|NUMBER 1294.—January 21, 1998||
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941
Dear Unknown Friends:
We continue to serialize the great 1966 lecture Animate and Inanimate Are in Music and Conscience, by Eli Siegel. And we print part of a paper by Aesthetic Realism consultant Margot Carpenter, from an Aesthetic Realism public seminar of last month titled "Can a Woman Respect Herself in Love and Sex?" Despite all the centuries of bitterness (hidden and shown) on the subject, the answer to that question is Yes! And I am boundlessly grateful to say, as Margot Carpenter does here, that because of Aesthetic Realism this joyful Yes, this self-respect, can be in the lives of women now.
In the lecture we are serializing, Mr. Siegel shows that when a critic responds unfairly to a work of art the reason has to do with ethics, with conscience. I know of nothing more important in this world than Aesthetic Realism's explaining what it is that interferes with our responding justly to anything—whether concerto, person across from us at a table, or situation concerning many people we never met. In the section published last week Mr. Siegel said, with clarity and passion, "How we respond to things is our lives. If we respond ill, our lives that much are not what they should be."
And Aesthetic Realism shows that the mistakes people make about art and about love are the same mistakes: we will be wrong about love for the same reason a critic is wrong about an artwork. This fact is amazing, thrilling, logical, and I know that learning it can give a person a beautiful life.
In the following principle, Mr. Siegel has identified the thing in us that interferes with all our judgments, including as to love: "There is a disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the outside world." This statement is a description of contempt. Contempt, Mr. Siegel showed, is the source of every unkindness that has taken place in human history. At the basis of contempt is the assumption that the value of a thing or person consists of how much it or he or she pleases us or makes us important. This is a horrible and utterly false assumption, yet people go by it all the time. And it is what has given rise to every critical blunder. Last week I quoted Mr. Siegel explaining, "A person can use a work of art to love oneself in a spurious manner. That which enables one to be a critic of this kind... comes to this: that is good in this world which pleases me or likes me."
In 1880 Matthew Arnold, in "The Study of Poetry," tried to describe the central mistakes a critic of poetry makes; and a phrase he used was "the personal estimate." He felt a critic could misjudge a poem, perhaps see it as better than it was, because it had some personal meaning for him. But Arnold didn't know what this narrowly "personal" meaning consisted of. He didn't see that a critic could rave about an insignificant work because there was something about this work that ratified the critic's own sense of superiority to things and people, or soothed the critic, made him pleased with himself in some fashion. Arnold did not see that a person could be repelled by a work because the work made the critic feel deeply questioned, unsure about how well he saw the world.
Arnold himself—who in so many ways was courageous, graceful, and right—was unjust as critic to Shelley. And Mr. Siegel explained the reason: there was a kind of dignity through restraint that Arnold increasingly went after in his life, and the poems and life of Shelley were such a questioning of that false notion of dignity.
The Mistake about Love
As critics have erred, so people who thought they were in love have felt later that they miserably erred. The reason for misjudgments in the field of amour is the one I quoted Mr. Siegel describing in relation to bad criticism: it is the assumption that "that is good in this world which pleases me or likes me."
Women have had "the personal estimate" as to men: he is wonderful because he makes me feel wonderful; he is a hero because he makes me feel I'm the most important person in the world. Then, some years or months later the woman feels disappointed, angry, and ashamed, and asks, "What did I ever see in him?"
The One True Basis
Aesthetic Realism explains that there is only one true basis for caring for anything: how does it stand for the world,—how fair is it to the world? Mr. Siegel showed that there is in every instance of true art the structure of reality itself, the oneness opposites: the artist has been fair to the world through the object he is dealing with. "In reality opposites are one," Mr. Siegel wrote; "art shows this." For example, Wagner, whom he speaks of here, had people feel in a way not felt before, the mightiness of the world and its sweetness as one thing; reality seemed vaster, more forceful than ever, yet gentle too.
The awful mistake about love is the being interested, not in how a person sees the world, but in how he treats just oneself, the supreme Me. George Wither put that approach in a swift 17th-century couplet: "If she think not well of me, / What care I how fair she be?" And in later lines of the same poem, "The Author's Resolution," we have this:Be she meeker, kinder than
Turtle-dove or pelican,
If she be not so to me,
What care I how kind she be?
And if a woman doesn't like the world herself, and wishes to get away from it and be superior to it, she will want a man to dislike the rest of the world and focus on her. But as this "love" goes on, the depths of both people scream in indignation, though the indignation may be stifled under praise and kisses for a while. The indignation is inevitable, for we ourselves are the world too; our very beings and thoughts and manner are a oneness, in our particular fashion, of the world's rest and motion, delicacy and strength, for and against, energy and ease, surface and depth.
The deepest desire of everyone, Mr. Siegel showed, is to like the world. And after two people have snubbed the rest of reality, made it unimportant and each other supreme, there comes that inescapable critical judgment: "I despise both you and myself, for we have been unjust to the world." This judgment is usually inarticulate. It takes the form of ill temper, resentment, sarcasm, pain. But it is as inescapable as blood circulation, and means, "What we tried to put aside is the main thing: how fair are we to the world?"
An anonymous poem, likely of the 16th century, begins in a way that has one feel a man loves a woman not because she makes much of him, but because of her ethics, her justice to reality: she is "kind"—"There is a Lady sweet and kind, / Was never face so pleased my mind. " The man says he will "love her till I die." It is a beautiful fact that through Aesthetic Realism, men and women can learn to look at people and art, love and an event in the news, on a true basis—and therefore can be deeply sure at last, and proud.
—Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education
When We Dislike Something
Love and Self-Respect
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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