NUMBER 1507. — February 20, 2002
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 
The Need to See Your Real Feeling
Dear Unknown Friends:

     A recent occurrence, important as history, stands also for a tremendous need in the life of everyone. It is the statement by Israeli soldiers that they will not take part in their army's activities in Gaza and the West Bank. The Washington Post of January 29 described it this way:

More than 60 Israeli army reservists, half of them officers and all of them combat veterans, have publicly refused to continue serving in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on the grounds that Israel's occupation forces there are abusing and humiliating Palestinians.

     "We will no longer fight beyond the Green Line for the purpose of occupying, deporting, destroying, blockading, killing, starving and humiliating an entire people," declared a petition signed by the reservists and published in Israel's best-selling daily newspaper.

     These reservists have now been joined by many others. I see their statement, including the sentence just quoted, as beautiful, brave, patriotic, true to Judaism, and necessary.

     What it represents, beyond the immediate situation, is the need for people to look at themselves and ask what it is they truly feel — not what others tell them to feel; not what it is convenient to feel.

     The desire to see what one really feels is, Aesthetic Realism explains, the crucial thing in sincerity. But it has been a rare thing. And the reason for its rareness, Mr. Siegel described in an Aesthetic Realism lesson. "We would rather use ourselves than know ourselves," he explained: use ourselves "to impress and manage other people" and be comfortable. The contest in everyone between the desire to know ourselves and that desire to use ourselves cleverly, to manipulate and look down on what's not ourselves, is a form of what Aesthetic Realism has shown to be the largest fight we each have: between respect for the world and contempt for it. The preference for the second has made for everyday pain and for tragedy on a massive scale.

An Everyday Preference

A woman, for instance, may be married to a man for 50 years and may never have tried, in all those years, to see what she really feels about him. That may seem a sensational statement, but it is not. On the one hand, this wife, Joan, wants to see her husband as wonderful and right because he's hers. She goes on the notion that he, Bill, is superior to their acquaintances; and both in her mind and vocally she defends him when he quarrels with people. She is indignant when someone expresses an objection to him. After all, he is a person who praised her elaborately once and still can, whom she identifies with herself and considers her possession. She doesn't want to see that she feels deeply he is unfair to things and people in many ways. (She also doesn't want to see that he dislikes himself for his unfairness.)

     Meanwhile, Joan doesn't want to see, either, the true respect she feels for her husband in various fields. That is because, even while she wants to see a possession of hers as wonderful, she also wants to feel superior to him. She gets a triumph feeling she's better than he is. So she makes less of the fact that there is much she can learn from him. In both instances — her making him better than he is and worse — she doesn't want to see her real feeling because it would interfere with her comfort and conceit.

     It cannot be said that Bill has wanted to see what his feelings about Joan truly are either. The couple are in their mid-70s. They stand for millions of people. They do not know that they have evaded looking at their feelings. Yet that evasion has made them resent each other, want to punish each other (including through sarcasm and silences); has made both ashamed; has made for a deep emptiness.

In the History of Nations

The lack of desire to see what one feels has been gigantic in the history of nations. It is responsible for monumental cruelty. For example, in the first half of the 19th century, Americans by and large did not wish to find out what they really felt about slavery. Those who did — the abolitionists — were miniscule in number, and were considered dangerous radicals. People want to be conventional, be liked by the "right people," and seeing one's true feeling can interfere with that. It would therefore be inconvenient, in the 1840s, say, for you to find out you were deeply against persons' being owned, bought, sold, by others, and the fact that slavery was supported by US law. You might even feel you had to do something about it, and that would be quite uncomfortable.

     Further, the sense, had deeply by every human being, that owning others is evil, would if honored interfere with a certain pleasure. It would interfere with the pleasure both Southerners and Northerners had looking down on a whole race, the pleasure of contempt. In many instances, seeing what one really felt about slavery would interfere with one's being able to continue owning slaves: interfere with the comfort of using human beings to serve and enrich oneself. For the same reasons, people for many years didn't want to ask what they really felt about child labor.

Sincerity in America

In 1967, during the Vietnam War, Eli Siegel wrote his long poem "Americans Have Tried to See What They Felt: Some of Them." It begins with the statement that a person "is to be judged by how much he tries to see what he feels, which is the same as the world in him." Then Mr. Siegel comments on various Americans who had that needed sincerity. Here are lines about William Lloyd Garrison:
Garrison saw injustice in himself — and lo, 
     he saw it not just in himself, but in this land.
To fight injustice in a land was, for Garrison, to fight 
     injustice on the self-preserve.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Garrison saw this feeling in himself: That Negro 
     I don't know in Alabama is not free, and 
     I can't stand it. I won't have it. I'll wake up 
     other people; I'll take them out of their unseeing, 
     unkind, death-torpor; I'll set them to freeing that Negro 
     in Alabama, or that black woman in Virginia.

Vietnam: The Real Feeling

History will say that those Americans who objected to this nation's purposes and actions in the Vietnam War, as Garrison objected to slavery, stood for America truly. The centuries have made it clear that what persons in a government present as patriotism, defense, national safety, may often not be those, but instead be conceit trying to have its way.

     Mr. Siegel from the very start said plainly that the Vietnam War was immoral, was un-American — was an attempt to force the profit system on the Vietnamese people, who did not want it. In this cause, we napalmed people, animals, earth; we bombed massively men, women, children; we sent Americans to maim and kill, and be maimed and killed.

     It took a long time for Americans to see how against that war they were, as it had taken a long time for Americans to see they were against slavery. But the seeing grew; and by the 1970s, to continue the Vietnam fighting was untenable. A large reason was, the conscious feeling against it in this land had come to be enormous.

     There has been in recent years an effort to make people forget, or not see truly, the feeling in America that had more and more people march in anti-Vietnam-War protests; the feeling behind the shout, which Mr. Siegel said was poetry, "Hey, hey, LBJ!/ How many kids did you kill today?"; the sick, furious feeling of American mothers that their sons were being sacrificed in behalf of something horrifically unworthy. There is an effort to fool people into thinking that that war was patriotic. But the being against it was one of the honest, beautiful feelings in American history, and America needs to see that fact and that feeling clearly now.

Today, What Do We Feel?

What our nation is presently engaged in is different from the Vietnam War. We were attacked; and there is an intricacy to the problem of how to meet that attack. Yet every American now has the question: "What do I, just I to myself, inside, really feel? — not what the television tells me I should feel, or even my neighbors. Do I want to keep asking, or go by what makes me comfortable and important?" This question, or these questions, are ours not just in relation to military choices. And nothing matters more than honesty about them.

     I think the revelations about Enron have had people more ready to ask what they feel. That is because through the Enron collapse, Americans are seeing that something they were asked to think they felt was untrue: they are seeing that profit economics is not trustworthy, ethical, nor, after all, so strong.

     We come to the Israeli soldiers and their feeling that, as Americans once put it, "Hell, no! We won't go!" These soldiers wrote:

We, combat officers and soldiers, ... have been issued orders and instructions that have nothing to do with the security of our country, orders whose sole purpose was to perpetuate domination over the Palestinian people .... 

We shall continue to serve the Israel Defense Forces in any mission that serves the defense of the State of Israel. The mission of occupation and repression does not serve this goal — and we refuse to participate in it.

     This feeling in them — as Mr. Siegel wrote about the feeling of William Bradford in the poem I quoted — "was just; and [they] wanted to see it." They should be loved for that. Their refusal should be celebrated, and all of Israel should join them in it, because it stands for what Mr. Siegel writes of in another poem, a very short one, which I care for greatly:
How to See the Jews

One should refuse
To lose sight of the whole world
As one loves the Jews.

Love for what is close to us, I learned, should have us want to be fair to all people — otherwise it's not really love but is fakery, conceit, sleaziness. This is true of domestic and social life, and also internationally and ethnically. 

What Is the Cause?

What needs to be seen, by the Israeli soldiers and everyone, Aesthetic Realism explains: what is it that makes human beings feel they can "kill ... , starv[e] and humiliat[e] an entire people"? What made millions of Germans back Hitler? What makes persons who suffered from Hitler be fascistic in their dealings with Palestinians? What makes various Palestinians see it as right to kill Jewish civilians? What makes Catholics and Protestants kill each other in Belfast?

     The cause, Mr. Siegel showed, is contempt: "the addition to self through the lessening of something else." Cruelty and wars will not stop until people are studying contempt, including in themselves: the feeling, so ordinary, that the way to establish oneself is to look down on someone else. It is this ordinary contempt which, when circumstances arise, has had average citizens agree to "humiliat[e] an entire people."

     It happens that if we see an unjust feeling of ours truly, really see it, we want to stop having it. Therefore, there is nothing greater and more joyful in the world than the fact that through Aesthetic Realism we can know and criticize contempt at last!

    For many years, Israeli students of Aesthetic Realism have written clearly on the cause of the agony in the Mideast and the way of seeing necessary to stop it. Recently, articles by Aesthetic Realism associate Ruth Oron and such colleagues of hers as Zvia Ratz, Zehava Fishman, Avi Gvili, Rose Levy, have appeared in American papers. This month, the Rock Island [Illinois] Argus published the article by Ms. Oron and her mother, Leah Shazar, under the headline "Israeli Mother, Daughter Outline Keys to World Peace." Their article has appeared too in the Chicago Defender, the New York Beacon, the Tennessee Tribune, and other journals. They write, in part:

With all that we Jews have suffered, we haven't used our pain to understand the pain and the hopes of the Palestinian people. Instead, we have ... giv[en] ourselves the right to deal with the Palestinian people as we pleased. This is contempt.
About the question Mr. Siegel said is the most important for humanity, "What does a person deserve by being a person?," they write:
Jews, Christians and Muslims urgently need to ask and answer [it] honestly. It is only when we want to know each other and be just to the centuries-long feelings we all have had for this dear earth we share — only then will we be able to trust one another and live together in peace.
     I have quoted, in this TRO, poetry by Eli Siegel. The poem that follows, "TEA, Beginning With," was written in 1966. He explained that all art is justice, and is a guide to the justice we should give to people. In this poem, there is justice to tea: there is the seeing of it with accuracy and wonder, lightsomeness and depth, immediacy and history. The justice is musical. It represents the beautiful justice Mr. Siegel gave everything. 

TEA, Beginning With
       By Eli Siegel 

   Cups of Tea Deserted

Two cups of tea
Were deserted
As two people quarreled
Over one white tablecloth.

   Tea As Evangelical

The way tea
Goes well with the cup
It is in
Gives one a dignified hope
That what has been sloppy
May yet be contained.

   Dr. Samuel Johnson of the
   Many Cups of Tea

The tea-drinking Dr. Samuel Johnson
(See Boswell on the subject:
One cup after another — yea)
Showed his appreciation of tea
By composing a dictionary
In which you can find
Tea at this very day.

   Tea Transforms Lecture and Snow

Tea was served
After a lecture
On 12th Street near Fifth Avenue.
It had been snowing,
And the ever so well-timed tea
Transformed the lecture and the snow.

   Song of an Indian, First Time in
   London, 1740

Wine can get to one's toes, 
So can tea.
Even so, wine and tea,
You look different:
Warmth giving, both.


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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Lord Byron | Harry Potter  |  Sherlock Holmes
Robert Burns  |  The 'criticism' of John Keats
Racism & Its Solution

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Friends of Aesthetic Realism—Countering the Lies

Art and Literature
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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:
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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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