|NUMBER 168.— June 16, 1976|
Dear Unknown Friends:
One of the most important things to be seen in language is that when a person says: "I'm tired of all that," he also means he is contemptuous of all that. The relation of tiredness, fatigue, weariness, to contempt will be studied in coming years; and it is good that Aesthetic Realism is asking for this study at this time.
A yawn, even emitted by a drowsy person, is most often associated with contempt; and usually a person who has yawned and knows that others have noticed it, is disposed to regret the yawning. A yawn often implies contempt for one's company. In the social history of man, a yawn is given this negative value, this disparagement of listeners, observers, surroundings.
The question, dear unknown friends, is how far weariness or fatigue as contempt can go. Aesthetic Realism sees contempt as the voluntary or permitted running down of self. That there is a running down which is part of the world itself, is clear. A clock doesn't have to be wound because it looks with disdain on the persons in the room it occupies complacently on a mantel. We forgive the clock and we forgive summer for running down into autumn and winter. We forgive a horse for not being able to maintain the speed of an hour ago.
I have instanced virtuous, or at least non-culpable weariness. But is there another kind of weariness whose generator is that popular possibility or attitude called contempt? I think there is. And Aesthetic Realism intends to study this other kind of weariness more than ever.
1. Weariness, Conflict, Anger
Perhaps the greatest victory of contempt as weariness is in the last words of Henry James's Turn of the Screw. In my James and the Children (Definition Press, 1968), I imply that both the children, Miles and Flora, want to have the world their way. The children have contempt for both Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, who in turn have contempt for the children and others. This inter-contempt, Henry James implies, makes for the ability of the children to summon Quint and Jessel even when they have died; and gives Quint and Jessel the power to appear to the children; and, for a deep ethical reason, the power to appear to the seeking governess. James's story has ethics, the desire to know, and the supernatural friendly to each other.
We all of us have a conflict between lying and telling the truth. This conflict is between trying to see the world as it is, with the utmost respect; and making up a world more under our control, soothing and pleasing us more. A wearisome conflict in all of us, angering us more than we know, is this fight between finding satisfaction in the truth of things and finding it in how we can change things to suit ourselves. The fight is everywhere, at this moment.
Miles was very good at changing things to suit himself. At an early age, a child can come to the conclusion that the world was not made or tailored for his yearning self. Consequently, with a desire to have contempt for a world not asking us what to do, we can come to a subjective, rival world which we cherish more than the world beginning strangely where our noses end, our fingertips end. The desire to have or construct a rival world has much to do with the mendacity of which human beings have long been fond.
I said in James and the Children that Miles and Flora, instead of being sexually hounded by the unexpressed governess, as Edmund Wilson once magisterially said, were two living beings old enough to want to arrange the world to suit themselves.
And both Miles and Flora are given to pretense and evasion: historical assistants or representatives of lying. It happens that pretense, evasion, lying may be gratifying; but they also mean inward work. Iago worked on his deceits or unfriendly plans. He was like others before and after, a factory of the deceptive. Truth, being a straight line, is less labor; pretense, roundabout, is more labor.
Well, the children observe, as the great James story goes on, that the governess does not see them only as prepossessing, divinely cute. Neither Miles nor Flora likes this. Miles and Flora become weary of evading truth; and it must be said that the governess is a little weary of having to find truth in an unearthly milieu, with some adepts of untruth contending with her.
Miles becomes weary of pretending. The fight between lying and telling of things as they are takes a lot from him. The governess is an incessant Vidocq or Vautrin of the spirit. Evil in us, seen, may enable us better to see evil elsewhere. So we have to ask what is the meaning of those last words of The Turn of the Screw I mentioned a little earlier:
I see the stopping of Miles's heart as caused by the conflict between lying and telling the truth, with a great desire to have contempt for what the truth might be. Contempt is present when two things are fighting in us and we do not care for either very much. Furthermore, we do not know, and so do not have respect for, that resolution of the two fighting things which Aesthetic Realism finds is in the aesthetic junction or oneness of opposites.
2. Shakespeare, Shelley, and Fatigue
We all can be tired of a battle in us. As I said, this tiredness from an inward battle can accompany the rise and fall of physiological vitality in us. Shakespeare is a great repository of thoughts concerning the tiredness in man caused by a dissatisfaction with reality or any instance of it. Sonnet 66 of Shakespeare begins abruptly and wearisomely:
I must say, the idea which some have seen in the last line of the sonnet, that the Earl of Pembroke or the Earl of Southampton or Willie Hughes was waiting to solace Shakespeare for his disgust with the world—that this idea is rather funny. It happens that the possibility of liking the world is immeasurable, as is the possibility of disliking it.
There is something of a likeness to the feeling of Miles in James's story in the Hamlet of the last scenes of the play. Hamlet says to Horatio:
Hamlet has been burdened by the seeming need to avenge a father whom, as I said in Shakespeare's Hamlet: Revisited, he did not care for entirely or admire entirely. And as Hamlet sees no answer satisfying him, that much life itself seems less engaging. To have a conflict, as I said, makes one displeased or angry, with a desire to have contempt for the displeasure or anger. The conflict, the anger, the displeasure, the contempt can take many forms; but weariness is constantly encouraged.
Strangely, Percy Bysshe Shelley has said one of the most valuable things about weariness in the poetic fragment, "To the Moon." The first four lines read:
These lines in their brevity tell of the conflict in man through his being both heavenly and earthly; both intellectual and given to satisfactions of the flesh. And the lines tell us rather effectively that we can be displeased because we are not seeing anything familiar enough or close enough: the moon wanders "companionless"; the stars which the moon wanders among have "a different birth."
It was said long ago that familiarity breeds contempt. It is also true that having to change one's attention rapidly from this thing to another thing encourages contempt. And as soon as contempt comes to be, weariness asks to go along; or, if one wishes, as soon as weariness comes to be, contempt asks to go along.
This means that if the great opposites of the world, rest and motion, old and new, near and distant, sameness and difference, self and strangeness, are not one, there is contempt for one of these opposites because it does not have the quality of the other. Moreover, there is contempt for a world that tosses us from one opposite to the other.
In Macbeth, the chieftain of long ago goes from victory to guilt, to defeat, and to puzzlement. All this can quite clearly make a person weary, even though he lived many years ago in medieval Scotland. And Macbeth utters two of the great poetic lines about weariness and the concomitant contempt for the world and its persistence. Macbeth says:
3. Hope, Fear, Contempt, Weariness
I implied in TRO 164 that both hope and fear, with no permanent relation between the two, can make for contempt. Expecting things to be better and feeling that they may become worse—both of these can seem insulting to man. We should undergo no such tossing or swaying. And therefore we insult the world back; or, to put it more elegantly, we retaliate on an insult of the world with our own expression of insult for the world. What I have just said may be observed in some lovely and sad lines of Swinburne from "The Garden of Proserpine":
As mighty a conflict in man as any is his desiring that absence of pain and disgrace which is in death, and his fearing of that loss of self which is in death, likewise. This statement doesn't have to seem so dolorously large. The fact remains that a person can try to be, in the same day, a more active self and also a self immune to disappointment, quivering insult. Does aesthetics say anything about that? It does.
When hope is understood, hope will be seen as a great aesthetic orchestration, as an ever so subtle junction of differences. Miserably, hope has been talked of in this fashion (Proverbs 13:12):
Yet man has also come to this (Smith's Smaller Classical Dictionary, article "Pandora"):
And look at that careful person, so honoring of Victorian prose and poetry, Matthew Arnold. In his "The Scholar Gipsy," Arnold has these two enlivening lines:
This means, dear unknown friends, that we should not weary of trying to understand hope, and that we should weary of seeing hope superficially. Weariness, like rain and the unknown, has its good aspects.
© Copyright 1976 by Aesthetic Realism Foundation • A not-for-profit educational foundation
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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