|NUMBER 171.— July 7, 1976|
Dear Unknown Friends:
The greatest argument in behalf of like of the world is this: Each time anyone sees something as beautiful, he sees the structure of the world; and it is this structure of the world, seen in an object, that causes the beauty; is the beauty. Surely, I have to say what this sentence means. I do not know a sentence which is more cheerful and, I believe, more accurate. The sentence, I believe likewise, is comprehensive and specific at once.
So what is the meaning of the sentence? All art illustrates the sentence, including complex, difficult art. However, the simplest beautiful things also sustain the sentence.
1. The World Is Present
Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) is one of the true poets of the world and is also one of the simplest. Like William Blake, Verlaine can be almost infantine in his poetic manner. Still, while Verlaine is simple, naive, he has some of the subtlest music in French verse. And here we have the first description of the world which beauty and art illustrate: that is, the world is simple and various at once. It is one universe, even as it has many twigs in twilight.
There are the following lines in Verlaine's Sagesse (1881):
These lines are noted in French poetry, yet they have in them beauty at its simplest, most frequent. Often, a person has looked at a June sky and felt it was beautiful. Verlaine says that the sky is blue and calm. I'd better at this point translate the whole stanza:
It is a pity that the fourth line of the stanza in French should be rather difficult, meaning something like "lulls its palm branch." However, the main philosophic thing remains in the first three lines.
However Verlaine's poem is translated, the first philosophic thing about beauty can be seen in it. This is: All beauty, including the beauty of conscious art, is like the world; for it has rest and motion at once; or sameness and change; or sameness and difference. And when we say rest and motion, sameness and change, sameness and difference, we are saying: Look, the very world! Any other idea of the world is social, subjective, and is too often muddled by a person's unfortunate responses.
2. Rest and Motion
So while regretting the fourth line of Verlaine, which I translated in my own way, it is well to look at the other three lines.
In the line—"The sky is, above the roof"—there is that mingling of space and matter customary in all existence. The sky is space; the roof is matter. However, both the sky and the roof instance another mode of the world, limited and unlimited. The blue sky, as we look towards it in June or in another month, seems limited, for we cannot see all of it. Every perception of the sky is self-limited. But we know that there is more of the sky than we see in a June or August glance. This feeling of something included beauty and art; and is the world itself, for the world is infinite and finite at once, limitless and limited. And the roof is limitless in its relation to all things.
Indeed, what I am writing about constitutes the first Kantian Antinomy of Pure Reason, or the "First Conflict of the Transcendental Ideas." I am not sure that Kant would agree to the statement that in this First Conflict of the Transcendental Ideas lies the beauty of a calm blue sky, or the sight of flowing water in the distance. Let us, then, look at Kant's Thesis and Antithesis and ask whether it is precisely this being finite and infinite at once of the world that makes it the source of all beauty:
And Aesthetic Realism sees music as arising from the fact that reality or existence or the world is both infinite and finite. Music gives one the effect of going on, even while music is neat, lovely in a room.
Getting back to the sky and Verlaine's writing of it.—The sky is limited by the roof. Both sky and roof gain by this relation, in the same way as a bathtub full of clear water is made prettier by the presence of a lightsome cork. The world is present in every instance of something beautiful. The world is the main thing or the decisive thing. A specific situation illustrates the possibility of the world.
In the Verlaine lines, we have color too. Every pleasing summer sky has been a oneness of aloof and friendly white and a little more affable and tangible blue. This white and blue illustrates the world as indefinite and definite.
The sky is also calm, and this calm sky is attended by a tree which I described in my translation as swaying in green. Whatever Berce sa palme means, it does show the tree as active, lulling its palm branch. The world is both active and resting; and this tree, swaying or lulling, accompanies the sky in its calmness. Calm and activity —which is one definition of the world— has been present in hundreds of instances of the beauty of "just things" and in the beauty thought of and willed by man called art.
3. Opposites Are the World
From what I have written, it can be surmised that the world itself is seen by Aesthetic Realism as a constant presence and oneness of opposites. Was not the world described as calm and activity at once? It is the world as the oneness of opposites which is present in all the beauty to be seen in a garden, to be seen over an ocean, to be seen near a mountain top; and in all the beauty had by a gallery, evoked from an orchestra, presented on a stage, or sold in a distinguished shop.
In 1955, I wrote Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites? (Terrain Gallery, 1955). The first opposites I included were Freedom and Order. Freedom and order, like activity and calm, is an essential description of the world. As we look at a grassblade waving in a quiet noon, we can see freedom and order in that grassblade. We can see freedom and order in Niagara. We can see freedom and order in the way the stars are placed. We can see freedom and order in a Spanish girl dancing with a rose in her mouth. We can see freedom and order in Francis Thompson's "Hound of Heaven."
The second opposites I mentioned in 1955 were Sameness and Difference. Sameness and difference describe the world as world. Sameness and difference describe everything in the world. A green grape shows its form in light and the grape is the same and different, as we go from one grape-point to another. As a toothpick—which can be rather beautiful—goes from its base to its point, sameness and difference are present. As an orchestra plays the Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, sameness and difference imitate the world in their poignant accompanying of each other. Sameness and difference are in the procedure of a play as it gets to its perhaps wisely thought of conclusion. Sameness and difference are in every quarter of an inch of a canvas with a painting of the 15th century on it. Painting presents both the surface and depth of the world. And surface and depth illustrate visual sameness and difference. The world is everywhere surface and depth at once, each becoming the other: look at surface long enough and you have depth.
All this, dear unknown friends, is about the world which, Aesthetic Realism says, we should do all we can to like honestly. The chief way of liking the world honestly is not by having one's horse come in or having one's candidate chosen in an election: it is by honestly seeing that even when we are distressed or confused or humiliated, the world retains that structure present necessarily, inevitably, in everything that is beautiful; in all the painting, pottery, acting, dancing, poetry, hymnology, sculpture, architecture, and God knows what all of the world.
4. The Opposites Say This
The opposites, then, say as they function in a landscape, a flower, a fabric, a house, a face, a body, a film: "We or I, the opposites, stand for the world; when you like something you see as beautiful, you are liking us or me. In the same way as a bit of mirror can have the whole sky in it, so we, the opposites, represent the world as such, as such: not as having undergone subjective misfortunes."
One opposite says: "I am the oneness of the world." Another opposite says deeply and sweetly: "I am the manyness of the world." And they both say: "You hear us as you listen to an orchestra playing the Third Symphony of Beethoven. It is we who are present in a novel, well made, containing the diversity and surprises of reality. It is we who are present in the changes discernible in Michelangelo's work in the Sistine Chapel. It is we, Oneness and Manyness, who are present in Hamlet as it persists and shows difference."
I have had Oneness and Manyness somewhat speak for themselves. They are, Oneness and Manyness are, the third opposites in the Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites? of 1955.
The world now in all its distress, all its nigh-unbearableness, can be seen as the cause of all we like. Were the world reflected on as beauty or art, we should be more ready to see that we can use its everlasting structure to make some sense of occurrences that disgust, dismay, and often dishearten.
And we should ask: As we see the world aesthetically, do we see it as more real or less real? According to Aesthetic Realism, aesthetics is the reality of the world; and all other presumed reality is pale, insufficient, somewhat fraudulent.
5. Towards Like of the World
When, dear unknown friends, the world is talked of in terms of the eighth pair of opposites in Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites?—that is, Continuity and Discontinuity—a person may feel: "It is all very well, but it doesn't please me so much." However, when it is seen that The Mooche of Duke Ellington and the In the Mood of Joe Garland and Glenn Miller are deep and stirring and surprising studies in the oneness of continuity and discontinuity, maybe we shall respect the world more for being the father, mother, and grandfather of all continuity and discontinuity as one.
Continuity and discontinuity are big things in Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps, in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. It is continuity and discontinuity that often make an atlas of the world a pleasing visit to geology and geography as history and sculpture. It is continuity and discontinuity that enable us to have a sense of self. Whenever personality is in a bad way, the continuity and discontinuity of reality, life, and self have fared badly. Stopping and going on are universal matters.
Two opposites present in both sex and art are heaviness and lightness. The world is quite clearly light, as space is reached, unaccompanied even by awkward galaxies. Heaviness and lightness are in the electron and the mountain. Nothing is more solid than the electron, even as the electron is invisible. Curve and angle, and curve and straight line are related to heaviness and lightness. The electron slips as it is everlasting.
However, I cannot in one number of TRO show that it is nothing but a likable world present in every instance of our finding something beautiful. The work of showing the presence of the world in what is beautiful must go on; and people must be critical of it. Otherwise, the great enemy of kindness, logic, and man will still be running things. This enemy is contempt.
The team of aesthetics and the world is a team whose greatness, loveliness, and efficiency have not been seen as yet. I hope this number of TRO makes the team of aesthetics and reality look as useful, as friendly, as necessary as they truly are.
Yes, contempt has a rival in the world itself.
© 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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