|Dear Unknown Friends:
One of the biggest reasons humanity needs to study Aesthetic Realism is that people don't know what it is in them that weakens them, interferes with their intelligence and happiness, has them be cold and unkind, has them dislike themselves; and they also don't know what the best thing in them is — that which makes for strength, largeness of mind, kindness, pride. In terms of history and culture: people do not understand what in the self has made for "the best that has been known and thought in the world," as Matthew Arnold put it; and what in the self has caused the brutality present throughout the centuries — has caused what Burns called "man's inhumanity to man." The explanation is in Aesthetic Realism. And it is in the great 1950 lecture by Eli Siegel that we are serializing, Aesthetic Realism and Nature. Never before had nature been talked of as it was that evening fifty years ago.
Aesthetic Realism explains that the thing in us which weakens our minds, interferes, often ruinously, with every aspect of our lives, and makes us mean is our desire for contempt: the desire to get "an addition to self through the lessening of something else." The best thing in us, the source of all kindness, intelligence, and art, is the desire to respect reality, to like the world honestly. We are using everything we meet — whether a lake, a movie, an article of clothing, an embrace, a happening in the news, or garbage on the sidewalk — either to respect the world, or have contempt for it. As I tell of this explanation here, I feel with new wonder its might, its grandeur. This knowledge, presented by Eli Siegel, of our two defining purposes, is as much a turning point for civilization as the coming to be of the alphabet.
Sex and the Internet
People want to be pleased. And the question, Aesthetic Realism explains, is: will it be through respect for the world and other human beings, or through contempt? With sex, something so explosive, so comprehensive takes place as to one's body, that there is the opportunity to feel you have made the whole world something that exists to please you. There can be a feeling of having the world at last on one's own ecstatic terms through another human being. The complexities of reality and people have been annulled; you do not have to think, try to understand anything. Through someone's lavish intimate attentions, through someone's seeming to give himself or herself over to you utterly, you make insignificant all those people who confused you, and turn the world into a fleshly servant of yourself.
It is this contempt to which "cybersex," and pornography as such, appeal intensely. Meanwhile, people can also have contempt through the most customary sex in the sanctity of the marriage bed. The only thing ever wrong with sex, Mr. Siegel explained, is the contempt and selfishness in it. And the two big questions about cybersex, and any sex, are: 1) Are you respecting the person whose body you are looking at or thinking about or dealing with; or are you having contempt for that person? 2) Do you respect the world more through these sexual thoughts and happenings, or do you have contempt for it?
The only real answer to the allure of contemptuous sex is for people to see knowing as tremendous pleasure; to see respect for reality as luscious. While people don't like the world, they will want to have the world punished and serving them — through sex, likely, and other means: perhaps through food, greed, the managing of other human beings, in the family and out. For cybersex to be a draw no longer, people also need to see what Eli Siegel describes in his great essay "Obscenity Weakens; Art Strengthens":
Sex Can Be Respect
—We go now to Aesthetic Realism and Nature. Eli Siegel himself loved nature. And he has been speaking about a person whom he respected, the writer Richard Jefferies (1848-87), and explaining the deep trouble in his life, which no one else understood. Jefferies, Mr. Siegel shows, unknowingly used his ardent care for nature against people — to care less for them, not more.
By Eli Siegel
|There was in Jefferies
a tremendous love for nature. When I say tremendous love — he makes most
nature writing going on in the world right now look like thin milk, too
much warmed over. He had the inside of nature. One thinks all the
fields are in him. But he could not see that nature was also London and
the hurly-burly, though he was interested in London. He suffered a good
deal. He died early.
I read now some passages from this very intense book of Jefferies, The Story of My Heart, which was published in 1883:
This is some of the most intense nature writing in all literature:
Now, Jefferies was in a dilemma which he didn't understand. He wanted to like people, but already, in being so involved with nature, he had a solution that did not involve the full understanding of people. That is why, in his writing, when he deals with people in everyday action, he is not so good. — But going on:
What He Wanted to Feel
We have that word pray, and Jefferies doesn't say what it means. But he did want to feel that the whole world, including the world of cities, was on his side.
Looking at the sky, and lying face-down on the earth, and getting oneself in a whole canopy of sand-all those things look decidedly innocent. But they go along with the desire which people use in sleep, in going to the bathroom, in sometimes not wanting to talk, in sometimes eating too much, so they can't move. This tendency is present: the desire to have a fort around oneself, to cover up oneself. It can be done with gaiety, apparently. But still, contempt, the desire to despise the world, is on the job. When I think that this tendency on the part of people to assert themselves by making a separate universe of themselves can use anything, I think of all the people who will bury themselves in the sand tomorrow at Coney Island and think themselves great boys in doing so (or great ladies, or great girls), and I say, Well, the thing in you that you were born to make less, you are now making more.
A Good Way
It could be done in a good way. I'm not against lying face-down on the grass — if one says, "I'm doing this for the purpose of knowing," and that means not knowing just one thing, but knowing what things are about.
Aesthetic Realism is based on these principles, stated by Eli Siegel:
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.
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