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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 NUMBER 1518.—May 8, 2002

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

Education: For Respect or Contempt?

Dear Unknown Friends:

We continue to serialize Selves Are in Economics, the important, rich, sometimes humorous lecture Eli Siegel gave December 18, 1970. Much of the section published here has to do with education. And so does the article by Aesthetic Realism consultant Arnold Perey which we also print. It is from a paper he presented in March at an Aesthetic Realism public seminar titled "Good and Bad Ambition: What’s the Difference?"

Both economics and education are human matters. And so both are fields for that fight which, Mr. Siegel explained, is the huge battle within every person. The fight is this: Is reality to be known by us, understood, valued, cared for; or is it to be conquered, manipulated, used to glorify ourselves while lessening other things and persons? "The large fight...," Mr. Siegel wrote, "in every the fight between respect for reality and contempt for reality" (TRO 151).

Contempt has its economic forms and also its forms in the educational field. Just as a person can see the material world, with its goods and wealth, as something he should have in a way that makes him superior to others—so we can look on knowledge and learning acquisitively, snobbishly, exploitively too. I’ll comment a little on the fight about using knowledge in behalf of contempt or respect. It is raging in the colleges of America, and elsewhere. I love Mr. Siegel for explaining it. There is nothing that means more to me personally, nothing larger in my life, than his enabling me to use education in behalf of a care for reality and people instead of narrowness and conceit.

There Is Hal Stearns

In "Psychiatry, Economics, Aesthetics," chapter 10 of Self and World, a person Mr. Siegel writes about is the college teacher to whom he gives the name Hal Stearns. I quote some sentences about this man of academia, because in them the fight about education is described clearly, and in prose that is great:

Hal Stearns teaches in a California college. He is a graduate of Columbia and received his Ph.D. there. At college he was competitive; could not abide the idea of anyone receiving higher scholastic grades or honors. Nonetheless, he felt a decided impulsion towards learning. He has given severe nights to the study of Anglo-Saxon and is a rising authority on the literature between Chaucer and Spenser. He wrote his PhD thesis on Social Problems in Tudor Poetry....Hal Stearns’ personality harbors competitiveness of all sorts; still it is in the employ of a desire for documented learning.

    ... He once wrote a review in a learned journal of a book on John Skelton—a review which swarmed with precise, learned arrows....There was an adroit and most vigilant setting forth of the reviewed author’s insufficiencies and missteps, and an astute obscuring of his qualities.

    Stearns is learned, but he sees learned people ... as adversaries. The charming and wide and subtle field of learning is for him a battlefield of egos. [P. 291]

What Mr. Siegel describes here, thousands of people are suffering from and don’t understand. They may have many degrees, but they do not see that their wanting to be impressive, to get prestige, to beat out another, comes from something in them completely different from their desire to know, to look accurately at a subject. And they have the pain which Mr. Siegel later describes in Hal Stearns. Agitation, irritability, jealousy, wrath, and a feeling of emptiness, even as one is surrounded by cultural riches: these abound in the intellectual milieus of America, as they do in other milieus.

To want to own a scholarly field, to see an aspect of culture as your monopoly or that of your set, to dislike the idea (in fact, not even conceive the idea) of many, many others excelling in the field and of humanity as such caring for your subject: this way of mind is quite prevalent; and it is like something prevalent and contemptuous in economics. It is like the basis of the profit system: that the world should be owned not by all, but by a favored few. The seeing of knowledge in terms of acquisition, competition, and private ownership is a chief reason so many persons have less and less feeling for their chosen subjects as time goes by.

The Desire to Be Liked

Connected with the desire to beat out others, there is the desire to use the field of learning to be liked by "the right people," those in high positions academically or culturally, to be in the swim. Your subject can be the most beautiful in the world—it can be Shakespeare, American history, the atom—if your purpose is to be liked, to be part of the lodge, you won’t be sincere. You’ll never get to or express what you truly feel about it. You’ll also be dull.

And here I quote, with a gratitude equivalent to my very self, from an Aesthetic Realism lesson. I had begun work on my master’s thesis, on the Victorian critic and economist Walter Bagehot. And I was writing in the customary remote, thick academic manner, with adroit touches, I felt, of urbanity. I brought some of what I wrote to the lesson, and after reading it, Mr. Siegel said to me: "If you’re after an M. I’m quite sure you’re going to get it, because people are very much impressed with you. So as a person after a degree you have nothing to worry about. But I am thinking about your whole life. You are writing an acceptable thesis, but I don’t think you’re saying that which is in your heart."

He explained that if people want to be snobbish and go after approval "they have to have the great disadvantage of not saying what is in their hearts. So you take your choice—which do you want?" Because of Mr. Siegel’s beautiful integrity, and his enormous kindness in fighting for mine, I did write a thesis that was sincere, and could feel the graduate degree it earned me was based on what I really saw, on my saying what was in my heart.

Eli Siegel is the educator who showed that the purpose of education is to like the world through knowing it. That is the basis of the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method, which was described last week by New York public school teachers in a seminar with the title—so accurate and important—"The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method Succeeds: Anger Changes to Respect for Knowledge and People!"

The fact that education is for liking the world, is in opposition to another aspect of contempt among the learned: narrow specialization. Mr. Siegel was tremendously critical of such specialization. He was critical of it, I am thankful to say, in me. Certainly, we can want to give our thought more richly to some matters than others. But a way of conquering and despising the world is to say, "This subject I will make mine: I will own it, be glorious through it. Other things, I don’t have to see as mattering. And I certainly don’t have to be interested in people, because I am in a superior realm." That is a wonderful way to make one’s mind dry, dead, and mean, even as plaudits may come one’s way.

No person loved knowledge more than Mr. Siegel did. I believe he was, in the true sense, the best educated person who ever lived. He wrote in his poem "Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana": "The world is waiting to be known; Earth, what it has in it!" He literally wanted to know the world. His knowledge was wide, inclusive, and also deep, subtle, thorough. It was warm, alive. And it was always in behalf of people.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

Self Is with Education
By Eli Siegel

I go on with my discussion of the New York Independent of August 18, 1910. Education is related to the matter of self and economics. Every college has its history, and there is such a thing as graduate study, or higher learning. Veblen wrote a book about that. Higher learning, it is thought, began at Johns Hopkins University in the 1870s with Daniel Coit Gilman, who was one of the interesting educators of America. The Life of Daniel Coit Gilman (1831-1908) was published in 1910, apparently, and there is a review of it here.

Learning as such is against the other kind of acquisition. There are three things in education. One is art—painting, poetry, the novel, and so on. The second is science, laboratory science included, and the social sciences. And the third thing notable is the attitude to education as such. The way education was seen since the first common school law or compulsory law of 1635, is something to look at. One of the noted names in education is Daniel Coit Gilman. There are others: Horace Mann, noted in New York; also Mark Hopkins; and I could mention more. Nicholas Murray Butler introduced a certain kind of organization to education at Columbia. But Gilman, while interested in learning, was also interested in his rights. From this review you can get the idea that Gilman was testy and insisted on what was due him:

If one can imagine a spirit unfriendly to so genial a man as Gilman, the critic disposed to be unkind would doubtless seize upon his repeated resignations in the face of difficulty, and before problems which were later worked out successfully. He resigned his post as librarian of Yale because co-operation in library improvements was not forthcoming.

So he would go on a one-person strike.

Patience would have seen the fulfilment of his utmost hopes. Similarly he relinquished the presidency of California...after a single conflict with a narrow legislature.

The purpose of this California college was to further agriculture and at the same time to further education, and Gilman did not like the way it was furthering agriculture exclusively.

Providence was remarkably kind to him in always presenting a larger and more inviting task, succeeding each endeavor from which he withdrew, but in an estimate of Gilman his willingness to leave an unpromising but necessary work to others ... must be borne in mind.

I know something of his life, and to see the turbulence in a person taken to represent education in America is something.

There is a book reviewed here called The American People, A Study in National Psychology, by A. Maurice Low (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin). It is not praised. I look at a metaphor which is not exactly about the profit system, but is about work. The purpose of every metaphor is to be profitable, to add intensity to a thought, to give it concentration and wideness. There is the following sentence:

The reader is halted at the Armada and asked to speculate upon the result "if a grain of sand had fallen into the machinery of fate and brought destiny to a standstill."

Well, that is a strange metaphor, but it has work in it. Fate is given machinery, and destiny brought to a standstill. Things do happen to machines.

A more frivolous and jocular item is the following. The Independent has a humorous column. It has some limericks, and so on. But then there is something reprinted from the Chicago Tribune, of all places, called "Popular Fiction." And the first item in "Popular Fiction" is: "Money cheerfully refunded if goods are not satisfactory." A good deal of the history of industry is concerned with returning of goods. "Twice your money back," sometimes they advertise. So, what does that mean?  black diamond

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Good and Bad Ambition
By Arnold Perey, PhD

What are good and bad ambition? How can you tell them apart? In his lecture Mind and Ambition, Eli Siegel explains:

A good definition of ambition would be, "the desire to get as much power and as much approval as possible"; and if the power and the approval were well based, people would have ambition in the fullest sense of the word. [TRO 467]

But when we want power, position, prerogative, approval in order to be superior, we are after contempt, and the ambition is bad.

As I went after knowledge, I had both ambitions. In junior high school I got a lift in an English or science class if other students couldn’t answer a question and I could. I would very modestly—but ostentatiously—raise my lone hand and answer it, feeling hugely superior.

In high school I pictured myself magically solving equations in the Swiss Alps with a top security clearance and world recognition. I was also ambitious to conquer women. Being intellectually masterful and showing my male prowess were very attractive to me.

At the same time, I wanted very much to know science and art and experience the feeling of discovery. In the first course in anthropology I took, as I studied cultures of Africa, the Amazon, and the Pacific, I felt as if I was walking in the rainforest with the Sirionos, honoring the king with the Bunyoros, riding in a seagoing canoe with the salt water heaving, along with the Palauans. But this was not enough. I was also ambitious to use my knowledge to awe my professor, get a top grade, impress the other students, and gloriously look down on them as inferior to "the great me."

When I ended my first anthropology course with a B-, I was furious and despairing. The new knowledge and emotions I had gotten didn’t matter anymore. I wanted to drop out of anthropology altogether, and told my father, "I don’t have the talent for it." He said, "You’ll develop the talent. Stick with it."

I came to love anthropology. But even as I was getting praise and some scholarly recognition, my life was still sad, angry, and empty. Much later, in an Aesthetic Realism lesson, Mr. Siegel said to me, "We are too ready to feel we’re entitled to know on our conditions." He asked me if it was good for a person to know things fast. I thought so. But he disagreed. And he asked—so I could see where this attitude to knowledge and people began—whether I felt my mother had doted on me. She had, and I said, "Yes."

ES. Do you believe you ran your mother then?

AP. Yes.

ES. Also your brothers?

AP. Yes.

ES. So in a way, then, you mastered her....Do you feel you’ve seen the world somewhat as your mother?

I said I thought I did. I, the firstborn son in my family, had run people, and I wanted to continue that. Mr. Siegel asked: "How did you feel doing so?"

AP. Not so good.

ES. You were building up a situation of power that you didn’t believe in.

This is why I felt like a failure by my 20th birthday. Mr. Siegel asked me, "Mr. Perey, are you in a conspiracy against yourself?" With enormous relief, I said, "Yes."

Through what I began to learn in that very class, this changed! Aesthetic Realism brought to life my true ambition, which had been largely dormant: to know the world fairly and have a good effect on people. My happiness grows, as I study in the classes taught by Ellen Reiss and through the marriage I am thankful to have with Aesthetic Realism consultant and flutist Barbara Allen.  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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