|NUMBER 1738.—February 18, 2009||
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941
Dear Unknown Friends:
Here is the second half of Reality Includes Sex, lecture 2 in the series that Eli Siegel gave at Steinway Hall early in his teaching of Aesthetic Realism. The talk took place on August 8, 1946. And in the second part, he speaks about Freud.
This is an instance of Mr. Siegel's clear, courageous, logical criticism of Freudian theory—the theory that, at the time, pervaded every aspect of culture, intimidated people, and was the source they went to in the hope to understand themselves and feel better. As I wrote in the last issue, Freud's “explanations” are pretty much unused in psychiatry today, because they have not worked. Yet the practitioners and psychiatric spokespersons have not had the integrity to say plainly that Freud, the Authority for decades, was wrong. As Mr. Siegel speaks of Aesthetic Realism's disagreement with Freud, he is presenting, with vividness and grace, what is true about the human mind.
Take Freud's concept of sublimation, which Mr. Siegel comments on here. That deeply repulsive concept is—mostly—no longer employed, yet the psychiatrists have never said that it is and always was false, unscientific, ugly, and insulting to the human self. This is how Calvin S. Hall, in A Primer of Freudian Psychology (NY, 1954), describes sublimation:
The deflection of [sexual] energy into intellectual, humanitarian, cultural, and artistic pursuits. The direct expression of sexual and aggressive instincts is transformed into apparently non-sexual and non-aggressive forms of behavior....Freud observed that da Vinci's interest in painting Madonnas was a sublimated expression of a longing for his mother....Since they [artists, including Shakespeare] could not obtain complete satisfaction for their sexual cravings in real life, they turned to imaginative creations. [Pp. 82-83]
Art & Sex
So we have two mighty things, art and sex, which people need tremendously to understand. Aesthetic Realism is great in its explanation of both. Eli Siegel was clear in 1946 and earlier and later: Despite Freud, art certainly does not arise from sex. There are two big desires in every person, at war in us: 1) the desire to be ourselves through caring for and being just to the outside world; 2) the desire to make ourselves important by looking down on and manipulating what's not ourselves. The second is contempt. All art arises from the first: art is respect for reality—full, rich, imaginative, certainly critical, but always deep and accurate, respect. And this respect and care for the world is the purpose that sex needs to have.
“Sex,” Mr. Siegel wrote three decades after the Steinway Hall lectures,
is either a means of having the world just the way we want it—that is, having contempt for it; or it can be the means of making the ordinary things of the world take on more meaning....The chief thing wrong with sex is that it so easily can be used as a means of ecstatic revenge on a world which we see as not having been good to us. Sex often is revenge, not expression.
An article that appeared in the New York Times on January 20 is a means of seeing how deeply unknowing psychiatry still is about sex. The writer, Richard A. Friedman, MD, tells about a young man who would become “depressed for about a day” after having sex, and this doctor says he couldn't see why, since “otherwise, [the patient] had a clean bill of health, both medical and psychiatric.” He describes other patients who also felt intensely bad after sex. Then the doctor says, what needs to be changed is not the unhappiness, but the intensity of the depressed aftermath—that people should expect to feel some sadness, lowness, unhappiness, after sex:
There is nothing strange about a little sadness after sexual pleasure....But these patients experienced intense dysphoria that...was too disruptive to be dismissed as mere unhappiness.
So this psychiatrist takes for granted that people feel bad after sex—that it's inevitable, in the nature of things. It is not ! The reason millions of people feel bad, angry, irritable, empty, ashamed, after seemingly fulfilling sex, is that they've used sex to have contempt—as Mr. Siegel describes in the lecture we're publishing.
The adroit way in which present-day psychiatry retains the Freudian view even while apparently putting it aside, is in the following comment by Dr. Friedman:
Psychiatrists like to joke that everything is about sex except for sex itself, which is another way of saying that just about every human behavior is permeated with hidden sexual meaning. Perhaps.
Well, is it or isn't it? The answer, for the understanding of humanity and reality, is of huge importance. “Perhaps” won't do. Everything is not permeated with sexual meaning, any more than it's permeated with the meaning of baseball. As Mr. Siegel showed in the Freudian heyday, sex and all other things come from the same reality. Each has in it, is permeated with, what reality itself is. And reality, he showed, is “the oneness of aesthetic opposites.”
The solution given in the Times article is: if you take Prozac or a related drug, it will “blunt” the awful feeling that can follow sex. The writer notes that the drug will also make the sex “less intensely pleasurable,” and if you stop taking it you'll feel awful again.
The Aesthetic Solution
Psychiatrists today don't say, as Freud did, that art comes from sex. But psychiatry does not understand art. And it does not know that for people to like themselves as to sex, they need to see the way art sees. Take one of the most famous poetic lines in world literature, by a writer Mr. Siegel speaks of in the talk we're printing: Lucretius (c. 96-55 bc). The line is from the first book of De Rerum Natura: “processit longe flammantia moenia mundi”—“He traveled far beyond the flaming walls of the world.”
The ms in “flammantia moenia mundi” are gentle, even as the idea—the flaming walls of the world—is fierce. The line in Latin is orderly, definite; yet it's about something unbounded, and it sounds that way too, with its wide vowels. The line is a oneness of neatness and the infinite; of gentleness and ferocity. Lucretius was trying, in the intimacy of a Roman room, to see truly, feel truly, what reality is; he wasn't trying to conquer it or put it aside. And so reality's opposites are one in this line.
That care for the world—as Mr. Siegel shows in the magnificent concluding paragraphs of his talk—is what two people should be going after in sex. Then they will not feel sad afterward. They will feel proud, intelligent, and kind.
—Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education
Reality Includes Sex, part 2
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
Subscriptions: 26 issues, US $18; 12 issues, US $9, Canada and Mexico $14, elsewhere $20. Make check or money order payable to Aesthetic Realism Foundation.
© Copyright 2014 by Aesthetic Realism Foundation • A not–for–profit educational foundation