The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941

Love, Economics, and Ordinary Contempt

Dear Unknown Friends:

We print the conclusion of Eli Siegel’s great 1970 lecture Selves Are in Economics. And with it is part of a paper presented last month at the Aesthetic Realism public seminar titled “Do Women Have a Fight between Love and Scorn?” It is by New York City elementary school teacher Lauren Phillips.

The thing in us that hampers and kills love; the thing that has made economics a field for ill will, cruelty, and suffering; that which weakens our mind and makes for all unkindness—is, Eli Siegel showed, the desire for contempt. He defined contempt as “the addition to self through the lessening of something else.” I comment a little on a very elemental form of contempt, which people don’t know goes on in them day after day. It is the seeing of other things and people as less real than we are, and a concomitant desire not to be affected by them beyond a certain point.

You can be married to a person for 70 years and still not see that person as fully real. In fact, a representative wife does not give her husband a complete life in his own right. She sees him as an adjunct to herself, a supporting player in her drama, is principally interested in how he is as to her—not how he sees the world in all its fulness. Husbands diminish their wives’ reality in the same way. And so in marriages, amid all the devotion, there is an underlying, unarticulated resentment which is the largest resentment really between two people: “He/she doesn’t see me truly, and isn't interested in doing so.”

The seeing of another as less real than oneself is, from one point of view, expected: after all, it is our own skin that we’re under. But the lack of desire to combat it and go beyond it; the getting a satisfaction from seeing oneself as ever so vivid and others as dimmer and to be thought of as one pleases: that is contempt.

It has pervaded economics. The only way a person has ever been able to see others in terms of how much money he can get out of them, or how little he can pay them while pocketing the wealth they produce—is through making them less real than himself. Profit economics for centuries has been founded on this primal contempt: others exist less than you do. To employ children in your factory, you had to make them less real than your children. In the lecture we have been serializing, Mr. Siegel illustrates what he as philosopher and economist explained: that selves—the selves of real people—are the main thing in economics.

A Matter of Aesthetics

Aesthetic Realism shows that the life of everyone—whether president or toddler—is a matter of aesthetics: of two opposites that need to be one, self and world. “We all of us start with a here,” Mr. Siegel wrote,

ever so snug and ever so immediate. And this here is surrounded strangely, endlessly, by a there....We have to be ourselves, and give to this great and diversified there, which is not ourselves, what it deserves. [Self and World, p. 91]

Part of giving things what they deserve is to want to be affected by them. And here there is a big fight in everyone. People want to have an interesting life, which means that things should affect us. But there is also a desire to be untouched within, to be “in oneself,” to have a wall between oneself and other things. People can like feeling they have a self inside that nothing can reach. They can, for instance, get a triumph having their own unseen thoughts in the midst of a conversation, as they nod and smile. They can have a smug satisfaction in spending hours unstirred by anything.

All this is contempt. It is completely opposed to art, which comes from a desire to be affected fully—exactly and fully. Beethoven, as artist, was never aloof. Shakespeare wanted the world to affect him all it could. There was no wall between the inner self of Cézanne and a table with fruit, or Mont Sainte-Victoire.

The ordinary desire to be unaffected has led to the cruelest matters in history. Everyone in the American South who was for slavery—and there were millions—was someone who made black persons unreal and chose to be unaffected by their feelings. But that desire to be unaffected did not begin with seeing persons of another race. It began with an attitude to the “great and diversified there,” reality itself.

In people everywhere, the desire to hold on to oneself and be affected only within limits is making for a deep feeling of “What does it all come to?,” a feeling that life is pretty hollow. People long for meaning. Yet people do go through their lives “in themselves” a good deal. In fact, this state is seen as so necessary for one’s sense of self-importance and supremacy, that a person can be furious when he feels more than he somewhere planned to feel. He can resent terrifically the thing or person who affected him so much.

The Answer

One of the reasons Aesthetic Realism is great is that it gives the one true answer to this matter—and the answer is aesthetics. We have to see that the way to be ourselves is by wanting to be affected fully and exactly by the outside world: the world of leaves and sidewalks and history and people. That is what happens in art. “Take Whitman’s Song of Myself,” Mr. Siegel writes. “...As [Whitman] gives himself, without interior vanity wriggling, to what is, he feels that he is, and he is proud” (Self and World, p. 97).

This is the most necessary of studies—for everyone’s personal life, and for there to be justice among people. It is the study of Aesthetic Realism. I love Mr. Siegel for it, and for enabling me to have feeling and thought that are rich, wide, alive. He wanted to see the full reality of every person and thing. “All existence is one hundred hundredths,” he wrote. That is what he went by always, and it was beautiful.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education


1910 and Now

By Eli Siegel

Note. Mr. Siegel has been commenting on articles in the New York Independent of August 1910.

There’s a story on suffrage in England. Women were livelier about it there than they were here. There’s Christabel Pankhurst; she got herself into jail because of her calling for the vote. Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst were mother and daughter, and they frightened all the gentlemen of the time. This article deals with the bill for women’s suffrage, which the Asquith government was asked to make a law. It’s described in terms of economics. The relation between the vote and how much property you had, has been constant. You could vote if you had a certain footing in terms of land or residence:

This new measure is known as “a bill to extend the Parliamentary franchise to women occupiers” and an “occupier” is one who resides in a house she owns, or who pays rent to the amount of ten pounds (about $48) a year for business premises, or who pays rent for even a single room.

So if you paid rent you were seen as an occupier, and that gave you more of a right to vote.

Im going to read a story of now that is very sad, and comment on it. The go-getter, the get-rich-quick person of once, has been succeeded by various people, and one of these is Roy Cohn, who is mentioned here. The story [Washington Post, 12-17-70] is also very entertaining. It’s about a yacht, but it’s got the presence of both the America of 1910 and the America of now.

Theres a person, Victor Muscat, who has been questioned for his financial doings by the Securities and Exchange Commission. But while he has been looked at askance, he found he could buy a yacht which was had by Eisenhower, also Truman apparently, then Kennedy. It was embarrassing to find that this questionable person had come to be the owner of this instance of symbolic American navigation, “Patricia.” We have: “Patricias New Owner a Convicted Financier,” by Maxine Cheshire.

The Presidential yacht, “Patricia,” which served five Chief Executives, has been sold to a controversial financier who is currently awaiting sentence....

Victor Muscat, a co-defendant of Roy Cohn’s in the Fifth Avenue Coach Lines case...is the new owner.

If you don’t know who Roy Cohn is, well, you haven’t yet any acquaintance with the sordid.

... [Muscat] pleaded guilty last year to two counts of an indictment charging that he made false and misleading reports to the SEC....

The boat, known as “The Honey-Fitz” in John F. Kennedy’s administration..., had served the White House since Harry S. Truman’s day. Joseph B. Keating, who represented Muscat in the transaction..., said that the Lyndon B. Johnson Library had sent a 14-by-21-inch autographed color photo of the former President to hang in a place of honor on the boat. Similar photos have been requested and promised him from “the Truman Library, Mrs. Mamie Eisenhower and Kennedy Foundation.”

This does show that good and evil will keep each other company. “The White House has also ‘graciously’ agreed to supply a signed picture of Mr. Nixon, said Keating.” The White House has the gracious and also the sordid.

Part of this is, the government needs money.

Muscat said yesterday that no one had challenged his purchase of the boat. “Hell, they seemed glad to get my money,” he said.

Muscat here is like Iago in Othello—evil showing the insufficiency of what seems to be good. “His wife swung the champagne bottle and renamed the boat ‘The Presidents.’”

This has to do with self and economics and history, the meaning of which will go on tomorrow and next week. And well try to see that meaning as it goes on, as well as we can.


A Fight between Love & Scorn

By Lauren Phillips

It seemed I was always looking for love—from the first day I walked into kindergarten class, saw Guy Marshall, and thought he was so cute that I invited him to my house for lunch.

By the time I was 21, however, I was bitter and hopeless about love. I couldn’t understand why all my relationships failed—why men wanted to be physically close but didn’t want something lasting. Meanwhile, with friends, I would mockingly laugh and say, “My motto is: have sex first, then get to know them.” I told myself the problem was that men were afraid of commitment, of love, of a strong woman.

When I came to my first Aesthetic Realism consultation, I told my consultants, “Every man I’ve ever known has been rotten.” How surprised I was when, instead of commiserating, they asked me critical questions about my purpose with men. For example:

Consultants. Do you arrange yourself to look in such a way that a man will be stirred up by you?

LP. Yes.

Consultants. And are you hoping that through you he’ll be stronger or weaker?

LP. Actually, now that I think about it, I think weaker.

Consultants. That’s why you don’t feel so good, and that makes you like 99.9% of the women in America. A woman feels if she can’t make a man be a little foolish, be a little less sure of himself, she’s not worth much.

This struck home. Then I heard the explanation I’d so much hoped for: the real reason for my pain in love:

Consultants. Do you think you have gotten any pleasure from your scorn?

LP. Yes.

Consultants. The chief reason you don’t feel good about love, including the matter of sex, is that you haven’t hoped to respect another human being. You do enjoy your scorn of men very much, even as you’re pained by it.

Eli Siegel explained what is affecting people everywhere, who yearn for love but also have a hope opposed to love:

Man is both a diminishing and an enhancing animal. He would like to make everything smaller, more wretched, less important, so that amid the unattractive ruins he might be distinguished. And then there is a tendency in man, rather unsuccessful, to give more meaning to all things. [TRO 155]

The study of Aesthetic Realism can make successful in the lives of people the desire to give more meaning to things. I learned that the purpose of love is to know and like the world as a whole through a particular person. It is this purpose that makes love lasting, passionate, kind, and proud. And I learned that what ruins love is the desire for contempt.

Looking for Meaning & Scorn

As a girl, I found it thrilling to get a new book and lie on my bedroom carpet reading it. But I also liked having conversations with my brother in which we made fun of other people. We thought that we had the lowdown on everyone.

Very early, I saw that I could get quick approval from my father for my blond hair and green eyes. Whenever our family would get dressed up to go out, he would tell me how beautiful I looked. I remember thinking scornfully, “See how easy it is to get him to praise me, but he won’t say a word to me the rest of the night!”

Later, when I had to do with men, I’d often choose an outfit thinking, “This will knock ’em dead.” When I got the praise I was after, I felt triumphant and scornful. In college, I called a man I’d met in class and found out he was living with another woman, but still encouraged him to come to see me. There was sex; and as he called me a “goddess” I remember feeling a thrill, but also feeling repulsed and thinking, “Look at the big stir he’s in!”—while I felt removed and unaffected.

In a consultation I was asked, “When you have gotten pleasure being close with a man, do you think the pleasure has come entirely from the closeness? Do you think you’ve gotten any pleasure from your scorn? The two happen at the same time, but they're not the same. It’s important to see this, because a lot of the pleasure does not come from sex: it comes from the contempt we have for another person.”

Instead of Scorn

As I studied Aesthetic Realism, a tremendous thing occurred: I began to feel that I could really have a good effect on a man, that he could be stronger, not weaker, through talking to me, through having his body close to mine.

As Bruce Blaustein and I spoke for the first time, I felt I wanted to know him and wanted him to know me. I was swept by his energy and deep cheerfulness, and his desire to have a good effect on people. I was able to have large, sweeping feeling for a man instead of scorn!

My consultants gave me assignments—such as to write about “Opposites in Mr. Blaustein and the World” and “What Does It Mean to Be Close to a Person and Have More Respect for the World?” I felt a dignity and pride I had never before experienced. I had never realized that sex and love could be a subject of education, wide and cultural.

I cherish my marriage of 17 years to Bruce Blaustein, who is an Aesthetic Realism consultant and whom I love more deeply and passionately with every year.