|NUMBER 1291.—December 31, 1997||
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941
Dear Unknown Friends:
We are proud to begin serializing Animate and Inanimate Are in Music and Conscience, a 1966 lecture by Eli Siegel that is a critical masterpiece. It is a deep, surprising, powerful illustration (with humor too, and charm) of the principle at the basis of Aesthetic Realism: "All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves." In that principle, stated by Eli Siegel, is to be found the criterion for beauty, sought by critics for centuries. And it is the means of understanding also this huge thing not understood before: what art has to do with every person simply as person—tossing in a bed, angry at a job, worried about money, laughing at a joke, in a classroom, in love, in confusion.
The central opposites Mr. Siegel speaks of in this lecture are Animate and Inanimate. He speaks of how they are present in the technique of music, and in music as sheer pleasure. Then, these opposites are ours. They can be ours terrifyingly; because animate comes from the Latin animare, to give life—and every person feels he or she is not alive enough. All over America now there are people who laughed animatedly at parties or in their offices and later felt empty inside, and numb to things. Millions of people have gone from a true exuberance, the aliveness of being swept by music, of delightedly breathing in fresh air or seeing a blue sky—to feeling there was something deeply wooden in them, unresponsive, inert.
People have not known what it is that makes a person more alive, and what it is that makes a person less. We need tremendously to know the answer—and it is in Aesthetic Realism.
Eli Siegel is the person in the history of thought who has identified the thing within every person which is most against our own lives, against our being all we can be, against the vitality of our minds. That deadening thing is Contempt, which he has described in this principle: "There is a disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the outside world." The feeling that we will be more by lessening what is not ourselves is the beginning of every cruelty that has ever occurred on this earth—from ordinary snobbishness to genocide. But our contempt is also that which makes us less alive: less able to have emotion about things, less responsive, hollower, deader.
The Desire in Behalf of Life
Mr. Siegel has also identified the thing in every self that is most in behalf of life. It is the desire to like the world—to be vibrantly fair to what is not ourselves. This is the deepest desire we have. It is equivalent to our life's purpose, and is at war every day with our desire for contempt.
I am grateful without end to say: the beautiful study of Aesthetic Realism enables the desire to like the world to win! And so it makes people feel more alive, be more alive. I love Mr. Siegel for this magnificent, solid fact—real in the years and hours of my own life!
I am honored to present seven questions here that can have a person see more clearly the tendencies toward animate and inanimate in oneself—what makes us more alive and what makes us less.
1. A baby is being born right now in Oklahoma. Do the parents of little Darren hope he will be able to smile at an Oklahoma sky, welcome light from the sun, respond happily to the voices of other people, welcome words and make them a part of him, show pleasure at music, run gladly across Oklahoma grass because he feels it to be a deep friend to him? Do Darren's parents see such things as these—instances of his liking the world—as standing for how alive he is? If they couldn't occur, would the parents feel there was a terrible curtailing of their child's very life?
2. If Darren, 28 years from now, feels he is too good to be affected by another person—that the feelings of a co-worker of his, Mark, are unimportant—is that like being numb to the sunlight and Oklahoma sky? As he asks to be unaffected, is he asking for the depths of him to be dead?
3. Who is more alive: 1) a person who can look at an object, maybe the bare branch of a winter tree, and be interested in it, feel that in its humble bareness yet proud diagonal lift it is beautiful?; or 2) a person who looks at the branch yet doesn't really notice it, and moves on?
How Do We See Truth?
4. Is there any relation between how much we care for truth and how alive we are?
5. Were we born to meet the things of the world with accuracy and justice? And is our desire to change facts to suit ourselves, to do whatever we please with the world in our minds, to make truth subservient to our ego and our notion of comfort, the same really as killing the basis of ourselves? Is our desire to feel superior to truth or evade truth the same as making ourselves deeply dead?
6. Tennyson, in "The Lady of Shalott," describes a person who felt she would take care of her life and individuality by keeping things and people at a distance, viewing them only indirectly, through a mirror:
And moving through a mirror clear,
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near,
Winding down to Camelot;
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
Pass onward from Shalott.
In turning what was not herself into "shadows," was she really making herself unalive? Are you in any way like the Lady of Shalott, whom Tennyson tells of so musically? Do you make people and things flatter, dimmer, more distant than they are, instead of wanting to see them fully, vividly, with all their dimensions?
Eli Siegel has explained that the world is the other half of yourself. If you take the life out of other things, as a means of being superior and safe, are you taking the life out of yourself? Is that why you can feel bored, dull, empty, locked in yourself?
7. Another poem of Tennyson, "Ulysses," is about the desire to be fully alive. Ulysses' way of seeing is the opposite of the Lady of Shalott's. Ulysses says, "I will drink / Life to the lees," When he states in proud iambic pentameter, "I am a part of all that I have met," and describes himself as "yearning in desire / To follow knowledge like a sinking star, / Beyond the utmost bound of human thought"—is he illustrating this great statement from Mr. Siegel's essay "Art As Life": "A thing's being related gives it life"?
Because Eli Siegel himself used his life and mind to be fair to the whole world, he was the most alive of persons, and, like Tennyson and Bach, is immortal.
—Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education
Music and Conscience
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
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