|NUMBER 1737.—February 4, 2009||
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941
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
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
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