|NUMBER 1298.—February 18, 1998||
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941
Pride, Humility, and Music
Dear Unknown Friends:
We have been serializing Animate and Inanimate Are in Music and Conscience, a 1966 lecture by Eli Siegel of tremendous importance (and also delightfulness). As Mr. Siegel speaks of composers and aspects of musical technique, one sees illustrations of this great Aesthetic Realism principle: "All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves."
No philosophy but Aesthetic Realism shows that the technical questions of all the arts, and the questions people have in life at its most personal, are the same questions. No philosopher but Mr. Siegel showed: the thing which makes for any instance of beauty whatsoever is the thing we need to go after in our own lives if we are to be proud, happy, intelligent, fully ourselves. Unless we understand this vital relation between art and what a human being is, we will never understand the human self—including that dear and bewildering self which is our own. Further, this explanation by Mr. Siegel of the self as aesthetic is not only new, resoundingly true, infinitely important: it is immensely beautiful and gives to every person grandeur and dignity.
Among the opposites Mr. Siegel speaks of in the section of his lecture printed here are humility and pride. And I present ten questions about them. These opposites are so much in the lives of people. Men and women now are poring over articles and books and talking to therapists to find out how to have self-esteem. (And they're getting advice that is inaccurate and doesn't work.) They don't know that what they want is to be proud and humble at once, and that this is what art always is.
Questions about Pride and Humility
1. Do you go from feeling superior to people to feeling you're so much less than they are? Have you asked yourself, "Why was I so arrogant?," and at another time, "Why did I act so grovelling?" Have you felt displeased with yourself for both? 2. In every instance of good music, are there sounds that seem to thrust, assert themselves, grandly come forth; and also sounds that seem retreating, modest, minimal, dim? And, whether in Handel or Wagner, Beethoven or rock, do the modest sounds and the grand sounds seem to have the same beautiful purpose and be for each other?
The "Pride" That Makes for Shame
3. Have you—unknowingly and also at times knowingly—tried to feel proud through finding other things and people deficient, stupid, repulsive, and yourself therefore better than they? Aesthetic Realism explains that the biggest mistake people make about pride is to try to get to it through contempt, which Mr. Siegel defined as "the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it."
Contempt is both tremendously ordinary and the cause of all the cruelty in history. For example, do you think an often sweet little girl might try tomorrow to feel superior through seeing her younger brother as dumb? And in the 1930s, were the people of Germany encouraged to feel proud through seeing non-Germans as inferior to themselves?
4. If you become "proud" through making less of other things, might you then feel ashamed, cheap, low, unworthy? Aesthetic Realism says that is inevitable. In fact, the chief reason people dislike themselves is that they have made much of themselves on a dishonest basis, the basis of contempt for the world.
The Only Real Pride
5. If you are truly trying to know anything, are you humble? And are you also proud? If you are trying to be fair to anything, are you both humble and proud? Aesthetic Realism shows that the desire to be just, which includes terrifically the desire to know, is the humblest thing in the world and also the proudest. It is the source of the only pride that holds up. It is the thing that makes a person's pride and humility go together, be the same.
A child, trying to know the alphabet, is grandly humble. The child has to feel, "There is something in these letters I need and don't have." And the child is proud: she has a purpose that looks good to her; she is becoming big through having more of the world come within her. Besides, through Katrina's trying to know the alphabet she is adding to it (it never had just the Katrina viewpoint before), even as she needs it and it is adding to her.
The Choice in Social Life
6. Of these two ways of feeling important or "proud," which is authentic, lasting, beautiful: a) getting a person to make much of you, praise you, even adore you; or b) trying to know who that person truly is, what he feels in the depths of himself, and wanting that person to be as good as he can be, doing all you can to have him be as good as he can be? Everybody goes after the first, and feels like an unsure fraud as a result. The second is good will; and Aesthetic Realism shows it is the most necessary, powerful, sensible, and romantic thing in the world! I thank Mr. Siegel without limit for enabling me to learn this fact and experience it richly.
Beauty Makes Us Proud
7. Anytime you see a beautiful thing and are happily moved by it, do you inevitably feel proud? The answer is yes. Beauty makes us proud because we feel, however unconsciously, that it is part of the same reality of which we are a part—and look how good that reality can be!
8. Anytime you are truly affected by a beautiful thing, do you also feel humble? Yes; because you feel there's a meaning in the world, a goodness in the world, a power which your ego can't manipulate. Every instance of beauty, then, is joyful news; but people have sometimes hated beauty, because they have taken the humility it makes for as an affront to their egos and a humiliation.
This Has Happened in Art
9. When Robert Burns saw a lowly mouse as having meaning not seen in it before, was he both humble and proud? When Victor Hugo, in his Notre Dame de Paris, showed something not shown before—grandeur in a person who appeared grotesque—did he have to be humble to see that grandeur? And was he also proud? When Emile Zola, in Germinal, said that the thoughts, lives, miseries of French coal miners mattered and were—what they had not before been seen as being—subjects for art, was Zola humble and proud at once?
The history of art has been a history of increased humility: of artists saying, "This subject, not respected previously, must be valued. I look up to it. It has meaning, an importance to which I humbly aspire to be fair." I love these sentences by Eli Siegel from his essay "Art As, Yes, Humility"; they are great in the history of art criticism and the understanding of the human self:
Humility is the willingness to see things other than oneself as having meaning for oneself. This humility makes for pride; for pride, in the long run, comes from the comprehensive and accurate way one is affected by reality, the universe that is under one's nose and is far away.
10. There is the matter of pride and humility in a nation, and so much can be said about these opposites in America today. But for now, there is this necessary question: Will the people of America ever be proud until the earth of America, with its riches, is owned justly, by all the people of America? All includes a little boy of 8 now in Harlem, bewildered and poor because the wealth of this land, which should be his, has been robbed from him.
The poem by Eli Siegel that we print here, "The Great Palestrina Frowns, 1564," is playful and deep and musical. It has some of his beautiful kindness.
—Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education
Conflicts in Music
The Great Palestrina Frowns, 1564
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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