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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 
A PERIODICAL OF HOPE AND INFORMATION
 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
By Eli Siegel

Note.  Mr. Siegel is quoting from Norman Demuth's An Anthology of Musical Criticism.

There are ever so many conflicts in music, and sometimes they take an outward form. The Russian composers, like the Russian novelists, had a question of Russia and the West. The Russians wanted to be international, and at the same time they wanted to be for their land. The problem of Sibelius, though, was nothing of the kind. He had to introduce Finland to the rest of the world, and that's what he did, while the Russians felt they had a large country and shouldn't have to do any introducing. But they also wanted to praise Russia. 

This is Constant Lambert on the Sibelius symphonies: "They address an international audience and are free from the conflict between local colour and construction which is to be observed in the Russian school."

Pride and Humility

There's Gustav Holst. In order to get away from his questions about himself, he wrote about the spheres, which is pretty good. This is Edwin Evans on Holst, from The Dominant, an English musical journal: 

Precisely because Holst knows his purpose so well he is a severe judge of the degree in which he has achieved it. Concerning a recent work, of which little has been heard, he confessed to me that he had been in some doubt whether it was music or not, and was gradually inclining to the latter view. But I have preserved a card which came with a newly printed score, "Hope you will like it, I'm afraid I do."

The way the feeling of success and failure is in the human being, the way independence and dependence are, or pride and humility, is a questioning and a testing of conscience every moment of life. They have to be in the best relation or, whether we see it or not, we are ill at ease. 

Holst was aware that these were in him, and he was more conscious than most composers. And to study the demurs about self of artists, the doubts, the misgivings, is something—also, their being sure they produced their greatest work. Evans says Holst is "not the man who is sometimes querulously dissatisfied with his work because it does not fulfil an aspiration which is probably nebulous to himself." 

If you compare Holst to Mahler, you can see a difference. The motto of Mahler was "More! Go further! There are higher mountains, Gustav, than you have yet come to! "; while Holst says, "Remember, Holst, my boy, you have only ten fingers." 

Evans says Holst's "calm sense of values" is "associated with an outward manner suggesting diffidence to the point of timidity." A person who is pleased with how he sees himself, because he doesn't seem to be pushing, can give the effect of timidity, if the situation is honest. Well, the relation of diffidence or confidence puts conscience in motion.

Questions in Musical History

With Holst, we're getting to those questions which are ever so deep: What can music do? What are sameness and difference in music? What are depth and surface in music? How many things can be in one sound? As soon as there was a chord, people were told they could hear more than one sound at once. As soon as there was a bass added to the treble, they could hear more than one sound. As soon as more instruments were played than one, more voices heard than one, there was a feeling you could hear more than one sound. How much can be one is a problem. It's present when there's music heard in different keys at once; and polytonality is defined as the sound simultaneously in different keys. 

The attempt to have music that doesn't have any center at all is a little like what's going on in the drama. The Peter Weiss play [Marat/Sade] is like that: you don't have what Sarcey was after, the scene that sums it all up. This quality of not having a key or a tonic, a thing which gives a center to the music, is part of what is going on elsewhere in the arts. There's a feeling that there's enough drama in things as such, and we don't need the artist with his ruler to point it out.  

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The Great Palestrina Frowns, 1564 
By Eli Siegel

The great Palestrina 
Walked down a street 
Of an Italian town. 
A little boy saw him frown, 
And thought the great Palestrina was mad. 
But no, it wasn't so: Palestrina had 
Come within his mind upon a new way
Of honoring the Lord through a specific sound. 
And the great Palestrina was pleased 
Because he had seen and had seized 
Some fine sound in space. 
But the great Palestrina was also mortified 
Because he thought he had heard everything. 
And so there was a frown 
On his face. 
And as he walked down a street 
Of an Italian town, 
A frown 
Was noticed by Julio, age eleven, 
Who was an incomplete authority on the interaction
    of earth and heaven.

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
Coordinators: Nancy Huntting, Meryl Simon, Steven Weiner

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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

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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