What Man Is
Dear Unknown Friends:
Aesthetic Realism arose from the greatest desire ever had by one person—to see all people truly and the world itself truly. This was Eli Siegel's desire. He was unswervingly and gracefully faithful to it, and he achieved it. As he began in 1941 to teach Aesthetic Realism, the philosophy he founded, he was teaching the true explanation of the world and every self—self white or black, Asian or European, woman or man, every self.
He wrote in “The Aesthetic Method in Self-Conflict,” a chapter of his Self and World, “In all persons, tough and genteel, hard-boiled and dreamy, vulgar and elegant, the beginning, large problem is aesthetic: just that.” He defined every person's central, aesthetic problem: “How is he to be entirely himself, and yet be fair to that world which he does not see as himself?” (p. 91). He showed that the interference in everyone—the cause of all mental difficulty, domestic quarrels, war—is contempt, the “disposition in every person to think wee will be for ourselves by making less of the outside world.” Because Aesthetic Realism has not been widely known, humanity has endured the ravages of contempt these decades.
We print Mr. Siegel's “Questions for Everyone,” first published in 1949. Because Aesthetic Realism understands man, it is able to ask the questions, not asked before, that people need most to hear in order to have the lives they want. In Aesthetic Realism lessons, as Eli Siegel spoke to a person and asked him questions, they were the kindest, most needed questions. They were completely particular: they got to the center of that person in all his/her uniqueness. They also made a person feel related to the whole world. It is the great good fortune of my life to have experienced this, richly. In Aesthetic Realism lessons taught by Eli Siegel, people felt—I felt—what no people had felt before in history: “A person knows me, really knows me, as I truly am!”
The 1966 lecture by Mr. Siegel reported on here contains two urgently needed things: the Aesthetic Realism way of seeing poetry, and Aesthetic Realism’s justice about race. Eli Siegel is the critic who explained what poetry is: “the oneness of the permanent opposites in reality as seen by an individual.” I learned from him that there is nothing more important than the difference between a good poem and a bad: it is the difference between a person’s expressing himself through being fair to the world, and a person’s expressing himself in a way unfair or insufficiently fair to the world. Lacking the knowledge that is in the Aesthetic Realism explanation of poetry, persons, including critics and professors, do not know the difference between verbal impressiveness and that most needed musical honesty which poetry is.
As Eli Siegel shows that black writer Sterling Brown stands for Man, he presents that way of seeing humanity—as the aesthetic oneness of sameness and difference—which the world must study. Aesthetic Realism is the only education that can end prejudice. Eli Siegel himself was completely without prejudice. He was beautifully just to every human being.