Peter Gorlin Interviews Eli Siegel on The World of Art, April 18, 1963 — Part 3, Conclusion
"Somewhere This": About It
MR. GORLIN. Mr. Siegel, one of your poems from Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana in particular confused me. The poem is called "Somewhere This." Could you read it, and then explain how this poem would relate to what you have just spoken about, that is to say, ethics.
MR. SIEGEL. First I'll read it. There is one sentence perhaps I can utter before I read it. The world consists of what is concerned with us and what is not: the elevated train of long ago seemed to many people unconcerned with their worries and their hopes.
Trees standing in rain;
Footfalls on the pavement, feet crushing leaves;
A little girl leaving her house;
The moon, barely to be seen, shining dully in the gray sky;
A cry from somewhere;
A man scolding his wife, and being heard outside;
A man going into a library;
A shout from somewhere.
"Chicken I want," says someone near.
"O, what do I care," says a girl.
"He loves me, I'm sure," says a girl.
"What the hell do I care," says a boy.
"What did he do then?" says a man.
The elevated comes roaring by.
Rain falls quietly.
It is cold.
It grows darker.
In the library nearby are books of history.
"My, my, what shall I do?" asks a girl.
"That's what he died of," says a young man.
"He was in the war," says a girl.
"She's the prettiest girl I know," says someone.
The elevated can now be hardly heard; it is roaring elsewhere.
Water falls from the trees.
"O, what do I care," says a girl.
"I love her," says a boy of a girl.
"Whoo, that's rich," says a young man.
A good dirty story is being told.
A man worries about the money he has.
The elevated comes roaring by somewhere else.
"O, hell, no!" says someone.
The moon now can hardly be seen.
"I like poetry," says a girl near the library.
"O, what do you care?" says a girl to a girl.
"It's such a long time," says a girl.
An elevated goes roaring by.
"O, my, my, what shall I do?" says someone.
The elevated goes roaring by elsewhere.
"Isn't he crazy?" says a girl, giggling.
"Who in hell cares?" says a young man.
"No, I didn't see the newspaper this morning," says someone.
"He better had pay me," says someone.
"Who put out the lights?" asks a man.
A boy and a girl are together.
What is that girl thinking of?
What are the meals in that house, with the lights on in the
first and fourth floors?
Lights come up in the second floor, too.
The lights in the second floor of another house are out.
Men and women, boys and girls, are on the streets and
It is later now; it is after seven.
It is raining very thinly.
It is cold.
The elevated goes roaring by and it is later still.
The moon can hardly be seen.
It is later,
O, it is later.
Well, in this poem quite obviously people's emotions are juxtaposed with two things, one natural and one mechanical: the moon and the elevated. According to Aesthetic Realism, all things are related, and the purpose of art is to find that relation which is fairest to the things concerned. A dirty story may be told while a man is worrying about his wife in a hospital. Moods criss-cross, they oppose each other; man himself is fighting his moods with other moods. Meanwhile, that which doesn't seem to be interested in man—an elevated train or the moon or time itself—these things are around, too.
So, what is the relation of a feeling a girl has that she may not be as cared for as she thought, to an elevated, to the moon, or to the triumphant feeling of some boy about another girl? What is the relation of rooms to emotions? What is the relation of the fact that there is a second floor to the moon and rain?
These are old questions. The purpose of art is to show the triumphant, unseen implicitness in familiar objects. We can do this by relating them. To relate a spoon and a leaf is to make both the spoon and the leaf more alive. And so, if we have the fact that the weather is cold related to someone being angry, saying, "He better had pay me"—well, there's a possibility there.
This poem, of course, was not written with all these possibilities charted out, but something of that sort was gone after: in the same way we don't plan to have our temperature at 98 degrees, nonetheless there is something in us which goes for exactitude. There can be a motive, an instinct, an unconscious going for exactitude. I should hope that something of that sort is present in this poem.
And when I think of the relation of the tree and the various motions and the cursing and the wistfulness and the moon and the elevated—which in a sense is the hero, because the elevated seemed to be like the heart of man: it went on no matter what else was going on—when I think of the relations of the things I mentioned, and that there is something all say to each other, I must say, I like it that way.
The Opposites Are at Home
MR. GORLIN. Mr. Siegel, how can the listener in his home right now begin to use the principles of Aesthetic Realism in seeing his surroundings? In particular, what should he look at and what should he look for?
MR. SIEGEL. The immediate question of every person these days is how to be relaxed and excited at once. We all want more quiet, and we also want more adventure, more excitement.
I think that if a person looks at himself at this moment, he will see—whether he's sitting on a chair, or standing up, or sitting on a sofa, or at a table—that he is relaxed and tense at once. If he is listening to this, he likely is looking for something—which means he's hoping, he's excited a bit. Whenever you hope, you're a little excited. At the same time, there is some feeling of ease, because life implies that.
So if we want to see what the opposites are, we should look at a simple situation: sitting down. In sitting down, the body is in a state of relaxation and firmness at once. It is in a state of ease and tension at once. Then let us say we have some thoughts. As soon as a thought comes to us, in so far as it is ours, it is familiar, it is, after all, of us; but we should like to think that there are some thoughts that are different from any we ever had. We are looking for continuity and difference. Everybody in a home is looking for that.
The next thing that we can do is to ask who we are and what are we close to? According to Aesthetic Realism, sometimes it is kind to the family to see them as loving strangers. We are more strange to ourselves than we know. We can be mystified by ourselves. As soon as we look underneath our neck, we can have a sense of tremendous strangeness, and we don't have to be sick in order to do it. We can, in other words, see ourselves as ourselves, related, no matter where we are, to all the things that have been, are, and can be. We are a study in the utmost strangeness and the utmost familiarity.
In the meantime, as we sit down, obviously we are at rest and in motion. Blood is circulating even though we are looking for repose, and—if we are fortunate—having it. We are in a constant state of motion at our most blissfully undisturbed moments. We are looking, in other words, for excitement with repose.
And everybody we know is part of that picture. The friend that we are most familiar with can be the subject of a question. The question can be put this way: Where am I dissatisfied with this friend, or where am I dissatisfied with how I see this friend?
This brings us, even in terms of our friend, to the Objective and the Subjective, because it happens that we think neither our friends are perfect nor ourselves; and that means we have to accept ourselves and our friends even while there is something we usually do not accept.
It is clear, then, that while the whole world is complete and incomplete at once, perfect and imperfect, that is the way we are.
Copyright © 1963 by Definition Press