|NUMBER 1800.—July 6, 2011||
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941
Dear Unknown Friends:
With this issue we begin to serialize You Can Gossip Philosophically about Psychology, the lecture Eli Siegel gave on May 15, 1970. In keeping with its title, the talk has casualness, humor. And as always with Mr. Siegel, the lightheartedness is inseparable from depth, scholarship, exactitude.
He is illustrating the very foundation of Aesthetic Realism: The deepest desire of every person is “to like the world on an honest or accurate basis.” And further, the self of everyone is a philosophic and aesthetic matter, because we are always trying to put opposites together in ourselves—opposites that are fundamental to reality, and that are made one in every instance of art.
What Made Him Do It?
A matter much in the news in recent weeks has to do with what the self is and what impels us. And so I’ll comment briefly on the Anthony Weiner revelations: the fact that this noted congressman, whose political future seemed bright, had been sending erotically revealing photos of himself to various women via Twitter and other social media. Weiner has since resigned. But as commentators eagerly hashed over the revelations day after day, one heard such statements as, “I don’t understand what made him do it—it’s a mystery” and “How could a sharp, media-savvy guy like that be so careless—didn’t he know he’d get caught?”
Aesthetic Realism understands, beautifully understands, the self. That includes the self of a person who could fight tenaciously in behalf of good causes yet also have another way of seeing, rather low; a person ever so smart yet also ever so foolish. Three years ago I wrote about this fact in relation to another eminent politician: Eliot Spitzer, former governor of New York.
Aesthetic Realism explains that there is a big fight going on in every person all the time. It’s between that deepest desire of ours, to like and respect the world honestly, and the desire to have contempt, to make less of the outside world as a means of elevating ourselves. Every particular impetus or drive or choice of ours comes from one or the other of those two desires, or from some mix-up of both.
Along with all the jokes and indignation around the Weiner scandal, there has been a good deal of discomfort, because people don’t understand how they themselves feel driven. And people do feel impelled in various ways that make them ashamed. Sometimes it’s in the dramatic field of sex, but it’s also in many others. People are deeply troubled by a drive to eat excessively; to make mean remarks; to compete with other people in conversations; to spend too much time online or in front of the television. People have asked themselves, about so much, “Why am I doing this? Why can’t I stop?”
Here, then, are some explanatory statements about the trouble of Anthony Weiner, and about what can drive a person.
1) Everything we do is about the world itself. If we don’t like the world—if we don’t see being just to it as making us important—we’ll try to conquer it, triumph over it, make it serve us while we look down on it. There are many ways of doing this—many ways of having contempt. You can use economics to have contempt for the world and people. You can use sex. You can use the Internet.
2) The true purpose of sex, Mr. Siegel writes, “is to feel closely one with things as a whole.” That purpose is respect. When people feel driven as to body in a way that makes them ashamed, it’s because they have a different purpose: sex can be such a rapid, explosive, powerful means of victorious contempt. Sex has been used to make the world please you and be affected by you mightily without your having to be fair to it and to that representative of it whose body you’re dealing with.
3) A person can get a thrill sending a lewd photo of himself to someone, because in doing so he has an effect, shocks the person, makes the person center on him, makes his own personal flesh the focal point of the world to the person. He has the heady feeling that the world and another person have come to a halt at his body. He feels he is running them: he is (for the moment at least) more important than everything else in the universe. The big thing wrong with what Anthony Weiner did was the contempt in it for people and reality.
4) The reason contempt can often take the form of some intense propulsion is that contempt is a determined evasion of what we most deeply are and want. It is a fake way of solving the question of our relation to the world. And it always makes us ashamed. One of the things not seen about Anthony Weiner is that as he sent messages and pictures through cyberspace, he felt very clever but also tormented and ashamed.
5) Weiner lied at first about what he had done. It happens that lying is even more popular than sex. But lying comes from the same thing that the contemptuous use of sex comes from. When you lie, you feel reality is yours to do with as you please: you don’t have to be fair to truth; truth should serve you. Managing truth is like managing a person, through body or otherwise. Both are contempt.
Respect & Self-Importance
6) We can be sure that Anthony Weiner did not feel fighting for his constituents gave him the full importance he was hoping for. Otherwise he would not have gone after the spurious, ugly importance that felled him. The tragedy of humanity is that people have not felt respecting things and people made them powerful, important, made their blood happily tingle. But if respect and self-glory have to be apart, we are doomed to be cheap and unkind.
Art, Aesthetic Realism explains, is always both respect for the world—and glory, pleasure, self-assertion: as one. Aesthetic Realism is the education in how to see, in our own lives, the way art sees. It is the education in how to criticize contempt. It is the most needed, kindest, most exciting education in the world.
—Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education
You Can Gossip Philosophically about Psychology
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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