The Most Hopeful Thing in the World: Relation
Dear Unknown Friends:
We're proud to publish two poems by Eli Siegel. And with them is an article by Kevin Fennell, who is a singer with the Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company and an important writer on rock 'n' roll. The article arises from a paper he presented at an Aesthetic Realism public seminar titled "Public Self & Private Thoughts; or, Does a Man Have to Pretend?"
Mr. Fennell writes about something so constant, so little talked about, so not understood; something that makes every person ashamed, with a kind of ongoing, taken-for-granted shame. It is what Eli Siegel calls, in his essay by that title, "the ordinary doom." And Aesthetic Realism understands it and enables it to end. "If we judge from history," Mr. Siegel writes,
we are doomed not to show our feelings; not to have them known. There have been many, many persons who have lived rather long lives, and who have been in many conversations; who yet did not show what was in their minds, what feelings they truly had. When people can't show their emotion, they are disappointed and resentful.
As people go through their days with a rift between what's inside them and what they show, there is, on the one hand, the deep disappointment even as they smile, joke, act casual and assured. On the other hand, those same individuals can get a triumph in having a life within and another for show.
Every child finds early that if you keep your feeling to yourself and pretend with people, you can manage them, fool them, and have a world inside that's superior to everyone and everything. The desire to do this is part of contempt. Mr. Siegel identified contempt as the most hurtful thing in the human self. He defined it as "the addition to self through the lessening of something else."
Nevertheless, no matter how indispensable seems the ability to dissever what we feel and what we show others, we can never be at ease with that separation. We long to be an integrity. We despise ourselves for not being one.
The World: Opponent or Friend?
The clever yet miserable rift between one's private thoughts and what one shows, goes on in social life, in the family, in what people take to be love. It's huge in national and international politics. In every instance the rift exists because people see the world itself not principally as something to value but as something to fight. Unless we see the world outside us as that which completes us and is akin to us, unless we see it as something we should know as a means of knowing ourselves, we'll hide from it and try to fool it. And we'll punish it and manipulate it. We'll see persons other than ourselves as existing for us to conquer in some fashion: either by getting them to make us important, or by defeating them, scorning them, making them not matter. Mostly, people go through life in a state of quiet (or not so quiet) combat with the world, punctuated by some instances of liking things.
Every person, therefore, needs to learn what Aesthetic Realism explains: the world—in all its confusion and grandeur and fearsomeness and loveliness and strangeness—is like ourselves, is the other half of ourselves. Seeing this is the only way we'll feel that our thoughts and emotions are not material to be strategic about, to keep hidden. Further, seeing the relation of ourselves to outside things and people, is the only way human beings will stop being cruel to each other—including with bombs.
So I'll comment on this Aesthetic Realism principle, which is the basis for seeing that our most inner self and the outside world are fundamentally connected: "The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites."
Summer & Ocean
We are now in late summer. And in this season of warmth and vacations, people find things to like. But those likable things seem isolated instances, because we don't see them as showing that we're in a world that completes us and deserves to know us.
There is the ocean. People are going to it this summer. They want to be near it, and in it. A central reason why is that the ocean is a oneness of force and delicacy . The waves crash—yet their foam curls sweetly, playfully, and disappears. Everyone knows the ocean is Mighty. Yet you can put your feet into it where it meets the shore and feel this Mighty Thing gently caress your toes. Byron, in his famous passage about the ocean in Childe Harold, says it has both "bubbles" and "terror."
These opposites of force and delicacy, power and grace, might and tenderness, are the world's opposites. They are also in a Beethoven symphony, and in us. Each of us wants to have power, affect people in a big way; yet we can be troubled because we feel that as we try to show our might we're not considerate, graceful about what other people and things deserve.
Force & Delicacy in a Father
When we see that reality's opposites are in another person, we begin to see that person in a way that makes us proud. This is what happens in Aesthetic Realism consultations. Take the following, which stands for many instances:
A woman was furious with her father, who had died five years before. She saw him as a brute, out to tyrannize over her and the family. Her consultants asked: "Was your father only a brute, or did he try to be gentle in any way? Along with being so forceful, was he graceful about anything?"
The woman was very surprised. Then she said that her father could spend hours at carpentry—he was a craftsman: he wanted to get just the right curve on a piece of furniture, and just the right finish, and he handled his tools firmly but with great delicacy and tenderness. "Do you think he wanted to be powerful and gentle at once in his life too? And could he loathe himself because he wasn't—whether you saw the self-loathing or not?"
This was the beginning of the woman's changing about her father. It was the beginning of her feeling that both he and the world he stood for had meaning which added to her and which it would be good for her to know as fully as possible.
A Lake Too
A lake is different from an ocean. But this summer, as in other summers, people have gone to lakes too, and felt both stirred and calm there. A lake is a oneness of the tremendous opposites rest and motion. It seems very still. Yet it moves; it sparkles. There is activity in it—fish go about busily and lead whole lives in it. And it has plants growing in it—plants which also rest and stir.
A lake, too, can do more than just please us on a summer day. It can have us see that this world is a place in which we don't have to hide and manipulate and deceive. A lake shows that the world is like us. Reality's opposites, which the lake has, are also the very deepest things in ourselves. We, like the lake, want to be at once agog and calm. We want to sparkle and be composed. We can be distressed because motion and rest fight in us: we can go from being agitated to feeling dull. A lake, at rest and in motion at once, gives us encouragement, and hope.
In his book Self and World Eli Siegel writes, after describing opposites in a person:
There is a tremendous correspondence between the very unlimited depths of personality and the astonishing universe in its suddenness, its ordinariness, its surprisingness, its concreteness, its boundlessness. The depths, the real depths, of self, are the world. [117-8]
I love those sentences. They give the philosophic reason why it's wrong to make a rift between what's in us and what we outwardly show. "The depths, the real depths, of self, are the world"—and so we are ashamed and weaker when we try to fool and hide from that which enables us to be ourselves.
The Next Person
The next person we meet will have the opposites a lake has. A person whom we might just ignore, or someone we're in a battle with, or an individual with a background very different from ours whom we resent—each longs to have a sense of ease in his or her life, lake-like ease, yet also to be richly stirred by things. Each longs to feel composed, and simultaneously excited, interested. When we see this ache to make sense of rest and motion, we have a certain immediate respect, because we see that the person has the world itself in him or her. We can't want to scorn or hurt someone whom we see as having the structure of reality, the very opposites we have.
Now—two poems by Eli Siegel, written in 1961 and 1968. They're different from each other. But both, with logic and music, are about what Aesthetic Realism shows to be the most hopeful thing in the world: relation.