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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 
A PERIODICAL OF HOPE AND INFORMATION
 NUMBER 1825.—June 20, 2012

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

People’s Lives, the Profit System, & Philosophy

Dear Unknown Friends:

Here is part 5 of the magnificent 1970 lecture Philosophy Begins with That, by Eli Siegel. Discussing entries from a diary of the novelist Arnold Bennett, and relating them to the history of philosophic thought, Mr. Siegel shows something that has been “left out of philosophic studies...and its absence has made the discussions of philosophy incomplete.” Philosophy, he shows, is not just about the seemingly higher matters: it’s in each “specific thing, the thing on the move.” It’s what we’re in the midst of all the time.

Early in the talk he describes philosophy as “the study of what reality can never be without.” And this what is the opposites: such opposites as sameness and difference, rest and motion, being and change. The philosophic opposites are also our very own: they’re in us, in how we feel. They’re in our mistakes, worries, triumphs, ponderings. Further, there is this great fact, told of in a central principle 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.” Art does what we most want to do, and what we suffer from not doing: it puts opposites together.

An instance of art, at once charming and deep, is the prose of Arnold Bennett in the passage, quoted here, about commercial cultivation of flowers. We can see that his style is simultaneously factual and graceful, no-nonsense and tender. His sentences have, inseparably, point and nuance, often humor and pathos, the acerb and the kind.

The Economy & the Opposites

When opposites are not one—as in life they so frequently are not—there are always, in various ways, ugliness, pain, cruelty. That is so in a field which affects every person in the world: economics.

Humanity on all the continents is now intensely in the midst of what Eli Siegel explained four decades ago, in his Goodbye Profit System lectures. He showed that while an unethical and ugly way of dealing with human beings and reality itself had gone on for hundreds of years, it could no longer work successfully. Profit-motivated economics would continue to fail no matter what might be done to keep it going.

The underlying reason is: the profit way is based on contempt. It’s based on the seeing of a fellow human not in terms of what he or she deserves, but in terms of how much money one can squeeze from the person—from the person’s labor, or from the needs of the person as possible buyer. That is a horrible, unjust way to look at a human being: how much can I get out of you while giving you as little as possible? Yet that is what the profit motive is. And for centuries it has inflicted on vast numbers of people poverty, industrial diseases, sweatshops, child labor, rooked and stifled lives.

Opposites Mr. Siegel speaks of here in relation to philosophy are one and many. These opposites are fundamental in economics, in the form of the individual and all people. And the profit system divides them. It is based on the idea that a land—America, for instance—should belong much more to certain individuals than to millions of other people. It has made millions of children be hungry while some rich person lives lavishly, monumentally.

Mr. Siegel speaks about the opposites of sameness and difference. The profit motive severs these, sleazily and cruelly. Impelled by it, you cannot see a human being aesthetically: as like yourself, as having feelings and hopes as real as yours, even as that person is also different. Instead, you have to think of the person as someone whose fundamental function is to provide you with as much money as possible. If you were to see a person as like you, as deserving the justice you deserve, you could not see him or her as a mechanism for your own aggrandizement.

This brings us to other opposites Mr. Siegel speaks of: the animate and inanimate. To see people as mechanisms through which to make profit is, really, to take the life from them.

Profit economics is a travesty in each of the four aspects of philosophy: 1) ethics—the profit way is based on contempt, not justice; 2) aesthetics (the study of beauty)—making opposites fight, the profit system is ugly, not beautiful; 3) ontology (the study of being)—with its willful, imposed division of the opposites, profit economics is not in keeping with the nature of reality; 4) epistemology (the study of knowing)—the profit motive does not see people as to be known, but to be used for one’s own comfort and glory; it does not see the world as to be known, but to be grabbed.

What a Recent Article Really Says

On May 11 the New York Times published an article which, while not meaning to be, is really a statement that the profit system no longer works. It’s by Louis Uchitelle and has the headline “What It Takes to Keep a Factory.” Using as an example the Revere Copper Products company, the article says that the only way manufacturing can now go on in America is: for workers to be paid much less, for many to be put out of their jobs altogether, and for government to subsidize private industry.

The chief owner of Revere is quoted as saying, “There is nothing made in the United States that has to be made here—that can’t be shipped in from some other country.” That is in keeping with what Mr. Siegel described in 1970 as a central reason the profit system is fundamentally kaput: “America is not the only country now with industrial know-how....There is more competition with the American product.” Profit-making in the US could thrive while people in other nations depended on American products and were incapable of producing what US companies could. That situation has certainly changed! And the change is part of what Mr. Siegel showed to be “the force of ethics,” a force weakening the profit system. For people all over the world to have greater ability and knowledge—for “know-how” to be not merely the province of a few—is ethical: it is increased justice to humanity. It is a truer relation of the sameness and difference of people. And it is making the going-on of the profit system impossible in America.

Revere Copper, we’re told, would not be able to exist were it not subsidized by New York State. What is being seen across the land, writes Uchitelle, is that “manufacturing needs a little help in the form of local, state and national subsidies for survival in a global economy.” He quotes the owner of Revere: “The only manufacturers in America who go without government support are those whose markets are so insignificant that they are not noticed by foreign producers.” These statements are given quietly but they are stupendous. They are tantamount to saying the profit system has failed, is over—because if government has to subsidize companies in order for them to exist, we no longer have free enterprise.

Further, we’re told, a manufacturer can stay in America and make a profit only if the employees’ pay is sizably reduced. This, of course, makes the workers’ standard of living much lower than before. And those are the workers who remain: a big percentage of the workforce, the article says, needs to be eliminated. In the instance of Revere, the union—a UAW local—agreed to a concessionary contract under threat that otherwise the factory would close.

The True Story

It’s important to be clear. US manufacturing need not be in difficulty. Workers need not be fired. Americans need not live, as they do now, with increasing financial difficulty and increasing worry and agony. What’s holding up the US economy is the completely unnecessary factor of large profits for persons who don’t do the work. Do away with that factor and US industry will thrive. It is unnecessary—also immoral—for governments to use the people’s money in order to supply profits to various private individuals. The true way to have American production succeed is: get rid of the profits paid to people who haven’t worked for them. A boss with valuable management ability can still be part of a company—taking home simply what he or she earns through his or her labor.

I’ll say swiftly what I have said with more fullness in previous issues. The gigantic attempt to subjugate unions, choke them, undo them, kill them, comes from only one thing: Unions have been the greatest force in America in behalf of people who work—which means Americans. They have enabled Americans to live with some financial dignity. They have, as the AFL-CIO truly says, created the middle class. They have prevented people from being subjected to industrial diseases, from being maimed and crippled and burned on the job. Every bit of justice unions brought to the American people lessened the profits of owners. And the desire to kill unions is the desire to throw Americans into impoverishment so that big profits can come to those who don’t do the work. The mathematics is simple. At this time in world history, there is just so much money available through American production. To whom should it go: to Americans, so they can live with dignity and some ease—or to a few private owners, who want to get rich through the work and deprivation of others?

America wants an economy different from any that has been in the world before. The only economy that can now work will be based on justice to both an individual and all people, on that oneness of sameness and difference which is aesthetics and the structure of the world itself.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

Body, Mind, Flowers: A Philosophic Uproar
By Eli Siegel

Note. Mr. Siegel is looking at passages from Arnold Bennett’s Journal 1929.

Bennett tells this:

A man brought his niece for tea, and was witless enough to tell me that I looked tired. My latest neuralgia at once became acute. And yet doctors still begin all their treatments at the wrong end, dealing with the body first instead of with the mind first.

The body-mind problem began with the weight and non-weight problem; that is, matter and space—or, if you want, volume and line, because volume seems to weigh a little more than line, or point. Body and mind are phases of weight and non-weight. Also of rest and motion: with both standing for both, it must be said, but with body seeming to stand more for rest than mind does—until you think more about it. Then you see too how mind is still, and body is in motion. However, body and mind and motion and rest are related.

The body and mind problem is not wholly accepted as a philosophic problem. It is usually relegated to psychology, or some such lesser subject. You don’t have bodies and minds in philosophy: in philosophy things are purer than that. But occasionally there’s been a little liberality. We have a work like McDougall’s or Bain’s on body and mind.¹ What is the relation of the two? Out of that question has come the idea of psychosomatics and the psychological cause of illness, which Bennett here deals with.

“Yet doctors still begin all their treatments at the wrong end, dealing with the body first.” The idea of the body first is a very hard idea, because as soon as you start dealing with the body first, it’s wonderful how something else is also present. One of the things that can be said about body and mind is: they go on at the same time.

There are a few things that can be said about philosophic subjects, and one is that all the opposites go on at the same time. Whatever body and mind are, that is true of them: a person may weigh 160 pounds even while he yearns for the old days. Space and time go on at the same time. Time goes on at the same time everything else goes on. And that’s a comfort.

Philosophy Is with Flowers

Then, in a passage I’ll read, Bennett writes about flowers. And there are many philosophic matters present.

We have symbolism, which is a philosophic subject. It’s also in mathematics. And it’s part of the problem of identity and difference, or sameness and change—because a symbol is not exactly what it’s a symbol of, but of course it’s also like it. Take the phrase the strength of a lion: strength and lion are two different things, but they seem to be like each other. So a symbol is a study in sameness and difference. And sameness and difference is a certified philosophic subject, of the utmost indisputability. The possibilities of sameness and difference, however, are many.

In the passage there is also the matter of the animate and inanimate. Since the world seemed to be animate and inanimate, there came to be the question of how much could the inanimate be made animate, and the other way around. The Egyptians felt that making a being who died look the way he did when he was alive, or animate, was a way of immortalizing him. However, this problem has to do with sameness and difference.

Then, if we look at sameness and difference we’ll see that all objects try to be like each other. That is, if a man is in a garden, we can think of all the flowers wanting to be a little like him, and also that he would like to be a little like a petunia—which is no harm as long as you know what you’re doing. Everything wants to be something else. Flowers, then, can be given a human meaning, and there are stories of that kind. Flowers talk in quite a few fables. The oak and the reed talk. The potato and the tulip can be made to talk because they are a little like each other though so different. They are both different from the violet. Flowers can be given life, and given human quality.

In this section we also have a problem of the individual and collective, which is a phase of the one and the many. That problem is in the fact that flowers have to be arranged rightly. To the Japanese, for instance, the idea of having more than a certain number of flowers to be arranged is hideous. The idea of arranging 110 flowers!

There are three things different from the individual: the mass; manyness; and the collective. These are in the following passage, with Bennett writing from Antibes. He could go to the Riviera anytime he wanted to, the south of France:

All around the Domaine des Charmettes are vast nurseries in which flowers are grown wholesale. Tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of blossoms under roofs of glass....Any single blossom exhibited in a drawing-room would look beautiful and really be beautiful. But seen in the mass these blossoms lose their attractiveness by losing their individuality. They are like prisoners thronged together in an internment-camp. Difficult to believe that every man in an internment-camp has an individuality, family connections, dependants or supporters, personal ties and responsibilities!

Somewhat similar is the case of flowers in nurseries....They are interned, subjected to rules, exposed to the sun when their governor thinks sunshine is good for them, shut into shadow when he thinks otherwise. Then they are uprooted or cut off, packed flat into boxes, despatched on long journeys in motor or train, unboxed in shops, and sold to women who stick them into vases. As soon as it finds itself in a vase, each flower resumes its individuality.

As the passage continues, there is the big matter of life and death. Life and death is a relation of opposites that took on a vulgar form. In the good days it was simply motion and rest. But then, what with psychology and such, it came to be life and death, which made it vulgarized. Bennett says that when the flower is in a vase,

it is petted and admired. It has to listen to ecstatic exclamations of joy from people who know and care nothing of its previous harsh existence, people who reck not that it may be neglected by a careless mistress, may be left to die of thirst or cold or heat, and that anyhow it will die some time, and very soon at the best, and be thrown away, chucked into a refuse-bin, amid litter and filth. Flowers have a hard life.

In Any Situation

Well, the problem of manyness and oneness in relation to beauty or goodness is to be seen. The world is an instantaneous and everlasting oneness of the two. It can be seen that way in any situation whatever. You can see that in a stocking. You can see that in a coin. You can see it in a room.

It’s true that if you have, let’s say, a hundred orchids together—or more than twenty, even, or more than twelve—you get a little distressed. On the other hand, the daffodils of Wordsworth² were spaced well, and if we had only two daffodils we wouldn’t have had the poem. Wordsworth says, “Ten thousand saw I at a glance, / Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.” The implication is that the whole “margin of a bay” was accompanied by daffodils. Manyness can be a big thing, as in the poem by James Sloan Gibbons that I recently read: “We Are Coming, Father Abraham, Three Hundred Thousand More.” It would be very different if it were “We Are Coming, Father Abraham, Eighty-Six More.”

Quantity is about reality. It is definitely a philosophic subject, quantity and quality: how much of a thing, and what could a thing do.

In the journal entry I just read, we have life given to flowers. We can give life: anything that has life and knows it, can give life to anything. But that is Bennett on flowers—strangely: you’d think that was Virginia Woolf territory. black diamond


¹William McDougall, Body and Mind (1911); Alexander Bain, Mind and Body (1872).

²In his poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.”

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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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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