Dear Unknown Friends:
In the wonderful 1970 lecture we are serializing—Philosophy Begins with That—Eli Siegel is showing that there is nothing we meet, no thought we have, no situation we’re in, which is not philosophic. The structure of the world itself is in everything, and this structure is the aesthetic oneness of opposites. To illustrate, Mr. Siegel comments on entries in a journal that novelist Arnold Bennett kept in 1929.
Here too is an article by art educator Donita Ellison. It is part of a paper she presented in a public seminar this June: “The Mistakes Daughters Make about Fathers; or, What Do We Really Want from Dad?” That seminar title is charming, but the subject has great pain connected with it. People today, as much as ever, feel confused, angry, and guilty in relation to the family. They can’t make sense of a tumult of opposites in themselves as to a parent, sibling, or other relative: Why do I feel, about this person, so devoted, so tender, yet so resentful? Why do I shuttle between warmth and coldness? And why can I often feel so distant from this person whom I’ve seen as closer than anyone to me—why can it often seem we’re miles apart as we sit in the same room?
“Explanations” given by various psychologists and advisors have really increased the trouble. On the one hand, there has been a campaign in recent years to blame a parent for all of a person’s suffering and bad choices. The explanation goes like this: You must have been abused as a child—if not physically, at least emotionally. If instances don’t come readily to your mind, well, you probably have “repressed memories” of this abuse. You don’t realize your mother or father did something to you, but I, the therapist, will get you to “remember” and see how hurt you really were.
So parents are often falsely accused. On the other hand, people are told that they should have unconditional, uncritical, all-accepting love for their family. Not only do the two ways not go together, but both are incorrect and cruel.
The Family Is Philosophic
As Ms. Ellison’s paper illustrates, Aesthetic Realism is magnificent in its understanding of the family. That understanding is in keeping with the lecture we’re serializing. Aesthetic Realism says the family needs, and deserves, to be seen philosophically—and to see it that way is not to be academic or aloof, but artistic, intelligent, truly loving, kind.
To see a person in the family philosophically is to see that: 1) This person is related to nothing less than the whole world. He has grandeur, scope, fullness, mystery, because he has to do with everything. 2) His deepest desire, even as he sits with you in a room, is to like the world; and his like of himself depends on how fair he is to that world, from which he came, and to which he is in relation all the time. 3) To love a person—in the family or not—is to encourage him to know and be just to a world having books, music, leaves, skies, and other people, who are as real as you are.
Since Ms. Ellison writes about how she, a daughter, learned to see a father, I am going to give some instances of the reverse: what a father learned from Aesthetic Realism about how to see a daughter. My parents began to have Aesthetic Realism lessons when I was 2. And I am very moved to quote, from my mother’s notes, some of what Eli Siegel said to Daniel Reiss, my father, about his little girl. Though Irene Reiss’s notes don’t include my father’s responses, we see Mr. Siegel teaching a man what fathers throughout the world long to know.
For example, Aesthetic Realism explains that the biggest damager in every aspect of life is the desire to have contempt, to get “a false importance or glory from the lessening of things not oneself.” Just as two lovers can use each other to put the outside world aside and feel superior to it, so a father can use a child. That is what Mr. Siegel was countering, with kindness and beauty, when he told Dan Reiss:
Something in you wants to live your life through Ellen. She’ll never be happy that way....When she sees you, does she get the notion that the things she is going to meet are on her side? You and Ellen should try to appreciate the world together....She wants a father who has a richly responsive attitude to life. She wants to feel that you are just to everyone. A person can’t be interested in a daughter completely unless he is interested in outside things completely.
Eli Siegel spoke to Dan Reiss about that which Aesthetic Realism sees as both the most beautiful purpose and the most necessary for a person. It is what will have people not resent each other, not feel cold, or distant. It is the desire to know, accompanied by the desire to be known. He asked:
Do you think you really see within Ellen? There is something in her that wants very much for another person to see her.
Do you want her to know what you feel—do you want some people to see you from within? I would like her, when she thinks about you, to have a feeling about what goes on in you. In order to understand a person, you have to be less afraid of being understood yourself.
What do you think Ellen thinks about the dark, and space, and life?
Daniel Reiss, who died 5 years ago this week, wrote of Mr. Siegel: “He showed me how I could have a life I could respect myself for.” He said that the way Eli Siegel spoke to him was the greatest kindness he had ever met. In his love and respect for Aesthetic Realism and its founder, Dan Reiss certainly represents me—and humanity.
—Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education
Motion & Rest—& Duality
By Eli Siegel
Note. The passages Mr. Siegel reads are from Arnold Bennett’s Journal 1929.
Bennett goes to Italy. At times he’s on the border of Italy and France. He’s also in Verona, or near it. And there he writes about something he remembers.
This is about a fiddle and dentistry. The reason I see it as having a philosophic beginning is: if you’re going to play the violin there’s a certain motion, which is different from the usual motion of the dentist. Yet within that difference there’s a relation too. The dentist explores within and soberly pounces. He goes within, stays a little, and also uses attrition for the purpose of luminosity. That is related to a violinist’s using attrition with his bow on a string. The polishing of a tooth can be seen as having some relation to Menuhin in a pizzicato passage. We have the following:
Once in the bar of a French seaside hotel the barman was mixing a Bacardi cocktail for me. Now I had previously seen this barman trying the violin of the leader of the orchestra which at night enlivened the bar. He played the violin with decidedly more emotional quality and with a more beautiful tone than the leader of the orchestra himself. “So you play the fiddle,” I ventured, in English....“You like it?” I asked. “I love it,” said he....A day or two later I learnt from somebody else that despite his passion for, and proficiency upon, the fiddle, the young man’s real ambition was to be a dentist.
The philosophy of the world is used in different ways in dentistry and playing the violin. Occasionally there is a relation: the Russian composer Borodin was a chemist and wrote music about the Central Asian steppes.
So there are different motions. Art shows that every shape, and every motion, says something about the world and is philosophic. The scales in music are the world quantified. Reality is suddenness and leisure: a leaf can suddenly fall by the Missouri, which is a slow river. Also, a person can be running pretty fast and pass City Hall, yet City Hall began quite a long time ago, in 1812 or so. I’ve seen pictures of City Hall in the 1830s looking pretty much as it does now; then, there’s all that running. The relation of motion and eternity is a big matter.
The world at any one time is motion and rest. The blood is circulating as we seem awfully fatigued and motionless. Reality as motion and rest is in this passage of Bennett on Turin, July 1929:
The city has the reputation of being full of public monuments. But the sole public monuments I saw were ambulatory ones—tram-cars, screeching on curves, thunderous and innumerable. I was informed that they cease to run for a few hours in the middle of the night, but I doubt it.
There is duality in tracks, and in the fact that wagons for a long time have had two sets of wheels, wheels on both sides. Tram-cars and other vehicles are in the philosophic field. A Latin word related to vehicle is vehemens, which means forceful. Leibniz said the big thing in matter was force. The big idea in vehicle is force, and in the vehement too. An ill-mannered truck driver has a vehement vehicle.
Mistakes Daughters Make about Fathers
By Donita Ellison
As I looked through some childhood keepsakes of my father, it affected me to see his report cards, blue ribbons he won at the county fair, and letters to his parents he wrote as a boy. Then I came across a newspaper clipping telling that Don Ellison “Has Leading Role in Operetta”! My dad, the father I thought I knew, the cowboy with horses and cattle, who mostly wore jeans and boots and listened to country western music, actually acted in an operetta?!!
My shock at learning something new about my father was evidence of a mistake I had made: summing him up, feeling he was “mine,” not someone to understand. In many ways I was a “Daddy’s girl,” and I saw no connection between my frequent sweet-talk and flattery of him and the painful silences and angers that grew between us, as well as the increasing coldness I felt toward him.
Years later I learned from Aesthetic Realism that, like many daughters, I had a purpose that was unfair and unkind: I wanted my father to make me more important than anything else, including his wife, my mother. This desire, I came to see, was contempt, and against the very purpose of both our lives: to value and see meaning in the world itself.
The 1st Mistake: Not Seeing a Father as Real
I grew up in the Ozarks near Springfield, Missouri, where my parents, Don Ellison and Beverly Burk, met at a rodeo. He, a handsome cowboy, literally lassoed this pretty and lively young woman. After they married, they both worked at a nursing home co-owned with my grandmother Mildred Ellison, he as its administrator, my mother as a nurse. Meanwhile, Don Ellison’s passion for livestock and horses was central in our lives. We went to cattle auctions, rodeos, and tracks where my father raced the thoroughbred horses that—with the help of my mother—he bred and trained. At the racetrack, it thrilled me to see those majestic beings run with such power and grace.
As a child, I watched with amazement how Don Ellison could rope a wayward steer, throwing his lasso with force and pinpoint precision while riding a horse full speed. He also spent many nights doctoring a horse back to health or attending a cow that had difficulty delivering her calf. These were things I respected my father for. But I found it confusing that the man who had great care and patience with an animal could seem far away as he sat in his living room chair and also be very demanding and angry with my mother and me. And the way he could speak about other people, including those of different ethnic backgrounds, was often insulting.
In TRO 1582, Ellen Reiss describes an “unarticulated battle” that is in every person:
Shall I see reality and its happenings, objects, people as things for me to know, value truly—or shall I see them as things for me to manage, look down on, use as possessions to make myself important?
This battle went on in me. Early, I used my father to puff myself up. At age 5 I asked him to come to my kindergarten class and prove to the children that he was stronger than all the other fathers. At the same time, I looked down on him. I’d often hide from sight when riding in his pickup truck, and think, “Why can’t he drive a nice car like my girlfriend Nancy’s father?”
My grandmother Ellison and the nursing home were a subject of bitter arguments between my parents. Don Ellison would side with his mother and often storm out of the house, seeking solace in the barn. To his in-laws he was aloof, often refusing to come when my grandmother and grandfather Burk had Sunday family dinner. I saw my mother’s resentment of his preference to be with his horses rather than at home with us, and I secretly exploited the situation by taking his side against her.
I fancied myself a little princess with an imagined tiara on my head, and used the insult of being thrown off my Shetland pony in 2nd grade to clinch my case that I was made for better things than the likes of a dusty old barn and my father’s world of cattle and horses.
Later, as I began to study sculpture at Missouri State University, I felt that art was on a much higher plane than my parents’ mundane life. When, about an early sculpture I made—an abstraction—my father asked, “What is it?,” I disdainfully felt that I was the cultured one.
“The first victory of contempt,” writes Eli Siegel, “is the feeling in people that they have the right to see other people and things pretty much as they please.” I gave myself this right. Like many daughters, I didn’t see trying to know my father as either interesting or at all necessary. Yet by my early 20s I was troubled by the feeling that I didn’t know how to talk to him, and I had a gnawing sense of guilt.
In Aesthetic Realism consultations I began to learn how to value my father rightly. Crucial to that was seeing his relation to the world. My consultants asked: “Do you think you’ve given yourself much sensitivity and awareness that you find inconceivable in your father?” I had.
Consultants. Do you think your father likes horses more than people?
Consultants. Who has hurt him more, horses or people?
I had never considered how my father saw the people he knew: his mother and father, his wife, people he worked with, me. My consultants continued: “Do you want to see your father as deeply as possible, as exactly as possible?”
I had made my father’s life experience unreal, and had not been interested in what he had against himself—in the fact that he felt bad because he had been unfair to people. I also began to see that the beauty he was affected by in the equine form was related to the beauty I was affected by in sculpture. He was a person who, like other people, like me, was both for and against himself, had strengths and weaknesses, and was hoping to make sense of these. As I wrote assignments given to me in consultations—a soliloquy of him at age 18, and sentences about things he was affected by—I saw that the person I’d so unjustly summed up had the world in his mind: from the continent of Australia, to ancient Latin, to the Texas two-step.
My father is no longer alive. But I’m grateful beyond measure for the pride and kindness the study of Aesthetic Realism has made for in my life—and in my mother’s. Beverly treasures the education she’s receiving, and loves telling people in Missouri, where she lives, what she’s learning from Aesthetic Realism.
Encouraging Injustice & Anger
As I was growing up, my mother worked hard caring for patients at the nursing home every day, helped with morning chores at the barn, and cooked dinner and cleaned. But instead of respecting the fact that she was often tired in the evening, my father and I expected her to be at our beck and call. Inside I felt mean because of this.
When I was 16 my parents divorced, and I had the horrible feeling that I was complicit. The reason is in Eli Siegel’s poem “Monologue of a Five-Year-Old”; these opening lines describe what went on in me:
I don’t want my father and my mother to get along,
’Cause then I feel I’m not so much.
When they fight, they look at me in such a way,
I know they need me more than yesterday,
When they were nice to each other.
This desire to be important through ill will was why, after my parents separated, I continued to encourage their anger with one another.
A New Way of Seeing
Through my study of Aesthetic Realism, as I changed about my father, I was able to change hurtful ways of seeing other men too. My consultants once asked me, “Have you ever seen any man as fully real?” I hadn’t. I made the same mistake with other men that I made with Don Ellison: I felt I should be the most important thing in their lives and was in competition with interests a man had outside of me. The result was that I got and gave a lot of pain in love—including in a failed marriage. Aesthetic Realism enabled me to feel that there is pride, and much greater pleasure, in knowing a man rather than in owning him and being strategic with him. This has made possible my happy marriage of 18 years to Dr. Jaime Torres.
How glad I am that, because of what I was learning from Aesthetic Realism, my father was able to see a much kinder, less selfish, more honest daughter. And seeing me truly interested in his well-being—and my mother’s—made him thankful.