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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 
A PERIODICAL OF HOPE AND INFORMATION
 NUMBER 300.—March 4, 1998

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

The Hidden Self—and Music

Dear Unknown Friends:

In the great 1966 lecture we are serializing, Animate and Inanimate Are in Music and Conscience, Eli Siegel has been showing that technical matters in music correspond to the largest matters—also the most everyday matters—in conscience. He is the philosopher who showed there is no rift between aesthetics and ethics: what makes for art is exactly the same thing that makes for justice—and happiness. "All beauty," he wrote, "is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves." In the section of the lecture published here, Mr. Siegel speaks, for example, about the ethical meaning of dissonance. And we print too part of a paper associate Alice Bernstein presented recently at an Aesthetic Realism public seminar titled "Strategy or Justice: Which Will Get a Woman What She Truly Wants?"

I comment here on a matter of ethics which affects people inwardly every day, which they don't understand, which causes them grief—and which Aesthetic Realism magnificently explains. It is this: even as men and women long to feel close to someone, want to have real friendship, yearn for love, they do not see that they also have a big desire to be hidden. And the desire to have a hidden self—feelings and thoughts that no one can get to—makes real love, friendship, closeness impossible.

To speak about this tendency in humanity to be deeply apart from people, even as one gossips in the office, laughs enthusiastically at a party, is in an intense embrace, I use a poem by Christina Rossetti titled "Winter: My Secret. " A contemporary of Miss Rossetti, Matthew Arnold, is, Mr. Siegel has said, the poet who presents most richly the painful feeling that the depths of one are not seen by others. But in this exceedingly lively, charming, musical poem of Christina Rossetti, we have the triumph people get from being hidden: a triumph they themselves are usually not aware of, but which stifles their lives. The poem begins: 

I tell my secret? No indeed, not I: 
Perhaps some day, who knows? 
But not to-day; it froze, and blows, 
and snows. 

The "secret" in the poem is never named. It's not specific. That is because the poem is about this feeling in the self of everyone: The world is not good enough to get within me; what I am is too precious for this messy world, this cold world; meanwhile, I can have a victory being in the midst of people while having a self within they can never get to. In another poem—a poem Eli Siegel saw as tremendously important, "Who Shall Deliver Me?"—Christina Rossetti wrote: "All others are outside myself; / I lock my door and bar them out. " That guarded, unseen self is the "secret" in "Winter: My Secret." And the victory of having it is part of what Mr. Siegel showed to be the most hurtful thing in everyone's life: contempt, the "disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the outside world."

Is the World Cold?

Christina Rossetti uses winter to describe the feeling we are in a cold world; we must put wraps over ourselves; the only warm place is inside us. The notable thing about the poem is that she presents this feeling—usually had covertly and murkily—with such openness and heartiness and briskness:

To-day's a nipping day, a biting day; 
In which one wants a shawl, 
A veil, a cloak, and other wraps: 
I cannot ope to every one who taps, 
And let the draughts come whistling through my hall; 
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 
I wear my mask for warmth: who ever shows 
His nose to Russian snows 
To be pecked at by every wind that blows? 

Miss Rossetti says we wear a mask, pretend, to feel warm. And the reason is: there is a cozy superiority seeing ourselves as too big a treasure for others to know. Meanwhile, we can have fun fooling people and managing them. If we let people see our feelings, be within us, we won't be able to manipulate them. But this "warmth" and seeming power that hiddenness provides, makes us feel deeply alone, even as our lips touch another's, even as we are in the midst of the family. It makes us feel we are frauds. It makes us dislike ourselves very much.

In his great essay "The Ordinary Doom," Mr. Siegel explains: 

Concealment is equated, unknowingly to ourselves, with individuality: the more we conceal the more it seems we are asserting our very personality.... Through secrecy, we can be defying the world and deceiving it.... Yet ... in our triumph we become lonely. Our achievement is our curtailment.

A Preference

Christina Rossetti intimates there is a preference to see the world as cold. Even if things look warm, non-wintry, one doesn't want to believe they are. She writes, "Spring's an expansive time: yet I don't trust/March with its peck of dust, / Nor April with its rainbow-crowned brief showers, / Nor even May. " In our desire for contempt, we hope the outside world is cold, because a cold world is a world to which we, in our sensitivity, can feel superior. If things are truly warm to us, we will have to feel grateful to them! Also, our egos define "warm" as "making us the most important thing in the world, the way our mothers perhaps did"; and anything that does not do that seems cold to us.

Meanwhile, the thirst not to be hidden never dies. We can't completely kill our own desire to have the depths of ourselves be in the world's sunshine. Miss Rossetti hints at this fact at the end of her poem, in lines both coy and yearning, "Perhaps some languid summer day, / When drowsy birds sing less and less, / ... / Perhaps my secret I may say,  / Or you may guess."

We need to feel that the victory of knowing and being known is greater than the victory of managing reality while being unhad by it. I love Aesthetic Realism for enabling a person to feel this, with logical conviction.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

Junction, Separation, Evil
By Eli Siegel

A person who stands for modern music in a way that has affected people is Alban Berg. And the matter of separation and junction is in a statement about him by Erwin Stein in the Chesterian, October 1922. The diatonic is more separate; the chromatic is more joined. The going for atonality at the same time as polytonality is a desire to have difference or separation at one with junction. Stein says: 

Contrasts ... are here given a new function: the fact that they appear simultaneously—that is to say polyphonically—or nearly so, imparts a variety and an extent to the expression.

This means that something looking like sameness makes for variety. 

Berg says, "You know, you think this, but you also think that, and I'm going to put it into the scales. You think this is what you feel — but look, this is another note! You don't know what's going on in this chord — just as in yourself."

There is a note of jeering in the dissonance. There's also a note of saying, "You can't do anything about it, so take it easy. Evil was around long before you were born, so enjoy this looking like melody which isn't." What is being said is, "Subtly come to know what evil is in you. And these notes should help. Don't be so excited about yourself, for one thing."

This is in Wozzeck and it's in Lulu. I hope to talk more about it. The unconscious is busy now, and it is showing itself in the arts. It's showing itself in music.  

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Strategy or Justice?
By Alice Bernstein

All over America women are trying to get what they think they want—a man's adoration, advancement in a career, a good time—and are devising strategies to do it. Yet even if they are successful, there can be an awful, gnawing sense that something is wrong. Aesthetic Realism is the greatest friend to women for explaining that we depend either on strategically maneuvering and manipulating to have our way (which is contempt) or on justice—using ourselves to know and be fair to the world. 

I had the tremendous good fortune to begin studying Aesthetic Realism early in life, and to see in Mr. Siegel himself how beautiful justice is.

Youthful Strategy

Growing up in Brooklyn, my desire to be just to things was present, for example, in my care for books, and my pleasure learning from my father about tools. But I was also a youthful strategist. I used being bigger to intimidate my two younger sisters. They were lively and charming, and I felt they exploited being pretty to get their way. I chose to be cool and quiet, which I thought made me superior. And if my parents didn't let me do what I wanted, my strategy was to be so silent that I worried and wore them out until my father would throw his hands in the air and say, "Do what you want!

I had no idea that my contempt for people, my hope to lessen them, was what caused me to feel lonely, and so fearful that I couldn't enter a room by myself or be in the dark without feeling terrified. It was the reason I was afraid to go to sleep at bedtime.

In an Aesthetic Realism lesson I had the honor to attend with my parents when I was 10, my mother told Mr. Siegel she felt terrible when I wouldn't talk. He asked me, "Do you think a mother can think no matter what you do she has to forgive you and love you?—you've got her in your power and she can't escape you?" "Yes," I said. Mr. Siegel so compassionately explained that my trouble sleeping had to do with my shame about running people and fooling them. He asked, "[When] you go to bed, do you feel like you've had an honest day?

No, I said, I didn't feel honest. Crucial to my changing was an assignment my family did: each day each of us wrote, or asked my father to write down for us, 3 things we liked, 3 grievances, and 3 sentences about an object, trying to be precise about what we saw and felt. Sometimes we read aloud what we had written, and I remember my excitement discovering what each person felt. I was learning to express myself honestly instead of holding people hostage and outsmarting them—and one tremendous result was that my agony about the dark and about sleep ended.

Strategy and Love

Meanwhile, when I began to be interested in love, I felt strategy was the smartest approach. I saw love as a field in which I could delicately fool a man into adoring me and giving me my way. 
When I was 18, 1 was flattered that Ben Fletcher, an abstract artist, divorced and older than I, was affected by me. Yet I wasn't interested in asking, "What does this man hope for as an artist and person? How can I encourage him to be in the best relation to the world, including people?"

For example, I saw a date at the Botanical Gardens as a means for myself to stand out from the landscape: I wanted all the beauty of trees, birds, water to exist solely as my backdrop. My strategy was to lessen the world to which Aesthetic Realism shows all love needs to be just. While I got the embraces I was after, I felt small and cheap, and our relation was stormy, painful, and short-lived.

In a lesson for which I will be grateful always, Mr. Siegel criticized my way of seeing through a medieval story he made up: 

... There was a knight, Donneghal, who sojourned with the lady [Evelyn] in the Forest Perilous. And the knight got very angry with the lady, because she acted as if all the pleasure came from her. —Do you want to be an enhancer or an intoxicant?

I answered, "An enhancer." But Mr. Siegel asked, "Do you think you have a picture of yourself that doesn't go along with what is? Every person who brings paradise should also bring the facts." I had been so against using my thought to have a man's mind fairer to the facts of reality! I love Aesthetic Realism for enabling justice and real love to win.

Another's Mind

In 1963 I married David Bernstein. His manner was really against strategy—he came right out with it!—and he wanted me to express myself without ego calculation. But while I was less hidden, when David disagreed with me I resorted to an old method: being quiet and inscrutable—David called it "a fit of blandness"—to have my way. This made both of us feel awful

What Mr. Siegel taught us is crucial for every marriage. He asked, "Do you want David Bernstein to be present everywhere you are? How many No Trespassing signs do you have?" I answered, "I don't know—there are a lot." And he said, "The hillside is riddled with them. It happens every person would like to be secret, sequestered, do things for oneself; and every person wants to be loved without limit. Unless we are at home in the very deepest part of another person's mind and we know what it is, we can't feel wholly comfortable."

Our immensely fortunate education has enabled us to see another's mind as territory for respectful, happy exploration. And this has made for romantic love that no clever strategy could ever achieve!   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

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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