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Essays

Here in the Online Library we present essays in which Eli Siegel illuminates some of the least understood aspects of people's lives. They include his classic “The Ordinary Doom,” and "The Everlasting Dilemma of a Girl." These essays show with great keenness and compassion the logic that underlies our emotions at their best and worst. And there is the humorous essay, "What Is the Best Punctuation for the Self?" as well as essays explaining Aesthetic Realism in brief. We continue to post more.

36 Things about America

"An Arithmetical Assemblage of Notations on the Persisting..." more

• Aesthetic Realism Asks Thirty-Five Questions about Mathematics

"In these questions—presented by the founder of Aesthetic Realism in a class on September 1, 1968—is that relation between art and science which men of thought have looked for. We see through these questions that number, calculation, algebra, trigonometry, calculus are about the very lives of people: our tears, our passion, our turmoil..." more

• Aesthetics Realism: Three Instances

Contains: 1. "Some Central Notions"; 2. "Hurrah for Sameness"; 3. "Aesthetic Realism: Essentially"

• The Aesthetics of Business: Some Points

"According to Aesthetic Realism, reality itself is a oneness of opposites. And reality includes business—this would be agreed to near any Curtain, in any continent, in any office, on any journal. Some of the major opposites in reality are difference and sameness, manyness and oneness, motion and rest, junction and separation, old and new, permanent and immediate...." more

• Aesthetics and the Child

"Every child is born into a world and the rest of his life is spent in doing something about it. Every child who has been born has done something about it. It is right to criticize what children and people not children have done with themselves and their universal material. Aesthetic Realism sees a successful dealing with the universe as being like the success in a great painting, grand music, validly exciting poetry...." more

• Alcoholism; or, You Got to Find the World Interesting

"An alcoholic is a person who hasn’t found the world interesting enough, and is doing something about it in his own way. And who of us, it may be asked, has found the world interesting enough? The best way, in the long run, to conquer alcoholism is to show people they can find the world interesting enough, likable enough, without the indispensable aid of magic and regrettable beverages...." more

• Are Feelings Objects? or, The Alienation of Any Time

"It would seem that feelings are objects, for they can be thought about; and, insofar as they can change, they can have something done to them....If we don't want to see our feelings as objects, or can't see them as objects, we are that much alienated..." more

• Art as Composition

"Art is the composition of things seen as having a tendency not to be composed; that is, free or themselves ..." more

• Art as Drama

"Art shows the drama in things seen. The roundness and weight of a chestnut are in a state of drama; as are the lines and color. As conflict and reconciliation, struggle and resolution, surprise and continuity are essential things in the drama of the stage, so contrast and harmony, clash and relation, thrust and blending are essential in painting...." more

• Art as Energy

"Art is the energy that sees a thing as it is, by seeing it more as it is. Always in energy is the idea of more: energy is more than stillness, more than leaving a thing as it is at any one time. So, in art as energy there is the change that is care, the power that is good will...." more

• Art as the Exquisite

"Art as the exquisite shows that the smallest things explain reality. The fact that the atom or electron is about the whole world is both exquisite and tremendous. The idea of the all is exquisite—and sublime....The exquisite can be described as that which shows order and drama in the very little"... more

• Art as Flexibility

"Art shows reality as resisting, bending; asserting, fading—which is how it is. Reality is as it changes, and flexibility in art is a visual likelihood of a thing's changing in space, while remaining what it is. As a stem of a flower sways in the wind, we have a sight of flexibility. Yieldingness as sight is much in pictures; the yieldingness that makes for strength is what we look for in art...." more

• Art as Humor

"Art is humor, because reality is humor; and so, art as the essential showing of reality, shows reality in its humor. Humor in the long run is the seeing of reality as orderly and free, with the free predominating. Humor can be seen, too, as reality with sameness and difference, and the difference predominating; with concord and discord, and the discord predominating;... and so on...." more

Art as, Yes, Humility

"Humility is the willingness to see things other than oneself as having meaning for oneself. This humility makes for pride; for pride, in the long run, comes from the comprehensive and accurate way one is affected by reality, the universe that is under one's nose and is far away..." more

• Biographical Aspects of Not Such Well Known Americans

"1. Cincinnati: Fred Hazard, of Cincinnati, father of three children, two in high school, looked, at the blue sky recently and said: "I wish, I was there. ..." more

• The Changing Center

"...All women, and all persons, want to be approved of. A young woman feels most approved of when a young man is making love to her….When we are approved of, we are inclined to think everything is on our side, telling us we belong, we are somebody...." more

• Conflict as Possibility 

"Is conflict always about difference and sameness as they may be seen anywhere? The answer is Yes.Wherever two things are different and these things are seen as part of the same whole, there is conflict. Conflict may be regarded as two things making up the same whole or thing seen as two, as different, and as in opposition. The notion of conflict cannot be understood apart from the notion of rhythm. Rhythm, in fact, can be seen as conflict completed...." more

• Declaration about Old Age

"Aesthetic Realism sees old age as like all other ages. The desire of a person of eighty to like himself and the world is as keen as it was when that person was eight, or eighteen, or twenty-eight.... " more

• The Drama of Hardness and Softness in Painting

"Piero della Francesca and Jean Baptiste Camille Corot are, at this moment, both of art: their work is true to art....Somewhere, a careful critical evaluation of the qualities and artistic procedures in the work of Piero della Francesca would meet and go along with the first, simple feeling that it was “hard”; and somewhere such an evaluation of the painting by Corot would go along with the feeling that it was “soft.”... " more

• The Essential Problem

"The essential problem of all people is decidedly simple and illimitedly complex….We look at ourselves and we see that we are; and then after looking at ourselves we find that there is something besides ourselves. And our problem, our simple problem, is to get along with what is not ourselves. We are; something else is: what shall we do about it?..." more

• The Everlasting Dilemma of a Girl

"Girls have always found it hard to know what they should be liked for. Of course, they have wanted to be liked for how they looked; but suppose they couldn’t feel that how they looked was the same as what they really were? Then there was something missing; and there were incompleteness and pain..." more

Note: You may also read this essay, along with a commentary by Ellen Reiss, in #1866 of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known. [click here]

Faugh, Reality!

"...There are two big reasons why people have an aversion to reality and therefore have a disposition to say, “Faugh, reality!” 1) The first is simple, elementary, obvious—and worth mentioning. It is that reality doesn’t seem to be a friend at all. It is in our way when we want to do something and often acts like an angry, wily stranger with all kinds of cards bad for us up its sleeve....” more

Great Books; and the Kick

"Always people have wanted to read great books. Really, people would just as soon read great books as little books, or what is called "ephemeral literature." The only trouble, and it is a big one, is that they don't most often enjoy the great books. Further, as soon as a person enjoys a great book like Aristotle's Metaphysics or Smith's Wealth of Nations, he no longer sees himself as of the people; so he no longer counts. He is now with the learned and exclusive...." more

Hawthorne's "The Man of Adamant"

"If there is any one work, it seems to me, where Hawthorne has presented concisely and richly his attitude to the world and the heart of man, that work is the short story "The Man of Adamant." This story was included in The Snow Image, and Other Twice Told Tales, which appeared in 1851, a year after The Scarlet Letter...." more

Husbands and Poems

"It certainly is not the common opinion; yet what a woman wants from a husband is like what should be in poems, and is in the poems which now can truly give honest delight, aesthetic excitement, useful, meaningful emotion. There hasn’t been a poem, having what a poem should have, doing what a poem should do, which did not have energy and grace, or strength and ease, or exactness and suggestion...." more

Impediment in Poetry

"...Poetry is constantly a triumphant dealing with impediment or obstruction; in fact, the more it is poetry, the more the triumph and the impediment merge, the freedom and the hindrance coalesce, and space and weight are in true amity. How freedom and obstruction meet in lines of poetry is one of the richest technical questions in the art...." more

Is a Person an Aesthetic Situation? A Short Explanation Given by Eli Siegel in an Interview with Lewis
  Nichols of the New York Times Book Review, January 14, 1969

"What is an aesthetic situation? An aesthetic situation is one in which the forces of the world, like rest and motion, tranquillity and agitation, depth and surface, oneness and manyness, spontaneity and control, familiarity and strangeness, humor and sadness, are present. We have just given some instances of what Aesthetic Realism and the English dictionary call opposites...." more

• Is the Solution of Politics, Aesthetics?

"There are clearer signs in recent years of what has been true all along: that the solution of politics is aesthetics. The purpose of politics is to have the individual see himself as at one with the state. If the state cows the individual, is remote from him does not consider him, then the situation is not good—and—this is the point—it is not aesthetic..." more

• Is Your Unconscious Your Friend?

"The unconscious of a person has never been wholly a friend, but has always tried to be. The reason for this is that the unconscious is not just one thing, with a purpose that is settled. The Aesthetic Realism way of seeing the unconscious is not the way of Leibnitz, Schopenhauer, Hartmann—and certainly it is not the way of the entertainingly imaginative Dr. Freud....The chief thing in the unconscious as Aesthetic Realism sees it is its going for aesthetics...." more

• Known and Unknown: Washington Irving's "The Stout Gentleman"

"The known makes us more aware of the unknown: both are in us. The relation of known and unknown is a large, constant thing in all our lives; and the playing of known on unknown, unknown on known, is both foundation and atmosphere in the novel or short story, as it is in all art...." more

• Liking the World on an Honest Basis: A Note

"To like the world on an honest basis is to like it aesthetically: as a picture is liked, a poem, a play. Let us say someone in distress is looking at a picture. Is it possible for that person to like the picture, even as he says, I'm greatly worried?..." more

• Liking the World Story

"There was once a person who bought a very beautiful painting—it could have been of the 15th century, it could have been of the 16th century, it could have been earlier. That beautiful painting became part of his home and mingled with a wall of where he lived. He looked at the painting and saw its beauty quite often. However, a sister of his died...." more

• Literature; A Run, with Some Philosophic Stops

This is the first of 31 points: "1. Homer, or somebody, saw what he as a person felt, and he used the Trojan War in a way that was fair to the universe; out of Homer's being fair to himself, and just to the universe, came the Homeric literature with its hexameters that remain...." more

• Medusa Is a Nice Girl

"In looking at women or girls—as with men—one can begin in a hardness that has to accompany self-preservation, or the amiability, gentleness, grace that are needed for being liked. It has happened often…that a woman who had once seemed softness, benevolent charm, and helpful sweetness, seemed like Medusa. She became representative of rigidity and a statue as forbiddingness...." more

• On Aesthetic Realism as New

"Here are some of the differences between Aesthetic Realism and some of the important presentations of opposites we have had in the past..." more

Note: You may also read this essay, along with a commentary by Ellen Reiss, in #1863 of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known [click here]

The Opposites as They Happen

"It is the viewpoint of Aesthetic Realism that everything is the oneness of opposites; and that when a thing is seen as having opposites making one, it is seen as beautiful….[T]here is a great disposition to look on a statement like the one I have just made as cosmologically remote…. Consequently, it is necessary that the statement be judged by what it means in what is happening now...." more

• The Ordinary Doom

"If we judge from history, we are doomed not to show our feelings; not to have them known. There have been many, many persons who have lived rather long lives, and who have been in many conversations; who yet did not show what was in their minds, what feelings they truly had..." more

• The Question of Pride in Sex

"[T]he essential question about sex...is not a fight between sex and chastity which man has violently and intricately had: it is a fight between sex and pride. As Aesthetic Realism sees it, man wants to enjoy things and people, but he also wants to like himself. He wants to feel "noble" even as a carnal forest is present. Men and women are no different here; they want to have a good time, but they want to look good to themselves…." more

Reflections on a Certain Lack of Intensity

"Shelley, in the 'Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,' is intensely affected by something, and it is lovely too. It is quite clear, then, that his contemporary status is questionable. Evil may excite one these days, but loveliness, no. That would be naïve, and reprehensible. Somehow, the Divine Comedy of Dante has lost a book, the Paradiso. Hell is intense, Purgatory has its points, but Paradise is with William Jennings Bryan—outdated....Literature asks that you be as excited by as many things as possible, as deeply as possible, as long as possible—and, too, as controlledly as possible"...more

• Shakespeare's Eighth Sonnet & Self

"The plays and poems of Shakespeare, like all great literature, are about the desire of a self to meet the universe at all points, and as subtly and richly as possible; and yet to retain a clear and permanent independence. Shakespeare felt that to diminish reality or dull it in order to find reason for establishing the inexpugnable existence of a self, was evil...." more

• Shakespeare's Hamlet: Revisited

From The Prologue: "It is a new Hamlet because it is a Hamlet who does not care for his father entirely. Insufficient care for a father has much to do with what happens in the play, and what doesn't; also with how the play goes on..." more

Slowness and Speed in Poetry

"The tendency these days is hardly to trip in poetry—which Coleridge says the trochee does. The tendency, rather, is to stalk, as Coleridge says the spondee does. Indeed, when one is speedy in poetry, in our age, he undergoes the likelihood of being considered not quite current. So much poetry is slow; so much poetry judiciously revolves, slowly; so much poetry is a painful and thick soup of gravely presented metaphor..." more

• The State of the Individual

"The individual now, as once, is a single thing and a strange thing meeting and retaining all sorts of objects. And as an individual goes through many motions, and is affected in many ways, and accumulates many and diversified memories, he has to organize all that comes to him, and, willy-nilly, he does somehow..." more

• What Is the Best Punctuation for the Self?

"There are some editors and a few other people who think that punctuation is important. However that may be, we have found that punctuation is important as to the greatest of all questions: What is the self? what is my self? and what does it have to do with things that don’t seem to be myself—near and ever so far?..." more

A Woman Is the Oneness of Aesthetic Opposites

"1. INDIVIDUAL: GENERAL. A woman being a person is by herself: an intimate, doing, responding world. She also is general, for she represents the human race, indeed all reality—is not earth even today, She?

2. OUTWARD: INWARD. A woman goes out to the universe hoping it will come to her in a form that is consonant with herself; the hope of a woman is for the universe walking in a room. She also has thoughts within herself as mysterious as Africa once, currents of space now; thoughts as subtle as the filaments of a butterfly at twilight... " more

• The World, as Such, Is Present in Jazz: Some Indications

"According to Aesthetic Realism, it is the world as the oneness of opposites that makes any art what it that makes beauty, aesthetic impact, aesthetic effect, tension, power, or whatever synonym for beauty one selects. The world is change and sameness, and it is change and sameness as one thing that is present in all art or beauty and makes that art or beauty what it is. The world is manyness and oneness, and these two, working as one, are present in all art....Is all this true about Jazz?..." more