Love & the Philosophic Opposites
Dear Unknown Friends:
In the 1964 lecture we are serializing, Eli Siegel reads and discusses his magnificent 1930 poem “A Marriage.” What that poem says about love—so musically, mightily, warmly, penetratingly—prefigures what people would learn in Aesthetic Realism lessons and classes beginning in the 1940s, and what men and women are learning in Aesthetic Realism consultations and public seminars today. We have reprinted the entire poem in TRO 1915. And in our current number, Mr. Siegel is speaking about sections 8 through 11.
The central matter about love has been articulated, for the first time, by Aesthetic Realism. It can be put this way: Is love about the world; is it an honoring of the world, a care for multitudinous reality? Or is love a refuge from people and happenings, a consolation against the world and a victory over it?
Aesthetic Realism shows that the purpose of love is to like the world itself through valuing another person. And the bitterness, resentments, recriminations, and dullness that come to be between two people exist because the “love” situation has been used to have contempt for the world. Two people come to despise each other because they’ve used each other to wage a cozy war against much of reality.
Marriage Is Philosophic
Aesthetic Realism’s understanding of that ever so human thing love is inseparable from its philosophic logic, its understanding of what reality is as such. For example, this Aesthetic Realism principle is fundamental to what love is—the love people long for and are confused about: “The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites.” In the part of “A Marriage” included here, and in his discussion of it, Mr. Siegel is showing that both marriage and love itself are a continuation of the world’s structure of opposites. Marriage has to do inextricably with the world in thousands of ways—it has to do with reality’s objects, history, happenings, people—but it is also a form of the world: it has reality’s composition, the oneness of opposites.
And so, Aesthetic Realism explains, if two people use each other to look down on things, they are sabotaging what love itself is. Not only are they betraying the deepest desire and purpose each person has had from birth—to like the world—but in belittling the world together they are undermining and making awry that structure of reality’s opposites which is love. Having contempt for the world yet expecting to do well with that form of it which is love, is like feeling triumphantly repulsed by water yet expecting to enjoy drinking a glass of that liquid.
In this TRO, Mr. Siegel speaks very much about the opposites of change and continuity, of being and change, principle and change. He speaks about change in relation to history, literature, art, fashion, world events, geology, scientific logic, and more. I am thrilled by this discussion; it is so alive—graceful and gripping, logical and surprising. It does what Aesthetic Realism itself does, and what love should do: the discussion makes the world in its fullness closer to us. It has us, through knowledge, feel the world is a friend.
Change & Continuity in Marriage
Since Mr. Siegel is commenting on change and continuity in things as such, I’ll mention three big ways marriage is a relation of these world opposites.
1) In marrying, two people are clearly in a state different from what they had before. Do they feel that, though changed, they are also gracefully and truly continuous with who they were, faithful to who they were? There has been much pain as to this matter—and much resentment and inter-punishment. Husbands and wives have told themselves, and sometimes their spouse, with various degrees of wrath and self-pity: “I gave up my precious freedom—I sacrificed my individuality in marrying him/her/you!! I need to find some time to get back to ME!”
2) Then, there can be the feeling that the other person has changed cruelly. Women often tell themselves with bitterness, “He changed on me! He used to adore me. Now he’s uninterested; he doesn’t care.” (And there is, of course, a male version of this complaint.)
3) So there is acrimony about another’s seeming change. But the same people also have the feeling that there is not enough change in their marriage: things seem dull, pedestrian; there’s not a freshness, an ongoing sense of surprise. Couples have tried to remedy this situation, fruitlessly. Two people can travel in an attempt to get a feeling of joyful change; yet travel, while a wonderful thing, will not bring the deep and lasting newness that’s desired. And couples, desperate for freshness, have tried new amatory techniques—to no avail (and often to considerable shame). Deeply the matter is unsolved, and the dullness and resentment go on. That is because the only way reality’s opposites will be one for us, even in a kitchen or bedroom, is through using each other to see large meaning in the things, people, happenings of the world itself.
In relation to the first instance I mentioned: When your purpose in love is to know and see meaning in the world, not only do you feel that your self as changed through marriage is continuous with who you were—you feel your married self is true to the purpose you were born with: to like the world through knowing it. In relation to the second and third instances: If two people have the purpose of encouraging each other’s care for things and persons outside of them, there will be both a beautiful steadiness of care for one another, and a beautiful freshness, newness, surprise.
What a Line Has
I’ll point for now to just one of the lines from “A Marriage” included here. It is the third line of section 11:
The most glorious chase in the world is that of mind after a frisky universe.
You can hear—through the music, through the words and how they fall—Eli Siegel’s conviction about this statement. The line is charming and grand. It has a simultaneous largeness and tenderness about reality. Only a person who loved the world could write this, could see the world we’re in the midst of as “a frisky universe.” There is a heard relish in the phrase “The most glorious chase in the world,” with its round os, and its rs and ls. Eli Siegel saw the largeness of things tenderly, and saw every individual thing as having largeness. While the line describes all the good thought humanity has had, I see it as most fully describing Eli Siegel’s own. From his “glorious chase...after a frisky universe” arose Aesthetic Realism. I love the line, and the person who wrote it, and the living philosophy that embodies it.