|NUMBER 1469.—May 30, 2001||
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941
Here is the conclusion of the magnificent 1949 lecture we have been serializing: Poetry and Logic, by Eli Siegel. With it is part of a paper that Maureen Butler presented this month at an Aesthetic Realism public seminar titled "Power and Kindness: Do They Have to Fight?" The poems Mr. Siegel speaks of here are about love—a subject Ms. Butler writes of too. So I shall comment on a fact that is tremendous, stunning, beautiful: Aesthetic Realism shows there is logic in love—logic that speaks well for reality.
Love is an aspect of that huge territory, the territory of feeling, which people have seen as opposed to logic. In his lecture, Mr. Siegel has been showing that logic and feeling are not truly apart: they are always one in poetry. "All beauty is a making one of opposites," Mr. Siegel explained in a principle central to Aesthetic Realism, "and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves." Love, with its vast bewilderingness, has been seen as illogical for centuries: it seizes you, and that’s that—there’s no reason to it; you may be a logician elsewhere, but when it comes to love, you’re just had. As the poet Blake put it, Love, "laughing, sports and plays with me." So with enormous gratitude, I mention 12 logical points about love, and say: The Aesthetic Realism study of this logic can enable a person to love truly and proudly!
1. The deepest desire of every person—the purpose of our very life—is to like the world itself. Therefore, our purpose in love should be to like reality in its fulness through knowing another person—not have some person ecstatically blot out the world for us and show us we’re more important than everything.
2. It follows too that if we love a person, we want to be a means of his liking the world itself—not just us.
3. It also follows that if we want to have a person like other things and people less, we’re his enemy, no matter how much we long for him or how passionately we kiss him.
4. When two people use each other against their deepest desire and make less of the world together, they inevitably despise each other. What persons so often associate with love itself—putting the world aside and making a separate one just for "us"—is the very thing that makes the lovers become so angry at each other.
5. The thing in us that interferes with our seeing the world justly also interferes with our loving successfully. Eli Siegel has identified that interfering purpose: contempt, the "disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the outside world."
6. A person we think we love comes from the world itself, has reality in him. We cannot see him any better than the way we see the world. To think we can care for a person while despising the world he is of, is a terrific mistake. We can’t; though people think they can and try to all the time.
7. If we have contempt for the world, we will have contempt for the person we say we love.
8. Aesthetic Realism explains that a fight goes on in everyone between the desire to respect the world and the desire to have contempt for it—to feel we are in a world that is not good enough for our special, superior selves. This fight continues in love: we want to see great meaning in a person; we also want to be superior to that person, manage that person. We need to understand the fight between contempt and respect in us, for love to fare well. We need to study Aesthetic Realism. This study is logical and romantic.
9. Owning a person isn’t love, though people think it is.
10. We cannot love a person unless we know the person—because we will be loving someone we made up. But people are not so interested in knowing another human being: that is deep, steady work, though beautiful work. They are interested in getting the person to make them glorious. Therefore they are asking for pain in love; and the pain comes.
11. Love is good will, which Mr. Siegel defined as "the desire to have something else stronger and more beautiful, for this desire makes oneself stronger and more beautiful." The desire to have a person silly about oneself is meanness, not love, and one is always ashamed of it, though it is more popular than the Internet.
12. Every aspect of sex needs to be for good will. As our body is close to the body of a person we cherish, we should want him to feel that the world, which we represent, is a friend to him—that it is the world he is welcoming and honoring.
Love has been understood at last, through the intellectual honesty of Eli Siegel, embodied in Aesthetic Realism.
—Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education
Where You’re Most Passionate
The logical proposition in this poem is that that which is attained and taken for granted is disesteemed.
There is reasoning in all calculation, acquisition, excitement. Where the two logics come to be one—that is, the logic that goes for pleasure and pain and the logic that tries to see what is false and what is true—when these two logics, which are in every person, come to be one logic, there is a sensible life. And if those two logics becoming one coherent logic are expressed in poetry, we have a good poem.
A poem can seem to be like a jungle. But just as a jungle can be so regarded that, since cause and effect is there, it likewise takes on symmetry and good sense—so a poem, if the deepest logic is looked for and found, will, if it is an authentic poem, seem logical. The structure of a poem; the fact that a poem has a beginning, middle, and end; the forms in a poem; the relation of width to narrowness, concrete to abstract—all these things have to do with problems of logic.
Most persons can use logic only in one field. They can go after, say, discovering the causes of an economic bad state in Argentina. But they cannot use logic for that which concerns their own most intimate pleasure and pain. Aesthetic Realism and poetry say: Use logic where you’re most passionate, because if you can’t use logic where you’re most passionate you don’t believe in it.
Everything attended with passion is still a relation of cause and effect, position and relevance. If we see it that way, we will see that what we want in our own lives is the logic of the literal, the everyday—the logic that says, "This chair is in the room; therefore the room is bigger than the chair"—and also the logic we have seen in Mother Goose, Swinburne, Shelley, Landor, Michelangelo, and will see in every true poem to be got to in any year, including next year.
Like many women, I once felt that power and kindness were so opposed, they could never be together in my life. While I hoped to be kind, I saw kindness as something soft and impractical. Increasingly, with men and at work, I went after conquests that made me ashamed and left me feeling cold and despairing.
In "An Outline of Aesthetic Realism," Eli Siegel explains:Power . . . had by yourself has two consequences: you respect the person yielding to that power; or you have contempt for him. In the second possibility lies much of the social misery of America and the world.
As I was growing up in Cleveland, the person on whom I knew I definitely had a big effect was my father, John Butler. I saw him on the one hand as powerful and ambitious, and on the other as sad and angry, at times driven to get consolation from alcohol. I told myself that my mother, sisters, and brothers were too hard on him, while I would listen to him sympathetically. But I also secretly thought he was weak and foolish for needing me so much: I had contempt for him.
Mr. Siegel has defined kindness as "that in a self which wants other things to be rightly pleased." I was not interested in my father’s being stronger, being "rightly pleased." Without wholly knowing it, I was after an unkind power: I was using him to make myself important. This took two forms: my being blandishing, soft, ever so agreeable; and my getting into fierce debates with him, trying to show I was his intellectual superior.
When I left home, I continued going after with other men what I had gone after with my father. I would swing back and forth between soothing a man and trying to trip him up in an argument to show I was superior. And the unkind power I went after with men was present in other aspects of my life.
My first job out of college was writing training programs for a "management consulting" firm. Though I didn’t know it right away, the firm’s purpose was to increase a business’s profits by reducing its workforce by one third. My programs were to assist this purpose by training the people who would be left after the brutal downsizing. I regret that even when I learned what was going on I continued, because I saw it as a chance to get ahead. While I told myself what my employer was doing was horrible, I felt superior to the people who would use my programs: people working in a truck factory in Louisville, for a textile manufacturer in Wisconsin, at a poultry plant in Arkansas. I felt powerful and impressive flying to cities where these companies were located. None of my college friends did anything like that!
Meanwhile, I was ashamed—especially when I heard that women at the poultry plant were "caught" putting partially processed chickens into their purses to take home. These women, who did grueling, dangerous, dirty work, were paid minimum wage, not enough to live on or support a family; and I was helping the boss either to eliminate their jobs or make them work harder.
After three years I had learned enough to start my own company writing training programs. I remember my old college roommate Mary Delzani saying, "Gee, Maureen, people are impressed by what you do, but you don’t seem proud of it." I felt I was a failure, including in love. The reason is explained by Ellen Reiss in issue 1249 of The Right Of:
The most important question in anything we do, in economics as in sex, is: what is our motive toward things and people? ... Do we want to use ourselves to comprehend a person and reality, see meaning in them? Or do we have ill will and contempt: do we want to have reality serve us, make us important, elevate and please us, without our thinking deeply about other persons?
This was the fight I was in, and I love Aesthetic Realism for enabling me to understand it and to change.
I had felt angry with men, yet driven to go after their approval through body. In one Aesthetic Realism consultation, when I spoke about how bad I felt after being with a man, I was asked: "Do you like to go after power with men?" "Yes," I answered. My consultants asked what I thought my purpose was, and I said, "I guess I like men to respond to me." They continued: "And what do you think of the man when he does?" "Not much," I said.
About a man I had recently stopped seeing, they asked: "If he had the choice between sex and being understood, which do you think he would take?" This question stirred me very much: I began to see that men wanted, more than sex, to be understood! I came to have more of the ability, the power, to see the reality of another person.
Some years later, when I had the chance to know Ernest DeFilippis—who is an Aesthetic Realism consultant and now my husband—I wanted to know what he felt to himself. As we talked, I saw he had a fervent hope to respect himself for how he was with a woman. And the way he was excited about (for example) autumn leaves, music, the novels of George Eliot and Charles Dickens, carpentry, affected me deeply. I respected him and wanted to encourage his like of the world. And I was much affected when I saw he wanted me to respect myself and to be honestly expressed. Ernest’s keen, humorous, and brave criticism of me made me feel lighter and freer, and I love him for it.
Our marriage has been a happy education. I’ve been learning from Aesthetic Realism about what it means to be a kind wife—to have good will, which Mr. Siegel described as "the tempered oneness of criticism and caress, of exactness and devotion."
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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