|NUMBER 1801.—July 20, 2011||
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941
Dear Unknown Friends:
We are serializing the 1970 lecture You Can Gossip Philosophically about Psychology, by Eli Siegel. Using passages from a psychology textbook, he illustrates the great, definitive explanation of the human self which is in Aesthetic Realism. Casually, often humorously, always with scholarship and exactitude, he is showing: 1) The deepest desire of every human being is to like the world honestly. 2) The self of everyone is a philosophic, aesthetic situation, because we are composed of the opposites central to reality itself, and we are trying to do what art does—make those opposites one.
The Self of a Child
In that folk compendium called Mother Goose, there are hundreds of nursery rhymes, passed along over centuries. They vary in quality, and the ones that have been most popular are generally the best. Many are art, in the full meaning of the word. I’ll comment on four, because the poems children have loved say something important about what the human self is and hopes for. There is, for instance—
Bobby Shafto’s gone to sea,
With silver buckles on his knee.
He’ll come back and marry me,
Pretty Bobby Shafto!
This poem is about the expansive and the intimate, the mysterious and the familiar. Every person wants to feel that the wide world in all its strangeness is for us—and can somehow be cozy and familiar too. In the first two lines, a girl thinks about someone who has gone out to that wide, mysterious, un-cozy thing, the sea. And in his silver buckles there are wonder and glow. Then, in the third line, that same Bobby Shafto who has been part of the mystery and expansiveness of things will be very close to her, of her: “He’ll come back and marry me.”
As poetry, this is a very fine quatrain. There is a width, an opening out, in the sound of the first line—“Bobby Shafto’s gone to sea.” This is very different from the confined sound, even the small sound, of the fourth: “Pretty Bobby Shafto.” Yet the first line is definite too, and the fourth has space too: they both put opposites together. A child can fear the unknown and want what’s familiar. Then she can be bored by the familiar and want mystery and surprise. People of every age have felt tormented because the close and the unknown have fought in them. We love “Bobby Shafto” because it makes those opposites one.
Low & Magnificent
A beautiful poem about lowliness and magnificence is—
Hark, hark! The dogs do bark,
The beggars are coming to town;
Some in rags and some in tags,
And some in velvet gown.
Children have been bewildered and rightly angered by the ugly, completely unnecessary fact that there is poverty in the world. They’ve also looked down on people with less money than their own family has. In this poem, though, we hear a proud march, a rhythmic pomp, in the line “The beggars are coming to town.” And people who are dressed poorly are given a grand announcement: “Hark, hark!” All this and the strange fourth line make us feel there is grandeur in these people which perhaps we haven’t wanted to see. That, I think, is the meaning of “And some in velvet gown.”
Every child has been mixed up by his own feelings of inferiority and superiority. On the one hand, he has felt he was inwardly a mess—that his thoughts were not clear, were in rags and tags—and that he didn’t like himself. On the other, he has felt he should be seen as a little prince, better than everyone. People don’t know that much of their feeling low and messy comes because they’ve made themselves falsely superior to other people and the world—because they’ve had contempt. But this poem has delighted children because it stands for the fact that there’s an answer, with beauty, to the question of lowliness and magnificence in them.
“Georgie Porgie”: Assertion & Retreat
What does it mean to assert ourselves truly? Wrong self-assertion is in—
Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry.
When the boys came out to play,
Georgie Porgie ran away.
Most people, young and older, are deeply like Georgie Porgie. They feel they should have a big effect, make themselves important, without thinking about what other people and things deserve. Then, as a result of their contempt—at a time when they can’t manage reality (“When the boys came out to play”), they get very unsure and fearful.
Not only does Georgie have trouble about assertion and fearfulness or retreat, he has trouble about softness and hardness. The phrase “pudding and pie,” along with the sound of his name, tells us that Georgie Porgie could make himself seem very soft, sweet, and pleasing while having a purpose that was hard and mean. Here, he is like many people. The message of this poem is: Your sense of self, your putting forth of self, had better be the same as justice to what’s not you. Otherwise you’ll be both mean and scared.
Energy & Being Stuck
This is not the time to comment at length about the sublime poem (I’m not joking) “Peas Porridge Hot”:
Peas porridge hot,
Peas porridge cold,
Peas porridge in the pot
Nine days old.
The rhythm is thrusting, insistent. And to have such a rhythm about porridge is a great thing. Through these lines, which children love to clap to, the feeling people have of being stuck, dull, inert, like thick porridge, is put into terrific motion. The rest-and-motion torment a child can have—feeling impelled to keep tearing about, and feeling immobile—(and which everyone has in some form) is answered in this poem.
Aesthetic Realism shows that the answer to people’s questions is in art. And it makes that answer learnable for everyone’s life.
—Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education
Are Nerves about Liking the World?
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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