Land, Water, Philosophy, & the Family
Dear Unknown Friends:
Here is part 7 of the great lecture Philosophy Begins with That, which Eli Siegel gave in April 1970. He is showing that philosophy is not an esoteric, remote study, but is as everyday as the sidewalk we step on, the air we breathe. That is because the structure of reality is in everything. The structure of reality, Aesthetic Realism shows, is the oneness of opposites, and it is in every object, happening, situation, person, thought, emotion. That is why, as people study Aesthetic Realism, they begin to see a meaning, a grandeur, an excitement in things; and to feel the world in its largeness is closer, friendlier to one than one has known.
We print here too an article by Aesthetic Realism consultant Rosemary Plumstead. A retired New York City science teacher, she is one of the most respected educators in America. In professional workshops across the nation and at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York, Mrs. Plumstead teaches fellow educators the magnificent Aesthetic Realism teaching method. Her article here, however, is on another subject. It’s from a public seminar of last month titled “The Mistakes Daughters Make about Fathers; or, What Do We Really Want from Dad?”
Philosophy This Summer
In his lecture, to illustrate the philosophy in what we meet, Mr. Siegel uses a journal of Arnold Bennett (1867-1931), in which that novelist describes various daily happenings in his life. In the midst of summer 2012, we can use too, as illustration, something millions of people are desiring, going after, experiencing. I am speaking about the fact that there is a desire to be where land meets water. People are traveling in cars, buses, trains, planes, to fulfill that desire. Why (aside from its cooling properties) do we want so much to be where water is, to be on the shore of it, whether ocean, lake, river, stream?
Even as a woman may want to show off in her swimsuit, even as a man may want his muscles noticed, is there a larger reason, a philosophic reason? Yes. It is described in this Aesthetic Realism principle:“The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites.”
The Eternal & the Immediate
Whether we can express it or not, there is a feeling as we are on land looking at water, or on or in water not far from land, that we are with something elemental. Water and land are what our planet is, and was a thousand years ago and much earlier. Even on a crowded beach with boardwalk concessions nearby, there is that sense of the elemental—the eternal, the large, the expansive in time and space—and the feeling that this wide elemental is friendly, immediate, intimate, for one.
There is a drive in everyone to make what’s not oneself unimportant, dismissible, also something one can manipulate. That drive is an aspect of the desire for contempt, which Aesthetic Realism shows to be the ugliest, most hurtful thing in the human self. Contempt has certainly been in operation at the seashore, and river and lake shore. Nevertheless, that situation of land and water represents the world at its beginning: it represents what is eternal, and mysterious in its largeness; and somewhere everyone feels it.
Motion & Rest
Whatever the body of water—from placid lake to turbulent sea—it is more in motion than the land. When we are where land and water come together, we are experiencing rest and motion as one. That is a huge reason we want to be there: rest and motion are two of the biggest opposites the world has, and often they are at odds in us, painfully. Millions of people are agitated; the same people can feel dull, stuck. To be where the stillness of land meets the motion of water gives us hope. It tells us that these opposites can be one, are one in the world.
The need to feel motion and rest as one is in a tremendously musical poem of Yeats, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” He tells of his yearning to go to that island. The poem ends:
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
In “lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore,” we find motion that is calm too. And so Yeats says it calls to the deepest need in him, to the center of him: “I hear it in the deep heart’s core.”
Hardness & Softness
Two other mighty opposites in the land-water relation are hardness and softness. Land, a solid, is obviously harder than water, a liquid. We cannot overestimate how much these opposites mean to us. We don’t know, yet long to know, how to be hard and soft at once. We can feel we’re too hard, insufficiently yielding; yet we also feel we’re too soft, haven’t stood up for ourselves. To see hardness and softness as distinct yet beautifully joined in the form of land and water, meets our hope for ourselves.
Sameness & Difference
The fact that land and water are so unlike each other yet need each other, complete each other, says something about the oneness of the biggest opposites in reality: sameness and difference. As we look at land and water and feel this difference and sameness, this simultaneous apartness and embrace, we feel excited. We also feel calm. We feel both because of what Aesthetic Realism explains: to see sameness and difference as one is to see the world as beautiful. That need of opposites for each other is in two short lines of one of the best poems of America, Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking.” The lines are: “O madly the sea pushes upon the land, / With love, with love.”