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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 
A PERIODICAL OF HOPE AND INFORMATION
 NUMBER 1757.—November 11, 2009

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

Love, a Person, & the World

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....

                                              She had

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
By Eli Siegel

The general attitudes in a person are brought to a critical head when the love situation exists. There is something in everyone that feels the more it can get away from, despise, or be against what isn’t itself the more important it is. This comes out in love. Everyone resents being in love, because we don’t want to be affected deeply. In talking to married people, I’ve seen in nearly every instance this: “You can affect me so much, but if you affect me deeply, I’ll have to possess you. I can’t let anything I don’t possess affect me deeply.”

A person, Hannah, doesn’t like the world. She meets a man she wants to marry, but already she has the idea that being affected means enslavement. Possessiveness occurs because there’s an inability to be affected by the world as such. It is the resentment of a person’s being made happy by another. The contemptuous aspect of Hannah feels that if John affects her deeply, he has to be possessed by her. At a certain point, she would rather be unhappy and not affected by John than be happy through being affected.

A woman wants to be understood, yes. But also, the thing she most fears is that she will be. I should say most wives are willing mysteries to their husbands. And men, too, talk of being understood, but if they begin to see that they really may be, most of them become afraid.

Very often a woman after having sex is sulky, maybe without even knowing it. That is a manifestation of something philosophic: if the woman has possessed her husband, she will have contempt for him; she will also feel she doesn’t deserve to be affected. Often a woman looks on a man as a little boy who is clamoring for her, while she is a cold lighthouse who has to assuage him. Meanwhile, she feels that in as much as she is not affected, she is incomplete. Then there is the man: he can see himself as a conqueror, a sexual Cortez. He does not have enough respect for the woman because he thinks he is managing, controlling her.

The feeling should be that in being greatly affected by someone, one can be proud: “As I am being affected, I am also powerful.”

Sex is essentially philosophic. Orgasm is, deeply, a giving of oneself. If the self is confused, sex will be confused. Stronger than the sex urge is the desire to like oneself.

Many, many wives are trapped by the fact that they’re using their husbands to soothe their vanity. They have come to feel that the only time they are important is when their husbands are making much of them. We should want the approval of a single person; but unless this approval is backed up by the facts beyond, we have to feel that the person is a liar.

Very often after sex, a man, instead of having more respect for the woman, will have contempt for her. And a woman, too, can think much of her husband because he flatters her, but can also despise him because she thinks she has conquered him. If we understand the mechanism of contempt, we see that possessiveness and aloofness come from the same source.

Knowledge & Sex

You can’t see the outside world as your friend, unless you know it.

When a baby is born, he does not know who he is. But because he has life, he goes on the assumption that through knowing the objects around him, he will come to know who he is. We all have come to be ourselves through knowing what is not ourselves. This is the fundamental process of life.

Sex is a kind of knowing, and needs to be seen as that. It stands for the feeling that “something different from me, through affecting me, has completed me.” This is why there is the phrase “carnal knowledge” in law, and in the Bible sex is called knowing. In sex there is knowledge that is very intense.

Love for a person should mean the desire to know the world better. Sex should be a means of our saying, “Through this person I have come to see the world is not a hindrance, but a completion.” If this feeling exists, sex won’t be separated from knowledge, and one won’t feel that the person one is at the Columbia library is different from the person one is in bed.

How Confusion Comes

Confusion in love arises in this way: on the one hand, we want to be understood, to be breathlessly affected. But on the other, something in us wants to be only ourselves. This confusion arises out of the way we see the world.

A man, even though he rampageously goes after a woman, has some opposition. He resents the woman because she has a big effect on him, even though he whistles, plays the wolf, and all. The contemptuous self, whenever it needs somebody, doesn’t like it.

In aesthetics, we learn how to be free through being affected. Where sex is truly good, it is like aesthetics. There’s tremendous yielding and tremendous having.

Of a symphony, one can say, “It got into me so much” and “It carried me away.” This is having familiarity and strangeness at once. It’s what we want in love. Further, in knowing a human being, our purpose is to see that human being as wonderful, while we also have a feeling of intimacy. Well, the putting together of wonder, or strangeness, and intimacy is the aesthetic process.

Every time we care for a person, we care for the whole world as represented by that person. People sometimes have undue sexual response to make up for having insufficient feeling for other things. If a person sees sex as good wholly, the world will be seen as good wholly.

People are confused as to love because they’re confused as to their relation to the outside world. There will be no solution to the sex problem unless sex is seen as going after aesthetics.  black diamond

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Men’s Confidence about Love, II
By Robert Murphy

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
to see more meaning in the world, or for some conquest of your own?

TK. My own conquest.

Consultants. Have they liked it?

TK. No.

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. black diamond

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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The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known (TRO) is a biweekly periodical of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation.
Editor: Ellen Reiss
Coordinators: Nancy Huntting, Meryl Simon, Steven Weiner

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TRO: Home |  Current |  Art |  Literature |  Racism |  Education |  Nat'l Ethics |  Love |  Economics |  Memorial |  Site Map
"Is a Person an Aesthetic Situation?" by Eli Siegel: a short explanation of Aesthetic Realism
The Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company in New York City. Authors in the repertory include Ibsen, Sheridan, Shakespeare, O'Neill.
Ellen Reiss, Commentaries in TRO:
The Mideast  |  Poetry of Eli Siegel |  Unions
Lord Byron |  Harry Potter |  Sherlock Holmes
Robert Burns |  The 'criticism' of John Keats
Racism & Its Solution
Aesthetic Realism Resources:
Aesthetic Realism Consultations
Two Biographies of Eli Siegel:
[1] Aesthetic Realism Foundation
[2] Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company Site
Friends of Aesthetic Realism—Countering the Lies
Art and Literature:
The Terrain Gallery / Aesthetic Realism Foundation
The Place of Aesthetic Realism in Culture & Literature

The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method:
Lesson Plans in Diverse Subjects
Teaching Indian Culture in the United States:
The Aesthetic Realism Method
Further Resources:
Essays and News Pieces about Aesthetic Realism
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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