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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 
A PERIODICAL OF HOPE AND INFORMATION
 NUMBER 1737.—February 4, 2009

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

Motives, Body, & the World

Dear Unknown Friends:

The second talk in the series Eli Siegel gave at Manhattan's Steinway Hall early in the history of Aesthetic Realism is titled Reality Includes Sex. We're proud to publish, from the available notes, the first half of it here. This lecture of August 1946 is on a subject that troubles people as much now as ever, despite today's seeming freedom, outspokenness, and glibness about it. I think Aesthetic Realism is magnificent on the subject. It contains the understanding of it, and of people's feelings about it, and of how people can truly like themselves about sex—not pretend to be at ease, but truly like themselves. And so this talk of 62 years ago is the most avant garde text on the subject (along with other works of Aesthetic Realism), and the most needed, and the kindest.

In it, Mr. Siegel criticizes the then prevailing view of the human self: the Freudian view, which, for decades, impressed and intimidated people. In the second half of the talk, he takes up passages of Freud.

Freudian psychiatry does make sex, and repressed sex, the cause in some fashion of every human mental distress. And while today's psychiatric establishment has gone away from that notion, it has not given a clear criticism of it, not repudiated it, not said it was shabby, fake science. In 2009, millions of men and women, while acting ever so liberated, perhaps ever so confident, still feel bad, lonely, empty, ashamed after sex, and dislike themselves for their thoughts about sex. Why? The reason is given in this lecture.

Sex Is about the World

Aesthetic Realism explains that the fight people have as to the world itself is central in how we see sex. This largest, constant fight in everyone is between the desire to respect the world other than oneself and the desire to have contempt for it. Let's look a little, by way of illustration, at a poem: “Duellum” (“The Duel”), poem 35 of one of the important books of world poetry, Charles Baudelaire's 1857 The Flowers of Evil.

In “Duellum,” Baudelaire describes the love-making of himself and his lady friend as warfare. I translate the opening lines:

Two warriors have rushed upon each other; their weapons

Glint in the air and splatter it with blood.

These games, this clatter of iron is the tumult

Of a youth made victim to a love that wails.

While there is ferocity here, I don't think Baudelaire was trying to describe something sensational or unusual. This poem is not really about violent sex but about a motive, a deeply inimical state of mind that can accompany even decorous sex.

People in 1857, as in 2009, could feel, without putting it in words, “This world is an enemy; it hasn't pleased me. But in sex, I can make it concentrate on me; I can have it make me the central thing. I can put it in its place big-time. Here's this person, who comes from the world and represents it: now, through what I'll do and she'll do, I'll get the world to show its main purpose is to give me utter pleasure! All day the world was pushing me around. Now it's serving me. I've beaten it, conquered it.”

In using a person this way, you are really hating the person, through all the embraces. That is, you're hating the person who comes from the world which you're trying to defeat, and who stands for and has to do with it. You're reducing her to someone who exists solely to please you. She's doing the same with you. So you are “two warriors,” (“deux guerriers”), trying to beat out reality through conquering each other.

That is what Baudelaire is writing about, in this intense but carefully constructed sonnet. It's why he felt bad about sex in 1857 and people feel bad now—because, as Mr. Siegel describes, the purpose of love and sex is not to lessen the world, but to like it more, see more meaning in all things and people, through being ever so close to a particular person.

The 4th line, “Of a youth made victim to a love that wails” (“D'une jeunesse en proie à l'amour vagissant”), says that there's a notion of love that has hurt the writer and the lady. It has victimized their youth. Indeed, people, seeing love as a means of getting away from the world and scornfully diminishing it, have made their lives a prey (“proie”) to a bad purpose. And this wrong kind of love itself is a troubled thing: it's “vagissant,” wailing, or bleating.

The 8th line of Baudelaire's sonnet is an immensely beautiful one. It is intense and rich in its music: “O fureur des coeurs mûrs par l'amour ulcérés!” “Oh fury of ripe hearts ulcerated by love!” Here again we have the saying that a notion (false) of love has hurt us, hurt our hearts.

He calls the lady “my dear one” (“ma chère”), but says they are “embracing maliciously.” Aesthetic Realism makes clear that our purpose in sex is either good will—to have a person stronger through encouraging her to care more for the world; or ill will, malice—to lessen the person and have her like the world less. And toward the end, there is a line which has humor in its pain: “This pit is hell, a hell peopled by our friends!” It's a line showing that with all the poem's intensity, there's an everydayness to what it's describing.

We Need What Poetry Has

Baudelaire is a true poet. And so his lines have in their technique what Aesthetic Realism explains all good poetry has. They have a like of the world: their music contains what reality is, the oneness of opposites—tumult and calm, freedom and control, delicacy and force, immediacy and wideness. Baudelaire wanted mightily to know what Eli Siegel shows in the following talk: there is no reason why sex cannot have that justice to reality, and love for it, which poetry embodies.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

Reality Includes Sex
By Eli Siegel

I think it is a fitting prelude to this discussion to read an article that appeared in the New York Times, because the things that we are talking about are really tremendously current. This story is an example of suffering that led to melodrama. The headline is “Jobber Strikes Wife Then Dives to Death.”*

There are two things that people worry about which, in some essential way, were not denied to this suicide. First, he seems to have had a sufficient amount of money; he was a textile jobber who had a home in the country. And second—this is where we get to our immediate subject—in terms of sex, he didn't seem to be in the “denied” column either. He had three children and seems to have been a person who wasn't exactly biologically repressed. Yet Mr. Krinsky at the age of 45 sees fit to hit his wife on the head with a hammer and then jump out the window. Freudian theory cannot successfully explain why Mr. Krinsky, well-off and biologically successful, should have done this.

It happens that in the air, even in the minds of people who have never heard of Freud, there is a feeling that nervousness is associated with sex. And psychiatrists, even those who consider themselves eclectic, do get, when it comes to a final explanation, to the sexual theory.

A Muddle about Sex

Even without Freud, when a person looks at himself and starts worrying about himself, there seems to be a muddle on the subject of sex. People do feel that there is something sinful in them as to sex. It didn't need Freud to say, “You are worried about sex,” because that has been the most obvious thing people have worried about. A hundred years ago, when the word sin was mentioned, it usually had something to do with glamorous flesh, and sometimes not so glamorous flesh. And if a motion picture producer advertises “Sin,” you don't think of money embezzled—you do think of sex.

However, sin is mental disproportion. If a person were as fleshy as anything and as voluptuous as anything, if he felt symmetrical, graceful, proportionate about himself, he would not have the feeling of sin. He would not have a feeling (to use a later term) of self-criticism. The question therefore is: have Freud and others dealt with sex rightly?

Your Motive

Aesthetic Realism has a definite viewpoint about sex. It says: anytime you have sex with anybody, including in marriage, and you don't like your motive, no matter what biological, glamorous paraphernalia may be present, you won't like yourself. If you do anything whatsoever which ends in not liking yourself, it isn't worth it.

In an Aesthetic Realism lesson somebody told me he had been pursuing a lady for a long time, giving her presents, and using the immemorial ways of flattering a woman. Then he had an assignation with her and found he couldn't respond to her. This often happens. The reason was that when it came to being with her, he didn't feel that what he was after was something he could like himself for being after. Sex cannot be separated from the way of mind that goes with sex. There have been persons who felt they were as excited as anything and found themselves impotent. The reason is, there was something stronger than the biological drive. And what is stronger than the biological drive? The biological drive exists, but if there is something stronger, it should be distinguished from it. The big thing in sex that Freud leaves out is the motive.

There is something in common between having sex with a person and talking with a person. I said last week that when a person meets another, three things can happen: you hurt that person; you leave that person entirely unchanged; you do some good to the person. Well, these three things can also happen in sex. And if anybody says, “I would rather have sex and do harm to a person than not have sex at all,” this person is not sincere. If somebody had sex with a woman and went out the door feeling he had harmed her, he wouldn't feel good about it. I don't care if this guy is a Times Square wolf or a Lake Michigan wolf. These considerations of how the other person takes it are part of the unconscious.

The big mistake of Freud is this: In the body of his work he has presented sex as libido, and libido as only for yourself—libido doesn't give a damn for anything that isn't yourself. Then there is repression. There is Puritanism. There is society—and from that, out of compulsion, some care for other people. It isn't like that at all. The big confusion of Freud is that he has made a very great separation between sex and the desire to be useful to people.

You don't feel in any of his books that sex can be a means really of helping other people. He is like persons associated with the Puritans. They said, if you have pleasure you can't be virtuous. Freud said, if you are virtuous you can't have pleasure. If you read Freud carefully you will find there is this disjunction between virtue, goodness, and pleasure.

If by being good you can't have pleasure, you might as well be neurotic for the rest of your life, because you are going to have a good time and feel a sinner or a bad time and feel virtuous. It doesn't have to be that way. The more sensible a person is, the more honestly he feels that a good act and a good time both include the true meaning of the word good . Freud, as I mentioned last week, has made a fight between the desires of the individual and the welfare of society. If such a fight has to exist, not much can be done.

Getting back to the news story. Why is it that this person, having sex with his wife—seemingly successful, children were born—why would he want to kill her later? Because biology going on between the Krinskys wasn't accompanied by true friendliness. I mean by friendliness, having pleasure from having good will for another. If you have good will for another and don't have pleasure from it, it is a fake good will. But when you have pleasure from being useful to another, you are friendly. Mr. and Mrs. Krinsky were not friendly. Mr. Krinsky felt he had missed out in life, and looked upon his wife as an enemy. But the cause wasn't sex.

The importance of this discussion is this: why is it, in all the boroughs and states, people are worried and troubled? Is it because their libido has developed into an infantile stage, or because there is a fight between what is themselves and what isn't themselves? This is a five-alarm question.

Sex & Power

In order to explain the relation of sex to power, I shall read something amusing which appeared a very long time ago, in 1714. It is a letter in Sir Richard Steele's periodical The Lover, and is by a woman called Clidamira:

The man has not yet appeared to these eyes, whom I could like for a husband....If you can send me half a dozen [lovers], I promise to take him who addresses me with most gallantry and wit....But at the same time I expect them to fight one another for me....The conquered is to beg, and the victor is to give life for my sake only.

This letter, in its humorous way, represents something which goes on in the unconscious of people. A woman once told me that when she was with a man she got her pleasure not so much from anything biological but from the fact that here was somebody who was making a tremendous commotion all about her and she didn't feel a thing. That is the idea of power in the bad sense. It goes on in many married relations.

If you can't give yourself to the outside world, you can't give yourself to a person. Before you can really be affected by a single person, you must want to be affected deeply by that which is not yourself. A girl, therefore, like Clidamira takes love to be one gratification of her vanity after another. She doesn't care for people; she only cares for their homage to her. And the woman whom I just talked to you about is like that: she wants sex only as a means of feeling that a person is dependent on her. That is awful. She and others can't give themselves to a man, because they can't give themselves to that which is not themselves. The same goes on with men. A man can use a woman but not give himself to her. He can have pleasure from despising her. Sometimes this takes a melodramatic form.

What Sex Should Be

Sex is a way of being good to a person. It is a tremendous thing, a puzzling thing; it is something which is hard to understand. But there is no reason why, if you talk to a person and want to be useful to him, you shouldn't want to be useful if you sleep with a person. Let us not confuse the terrifying stage directions with the purpose of the play. The purpose of sex is to feel you are powerful because you can give yourself truly and honestly to another. In giving ourselves to another, we give ourselves really to the world. But most often what happens when two people get together is the two-love-birds-on-a-rock procedure.

A person who doesn't like the world is a failure. John meets Harriet, and praises her: “You are divine! You are an angel!” Harriet says, “Do you really mean that?” and acts for a while as if it were excessive. Then it really grows on her: Harriet doesn't have everybody calling her an angel—but John saw immediately! She decides he is wonderful. Here are two people: one is calling the other an angel; the other is calling the first wonderful. This, they don't get from the outside world. They come into a separate world. Untrue to the principle that you should like a person so you can like the world, John sees Harriet as a substitute for the outside world.

Love is a way of liking the world symbolically through a person. But often it comes to be a substitute. If you use a person as a means of limiting your liking of the world, then you come to hate the person without knowing it. This is working in every instance where a husband suddenly decides to leave home or beat up his wife. When we have this love-and-hate feeling, it means we feel that on the one hand somebody is making us the most important person in the world and on the other hand is limiting us. The Krinskys had tragedy because they used love against reality.

There Is Possessiveness

There is the mighty thing, intricate as the streets in the Bronx or Brooklyn , the thing called possessiveness. I have mentioned a woman who felt bad because her husband was happy even though he was away from her. Possessiveness has one criterion: you don't want anybody to make the person happy but yourself.

Possessiveness is a feeling that most of us have; we should take for granted that we have it, just as we take for granted that we all have germs. It makes for all sorts of miseries and disorders. Possessiveness is really not the caring for a person; it is the caring for the importance that a person gives us. There is a great difference. Most women don't care for men; they care for the compliments, articulate or inarticulate, that men give.

Through possessiveness there isn't a real release. It happens that in sex the body can have an orgasm but the self not go along. Women have told me that biologically they seemed affected but they were somewhere else. They didn't feel they had given themselves to the man; they gave themselves to the importance which the men gave to them. That is true of men too. It is vanity. black diamond

*Mr. Siegel read the article. Though the text is not included in the notes, its contents can be surmised from his discussion.

Aesthetic Realism is based on these
principles, stated by Eli Siegel:
 

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.

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"Is a Person an Aesthetic Situation?" by Eli Siegel: a short explanation of Aesthetic Realism
The Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company in New York City. Authors in the repertory include Ibsen, Sheridan, Shakespeare, O'Neill.
Ellen Reiss, Commentaries in TRO:
The Mideast  |  Poetry of Eli Siegel |  Unions
Lord Byron |  Harry Potter |  Sherlock Holmes
Robert Burns |  The 'criticism' of John Keats
Racism & Its Solution
Aesthetic Realism Resources:
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Two Biographies of Eli Siegel:
[1] Aesthetic Realism Foundation
[2] Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company Site
Friends of Aesthetic Realism—Countering the Lies
Art and Literature:
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The Place of Aesthetic Realism in Culture & Literature

The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method:
Lesson Plans in Diverse Subjects
Teaching Indian Culture in the United States:
The Aesthetic Realism Method
Further Resources:
Essays and News Pieces about Aesthetic Realism
Photographic Education: the Aesthetic Realism Viewpoint
A New Perspective for Anthropology: The Aesthetic Realism Method
Self-Expression and What Interferes: an Aesthetic Realism Discussion
John Singer Sargent's Madame X, an Aesthetic Realism Discussion

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