|NUMBER 1744.—May 13, 2009|
Dear Unknown Friends:
s we approach the 31st anniversary of the terrible operation that led to the death of Eli Siegel, we are honored to publish several of the many poems he wrote in the last year of his life.
We print too part of a paper that Aesthetic Realism consultant Jeffrey Carduner presented at a public seminar this March. The seminar was on the subject “What Kind of Power Does a Man Want Most?” and what's here is only a small section of Mr. Carduner's paper. But we see in it something that Aesthetic Realism explains and that every person and nation needs mightily, desperately, to know: There are two kinds of power, and we're in a fight between them all the time. They are the power of contempt, to lessen other things as a means of making ourselves big; and the power of respect, to see and add to the meaning of reality—of people and things. That human beings haven't known the difference has made for vast personal and international suffering.
There Was May 1978
hat occurred 31 years ago, before, during, and after the surgery Mr. Siegel underwent, is a study in those two kinds of power: one ugly and devastating; the other, exemplified by Mr. Siegel himself, beautiful. What he would call “the operation so disastrous to me” was a supposedly simple procedure for a benign prostatic condition. But the founder of Aesthetic Realism was in the surgical power of a doctor who some months later admitted to me and others that he, Dr. Joseph De Filippi, had been angry at the largeness of his own respect for Mr. Siegel. The surgeon chose to use a general anesthetic, uncommon for such a procedure. He wanted his patient unconscious. And whatever went on with those cutting implements, Mr. Siegel awoke with his life in ruins. “I have lost the use of my feet,” he wrote several weeks after.
Persons' anger at him because they respected him so much is something Mr. Siegel was subjected to all his life. This resentment arises from an awful notion of power, and has occurred in history before. It arises from the feeling, “I must be superior! I must be able to have contempt whenever I please—for anyone and anything! If someone or something interferes with my ability to look down—I'm enraged, livid. I feel that what gives me my sense of self—contempt—is being undercut, and I want to destroy the person or thing that's doing it.”
This is the anger that Martin Luther King faced, because he was so intent on opposing that horrible looking down which is racism. It's the anger Galileo faced, because he showed that there was more to know about the universe than the smug “authorities” thought they knew: the universe, literally, did not revolve around them. It's the anger Darwin faced (and can still face), because he showed that human beings are not separate “special” creations but are, in all their importance, part of a whole. Evolution makes one respect all life more, feel related to all creatures rather than feeling scornfully apart. Similarly: Eli Siegel, because of his integrity and size of intellect, and Aesthetic Realism, because one needs to learn so much from it and because it is the biggest opponent of contempt, have infuriated people.
r. Siegel was very much against undergoing the surgery. The doctors urged it, saying he would die unless he had it. He said he would rather die than have it. His wife, Martha Baird, sought the opinion of some of Mr. Siegel's students, and we all—with a horrendous rapidity—said we felt he should have the operation. Speaking for myself: I see my being cowed by the doctors, my lack of desire to think about the feeling and health of the person I valued most in the world, as abhorrent. While the medical people made for an atmosphere of rush and I was frightened for Mr. Siegel's life, the reason I and others swiftly and brutally dismissed his own judgment was that we too resented our respect for him—resented the fact that we saw as great a person not touted by the establishment. We welcomed feeling superior: that we were wiser about his health than he was. My regret, as one can imagine, is limitless and unending. Mr. Siegel consented to the surgery. The consequences of our injustice were tragic.
A Beautiful Power
n the weeks and months after the surgery, Mr. Siegel, in anguish, felt himself grow weaker and weaker. Yet his desire to see reality truly never flagged. He taught Aesthetic Realism classes, lecturing powerfully, often humorously, on drama, poetry, the novel. He wrote poems and issues of this journal, dictating them when his hands were no longer able to use a pen. He gave Aesthetic Realism lessons to individual men and women, in which the matters that troubled them most were explained. Those present at the time felt we were seeing some of the fullest human grandeur that ever existed: unfailing kindness, imagination, and intellect amid agony.
Mr. Siegel wanted to be in the world in a way that was fair to it; his passion about this was thorough. He could not bear the idea that the worsening state of his body would make him unable to meet things with the justice he felt they deserved from him. And so, on November 8, 1978, he died—amid the splendor and fading of autumn, a season he loved.
There Is Music
r. Siegel wrote, as I said, many poems in the last year of his life. They are of different lengths, in different poetic forms, on many different subjects—including the economy, the geography of America, the sciences, the confusions of people, weather, beauty in diverse forms, and what he himself met in a hospital. He wrote many poems about music, and we publish here six short poems, and one longer, on that subject.
Eli Siegel is the philosopher to explain what makes for beauty in every instance of authentic art. Music, and all art, is not an offset to life: it is a showing of what reality truly is—the oneness of opposites. And as we hear music, we're hearing what we want to do in our lives: “All beauty,” he explained, “is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”
Some of these poems point, not in any theoretical way, but as something that stirs one deeply, to opposites in music: the piercing and the sweet; the unbounded and the immediate; the profound and the casual. And they have, each differently but richly, that verbal music which, Aesthetic Realism makes clear, every good poem has. Eli Siegel, at the time of tragedy, wanted to be, and was, fair to music—just as he was fair to the world music stands for. The poems have his joy, his care for the world, his intellect always at one with feeling.
What Kind of Power?
By Jeffrey Carduner
“Hut 1! Hut 2!” screamed Ron Sims, our quarterback. On “Hut 3!” the Wheatley Wildcats' offensive line surged as we battered our hated rival, Roslyn High. We began to take control of the game. Then Tom Cramer, the huge defensive tackle whom I'd fought tooth and nail for three quarters, was on the ground writhing in pain and had to be taken off the field. I felt exhilarated, but also worried about how badly I'd hurt him. Later that night when we met the Roslyn players at a party, these young men, against whom we'd built up such anger, seemed like pretty nice guys, and I felt ashamed that I'd used my power to be unnecessarily aggressive and so unfeeling.
A great thing I learned from Aesthetic Realism is that there are two kinds of power. Being able to distinguish between these will decide whether a man likes or despises himself. Mr. Siegel explained:
Two Kinds of Power, Early
s a boy, I was after both kinds of power. At a camp in the Adirondacks that featured athletics, we put on the play Damn Yankees, and I, who'd known nothing about theatre, was in the chorus. Portraying baseball players, we boys locked arms and sang, “You gotta have heart, miles and miles and miles of heart.” I loved singing with the others, and felt strong and also kind of sweet, which was new for me! I was having the power that makes “thing[s] look better.”
I also wanted the other power: “of proving...that this thing...or this life...will do as you want it to.” By the time I was 13 I was very much affected by girls. While I liked this feeling, it also made me uncomfortable and sometimes angry. One way men have gone after bad power is by keeping women guessing. We get a great satisfaction in feeling that a woman's hopes are centered around us and that we have the power to satisfy those hopes or not.
For example, in college I'd been seeing Janet Stevens and there was even thought about marriage. Then suddenly I asked Peggy out, and when Janet saw us drive up on campus together she ran into her dorm, hurt, shocked, and angry. I felt I'd had a victory, but I also felt like a heel.
When I began to study Aesthetic Realism, I wrote to Mr. Siegel about how bad I felt about the way I'd been with women, including as to sex. I wrote that every relationship I'd had went bad and I didn't know why. In a class he asked me: “Are there some things in you that you can give way to, and after be sorry about?”
I'd begun to care for a young woman, Devorah Tarrow, and Mr. Siegel asked, “Do you believe, for example, you'd like to have Ms. Tarrow say, “Come see me,” and you'd say, “Well, I want to see about this latest report I have to do”?
I'd never heard anyone talk this way—honest and straight. I began to think about how I'd been with people all my life. I remembered how my mother would try to talk to me and I'd act elusive and cool, tormenting her. Or she'd serve dinner and ask if I liked it, and I'd shrug my shoulders. It was contempt, and it was ugly. I'd never asked, What does another person feel to herself or himself? What does a woman deserve from me?
I hadn't seen myself as “a representative of justice,” but I began to realize that this is what I had most hoped for. I needed to try to be fair to people—to see, as Aesthetic Realism explains, that every person has in him or her the structure of the world, the oneness of opposites. I began to see it as powerful to want to know Devorah. And I saw in her both thoughtfulness and energy, seriousness and lightness; I was affected by her attractiveness and her care for knowledge. She was energetically interested in other people's doing well, and I fell in love with her.
A Woman Is Education
eanwhile, I didn't have an easy time of it—I didn't always see having deeper feeling as strong. I sometimes felt I was losing power in being so affected by Devorah. In a class, Mr. Siegel asked about this: “What's been irking you? Does Ms. Tarrow admire you enough? Is she at your beck and call?”
I did the second.
Devorah Tarrow is my wife, and I'm fortunate that in these years I continue to learn to know her and use her to like the whole world. I've seen that to want to know the depths of other people and to have a good effect on their lives is power we can be proud of.
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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