged down than ever. I’ll say swiftly here: true intelligence and true freedom have this basis in common: both are the oneness of the biggest opposites in our lives: justice to ourselves and justice to the outside world.
Poetry, Humor, & a Mistake
Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses contains some of the best poems ever written for children. They are true poetry, and are really for people of every age. In them we find matters having to do with both intelligence and freedom. Let’s take a short poem called “Looking Forward”:
When I am grown to man’s estate
I shall be very proud and great,
And tell the other girls and boys
Not to meddle with my toys.
These neat, charming lines happen to express one of the most prevalent and hurtful mistakes people make about freedom. The poem satirizes the notion that the way to be free is: feel far superior to other people—whom you see as nuisances out to lessen and rook you—and be able to put them in their place. This notion is a phase of contempt, which Aesthetic Realism describes as “the addition to self through the lessening of something else.” Contempt is the thing in us that most interferes with our freedom, and also weakens our mind.
“When I am grown to man’s estate / I shall be very proud and great”: there is musical pomp here (and it’s clear that the word proud is used to mean vain, rather than self-respecting). What the young speaker is “looking forward” to is being a big shot. We should feel big—but not by being apart from others, hugging ourselves, and seeing our fellow humans as somehow existing to take what’s ours.
“And tell the other girls and boys / Not to meddle with my toys.” There’s humor, of course, in the way a notion of being mature and impressive is joined with still seeing in terms of “toys” and “other girls and boys.” I think Stevenson is saying that the most impressive, pompous notions of one’s own might and rights (including certain “property rights”) can be deeply puerile and silly.
But this poem is art. What is said is foolish and, really, unkind. But the way it is said is beautiful and contradicts the outward message even while expressing it. The poem as statement is truculent, but the sounds have nuance: they are fair to the strangeness and delicacy as well as the firmness of the world. And in both the statement and the verbal music, the self as mighty and the self as little are together. Stevenson was feeling, loving, being just to the world with its structure of opposites. In doing so, he represents both real intelligence and real freedom: the intelligence and freedom of art.
A Child’s Poem Has Grand Music
The poem “Singing” tells of a state of mind contrary to that in the poem I just discussed. In “Singing,” there is not the “freedom” and “intelligence” of contemptuously putting other people in their place. There is the feeling that things and people throughout the world are related to each other, and add to oneself:
Of speckled eggs the birdie sings
And nests among the trees;
The sailor sings of ropes and things
In ships upon the seas.
The children sing in far Japan,
The children sing in Spain;
The organ with the organ man
Is singing in the rain.
I loved this poem as a child, and love it now. Take the first four lines, about the singing of bird and sailor: in both sound and statement, one hears the specificity as well as the relatedness of the objects told of: speckled eggs, nests, ropes. There’s texture, touchability, in the music. Then there is the width of the second stanza—wide, reaching sounds. And the last two lines, through their music, and through the rain, put together joy and difficulty, drooping and grandeur: “The organ with the organ man / Is singing in the rain.”
When children have liked these poems, they have felt deeply and truly free—and they have been intelligent. That is because they have liked the world honestly, through words that are accurate about it.
The freedom and intelligence of art are what we want in our lives. And at last we can learn to have them—through the education that is Aesthetic Realism.
—Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education
Intelligence, Love, & Motive
By Eli Siegel
There is an idea of love that is connected with the idea of a good time, and love in this sense has two enemies: on the one hand, there is something like religion; on the other, the idea of prudence. Even Benjamin Franklin, while being rather bold, said that if you want to keep your shop, see that the women are scanty. Iago, in Shakespeare’s Othello, though a villain, is in this field as he speaks to Roderigo.
Roderigo is interested in Desdemona, who is Othello’s wife. But Iago tells him to control this love business:
Iago. I say, put money in thy purse. It cannot be that Desdemona should long continue her love to the Moor,—put money in thy purse,—nor he his to her. It was a violent commencement in her, and thou shalt see an answerable sequestration; put but money in thy purse....When she is sated with his body, she will find the error of her choice. She must have change, she must: therefore, put money in thy purse....
There are two ideas of prudence here: 1) get money; and 2) if you get money you likely will also get the other thing you want. Iago is saying, If you can’t put aside women for a while and get money, who are you? He is a tremendous moral teacher here—he goes along with all the banks of the country. And he is presenting intelligence to Roderigo.
However, our motive, in the long run, is the deciding thing in our intelligence. If our object is wrong, to use intelligence to succeed in it is somewhat strange. We’d be a little like the person who studied successfully for 3½ years how to get all the money from a mail train that was coming west. The only thing wrong was that the objective was wrong in the first place. But you can be intelligent, seemingly, in having a wrong motive accomplished. So Iago here has the complexity of intelligence, the relation of good and evil in intelligence, which is present very much in the plays of Shakespeare.
Something of that complexity is present in the very first lines of Antony and Cleopatra. Antony is said to be giving up his success as a soldier for his dallying with Cleopatra. His sacrifice is the most famous such sacrifice in all history. Here he was, successful as a soldier, successful as a ruler of half the world, and he gives it up for Cleopatra. Still, it could be said today that if a person is making love to Cleopatra, he is a greater benefactor of the human race than if he wanted to be in a war. Philo is talking about Antony:
Philo. Nay, but this dotage of our general’s
O’erflows the measure....
...Look, where they come.
Take but good note, and you shall see in him
The triple pillar of the world transform’d
Into a strumpet’s fool....
Cleopatra. If it be love indeed, tell me how much.
Antony. There’s beggary in the love that can be reckon’d.
All this has to do with intelligence. We have people trying to be good to themselves, and also good to something that they see as the world they are in. I refer again to the definition I gave earlier: “Intelligence is the ability to use one’s mind, as opposites, for oneself and the world.” Intelligence has to be for oneself. But if it can be shown that if a person is not for the world in a certain way, he is not for himself, the other part of the definition must be there too.
A person, for example, who is very intelligent is not forgot by the world. It seems as if he did something for the world. Let’s take Edward Jenner, the person who first found out about vaccination: he was taking care of himself, but it is thought that he also did something for the world.
We like to get the respect of the world; that is why there are epitaphs that others can read. And we are interested in ourselves. Intelligence is always an attempt to satisfy the demands of the world, both in us and outside of ourselves, and our own demands. And this means it can often fail.
The Freedom a Woman Wants Most
By Meryl Nietsch-Cooperman
There were many ways I tried to feel free. I went to Montana to study art in college, and in that western state I rappelled off cliffs, went caving, canoed in large rivers. I hitchhiked across the country. But with all this, I didn’t feel free. Instead, I often felt both stuck in myself and restless.
In his great lecture Mind and Freedom, Eli Siegel explains what I needed to know:
Freedom is the ability to do what you want, but humans also have the ability to do what they don’t want, thinking it is what they want. So they have the ability to be free not to be free....You cannot have the ability to do what you want unless you have the ability to know what you want; and that means freedom is accuracy.
I didn’t think freedom had anything to do with accuracy; these were in two different categories in my mind. Sometimes I could be precise—as I painted in art class, for example. But in my everyday life, I did not see accuracy as attractive.
A Girl’s Confusion about Freedom
As I grew up in a family with five brothers our household could be quite raucous, and a phrase we heard often was “Behave yourself!” Because we were a large family, I had to do various chores before I could go out and play. Though I was proud to help my parents, I was also resentful. I told myself that as soon as I was old enough I was going to bust out and be free: no obligations! no orders from anyone!
Aesthetic Realism explains that we have two desires which affect how we see freedom. We want to care for things and people. We also want our autonomy, but we can go after it falsely: use what we see as the faults of others to be scornful, have contempt, and declare our “independence” by dismissing people and making them meaningless whenever we please.
I was confused by the way my parents made a lot of me and then seemed to put me aside, showed care for each other and then had angry fights. But instead of trying to understand them, I felt superior and disdainfully defiant. As people do, I tried to make my scorn look noble, cloaking it with phrases like “I’m going to be my own woman!” and “I’m not going to let anyone tell me what to do!”
Years later in an Aesthetic Realism consultation, discussing my defiance of my parents and others, my consultants spoke to me about the fact that reality itself tells us what to do: there’s gravity; there’s our need to breathe, and eat. They asked me, “Do you like the fact that reality controls you, or do you want to control it?” I saw that I wanted to control things big time, manage them to get my way. And one notion of freedom I had was the ability to manage things and people, and defy or get away from what I couldn’t control.
In “An Outline of Aesthetic Realism” Mr. Siegel writes: “Ego, or the self in its incompleteness, is the cause of our using freedom to be false to ourselves.” One way I did this was to make fun of people in my mind and also be outwardly sarcastic. I could be especially scathing with men, and once when a man was critical of me for this I felt a piercing shame. In fact, I was ashamed of my derisive remarks even when no one criticized them, but I also felt it was my right, my freedom, to say anything I wanted. I didn’t know my contempt was the very thing that made me feel empty and confined.
Another false notion of freedom I had was to be physically so much on the move that it seemed I was always running somewhere, that I was in perpetual motion. I told myself this was me at my core—but I was distressed that I had a hard time being still for very long—for instance, when I tried to read or talk with someone. In a consultation I was asked:
Do you think you misuse the principle of mobility? If you were to walk from this table to the front door, would your purpose be to be fair to the world, or in some way to feel you are defying it by showing you can go from one place to another? Have you used the fact that you can move to conquer the world?
I had. And that purpose interfered with how I saw everything: caring for a man, concentrating on a project at work, how I saw people close to me. In his lecture Mr. Siegel explains:
When people are restless, the two things they do are vanish into the interior of themselves or go elsewhere....It is an aesthetic problem, a phase of the problem of rest and motion. You have to feel that while being satisfied with where you are, you can also see it as a means of changing to something more of what you are. The being able to like what you’re at and still hope, is like the hearing of a note of music, liking that note, and yet seeing further notes to come.
As I studied Aesthetic Realism, I came to see that the excessive and ill-motivated way I was on the go actually stopped me from having what I was most hoping for: the aesthetic relation of rest and motion that Mr. Siegel describes. The freedom a woman wants most, I learned, is to have the enormous pleasure of knowing and liking the world, including through people.
That is the purpose I have been learning about in professional classes taught by Ellen Reiss. For instance, in a class when I was recovering from a foot injury and couldn’t rush around as I usually did, I said I was surprised to have a lot of pleasure reading more, particularly a James Fenimore Cooper novel, and Ms. Reiss asked:
ER. Do you think it would be good for you to value accurately the fact that you can read a Cooper novel and it can have such a big effect on you?
ER. This getting the world in you through reading is motion too. Do you think you undervalue one kind of motion and overvalue another?
MN-C. Yes, I think so.
Freedom & Love
Like many women, I also went after “freedom” through wanting to conquer a man in relation to body. But with every year I despised myself more for how I was as to men and love, so much so that I felt I had to drink to feel at ease with a man. Meanwhile, I longed to care truly for someone, but didn’t know how. My way of seeing men changed through my study of Aesthetic Realism, as the scornful way I met the world was kindly criticized (often with humor) and my desire to know the outside world was encouraged, including in the field of love.
I came to be very much affected by Bennett Cooperman, who is an Aesthetic Realism consultant and actor, and felt I needed his thoughtfulness and deep friendship. But as we began to live together, I was in a state about his ideas of rearranging things in our home. When I spoke about the situation in a class, Ellen Reiss asked me this—and it’s about a notion of freedom: “Can a woman feel if she lets a man into her life, she’s no longer the person she was? ‘The Meryl Nietsch that was will be no more’? The great question is: If a person means more to us, are we more or less?”
I am definitely more! Bennett is now my husband, and as I am affected by him, try to know how he sees a character he’s preparing for or the latest technology, or as we talk about something in the news, he adds deeply to me. He has enabled me to feel freer than I ever was by myself. Together we are learning that real freedom is aesthetics—the oneness of such opposites as autonomy and need, liberty and exactitude. This education makes for great pleasure in our lives!
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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