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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 NUMBER 1864.—December 18, 2013

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

How Everyday! How Big!

Dear Unknown Friends:

Here are two essays by Eli Siegel, written, it appears, in the 1960s. Both have to do with what Aesthetic Realism shows is the fight within every human being: between the desire to have contempt for the world and the desire to respect it. Part of the greatness of Aesthetic Realism is that it has described this fight in all its massiveness and nuance, and shown it to be the ongoing, principal battle all through history and in the daily life of everyone.

Both contenders in this mightiest and most everyday battle do things with the opposites of self and world. The desire to respect the world is the feeling that in trying to be just to something else we take care of ourselves. From that desire come all art, science, intelligence, and real love. Contempt, however, is the use of a seeming care for self against justice to outside things. Mr. Siegel defined it as “the addition to self through the lessening of something else,” and he showed that contempt is the ugly, cruel principle within humanity. From it has come every horror, including war, racism, all economic exploitation.

In the two essays printed here, Mr. Siegel writes about some everyday forms of contempt.

In the first essay, he gives to a certain kind of contempt a jocular name: “the Bourgeois Devil.” That word bourgeois is used less now than once, but what it describes is around today as much as ever. Various online dictionaries tell us the word indicates being impelled by “conventional attitudes” and “small-mindedness.” Mr. Siegel writes of the word’s meaning richly and, I think, thrillingly in his essay. But without too much anticipating him—and since I want to comment on some of the daily effects of that thing which he explains—I’ll say for now that to be bourgeois is to lack ethical courage and to be run by the contempt that is a quiet selfishness. He writes: “It is the Bourgeois Devil that doesn’t want to ask as the first thing, Do I see things well enough, do I give them enough value...?”

Five Everyday Results of Contempt

There are painful feelings people have every day that arise from a contempt they take for granted. And now, because of Aesthetic Realism, so much ordinary suffering, as well as tremendous cruelty, can be understood and end at last.

For example, 1) there is the emptiness millions of men and women feel day after day: the what-does-it-all-come-to, is-that-all-there-is feeling. People don’t know that there is a desire in them not to see meaning in things. Being stirred beyond a certain point and in a steady way; seeing, not just momentarily, other things and people as important; feeling steadily that there are big things for us to learn; finding vivid value in what’s not ourselves; feeling that objects, happenings, people are as real as we are and deserve to be seen justly, including by us: all this, something in us takes as a terrific indignity, because it’s an assault on our ability to feel superior. So we’ve arranged not to have such seeing and feeling. Meanwhile, in the process we have brought an emptiness to our lives—because to rob things of meaning is to make life empty.

2) To rob things of meaning is also to be ashamed. That is because we have what Eli Siegel called an “ethical unconscious.” It’s a beautiful fact that we come from the world, and are part of it; the world is in us in thousands of ways; we were born to be fair to it—and so we’re against ourselves when we’re not fair to it. This being against ourselves takes many forms. For instance, a person who flattens things becomes nervous, anxious. And he can have, in various degrees, that awful combination of disgust with the world and loathing of himself which is depression.

3) Then, there is love. As people have contempt for the world by not wanting to know it and by dulling its meaning, they are making it impossible for love to succeed in their lives. Two people may join in diminishing and kicking out the world together; they may do so cozily; they may do so passionately, with corporeal explosiveness. But they come to resent each other—because, not wanting to find big meaning in the outside world, they can’t really want to find it in one another either. A person we’re trying to love is, after all, a representative of the very world we’ve made unworthy of stirring us. If our large purpose is not to know things and people, our purpose with a particular person won’t be to know, to understand, him or her. It will be something else: the managing, accompanied by perceptual neglect, of a human being whom we make much of. Therefore, we’ll be resented, and resent. Sometimes the resentment will cause a break-up. But it is also present in decades-long marriages, where it grates, aches, simmers, looks suspiciously, and again and again bursts forth in the midst of devotion.

False Excitement & Fear

4) Another ordinary result of ordinary contempt is the following: Since one’s triumphant flattening of the world has made life pretty dull, one feels driven toward various forms of spurious “excitement.” The excitement may involve drink or drugs; it may involve things one is not proud of in relation to sex and the viewing of violence in films and video games. And often, having essentially turned up one’s nose at most of reality, what one finds most exciting is food—the taking it into oneself excessively, on one’s own terms.

5) The last everyday matter I’ll mention is a certain fearfulness or worry. There are, of course, things we should rightly worry about. But millions of people are inaccurately fearful for this reason: because they’ve been unfair to the world, they unknowingly feel they deserve to be punished by it in some fashion—it will come at them and hurt them. We also get something out of being fearful. After all, if the world is going to hurt us, we have a right to keep away from things. So we use worry to ratify our desire to be unstirred by, contemptuous of, the world.

In the two essays that follow, Eli Siegel’s writing is scholarly and warm; it has depth and charm. And it honors, shows, fights for, encourages the best thing in every person: the ability to be ourselves because we want to know and feel justly the outside world.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

The Bourgeois Devil
By Eli Siegel

The Bourgeois Devil can be called the devil that leans back, not the devil that plans intricate and fearful mischief. In the long run, the Bourgeois Devil can be described as indifference where there might be an individual, accurate emotion. There are two ways of being against the world: one is planning to make it worse or to destroy it or to hurt it; the other is the wish or tendency to see it as coming to nothing much.

In a talk, A Rosary of Evil, I described evil as junction and separation working against each other in a person. There can be a junction which makes for acquisitiveness, management, power without considerateness; there is a separation which makes for lack of interest, loftiness, absence of feeling.

Good in a person can be described as the utmost interest in a thing while there is also a seeing of that thing as different from oneself. Good is sameness and difference felt by a specific mind.

Never Appreciated

The Bourgeois Devil takes the form of wanting to be liked ever so much because of the good things one intends, and the feeling that one is never appreciated. In the Bourgeois Devil there is a fussy, busybodyishness and a constant accentuation of the fact that one’s worth can never be seen.

It is the Bourgeois Devil that doesn’t want to ask as the first thing, Do I see things well enough, do I give them enough value, do I respect things enough, is my tendency to make things other than myself less beautiful? A person is not bourgeois who first asks, How do I see? and then, How am I seen or appreciated? The Bourgeois Devil, as the bourgeois mind, establishes self on the basis of its not being appreciated and the impossibility of its being appreciated. There are many men and women who think that the only being worthy of appreciating them and wishing to appreciate them, is the hidden God.

The Bourgeois Devil is what makes for regard of the conventional and the authoritative, and for the sequestration of oneself. The Bourgeois Devil makes one think that if one goes along with the accepted general and human powers, one has a right to hide. It is the Bourgeois Devil which doesn’t give its attention to the cracking of safes at midnight but to the insuring and perpetuity of inertia.

It is the Bourgeois Devil that makes self-satisfaction more attractive than the going for honest knowledge. It is the Bourgeois Devil that makes one organically feel one has the answers even before the questions have ever been looked for or looked at. It is the Bourgeois Devil that disposes a self to accept itself as flabby, autonomous contentment with a possibility of having this flabby, autonomous contentment punctuated by the most fearful shrieks to the effect that one is not appreciated.

There is a desire, impelled by the Bourgeois Devil, to be all by oneself, with a right nevertheless to be praised by that which one is separate from. The Bourgeois Devil at its most consummate tells one that one can be entirely aloof and yet through some well-timed strategic activities, looking benevolent, one can get and should get the appreciation of what is other than oneself; the fervent approbation of a world which one unconsciously scorns.

What Coleridge Is Saying

The literature about the Bourgeois Devil—and also the picturesque devil or wily devil or dark-street-haunting devil—is mighty and frequent. I could choose many other texts, but for this while, I use Coleridge’s “Dejection: An Ode” as illustrative of the Bourgeois Devil, his works and effects.

The Bourgeois Devil makes us sluggish, peevish, and also can bring about boredom—which used to be one of the words for alienation. In Coleridge’s “Dejection,” there are these two lines: “I see them all so excellently fair, / I see, not feel, how beautiful they are!”

When we do not feel things in a way that makes for interest, it is hard for us to see that something in us wants it that way. What Coleridge is saying here was said by him more poetically in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” In “Dejection: An Ode,” Coleridge essentially deals with the something which has made one unresponsive to the shows and essence of earth. That something can be called other things, but it is well to call it the Bourgeois Devil. It is the devil of limitation; and the bourgeois is essentially the limited.

My genial spirits fail;

And what can these avail

To lift the smothering weight from off my breast?

When Coleridge uses the phrase “my genial spirits,” he means that in an individual which organically is disposed to like things or be interested in them. The genial in us is that which is disposed to love the general, to see other things as like ourselves, and to like the likeness. The word genial has in it the logical notion of generality and the warm notion of generous.

The Bourgeois Devil is that which limits the genial in us and makes this limiting seem to us prudence, astuteness, distinction.

It is a pity that the language of Coleridge in “Dejection” should have in it a kind of flossiness or seeming mysticism. When Coleridge says,

O Lady! we receive but what we give,

And in our life alone does Nature live—

what he is saying is that if we wish to think the world is for us, we should first want to see the world as having value. This is against the great tendency of the Bourgeois Devil: when you feel you’re appreciated, that’s the time it is wise for you to begin seeing: appreciation first, respect for things second. Coleridge combats this in the poem “Dejection”—and, again, we wish it were better as a poem.

As the lines go on after those we have just quoted, Coleridge has the phrase “poor loveless ever-anxious crowd.” These are the people—and there are just plain folk among them—who have followed the orders of the Bourgeois Devil. The Bourgeois Devil wants a person to think he is made enough of before he begins honestly to love anything.

The bourgeoisie, limiting the closeness of oneself and the universe and also making for a closeness which is acquisition and antagonism, have to be the loveless. A good deal of why there is that frigid apartness which is now called alienation is, with all their excess verbal effulgence and insufficient poetic exactitude, in these lines of “Dejection: An Ode,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

O Lady! we receive but what we give,

And in our life alone does Nature live:

Ours is her wedding garment, ours her shroud!

And would we aught behold, of higher worth,

Than that inanimate cold world allowed

To the poor loveless ever-anxious crowd,

Ah! from the soul itself must issue forth

Alight, a glory, a fair luminous cloud

Enveloping the earth—

And from the soul itself must there be sent

A sweet and potent voice, of its own birth,

Of all sweet sounds the life and element!

Coleridge Looks for a Storm

In “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the Mariner is shaken up by what happens to him. In “Dejection,” written about five years later, Coleridge looks for a storm to shake him so that he can see what he truly wants to see. He says, for instance: “And may this storm be but a mountain-birth.”

The storm in “Dejection” may be seen as nature’s criticism, nature’s opposition to the falsely complacent. (This is one of the reasons why persons like to go out in a rainstorm or snowstorm.)

Something, then, has been said—with the assistance of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ever in English literature—of the Bourgeois Devil working for evil as tepidity and concealment. He is much around, and it is only right that people know as much about him as they can.

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On Coming Late
By Eli Siegel

It has been hard for persons to see that the attitude to the world in Aesthetic Realism is keenly about what goes on in everyday life, in the customary hour. Aesthetic Realism says that the largest thing in a person, the constant debate in the unconscious, is whether the outside world should be liked or disliked, accepted or disdained. This means that respect for reality or contempt for it is being considered by every living being during the minutes of a day.

This is not easy to see as relevant, as tangible. Sex is certainly more conceivable or realizable. However, a communication has come my way which I think can make immediate for us the idea that we do have an attitude to the world, and that this attitude is working daily.

Continually Late

The communication told of a person’s being continually late for his engagements. In the past, the cause of this chronically being late had been seen as sexual; as concerned with masochism; as a desire to display one’s conspicuously, specially noticeable importance.

The causes given need not be ruled out entirely, for they are likely related to what Aesthetic Realism sees as the main cause. This main cause is the deep disinclination that is in everyone to take part in the quotidian doings of the world. There is resentment, in some form common to all, that we have to give our unique, even sacred personality to the demands of a not so gorgeous or comely world.

In order to make a living, or in order to avoid having no friends at all, we have to do somewhat as we say we shall in commercial or social situations. Entire heedlessness would make for lonely, undesirable, unremunerating effects. So what to do?

The unconscious is clever, and can serve the hopes of its own murkily predominant world and also what is asked by the opposing world outside. Therefore, many persons have felt (without seeing this too sharply or luminously) that coming late would meet the dull demands of a universe other than ourselves and would also serve our hopes that we are what we are, untinged, unsmudged by extraneous, not so noble objectivity.

In this world, we have to meet our own deepest yearnings and those annoying requirements of a Wednesday morning, say.

Our Opinion of the World

Coming late, then, comes from a dislike of the world and of the pressure that a disregarding world has on us. Coming late—a frequent thing—is as clear a sign as any that we do have a feeling about the world as such.

The world invites us, but often the invitation is not interesting enough: it is dull. The world not only invites us, it tasks us. We have an opinion about the world as seemingly wanting something from us.

That opinion shows itself in our perhaps coming late in some constant manner. Our opinion of the world shows itself in sex, in how we eat, how we sleep, how we talk, how we read, how we vote.

But that is another story and a big one. Aesthetic Realism is interested in all of it. It is the story of Aesthetic Realism itself. black diamond

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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The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known (TRO) is a biweekly periodical of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation.
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TRO: Home |  Current |  Art |  Literature |  Racism |  Education |  Nat'l Ethics |  Love |  Economics |  Memorial |  Site Map
"Is a Person an Aesthetic Situation?" by Eli Siegel: a short explanation of Aesthetic Realism
The Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company in New York City. Authors in the repertory include Ibsen, Sheridan, Shakespeare, O'Neill.
Ellen Reiss, Commentaries in TRO:
The Mideast  |  Poetry of Eli Siegel |  Unions
Lord Byron |  Harry Potter |  Sherlock Holmes
Robert Burns |  The 'criticism' of John Keats
Racism & Its Solution
Aesthetic Realism Resources:
Aesthetic Realism Consultations
Two Biographies of Eli Siegel:
[1] Aesthetic Realism Foundation
[2] Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company Site
Friends of Aesthetic Realism—Countering the Lies
Art and Literature:
The Terrain Gallery / Aesthetic Realism Foundation
The Place of Aesthetic Realism in Culture & Literature

The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method:
Lesson Plans in Diverse Subjects
Teaching Indian Culture in the United States:
The Aesthetic Realism Method
Further Resources:
Essays and News Pieces about Aesthetic Realism
Photographic Education: the Aesthetic Realism Viewpoint
A New Perspective for Anthropology: The Aesthetic Realism Method
Self-Expression and What Interferes: an Aesthetic Realism Discussion
John Singer Sargent's Madame X, an Aesthetic Realism Discussion

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