|NUMBER 1757.—November 11, 2009||
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941
Dear Unknown Friends:
In this issue we publish the second half of the lecture Love and Confusion, by Eli Siegel. He gave it in 1947 at New York’s Steinway Hall, and we are using notes taken at the time by Martha Baird. Here too is the conclusion of a paper by Aesthetic Realism consultant Robert Murphy—from a public seminar of last month titled “How Can a Man Be Confident about Love?”
So this issue is about the magnificent, often tormenting subject of love. And it’s about Aesthetic Realism’s explanation of love and what interferes. That explanation, I’m immensely happy to say, is true—and great. It’s what people have wanted longingly, achingly, turbulently to know.
Here are two central aspects of that explanation:
1) The purpose of love, Aesthetic Realism makes clear, is to like the world itself through a particular man or woman. The desire to value all people and things more through knowing someone, and to encourage that person to value them, is good will. And it is real romance— true, deep, sweeping, and enormously logical.
2) The big ruiner of love, the cause of all trouble between two people, is the desire to have contempt: to build ourselves up through lessening what’s outside us. Some of the many ways people go after contempt in love, even as bodies are close and tender words exchanged, are told of in the lecture and paper published here.
Browning & the Mistake about Love
In the earlier part of his article, Robert Murphy quoted from a poem by Browning, “Life in a Love.” It represents love that is authentic: the vibrant, keen, joyful desire never to stop trying to understand another person. I’m going to comment now on another Browning poem, which presents an ugly, fake way of seeing love. It’s one of his most famous dramatic monologues: “My Last Duchess.”
The monologue is set in Ferrara, Italy, during the Renaissance, and the speaker is a duke who is arranging a second marriage for himself. He’s talking to an envoy from his prospective father-in-law and they’re looking at a portrait of his deceased wife. The poem begins: “That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall, / Looking as if she were alive.” Toward the end, we learn that the Duke himself was the cause of this young woman’s dying, because he disapproved of her.
This work of 1842 is, as poetry, ever so good. For over a century and a half, people have found it pleasingly chilling. But that it has to do with every person, not just a conceited Italian aristocrat—that it has to do with what’s going wrong between two people right now, and their anger and pain—has not been seen. It is Aesthetic Realism which explains that.
Browning has the Duke use this phrase about his late wife’s face in the painting: “The depth and passion of its earnest glance.” And the Duke tells the envoy with displeasure:
"Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek....
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
This young woman wanted to feel things, care for things, be affected with fullness and meaning by the world. Her husband didn’t like that. Browning presents him as an aristocrat who felt that if you’re an aristocrat you’re superior to the world and shouldn’t have feeling about it. Further, your wife should value only certain things, chief of which is you. And this Last Duchess didn’t comply. She had the nerve to be happily excited by the world.
The question of every couple is in this poem: how much do we want our loved one to like besides us? If he or she likes a great deal, is profoundly stirred and pleased by things and people other than ourselves, do we take that as a lessening of us? You don’t have to be the Duke of Ferrara to see essentially the way he does.
The biggest, most common mistake about love is this: We do not like the world, and we see it really as not good enough for us. We feel that love is a person’s agreeing with us that the world is unworthy of us, and his or her showing that we’re superior to everyone. The chosen one should see our approval as the main thing in his or her life; should act as though our presence brings light into an otherwise darksome world. An agreement to dislike the world together and make a superior one for ourselves is what millions of people right now take love to be and what they’re going after. This agreement will make them resent each other and fight with each other. The reason is: our largest purpose is to like the world, and therefore we inevitably resent anyone who takes us away from that purpose. Further, whether we articulate it or not, we’re ashamed of ourselves.
The World Is There
The following lines express the Duke’s contempt for the world and for his wife’s love of it. Yet their poetic music reverberates with respect for the things the lines describe:
Sir, ’twas all one! My favor at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least.
In these lines as sound and meaning, there are definiteness and wonder, delicacy and strength, stir and calm, casualness and might. These are some of reality’s opposites and, Aesthetic Realism explains, they are also in everyone; the world’s opposites in a person make up who he or she is. That’s why, if we don’t like the world, we can’t really care for someone as a full person: we’ll turn him or her into some adjunct or possession of ourselves. —The Duke goes on:
Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together.
The Duke may have placed his wife in a convent, where she faded away, or he may have had her killed outright. Browning is purposely unspecific about those “commands”—perhaps because he felt they stood for what can go on generally. That is: often two people take the life out of each other; they make each other duller, less alive, because they encourage each other to care less for the world, not more.
The love that Browning wanted to honor, in both art and life, is described by Eli Siegel in this beautiful sentence from Self and World: “The purpose of love is to feel closely one with things as a whole.”
—Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education
Love and Confusion, II
Men’s Confidence about Love, II
Todd Kelton, a junior executive with a lighting firm, studies Aesthetic Realism in consultations. He had a common notion of what it means to be confident about women and love, and described it this way: “If you see someone you’re interested in, you can just speak to them—you know what to say. Also, if you’re with someone you care about, you’re not always doing things to get their approval and praise.”
Mr. Kelton’s easy, charming manner has enabled him to get women to like him. This ability, he thought, should be enough to make him sure of himself as to love. But when asked in a recent consultation, “Do you think the way you go after love makes you more confident or less?” he answered with a look of surprise, “Less confident.” Then, however, he modified his answer, explaining that the lack of confidence was not really his fault, but women’s.
He said, “There are moments of feeling very euphoric or arrogant, or very unsure. The first is if I get a call I wanted from a girl, or a look I wanted—that sort of quick approval. But if I don’t get it, I can feel that everything is gray and she doesn’t want to be around me.”
What a man most needs to understand is that he has purposes with a woman for which he either respects himself or doesn’t. We asked Mr. Kelton this essential question: “Are you proud of what you go after with a woman?”
TK. You mean all the time or—? Well, no, I am not.
Consultants. Have the women you’ve known felt you were using them
TK. My own conquest.
Consultants. Have they liked it?
Consultants. Were they right not to like it?
TK. As I think about it now, yes.
It’s no secret that women have objected to what men have gone after with them. But what’s often not seen, even by men, is that we have been against ourselves for it too.
In the consultation, Todd Kelton said about his girlfriend, “Gwen was critical of me, right after we had sex. She said, ‘I think you’re selfish.’ Whoo, it hit me like a ton of bricks. But she went on to give more details, and it made more sense to me. She felt there was a way it was all about me.”
We respected Mr. Kelton for the way he took seriously Gwen’s criticism. He described how earlier in the evening she had been troubled about a difficult family situation. He’d thought he should talk to her and see what was going on; but at the same time, he told us, he’d thought, “We have the whole house to ourselves, and—!”
Choosing conquest over wanting to know and have a good effect on Gwen had made Todd Kelton ashamed and less confident. He told us that he felt quite bad about what had happened, and that he thought Gwen regretted being close to him. He wanted to know how in the future he could be surer he would make the right choices. It would be, we began to show, through sincerely asking himself questions such as these:
Consultants. Did Gwen feel that you had her in mind?
TK. No, she didn’t.
Consultants. There is really the matter of: Who is this person? How does love go along with the family and her other interests? Does sex make her feel more integrated or less integrated?
We recommend that you really try to understand Gwen. If you are physically close to a woman, you should be more inspired than ever to see her in the best way, to ask: What’s good for her? Do you think if you have good will for a woman, it will make you more confident— and proud?
Todd Kelton answered thoughtfully, “I think that would be the only way, yes. Thank you so much for these questions.”
Men are desperate to feel truly confident about love—to feel that through them the lives of other people, and very much the women they are close to, are better off. In the philosophy he founded, Eli Siegel showed with precise logic and passionate feeling that men and women can have a way of seeing the world, including love, that they are proud of, that makes for increasing confidence every day.
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
Subscriptions: 26 issues, US $18; 12 issues, US $9, Canada and Mexico $14, elsewhere $20. Make check or money order payable to Aesthetic Realism Foundation.
© Copyright 2014 by Aesthetic Realism Foundation • A not–for–profit educational foundation