Will It Be Knowing or Contempt?
Dear Unknown Friends:
We continue our serialization of The Scientific Method in Feeling, by Eli Siegel. This 1973 lecture is about two tremendous opposites in everyone: knowing and feeling. There has been trouble, pain, shame in about every life because the two have seemed at odds. Both men and women have felt that emotion, especially big emotion, made them less logical; and that to think carefully one had to put aside feelings, that to be reasonable was to be unstirred, rather cold.
Aesthetic Realism shows, magnificently, that knowing and feeling are always together. On how they’re together will depend our integrity or lack of it. And all art, true science, real intelligence, authentic kindness are, each of them, a oneness of mental exactitude and emotion. “All beauty,” Aesthetic Realism explains, “is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.” That principle is the basis of the great lecture we’re serializing.
Scientific Method, Fundamentally
As Mr. Siegel speaks about scientific method he is speaking about what it fundamentally is, what’s crucial in it, not certain procedures. He says early in the lecture: “The purpose of the real scientific method would be to know a thing in the best way.” And in his Definitions, and Comment he explains:
A person...is scientific: 1, when he goes after truth; 2, when he knows he’s going after it; 3, when the opportunity to go after something else is not taken advantage of.
In this talk Mr. Siegel is using selections from the College Book of English Literature to illustrate the simultaneity of science, or knowing, and feeling. He has reached two writers very different from each other: John Lyly (c.1554-1606) and the much more famous Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593). And here, I am going to quote words Mr. Siegel wrote about Marlowe in relation to another subject, because that subject has vitally to do with us today: with everyone’s life and with our nation.
Respect or Contempt: To Know or to Own
In his preface to Self and World Mr. Siegel writes about Marlowe’s play Dr. Faustus. It is, Mr. Siegel shows, a means of our seeing something about the most hurtful drive in everyone: contempt, the feeling that the way to be somebody, to be important, is through lessening what’s different from us—the outside world and people.
Faustus is the noted scholar who sells his soul to Mephistopheles, the Devil’s representative, in order to have the world at his command: in exchange for Faustus’s soul, Mephistopheles will give him whatever things or power he wishes. Mr. Siegel comments on the contempt that Faustus—despite all his scholarship—has for education: he wants, instead of learning, to have the world on his terms, run by him, and fast; he wants magic. Mr. Siegel writes:
The renowned play of Christopher Marlowe, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, is about a person not pleased with the customary world nor the customary study of this world....When, as Doctor Faustus does, we go for dismissing the wearisome world, we are saying hello to magic. Let us look at some lines of Marlowe...:
Philosophy is odious and obscure,
Both law and physic are for petty wits;
Divinity is basest of the three,
Unpleasant, harsh, contemptible, and vile;
’Tis magic, magic, that hath ravished me.
...Doctor Faustus had contempt for the world as obstructive....The world makes for anger and fear; but oh, how we should like to convert fear and anger into contempt!
Faustus is one of the important characters in literature. And the chief reason is the way he embodies what Aesthetic Realism shows to be the constant fight in everyone: between contempt for the world and respect for it. A large form of this battle is: the war in us between our desire to see meaning in things, to like the world through knowing it, and our desire to grab, own, acquire, manipulate, sneeringly run what’s not us.
Dr. Faustus of 1604 represents a fight going on about America herself in 2017. And in order to understand our country we need to understand it. It’s not a political fight. It’s the following ethical, aesthetic fight: Is, deeply, the purpose of America knowing or grabbing? Should her people, earth, abilities, resources, possibilities be looked upon and used in behalf of knowing; that is, should all her citizens be in circumstances conducive to their knowing and valuing the world and each other, to bringing out each other’s good possibilities? Or is the purpose of America, with her people and resources, to be material for some persons to grab, own, run for their private advantage?
This fight, then, of knowing the world and people versus using these contemptuously for one’s narrow, private glory was Faustus’s and is everyone’s. To try to understand this fight in us is truly to take care of ourselves. To try to understand it in a nation is to be patriotic.
In the preface to Self and World Mr. Siegel also looks at another Marlovian protagonist. The title character of Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, in a manner different from Faustus’s, sees the world as something not to know but to dominate, have his way with scornfully. Mr. Siegel writes:
The tremendously attractive figure, about 1589, of Marlowe’s Eastern potentate, Tamburlaine, again and again, makes resonant, powerful blank verse lines out of contempt. Perhaps the most famous depiction of contempt in early Elizabethan tragedy is Tamburlaine’s changing various Eastern rulers into something like horses whom he drives. Here are remembered lines of sonorous contempt:
Tamburlaine. Holla, ye pampered jades of Asia!
What! can ye draw but twenty miles a day,
And have so proud a chariot at your heels,
And such a coachman as great Tamburlaine!
In Love Too
The fight of knowing versus conquering, knowing versus owning, knowing versus using something or somebody for one’s own glory, is a fight that goes on in relation to love too. Ever so many women and men have told themselves they loved someone, when what they were after, a good deal at least, was to possess the person, make the person theirs. To love, Aesthetic Realism shows, is to want to know a person—as richly and exactly and steadily as ever a scientist or scholar has wanted to know a subject. I thank Aesthetic Realism with all my heart for explaining this, and for showing that the desire to know a person is the most truly, thrillingly, sweepingly romantic thing that can happen between two human beings. It’s what every kiss and touch should arise from and impel. And the pain, anger, and shame between people who thought they loved each other has come because what they called love was mainly conquest and ownership, not knowing.
This TRO, then, is about knowing, in two ways: knowing as inseparable from feeling; and knowing as the opponent to contempt—including the contempt that wants to own reality. About the second, in chapter 10 of Self and World there are sentences by Eli Siegel, great as English prose:
We can own the world only by knowing it. We can possess the world only by having it in our minds; that is, by having knowledge of it. All other possession, both in love and economics, is false and hurtful....It will never do. The unconscious will never be at ease. The world was meant to be known, to be felt, not to be parcelled out into huge segments or lesser segments for the complacent but deleterious delectation of some and the domination and manipulation of others.
That explains why Dr. Faustus is enormously not “at ease” as the play goes on. It explains this famous and beautiful line about Faustus at the end of the play: “Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight.”
Aesthetic Realism exists because of Eli Siegel’s passionate, constant love of knowledge. And through the study of Aesthetic Realism, the “branch” that is a person’s mind can truly flourish.