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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 
A PERIODICAL OF HOPE AND INFORMATION
 NUMBER 1527.—July 10, 2002

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

The Purpose a Woman Wants

Dear Unknown Friends:

In our serialization of his 1949 lecture Poetry and Women, we have come to Eli Siegel’s discussion of poems by Caroline Norton (1808-77). We see his beautiful deep comprehension of her, and of women. We see the question which torments women now, even though a woman most often does not articulate it: How can I love a man and be loved, and yet be fully myself?

This matter has not fared well because, for one thing, men haven’t wanted it to. We know that men, and that thing called society, for ever so many centuries did not permit woman to be all she could be. But what has not been seen is that a woman herself has had purposes which make for a profound schism in her, a feeling that she is a different person in love from the person who wants to express herself in the wide world.

I am going to quote from an Aesthetic Realism lesson I had, because what Mr. Siegel explained in it is knowledge for which Caroline Norton hungered, as women today do. As a woman to whom he spoke directly, I stand for Eli Siegel’s understanding of women and all people. He comprehended my feelings, my tumult, and enabled me to do so. It is a huge understatement to say he encouraged my mind: all that is best in me exists because of what he taught.

Aesthetic Realism explains that our deepest purpose, the very purpose of our life, is to like the world honestly, to respect it. This is what love is for, and education, and expression as such. And this is the purpose which, if we go by it, will make our self coherent. It will have us feel that being in a man’s arms is friendly to, has the same aim as, looking through a microscope, or studying French, or running for public office. But the thing which has weakened and divided a woman, as it has a man, is another purpose: contempt, the "disposition ... to think [one] will be for [one]self by making less of the outside world."

In the lesson I quote from, Mr. Siegel was showing how that purpose, contempt, makes for the subtle and gigantic pain around love. At the time, I was the age of Caroline Norton when she married: nineteen. I was in college, majoring in comparative literature. And I found myself angry often with the man I was close to, whom I’ll call Jim Hanes. I would go from welcoming his embraces to not wanting them; and sometimes I would be tearful.

Mr. Siegel began to explain what was troubling me as he asked: "Do you think that Jim is interested in you to respect other things more, or as a substitute for respecting?" I answered evasively, "I think there is something of both."

A woman can want a man to respect other things less through knowing her, because somewhere she sees that as the ideal of love: a man should make her the one thing that matters in the world; he should, adoringly, have her feel superior to everything, while they make the rest of reality and humanity insignificant. Yet as this happens, she resents the man, because the depths of her want something else. That is how it was with me.

"It Never Leaves One"

Mr. Siegel said to Jim Hanes:

Any person, any girl, who doesn’t think that a person close to her is trying to have her like herself and things in life, distrusts that person. This is not a recitation—it happens to be life itself. There is that in a girl which doesn’t care so much for the liking of things. She wants to have an important time. Nonetheless, it never leaves one. I say that when Ellen repelled you, she felt that your purpose was not to have her respect things or like things. Ellen, if she wants, can fool herself all over the place. But I do say that when she repels you it’s for this reason: that 1) you’re trying to have her like you as apart from the liking of things, and 2) you’re trying to make her important as apart from how much she respects things, but to make her important because you seem to be under her spell.

Much of the pain of Caroline Norton—which you will soon read about—is explained by those firm, critical, infinitely kind sentences.

In the next sentences, we see the most beautiful thing I know: the ethics of Aesthetic Realism, which is the same as scientific fact, and Mr. Siegel’s passionate clarity about ethics. He said to me: "Anything you do, including being close to another person, which is not for the purpose of respecting things more is against your life. There are no two ways about it; never will be. Is that clear enough?"

In the following interchange, we see Mr. Siegel comprehending the very texture, the subtlety, of a woman’s distress:

ES. Right now a young man is making advances to a girl. And while she can’t very well, because she doesn’t want to, stop him, she has a feeling somewhere, "He doesn’t care about me. He cares about something I have"—if she puts it that clearly. Now, what does the word me there mean? That is, "He isn’t warm about me; he’s warm about what he takes to be me."

ER. I think what’s meant is that the man isn’t interested in how the girl feels or sees or thinks.

ES. Well, has that happened with Jim?

ER. Yes.

The Only Way We’ll Like Ourselves

Mr. Siegel described the one way any person will ever like herself, no matter how much adoration she gets. And the knowledge here is completely lacking in the psychology and counseling of our time:

ES. Do you believe that Jim approves of you in a way the rival of which doesn’t exist?

ER. Yes.

ES. But at the same time do you think that that approval is convincing to every part of you?

ER. No, it hasn’t been.

ES. It happens that sex approval and reality approval are not yet the same thing .... According to Aesthetic Realism, no person can approve of himself unless he says, "I like the way I see the world." That’s the only kind of approval that will stick. This means wanting to make a one of the world as a cause of being pleased and as a cause of respect. If you use a person to make that desire less, you don’t respect yourself ....

    That is why you cry and are repelled: because at a certain time something in you reminds you that you are using Jim to respect things less with ....

    You feel bad because you put aside your first purpose. Your first purpose happens to be to respect something; your second (which is, according to Aesthetic Realism, the same thing), to be approved of. You’ve made being approved of, as many people have, something by itself. Aesthetic Realism says the biggest desire organically is to respect something without the ego dirtying it up. That’s the one desire, and it is put aside for the being approved of, because the second is much easier ....

    Any kind of being approved of which isn’t accompanied by respect of your own, and with the respect being first, isn’t worth it; though social life consists of trying to prove that it is.

What I learned from Mr. Siegel enabled me to love truly, and to feel intellect and love are together—to feel whole. The Aesthetic Realism understanding of people—woman and man—is the kindest and most needed knowledge in the world. It is grandly alive at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

The Lasting Problem
By Eli Siegel

Note. Earlier, Mr. Siegel discussed poems by Louise Labé and Lady Mary Chudleigh.

A woman of the 19th century, very well known in social circles, is the granddaughter of the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan: Caroline Sheridan, later Caroline Norton (1808-77). She expresses what went through all women’s minds, only most women were not conscious of it. She had trouble with her husband, they separated, and most people took her side. They felt he was the unseeing one.

She became interested in women’s rights, the rights of laboring women, and the way children worked in factories. In the meantime, she wrote many poems, pretty good, about what went on in the mind of women. The trouble is that she could not see the general feeling in her particularly: she could not see it as specific, concrete. Therefore there is a certain lack of firmness in her writing, as there is in the writing of Lady Chudleigh. Louise Labé wrote poems that can be called completely poems. I would say that what Caroline Norton wrote are most interesting documents that have poetry here and there present.

I read some extracts from a poem she wrote fairly early; and as a preliminary, some biographical remarks appearing in 1843 in a book called Select Works of the British Poets:

At the age of nineteen, Miss Sheridan was married to the Hon. George Chapple Norton .... The marriage has not been a happy one: the world has heard the slanders to which she has been exposed.*

Her husband had the nerve to ask for her earnings as a literary woman when they separated. And it seems he got them too, because he was denied her services.

Mrs. Norton is eminently beautiful .... Her mind is of a high order; but she is far from having attained the zenith of her fame.

When this was published she was 35.

Now, a few extracts showing what Mrs. Norton went through: the lasting problem of women. She has a long poem boldly called "I Cannot Love Thee!" It seems that somebody has been approaching Caroline Sheridan or Caroline Norton, and she likes his attentions, but somehow nothing much happens to her. Yet she doesn’t want him to stop those attentions. She questions her vanity. She is pretty agonized about the whole business. These are some lines. (The "she" in them is the writer’s soul.)

Sad she folds her shivering wings

From the love thy spirit brings,

Like a chainéd thing, caress’d

By the hand it knows the best,

By the hand which, day by day,

Visits its imprison’d stay,

Bringing gifts of fruit and blossom

From the green earth’s plenteous bosom;

All but that for which it pines

In those narrow close confines,

With a sad and ceaseless sigh—

Wild and wingéd liberty!

In other words, this man has been bringing all kinds of nice things from the riches of the British Empire; but she feels that something will happen to herself—she won’t have liberty. Most women have gone through that, and then conveniently have forgot about liberty. Then they’ve been in trouble later. Mrs. Norton—or Miss Sheridan—goes on:

When thy tongue (ah! woe is me!)

Whispers love-vows tenderly,

Mine is shaping, all unheard,

Fragments of some withering word,

Which, by its complete farewell,

Shall divide us like a spell!

And my heart beats loud and fast,

Wishing that confession past;

And the tide of anguish rises,

Till its strength my soul surprises,

And the reckless words, unspoken,

Nearly have the silence broken,

With a gush like some wild river,—

"Oh! depart, depart for ever!"

What this is saying in poetic language, a little on the flossy side, is: Why can’t this man go away?! I can’t tell him to, but why can’t he go away?!

But my faltering courage fails,

And my drooping spirit quails;

. .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

And I bend my weary head

O’er the tablets open spread,

Whose fair pages me invite

All I dared not say to write.

But she can’t write. She can’t say, Don’t come to see me!

She is confused, definitely. And she has put her confusion into delicate short lines, not great short lines. But she wants to be truthful with herself. She wants to seem kind; she also wants to have herself pleased. And she doesn’t know that in having herself pleased there are two things which constantly are clawing each other, bumping each other, and generally acting to hurt each other.

Then she comes to something of a solution. She will say what she means in a printed book. He will see it, and it will be impersonal, so he won’t be too hurt, and yet he will know:

Therefore, when thine eyes shall read

This, my book, oh take thou heed!

In the dim lines written here,

All shall be explained and clear;

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

All shall be at length confest,

And thou’lt forgive,—and let me rest!

The Big Fight

It would seem that this lady could get love, but didn’t want it. Yet she writes a poem in praise of Sappho, "The Picture of Sappho," and says how awful it is for a woman to be famous and still not loved. That is the big fight that can go on. A woman wants to have some meaning for people in general, and she also wants to feel that there is one, only one, one singular, singular, unique person. These are some lines from "The Picture of Sappho":

Yet, was it history’s truth,

That tale of wasted youth,

Of endless grief, and love forsaken pining?

In other words, Sappho, a tremendous writer of poetry, is pretty unlucky in love. She is supposed, in legend, to have jumped from a cliff, the Leucadian rock, out of unrequited love for a man, Phaon. The concluding stanza is:

FAME, to thy breaking heart

No comfort could impart,

In vain thy brow the laurel wreath was wearing;

One grief, and one alone,

Could bow thy bright head down—

Thou wert a WOMAN, and wert left despairing!

Personal and Impersonal

So in the previous poem, a woman doesn’t seem to care very much for love. She’ll take it on her terms and not on somebody else’s. But in this poem, a famous woman needs love like anything. That, in a way, is repeated again and again in Hollywood. A woman goes through it: how can she, who has millions to look at her, consent to take time off to have a baby, or act as if she were the helpmate of someone? This problem of personal and impersonal is very difficult for a woman. And in the greatest instance of it—because the instance I’m talking of expressed it more than is realized—we have it shown in all kinds of ways. black diamond

*Norton accused her of committing adultery with her friend Lord Melbourne, the Prime Minister.

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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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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