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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 
A PERIODICAL OF HOPE AND INFORMATION
 NUMBER 1839.—January 2, 2013

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

Needing What’s Not Oneself

Dear Unknown Friends:

Here is part 7 of the magnificent 1965 lecture Instinct: Beginning with Shelley, by Eli Siegel. And with it is an article by Aesthetic Realism consultant Derek Mali, from a paper presented last month at the public seminar titled “Self-Reliance: What’s the Big Mistake Men Make about It?”

Both Mr. Mali’s article and this section of Mr. Siegel’s lecture are about the tremendous subject of need: how people feel about needing what is not themselves. The subject is beautiful; the turmoil, suffering, and mistakes about it are enormous. So as preliminary, I’ll comment swiftly on some aspects of this mighty and everyday subject.

What’s the Relation of Need & Interest?

1) Everywhere in the world, people want to find their lives interesting. At the same time—as Mr. Siegel and Mr. Mali describe—there is a terrific desire in people to see themselves as needing nothing but themselves. That desire is an aspect of what Aesthetic Realism identifies as the most hurtful thing in us: contempt, the feeling that the way to be important is to be superior to what’s not ourselves.

Well, if we do not want to need the outside world, whatever interests we have will be shallow, dilettantish, and often fleeting. That is why millions of people feel bored and empty. For anything to interest us deeply, stir us widely, for us to have big, lasting care for anything, we have to feel we need it to be fully ourselves. To the contempt in people, that is an indignity. Shallow interest and boredom arise from conceit: the conceit of feeling the world is unworthy of being needed by us.

2) A result of people’s not wanting to need the outside world is the following: if they do need anything, they feel they should own that thing, run it, have contempt for it. And the “it” may be another human being. This mostly unconscious way of seeing goes on in love. Right now, men and women are trying to manage one another, being ill-natured, looking for reasons to think less of and humiliate each other—because they resent needing the world and therefore each other.

The desire to deal contemptuously with what one needs is huge in economics. It is the foundation of the profit system. Profit economics is based on the idea that our first purpose toward the world from which we need things is not to know it, be just to it, but to own and get money from it, and beat out other people in order to do so.

Further, the profit way is based on the idea that if you, a boss, need the work of other people, you should get it through contempt for them. You should take as much as you can of the wealth they produce, and give them as little in wages and decent working conditions as you can get away with.

Two Kinds of Need

3) Aesthetic Realism explains that there are two kinds of need; they arise from the two big battling desires in everyone. There is need based on contempt, and such need is always false and ugly. There is need based on respect, and that need is beautiful and true. People have felt they needed their contempt in order to be themselves, maintain themselves, matter. “If I can’t look down on other people, I’m nothing, a nebbish”: this mainly unarticulated feeling is completely wrong, but people have it steadily and fiercely. Then, there is the need which, Aesthetic Realism shows, is the deepest one in every person: to find meaning in the world, to express ourselves by being just to what is not us. From this need come all art, intelligence, and kindness.

The two needs, false and true, are present as to love. A woman, we’ll call her Kim, feels achingly that she needs a man, Nate. But the reason is: she feels if Nate approves of her, if he acts as though he’s owned by her, then she’s important. What she’s really needing is that Nate make her an empress, superior to a world she dislikes. That is a false, contemptuous need. It is different from the feeling: “I need this person because through knowing him the world looks more beautiful to me. I’m more interested in all people. I don’t need him to make much of me or be ‘mine’: there is a meaning I see in him which makes my life bigger and truer.”

Civilized?

4) There is an aspect of the subject of need that determines whether a society is civilized or barbaric. There are things that every human being needs in order to live with dignity. Among them are sufficient food, good housing and clothing, healthcare, education. Every person should be guaranteed these from birth. If people are not, whatever else the society may be, it is fundamentally barbaric and immoral.

The section of Mr. Siegel’s lecture printed here consists of only 7 paragraphs. But they are, in my opinion, great. With beautiful ease and exactitude, Mr. Siegel defines love. Then, he is at once deep and humorous as he speaks about art, and also about various predilections which are definitely unpraiseworthy, yet have meaning in their wrongness.

He mentions a poem of his that I love. And I am very glad to quote that musical, mischievous, and definitive poem now:

History of Art
By Eli Siegel

All that people do not want to do,

Should be reappraised.

The uninviting is,

And may have recondite charms

Unseen by the careless happiness-seeker.

What is it to seek?

How big is seeking?

What is the appropriate position of the terrible?

What is deserved by the disgusting?

What should the repulsive aim at?—

How should the repulsive be considered?

There are streaks in the uninviting,

Nuances in the repulsive,

Aromas, charms within the disgusting,

Waiting to be appraised;

Or, as I said, reappraised.

The senses are on the move,

The sensitivities are not still.

The judgments are in romantic flux,

And objects, terrible, are waiting.

Meanwhile, sensibilities, too, are in motion.

Sensibilities want to achieve.

They are funny.

They are ambitious.

The history of art consists often of unbearable, sudden justice done to sensibilities,

Our best friends, with a Fie!

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

What Doesn’t Have Meaning?
By Eli Siegel

Note. Mr. Siegel is discussing the essay “On Love,” by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

The next paragraph begins:

Thou demandest what is love? It is that powerful attraction towards all we conceive, or fear, or hope beyond ourselves, when we find within our own thoughts the chasm of an insufficient void, and seek to awaken in all things that are, a community with what we experience within ourselves.

Love is a kind of motion, as Hobbes would say. It is always a change, in space even, and it is an activity from us, a motion from us. One of the many definitions of love is this: Love is a happy sense of our own incompleteness, busy about correcting it. This is along with the Aesthetic Realism definition of love as proud need. We wouldn’t love anything besides ourselves if we were entire, because there would be no need for it. As it is, we try to pretend that we are entire and go on loving anyway, but to feel that we don’t need anything and think we can love is patronizing. Love is an attraction to something other than ourselves because that something other is necessary to us, more necessary than an equivalent thing in ourselves. Shelley says it’s an attraction towards everything, including what we fear.

The artist is attracted by everything. The history of art, as I say in a poem in Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana: Poems, is the increasing inclusion of the ugly as lovable. It is true that in Polynesia for a long while the ugly was lovable, but in the western world there was a tendency to get to the symmetrical. The Apollo Belvedere makes many people sick for that reason—because it doesn’t allow for the ugly. It is said that two persons saw the Apollo Belvedere and started retching because anything so handsome was just not theirs.

Shelley does say that we have an attraction towards “all we conceive, or fear, or hope....” So fear is included. What the relation is of love to hate, is a very modern problem. The motto of the present-day novel is, “Darling, I bruised you.” Sadism has become such a part of “love”—let alone other things.

“It is that powerful attraction towards all we conceive...” The problem of the universe is: is there anything that cannot honestly attract? The perversions of love are at least a sign that more things are attractive. Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis is evidence of that, because even the ugly things that have been created can, it seems, arouse some aberrant Viennese. There are some persons who, having plaster given by the left hand of a barmaid, get into a state of supreme triumph. The aberrations show that that which is not generally attractive can be attractive to some people. For instance, bones that have been in the graveyard for at least three years, put on a tablecloth, make life successful for them. This is necrophilia. I may be making up the details; the principle is there.

Shelley says, “It is that powerful attraction towards all we conceive, or fear, or hope beyond ourselves...” There’s an implication that if it’s not ourselves, we want to love it.

“...when we find within our own thoughts the chasm of an insufficient void, and seek to awaken in all things that are, a community with what we experience within ourselves.” That is, insofar as we are incomplete in ourselves, we are looking for something else. And it may be anything.

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Men’s Mistake about Self-Reliance
By Derek Mali

I’ve learned through my study of Aesthetic Realism that for a man to like himself he has to want honestly to know and be fair to the world outside himself, including the people in it. A man’s big mistake is to think that relying on himself exclusively, at the expense of needing what’s outside of him, is the principal purpose of his life. This is the mistake I made at an early age. As a boy growing up in a financially prosperous family, though I seemed to have everything I wanted—everything money could buy—I felt very separate from other people, alone, even among my many classmates.

I went by my father’s unspoken but profoundly felt motto: “Don’t expect too much from the world, for it will disappoint you.” Like many children, I decided to create my own world in my mind, a world under my control, by daydreaming. I imagined myself giving people orders, having them do my bidding, and I felt that I was clever and that this was one of the few pleasures I had. My dreams were various: I was the captain on the ocean liner Queen Mary, barking off orders through a voice tube. I was cast ashore from a small boat with several lovely, nubile, obedient, and complying damsels. I was the star of either a glorious Technicolor film or a Broadway play, and had lots of adoring fans.

An Opinion of the World

While I relied on those imaginings, I had a sense of unease and discomfort. In an Aesthetic Realism class, when I told Eli Siegel about them, he said, “There are lots of boys who daydream, but do you believe that if they found the world that’s immediate pleasing, they would have to daydream so much?” I saw the logic. No, I hadn’t found the world pleasing, with all the advantages I’d had. I saw people as hypocritical and felt no one could be counted on. Mr. Siegel explained so precisely: “Derek Mali has cultivated contempt for people, and the daydreaming was an idyllic phase of it.”

In another class he asked: “Have you felt painfully alone in the world?”

DM. Yes, I have.

ES. Do you think you want to be?

DM. No, I don’t.

I was surprised when he said there is that in a person that does want to be alone. He explained: “Every fear is a hope in disguise. Do you think the world is good enough for you?” “Yes,” I answered. He asked, “Do you feel something else also?” “Yes.”

I did feel something else: that the world was messy, unkind, not worthy of my care, and that—polite and well-spoken as I was—I should essentially keep to and rely on only myself. Seeing how inaccurate and deeply stupid this was and that I wanted something so much better, was a very big occurrence in my life, and I thank Mr. Siegel with all my heart. In class after class, I saw the truth of what I was learning from him. And I saw that I could count on it. I began to feel that I could learn from others, including about myself, that people were much more interesting than I’d known.

I also began to see that I needed and wanted to be in relation to someone who would encourage me on a daily basis to like the whole world more, whom I could love. I now have the enormous pleasure of being married to Sally Ross, who inspires me every day. One of the things I love about my wife is that she is a critic of flattery—both the getting and giving of it. Our life together is rich and exciting as we study Aesthetic Realism and learn to see the world of people, history, drama, economics, and much more, with honesty and largeness. I love Sally for wanting to have a good effect on me. She most definitely has!

In Aesthetic Realism Consultations

Aesthetic Realism explains that there are two possibilities in every person. One is to see everything outside of us as less than it actually is, for the purpose of building ourselves up. The other is the desire to be large and inclusive. That desire stands for our true self. Wrote Eli Siegel, “The greatest thing about man...is that he doesn’t like the idea of being narrowly given to himself” (TRO 18).

Men are learning about that fact in Aesthetic Realism consultations, where I am proud that my colleagues and I can ask questions such as these: “Do you need other people to know yourself? If you do, should that be a cause of shame or pride? Is it possible that someone else could see you better than you see yourself, even be kinder to you than you are to yourself?”

Indifference

An aspect of the big mistake men make about self-reliance is to show how little we are affected by the outside world; that is, to cultivate indifference. I was a pro at this. I observed that my parents always remained cool; rarely, if ever, did they seem to get excited or “emotional” about anything.

My family’s message to me and my brothers was: “Try not to have or express any emotion—that shows weakness. And if you do have feelings, for heaven’s sake don’t inconvenience everyone else by expressing them. Don’t ever be loud or passionate at the dinner table—just go to your room, shut your door until you have finished with all that vulgar emotion, and return when you have cooled off.”

I inhaled this message on a daily basis and was faithful to it. Oh, I learned my lesson well, and I relied on it: I was as cold and unaffected as I could be, and I shut myself up in a tightly bound mental box with rusty locks on it. How I was yearning to break out! I had no idea then that what my parents really felt inside was very different from what they showed: that they were much deeper than I’d seen and were pained by their own coldness to the world and each other.

Years after, in a class, Mr. Siegel asked me: “Do you feel that you depended on yourself inordinately?”

DM. Yes, I think I did.

ES. This is felt by nearly everybody, because everyone feels, in the long run, that the only friend they have is themselves—that even when people seem friendly and useful, it’s only a sham. It’s called the cynical treasure—trying to show nothing in this world can affect you very much. You have seen some of the results: it makes for a slowing down of life. Do you think there is some way of seeing better than the one you adopted?

DM. Yes, there is.

And he asked, “Are you less in that booth of self?” “Oh, yes,” I said, “I am!”

It was a relief when I heard criticism of the hurtful logic I’d used to assert my apartness from things, criticism that changed my life entirely. I’m so glad to be out of my booth and to feel alive in the whole world. black diamond

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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The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known (TRO) is a biweekly periodical of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation.
Editor: Ellen Reiss
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TRO: Home |  Current |  Art |  Literature |  Racism |  Education |  Nat'l Ethics |  Love |  Economics |  Memorial |  Site Map
"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:
Aesthetic Realism Consultations
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:
The Terrain Gallery / Aesthetic Realism Foundation
The Place of Aesthetic Realism in Culture & Literature

Two Teachers Speak on a Class Taught by Ellen Reiss
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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