Dear Unknown Friends:
In 1947 Eli Siegel gave a lecture, one in his Steinway Hall series, titled Love and Confusion. He has spoken and written, greatly, on the subject in the years since, and what we have of the 1947 talk is not a complete transcript but notes taken at the time by Martha Baird. Yet what is in that lecture, in those notes, is as immediate as the griefs, longings, worries, resentments, ecstasies, and strategies about love that men and women will have tomorrow. The lecture truly explains these— as the counselors and therapists over the years have been unable to.
We are publishing Love and Confusion in two parts. With it, also in two parts, we print a paper that Aesthetic Realism consultant Robert Murphy presented this month at a public seminar titled “How Can a Man Be Confident about Love?”
The Self & Love Are Philosophic
The self, Aesthetic Realism explains, is philosophic: we have an attitude, all the time, to the whole world, reality as such. And central to that attitude is a battle of two desires: the desire to respect the world, value what’s not ourselves; and the desire to have contempt, to lessen what’s other than us as a means of heightening ourselves.
In this journal in 1976, Mr. Siegel described in eloquent prose how that philosophic, subtle, fierce battle between contempt and respect affects love:
As Aesthetic Realism sees it, the only reason love is confusing is that it is a continuation of the confusing battle between a narrow like of ourselves and imaginative justice to the world.... Love is either a possibility of seeing the world differently because something different from ourselves is seen as needed and lovely; or it is an extension of our imperialistic approval of ourselves in such a way that we have a carnal satellite. [TRO 150]
Sex & Interference
In the 1940s, when Mr. Siegel gave the Steinway Hall lectures, to say that Freud did not understand the self was almost heresy. Yet Mr. Siegel did say it, and showed why, with courage and logic. Today Freud is not the Presence he was. But this remains of Freudianism: there’s a feeling in people—encouraged by the media, including sitcoms, films, and ads—that if there is abundant and interesting enough sex, love between two people will fare well. Meanwhile, every day the lives of men and women disprove that notion: though sex was never “freer,” people are as pained about love as ever.
Further, in recent years the phenomenon of Viagra and such medications and the frequency of TV ads for them have made it clear to the American public that millions of people are having difficulty about sex. It’s now no secret that many men who can appear so at ease, who can joke and act as if they’re all for sex, have some interference, which these drugs, in their fashion, offset. Obviously, physiology is involved; but even as the drugs are purchased there’s a feeling in people that the cause of the trouble is, in most instances, not only physical. In Love and Confusion Mr. Siegel briefly refers to the problem. So, for now, the following can be said:
In sex, as in anything we do, our whole self is present. That includes our purposes, which are as real as our flesh. And it includes what we deeply think of ourselves for those purposes. It has been observed for many centuries that people can feel troubled after sex. There is an ancient Latin statement, “Post coitum omne animal triste,” which means “After sex every animal is sad.” The “omne” (“every”) is surely inexact; but the reason people can feel agitated or low or ashamed after sex is related to why there can be a physiological “dysfunction.”
Both man and woman can have trouble responding in sex because: 1) We don’t like ourselves for what we’re going after—the “imperialistic approval of ourselves” through “a carnal satellite.” Or 2) We don’t like how the other person sees us. Though this person seems to glorify us (something we revel in), we have a sense that he or she doesn’t want to respect us and encourage us to care more for everything.
These two reasons for profound non-response, even as we’re in the midst of something we seemed to want very much, come from the desire in us to respect the world. That desire is criticizing the contempt we’re going after. It’s saying: “You think you want to get ecstasy through lessening reality, but you truly don’t. So I won’t let you!!”
When a person feels bad after “successful” sex, the reason is essentially the same. One went for and got pleasure with a state of mind that cheapened reality, oneself, and another person; and one’s true self says, “I’ll let you feel good about sex only if it’s accompanied by respect!”
3) Then, there can be in sex an inability to respond which comes from a different source. It comes directly from contempt. It comes from that in a person which says, “What’s not myself should not affect me! The only thing good enough to stir me is me!”
Our largest inner imperative all the time, Aesthetic Realism shows, is to see the world justly. There’s no greater tribute to the self than that beautiful fact.
—Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education
Love and Confusion
By Eli Siegel
The essential difference between the Aesthetic Realism way of seeing love and other ways, particularly the Freudian, is: Aesthetic Realism says that, instead of confusion in love and sex making for confusion in self, the original process is confusion in self making for confusion in love. The beginning statement on the subject is this: No person who doesn’t really like what’s outside himself or herself can love another person successfully.
There are many people who aren’t ready to care for someone because they aren’t ready to give themselves to any representative of the outside world. To be in love is to feel you can give yourself to someone proudly; in surrendering, you are powerful. The other way is to try to possess the person, in which case there’s the feeling that you’re only caring for yourself.
That an attitude to what is different from oneself in general has to do with one’s attitude to a specific person or thing, is something Aesthetic Realism states definitely. A person is “disturbed” if he feels that what begins where his fingertips end is against him. A person is not “disturbed” if he feels that what begins where his fingertips end is for him.
There is often what I call the Two Love Birds on a Rock Situation, where two people feel, “I love you and you love me—let the rest of the world go by”; in less polite language, “To hell with the rest of the world!” There can be pleasure in this for a while, but dissatisfaction will come.
Yesterday in the Herald Tribune there appeared two articles that show what confusion in love can sometimes lead to. The first tells about a “Suicide on Ellis Island.” A woman came here to join her husband, but the people in the customs office told her she had been divorced by him. She said she didn’t know anything about this—and killed herself. The headline of the second article is “Reconciliation Bid Fails, Husband Kills Himself.” So we have a story about a woman and one about a man. If we try to explain these things in a narrow sexual sense, we’ll never succeed.
If we can’t truly like what isn’t ourselves, we’ll say, “I’ll use this person to get away from the world.” In every relation, the third partner is the whole outside world. Most love forgets the third partner. But every like for a person, if it doesn’t change into a like for the world, is poisonous. What made for the happenings told of in the two articles is the feeling that the rest of the world is dull and unfriendly, and unless I can possess this person, life isn’t worth living. That feeling very often occurs.
Any kind of love that uses a man or woman to depreciate what is not oneself is using that person hurtfully, and something in oneself knows it. Men have told me that after pursuing a woman for a long time, when they finally had her to themselves they became impotent. An important question here is: does a disorder of self come from a disorder of sex, or does a disorder of sex come from a disorder of self? Is the disordered sex the effect or cause? If we cannot see the self philosophically, sex cannot be understood. One can be stopped from being successful sexually by pride, or by vanity.
A person who wants to feel right as to love should ask this question: Do I like what is not myself?
Men’s Confidence about Love
By Robert Murphy
“True confidence,” Eli Siegel said in an Aesthetic Realism class, “is to be able to say, ‘I like the way I see the world.’”
When I first heard this definition—so seemingly simple, yet comprehensive—I was amazed and relieved. For it meant, among other things, that true confidence was not dependent on the right woman smiling at you, or personal charisma, or how much money you had, or was something some people just had and others didn’t. It meant that a man could learn to have a purpose in love he could be honestly proud of—a purpose that had to do with how he saw the world itself.
Trouble about Confidence & Love
While in college at Michigan State, my roommates and I were in agony on the subject of love. Troy, a star golfer, very handsome and charming, said, “I never met a woman I couldn’t get to fall in love with me.” Yet he hardly ever came to a party with a date. Roger, who was always talking about women, never talked to them. Dennis was the seeming epitome of confidence with women, but when Roger asked him, “How do you do it?” he said, “I think of them the way I think about my sisters.” To which Roger replied, hopelessly, “I don’t have any sisters.”
I felt confidence was like a revolving door: one minute, it seemed nothing could go wrong; the next, I felt devastatingly unsure—while outwardly I oozed charm, inwardly I was trembling.
In high school, when I first saw Emily I thought, “That’s the girl for me.” But even though I’d been assured by her friends of her interest in me, the first call to her was like walking the plank with a blindfold. I ascribed my unsureness to fear of rejection. But I’ve learned there was a larger reason: I wasn’t proud of my purpose with her.
For instance, whenever I got a letter from Emily I looked first at how I was addressed. “Hi Sweetie,” “Hello Lover,” “Darling,” and then at the end, “I love you”—those were the words I was most interested in. And I felt a lift if the letter contained sentences that said life without me was dismal and terrifically difficult. Meanwhile, who this young woman was, her thoughts, feelings, and experiences—these were only marginally of interest to me.
“Love,” Mr. Siegel writes, “is in exact proportion to accurate knowledge.” And he has defined knowledge as “the having of a thing in mind as it is.” My purpose was not to have Emily in mind as she was, including her care for literature and sculpture, what she was worried about, difficult family situations, what made her like or dislike herself, what she was hoping for. What I wanted was an attractive young woman to tell me I was wonderful.
My purpose was really predatory. Seeing my senior ring hanging from a gold chain around Emily’s neck, I felt, “She’s mine and everyone knows she’s mine.” Yet I did not like myself. Mr. Siegel explains why in these sentences from Self and World: “Owning does not satisfy the unconscious drives of the self. We can own the world only by knowing it.”
I hurt myself in the way I went after love, and I hurt women. Through me, the women I was close to did not feel more integrated, more understood, nor did I encourage them to be fairer to the world and other people.
When Emily said to me, “You want something from me I can’t give,” she had a sense that I was trying to use her for my own selfish purposes, to get to a confidence that was really arrogance. In feeling this, she was right, but neither of us knew what could make things different.
Not so many years later, I had the good fortune to learn how to change when, in an Aesthetic Realism class early in my study, Mr. Siegel said to me:
If you don’t have good will for the people you’re close to—this can be said as a constant precept or maxim—you’ll be afraid. Unless you feel that you aren’t exploiting a situation or person, do you think you’ll be confident? This may sound idealistic, but a woman, being a reality—the thing a man wants most is to feel that he’s had a good effect on her.
Hearing this, I began to reevaluate my previous notions of women and love. I changed a good deal, but I’m sorry to say I still wanted to have somewhat the victory of capturing a woman, making her an annex of myself. And in doing so, I proved Mr. Siegel right: I did not have either the confidence or the love that I was hoping for.
Winning or Knowing?
Some years later, when Margot Carpenter and I began seeing each other, I had the feeling that for this to succeed would not be a matter of some slight revisions in the way I saw love: it required a complete renovation.
I was very fortunate that Ellen Reiss backed up what Mr. Siegel had explained to me. She took seriously what I was hoping for most, and she put it plainly and with style when in a class she asked me, “Do you think that if you were to get any approval from Ms. Carpenter, it would make you more ethically ambitious or less?”
I said, “More—because I feel the basis would be how I see the whole world, and I want to try to be up to understanding Ms. Carpenter.”
Ms. Reiss knew I had to see what in me was in opposition to that answer. She asked:
ER. Do you feel you would have climbed Mount Everest?
RM.Yes, I definitely feel something like that.
ER. Is that the best feeling?
ER. Have you used knowing a woman to feel this is a mountain to climb or a sports event to win, and after you do, you win a medal and you’re set?
RM. I have. But this is a new field.
ER. But is there any of the old field left?
I had felt, as men have, that conquering a woman was like winning a sports event, and after the win I didn’t have to think about who she was. I venture to say that just about every man has been confused by the way his fervor in pursuing a woman mysteriously cools once he has gotten some approval. That is one result of this debilitatingly complacent attitude. Another is: a man feels deeply that he doesn’t deserve to be loved.
Ms. Reiss encouraged me to see how I could be truly confident as I hoped love could be between Margot and myself. She said, “I am going to read a poem by Robert Browning, ‘Life in a Love.’ It is about the fact that you never really have a person: the real meaning of a person is something to keep looking for.” The poem begins:
While I am I, and you are you,
So long as the world contains us both,
Me the loving and you the loath,
While the one eludes, must the other pursue.
Ms. Reiss asked me, “Do you like the idea of something eluding you?” “I think not,” I said. There are these lines:
Though I do my best I shall scarce succeed.
But what if I fail of my purpose here?
It is but to keep the nerves at strain,
To dry one’s eyes and laugh at a fall,
And, baffled, get up and begin again—
So the chase takes up one’s life, that’s all.
Ms. Reiss asked, “Do you like the phrase ‘So the chase takes up one’s life, that’s all,’ or do you think the ‘chase’ should have an end?” “I’ve felt, an end,” I answered. She explained, “The question is whether if you are going to be in the company of Ms. Carpenter, it will really be Margot Carpenter you are seeing.” And she said, “If both people have good will, whatever happens between Carpenter and Murphy, both people will feel they are stronger.”
That was true! Margot and I are married. And trying to know her, how she sees poetry, ballet, literature, her family, people, Aesthetic Realism, and the world itself, is one of the greatest joys of my life. I don’t always get it right, things elude me, but I have a purpose that is so big, I’m proud I’ve tried.
As I look into Margot’s eyes and say, “I love you,” I feel that it’s really she whom I have in mind, and that through me she likes the world more. I have the sweeping pride and humility this makes for, and happily strive
every day to be better. And my education continues.