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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 NUMBER 1454.—February 14, 2001

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

Education, Ambition, & What Millions Like

Dear Unknown Friends:

We continue to serialize the great 1973 lecture Educational Method Is Poetic, by Eli Siegel. And we print portions of a paper by Aesthetic Realism consultant Joseph Meglino, from a recent Aesthetic Realism public seminar titled "What Men Most Need to Know about Ambition."

Eli Siegel is the philosopher who showed that the deepest ambition of every person is to like the world. Any ambition we achieve which is not a means of our seeing the world truly and caring for it in its largeness, makes for profound uneasiness in us: has us feel nervous, empty, angry, unsure; has us feel a failure. Mr. Siegel is the educator who showed, too, that "the purpose of education is to like the world." If we accumulate a lot of information, are replete with degrees, yet through them do not care more for the reality all learning is about, we are really uneducated.

In public seminars, New York City teachers who use the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method have made this beautiful fact clear: When children see that each subject they meet in the classroom shows that the world can be authentically liked, they want to learn, and do. The means is this Aesthetic Realism principle: "The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites." Every item in the curriculum is a oneness of reality's opposites; and is evidence that with all the injustice in the world—injustice we should criticize thoroughly and accurately—reality is made well.

Let us take the study of tenses in a language—maybe a foreign language, maybe our own wonderful English. As a verb indicates past, present, and future, it puts together two tremendous opposites: the verb both changes and remains the same. A child can see this in: "I love baseball. I loved it when I was 6. And I will love it 30 years from now!" Both children and adults can feel mixed up and pained in their lives by these opposites of change and sameness—and very much in relation to time. Even a young child can feel her past is so different from now, almost another world; and she can feel the future is unknown and fearful. Through seeing the opposites made one in a language's tenses, a child feels that as things change they have sameness too! She feels there is coherence in reality, in time, and in her. She learns this subject, because she sees it as kind, and exciting.

What a TV Show Appeals To

Aesthetic Realism explains the largest matters in people's lives. And it can also explain what people are interested in at any moment—what is popular. Take the immense popularity now of the Survivor television shows. These programs are related to the subject of education, because they appeal to two things in people: They appeal to the desire in us which education is for: the desire to like and respect the world. But they also appeal to that in the self which is the enemy to education; to that which Mr. Siegel showed is the most hurtful thing in humanity—the desire for contempt, "the addition to self through the lessening of something else." In other words, the Survivor shows appeal to two opposed hopes in everyone. They have the mix-up that every person has—with, I'm afraid, contempt, and encouragement of viewers' contempt, predominating. Here are some of the ways these shows stand for the two conflicting desires of people:

1) As with other "reality" shows—unscripted shows in which real human beings react to circumstances and each other—Survivor appeals to the desire in people to feel that life itself is interesting and dramatic and that there is form to be found in it. This desire is respect for the world.

2) Some of the interest in primitive living, in getting "back to nature," is a criticism of life in the profit system—of life based on acquisition. And this criticism is respect for reality.

3) A primal life on a Malaysian island or in the Australian outback, shot with cutting edge technology by a sophisticated television crew, is a making one of opposites every person has: the primitive and the cultivated. We long to feel these opposites can be one—in us and reality. This longing is respect for the world.

Is the Earth Kind?

4) Living off the land, surviving simply on what earth provides, excites people because it shows that earth and the human self are deeply friendly. The best aspect of the Survivor series is explained by these sentences of Eli Siegel, which I love:

The big question is whether earth is kind .... The earth that makes all kinds of nice potatoes also makes rocks that you can't eat very well. Earth is kind and unkind, but you have to make up your mind what is the essential trend about the earth .... The whole purport of Aesthetic Realism is that the more you know what reality is, the kinder you'll feel that it is. [TRO 648]

5) Meanwhile, the Survivor shows also encourage intensely the desire to see the world, including people, as something to fight, to beat. It is clear that the producers want to evoke contempt, in the participants and the audience. They like the idea of pitting people, even on the same team, against each other. They like to show people suspicious of each other and looking down on each other. One participant says: "This is about deceit, deception." One says: "The name of the game is, trust no one."

Of course, contempt and ill will are part of humanity, and every good writer presents them. But Survivor should be compared with a book by an author Mr. Siegel speaks of in this issue of TRO. In Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, with its shipwrecked protagonist trying to survive on a far-off island, we see humanity as fearful and hoping, noble and ignoble, and earth as both brutal and friendly. But through it all, and through the beautiful form Defoe brings to his story, we respect the world and people more. The producers of the television series want us to relish the contempt the participants have for each other; they want us to see contempt and ill will as the thing humanity was meant for, and as the winning ticket—even as we, the viewers, have contempt for the participants whose contempt we see. Occasionally these participants show feeling for one another, but then speedily we see them lessening each other; and the producers are not just reflecting the ill will of people, they are arranging for it to come forth and blossom.

Aesthetic Realism shows, greatly: While we have both desires, to value reality and despise it, we never like ourselves for the second, and that is a tribute to humanity's grandeur. Further, good will—the desire to respect reality and people—is the height of education and the strongest and most exciting thing in the world. Eli Siegel not only showed this to be so, he lived it all the time.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

Liveliness & Form
By Eli Siegel

In a work of Defoe of 1697, An Essay upon Projects, there is a part given to a women's academy. Defoe says that if a woman has a good quality, it will become greater through education, and if she has a not good quality, it will likely become less through education. He puts it very well.

On the other hand, suppose her to be the very same woman, and rob her of the benefit of education, and it follows thus: If her temper be good, want of education makes her soft and easy [i.e., careless] .... If her temper be bad, want of [education] makes her worse, and she grows haughty, insolent, and loud.

It is not thought generally that Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, was an authority on women, but he was. The man who wrote Moll Flanders and Roxana is writing here.

There are poems concerned with education. There's a peevish poem of Cowper, "Tirocinium," in which he says schools shouldn't be—people should learn at home. Cowper remembers how lonely he was in school, and also how he used it badly.

There is James Thomson at the conclusion of the book "Spring" in his Seasons. In these lines we get two opposites that are in education: to cause ferment, enlivening, liveliness in a person; also, to give it structure—to make children more spry and more symmetrical. Spryness and symmetry are two objects of education, and both should be loved. [Thomson is speaking about a very young child:]

By degrees,

The human blossom blows; and every day,

Soft as it rolls along, shows some new charm.

It has been agreed that a person learns most in the days from 1 to 2 years, and a whole epoch of education takes place in the years from 1 to 6. In other words, you become a little accustomed to the world by the time you're 6—not really accustomed; you're never accustomed to it. The world never sells itself to you unless you're very educated. The stupider you are, the more you're cautious about buying the world.

Then infant Reason grows apace, and calls

For the kind hand of an assiduous care.

What care are we looking for? We have a title like the New School for Social Research. "For Social Research" means care of other people, organized; care of thought, organized.

Delightful task! to rear the tender Thought,

To teach the young Idea how to shoot.

That has become a proverbial phrase.

This is a romantic way of seeing education. And evil is left out too much.

To pour the fresh Instruction o'er the Mind,

To breathe the enlivening Spirit, and to fix

The generous Purpose in the glowing breast.

When Thomson says "generous Purpose" he is saying good will, along with livening instruction. Instruction and structure have the same root. black diamond

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The Two Kinds of Ambition
By Joseph Meglino

Men need to know what I am grateful to have learned from Aesthetic Realism: there are two kinds of ambition. That is, our ambition—about a job, for instance, or about love—will arise either from a desire to know and like the world, or from a desire to be superior and have contempt.

In an Aesthetic Realism class of 1975, Eli Siegel described the two ambitions fighting in me when he asked: "Does Joe Meglino prefer comfort over perception, or perception over comfort?" And I am very fortunate that the desire a man has to see women as existing to make him comfortable was criticized in me.

When I met Pauline Fanning, I was mightily taken with her beauty, the depth of feeling she showed, her surprising sense of humor and lively interest in things. I soon fell in love with her. Yet as we were dating, when she wanted to talk about herself or was interested in knowing me better, I would feel all this questioning and talking were too much! I got annoyed. Then in an Aesthetic Realism class, Mr. Siegel said to me: "It happens that while we are interested in love, we also want to have a rest. Do you feel Pauline Fanning asks too much of you?" "Yes," I answered.

He explained, with humor, and clarity, and depth: "Men like to be loved, but at the same time they don't like too much to be asked of them. There is a self that says: 'I should be loved without doing a damned thing, because I am I. All I do is collect feminine dividends.' That is one aspect of self we are disposed to be faithful to. Then, there is another: 'I must be true to my desire to like reality through caring for this person.'"

I thank Mr. Siegel for teaching me that true love is "proud need": the proud feeling that we need the meaning, the life, the criticism of another person to be fully ourselves. It means so much to me that Pauline and I have been married these past 23 years. I treasure her and see her as a deep friend who wants to know and strengthen me, as I want to know and strengthen her.

To Be Likedor to Be Kind?

Growing up, I cared for science and had a desire to learn how things worked. But I also had another ambition: to be seen as the most wonderful, superior person, liked by everyone. I would do favors and flatter a person, even when I didn't really like or agree with him. And when I got people to like me, I felt I owned them.

This drive made for a crisis in the first job I had after college: teaching science to 7th and 8th graders in the Bronx. My ambition to be liked was in severe conflict with my desire to keep order, to insist on things like homework and study. This ambition to be seen as a nice guy was really mean: underneath my smiles, I was calling to the worst things in my students and not encouraging their deepest desire, to learn and respect reality. And they objected. Increasingly, my classrooms were noisy, unruly, chaotic. Most mornings, feeling a huge knot in my stomach, I dreaded going to class. After a few months I felt like a failure and quit.

Years later, as a parent, I had a similar question as to my son, David. I would arrange his day and what he would do, and expect homage and devotion in return. But that is not what I got. I was troubled; and in an Aesthetic Realism class Ellen Reiss asked me: "As people want to like themselves, do they go about it sensibly or not?" "Not sensibly," I answered. She continued: "How have you? Have you felt you should do things for people and they in turn should worship and adore you?" "Yes," I said; "that is what I've gone for." She asked me how I would come to have a high opinion of myself: would it be through getting people to approve of me while I inwardly felt I'd fooled them, or "through honestly having respect for reality and that which stands for reality"?

The True Ambition

I learned that I have a far greater ambition than to be seen as a nice guy. That ambition is to have a good effect on people. Instead of seeing people as stick figures to arrange and manipulate, I saw that there was a much larger pleasure in knowing a person, strengthening him or her, learning from that person. As I consciously wanted to know my son, and encourage him to like the world—not just me—I felt a pride and pleasure that I had never felt before! 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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First Thursday of each month, 6:30 PM: Seminars with speakers from Aesthetic Realism faculty

Third Saturday of each month, 8 PM: Aesthetic Realism Dramatic Presentations
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The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known (TRO) is a biweekly periodical of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation.
Editor: Ellen Reiss
Coordinators: Nancy Huntting, Meryl Simon, Steven Weiner

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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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