|NUMBER 1428.—August 16, 2000||
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941
Dear Unknown Friends:
We are serializing the magnificent lecture of 1949 Poetry and Energy, by Eli Siegel. Here too is part of a paper by actress Carol McCluer from the Aesthetic Realism public seminar of last month titled "In Trying to Be Important, What Mistakes Do People Make?"
As Mr. Siegel speaks on what energy is, we are in the midst of this central principle of Aesthetic Realism: "All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves." Energy that is valuable, he is explaining, is inseparable from something very different: purpose, or shape. When energy—in ourselves or anywhere—does not have an accurate purpose, and does not have form, it is not really energy but something people experience often: painful hecticness; or agitation accompanied by a sense of hollowness; or ugly determination-on-the-move.
And so we come to the US presidential campaign—for it contains some of the most wasteful, fake energy ever. As I write of it, my purpose is not to comment on whom Americans in voting booths might or should or shouldnít choose, but to describe something of the state of mind of millions of people, whatever choice they make. I see the 2000 election as both repulsive and very hopeful. The hopefulness is in the fact that Americans feel, with more clarity than they ever felt, that neither principal candidate represents them and that something fundamentally false and sickening is taking place. The monumental lack of enthusiasm about this election is deeply beautiful, because it shows that Americans canít be manipulated and fooled as much as some persons would like them to be. The big feeling across this nation is that American politicians are not really in behalf of the American people. And the "voter apathy" is the American people crying out, "These babies donít represent us!"
I think the single sentence that best explains the 2000 election is the following, from a lecture Mr. Siegel gave in 1971: "The profit system of America is trying to go on while individual psychology in America is now against the profit system" (TRO 522). I have written much about Mr. Siegelís great, historic showing that profit economics has failed. For now, I say this: There is the sense in millions of Americans that what the politicians they are asked to vote for are mainly interested in is the continuance and flourishing of the profit system. Millions of Americans feel these politiciansí chief concern is that corporate owners make money. And never were Americans clearer that interest in profit and interest in having peopleís lives fare well are opposed!
Mr. Siegel explained that the most hurtful thing in everyone is contempt, "the addition to self through the lessening of something else." He showed our desire for contempt both weakens our minds and makes us mean. And it is from contempt that all the enormous injustice in history has come. Profit economics is part of that contempt. It is the seeing of oneís fellow human beings in terms of how much money one can get out of them. And this economic contempt has had businessmen, who were themselves heads of families, think it right to employ little children in factories and mines. The contempt at the basis of the profit system made and makes for sweatshops, starvation wages, working conditions that cause disease and accidents. A boss or stockholders taking the wealth someone elseís labor produced is, as such, contempt.
It is this contempt-as-economics that the two major parties presently stand for; have tried to force on the rest of the world with the help of the IMF, WTO, weaponry, and US "advisors"; and see it as their primary function to support here. Americans, with various degrees of clarity, feel this and resent it.
An Election, Described
I am going to quote a poem by Eli Siegel, containing three short poems, about the election of 1960. "1960 Regret Poems" appears in his book Hail, American Development; and I will quote too some sentences from his note to it. Every election is different of course, and America 2000 is very different from America forty years ago. But the poem and note have a mighty and clarifying relevancy to our present situation. The two candidates then were Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. Mr. Siegel thought much less of Kennedy than many did; and I think the sentence about him in Mr. Siegelís note is a true and kind depiction of that politician.
The poem is humorousóand beautiful. It has wonderful rhythm, different in each of the three poems-within-the-poem. The first is essentially composed of dactyls (a heavy syllable followed by two light syllables). The dactyl can make for a sense of slowness and grandeur; it is the poetic foot Homer used, and Virgil in the Aeneid. The third poem has the sound, become music, of American good-natured toughness. This, then, is "1960 Regret Poems" (the term in the second line is explained in the note):
1. Time, An Indian
Time is an Indian
Knocking off Poskudnaks.
2. Tuesday, November 8, 1960
Next Tuesday, November 8, 1960,
The country will be attacked by two bruisers.
The country will be deceived.
But it will go on.
3. Don’t Look, Boys
We got to take it easy.
There seems to be an election.
Don’t look, boys.
There is nothing to see.
"A Great Stall"
Here are sentences from Mr. Siegel’s note to the poem:
The American election of 1960 was essentially a confrontation of nullity or the absence of value. One contender was evil minded with, being less strong than all the American forces, a large likelihood of welcome ineptness. The other was more generous minded, but with a strong tendency to put aside the generous mindedness and go with the unethical political and industrial current. Evil and good came to equal strength in the two unappetizing contenders, and the way evil and good could submerge each other in the contenders made the election a great stall, or a transitory nullity....Time does knock off Poskudnaks, or unhandsomely selfish people .... [In 1960] two persons, neither of whom deserved it, went for the nationís acclamation. There was not an election, because there was nothing substantial to choose.
Whomever Americans vote or don’t vote for this year, they want something that is not represented by the current contenders. They want what Mr. Siegel describes in Poetry and Energy as that which gives shape to energy: the oneness of the general and the individual. They want an America truly interested in the well-being of every individual person, and an America owned truly by all her people. They may not see so clearly that this is what they want, but the desire for it is making them feel this election is phony and sickening. In keeping with the opposites: America’s present disgust stands for her grandeur—because that disgust has a chance of becoming a clear demand for something honest and kind.
On August 16, the birthday of Eli Siegel, it moves me very much to say that he, who understood America, represented always the grandeur, knowledge, kindness, and honesty she aches for.
—Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education
There Is Shape Too
Trying to Be Important
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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