Education and Friendship
Dear Unknown Friends:
This issue of TRO is about two tremendous subjects: education and friendship. We are serializing Eli Siegel's great 1973 lecture Educational Method Is Poetic. And we print part of a paper by composer Edward Green, from an Aesthetic Realism public seminar of last month titled "What Does It Mean to Be a Real Friend?" Though of course education and friendship have been concurrent—that is, friendships go on at school—the two matters have seemed hugely different. Learning has seemed another world than social life—even if the social life is whispered conversations in a classroom. And a young man and woman can flirt in a college library, but each feels the mind engaged in flirting is different from the mind that was just concerned with a book.
People have severed education and friendship in various ways. My way was to think that going after scholastic knowledge mattered, but that people were much less interesting than, for example, the study of English literature—and much less high class. In college and graduate school I was definitely interested in men; but I didn't think I needed to understand a man as I needed to understand a literary work. It is Aesthetic Realism alone that shows one does: Aesthetic Realism shows that friendship, romantic or otherwise, has to be scholarship in the largest sense. It has to be a tremendous desire to comprehend a person; and because it usually is not, there is pain connected with "friendship" and agony accompanying "love."
I love Aesthetic Realism for teaching me this. In an Aesthetic Realism lesson, Mr. Siegel once told me, critically, that it is more difficult to understand a man than the complete works of Shakespeare. I was like other people: I wanted friendship and love while having a deep contempt for what another human being is. People see people mainly in terms of oneself—does this person approve of me, make me important; and that, in its everyday way, even cozy way, is contempt. Mr. Siegel defined contempt as "the addition to self through the lessening of something else," and identified it as the source of all cruelty and of mental weakness.
And Aesthetic Realism is that in the history of thought which not only explains the purpose of education, and the purpose of friendship and love, but shows their purpose is the same! The purpose of both is to like the world. Aesthetic Realism shows that the structure of that world which we were born to like and which can so confuse us is in every aspect of every subject of the curriculum; and it is also in a person we might talk with over coffee, or embrace. That fact is outlined in the following Aesthetic Realism principle: "The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites."
They Have the Same Opposites
Let us take a subject studied in history classes—the American Declaration of Independence—and a friend. If we see both truly we will see reality's opposites alive in them—the same opposites.
The Declaration of Independence of 1776 is a terrific oneness of anger and caring. It is fury at how the 13 colonies were dealt with by England; and deep, propelling care for people and truth. And the friend I am thinking of, like a friend you might think of, wants anger and care to be one in himself: he longs to feel that if he's intensely against something it's not for some narrow reason, but comes from a love for what's just.
The Declaration of Independence is a oneness of freedom and accuracy or logic. Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and the others wanted to be exceedingly careful; and their document presents the solid logic for what they are doing. To show their reasonableness, "let Facts," they say, "be submitted to a candid world"; and they present those facts. But what all that orderly, careful logic is in behalf of is Independence, Freedom! A friend of yours or mine has these opposites too: he wants to be exact, and he wants to let go, be free. He's true to himself—he's beautiful—when he puts them together: when he is exuberantly, boundingly fair. But like us, he has pain because sometimes he sees freedom as separate from exactitude: he can go after the "freedom" of not thinking carefully about what other things deserve. Meanwhile: whether joined well or ill, the opposites in a great American document are the very fiber of who this friend is.
We hear the oneness of pride and humility all through the Declaration of Independence. They are simultaneous in the final sentence, with its sense of self-assertion and need, of self-worth and self-abnegation: "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." And there is nothing more important in the life of a friend of yours or mine than to be able to have pride that is also humble, humility that is proud.
I love Mr. Siegel for showing that to be a friend is to want to understand how the aesthetic structure of the world is in a person, and to encourage that person to like the world.
Culture and Warmth
Aesthetic Realism shows that education, learning, knowledge, is warm; and that the authentic seeing of another self is a cultural matter—has tremendous dignity. And that is what Eli Siegel showed in his own person. I know of no greater scholar, of any time; and whatever the subject he spoke on in his classes, you felt it had to do with your very self; it was throbbingly alive and close to you. Then, as Mr. Siegel spoke to a person—spoke to you about yourself—you saw a person's life, yours, related to and explained by history, art, principles true about all reality.
Aesthetic Realism provides the teaching method that magnificently succeeds—this has been documented year after year by New York City teachers who use it. And Aesthetic Realism is itself the greatest, kindest, most beautiful education.