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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 NUMBER 1833.—October 10, 2012

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

Instinct, Logic, & Love

Dear Unknown Friends:

With this issue we begin to publish the lecture Instinct: Beginning with Shelley, which Eli Siegel gave in March 1965. It is one in a series on instinct. And through Aesthetic Realism’s great, immensely kind explanation of instinct, a certain quiet and sometimes not so quiet suffering of people can end.

That is, people have made a rift in themselves between what they see as “instinct” and what they see as thought, reason, intellect. Psychiatry, of both the past and present, far from healing that rift, has exacerbated it. On the one hand, people have seen instinct as something animalistic, which one is just driven by—which doesn’t go along with one’s care for logic or study. There is the sense that instincts are irrational, often lurid; and that though they’re inevitable, we cannot feel really civilized in having them. On the other hand, there is a tendency, very dangerous, to see one’s instincts as almost holy, justifying everything: you have an instinct; it must be right; just go by it.

What Instinct Is

In Eli Siegel’s Definitions, and Comment, there is a definition of instinct. It is beautiful, exact, and clear: “Instinct is desire not known or seen as an object.” I remember the happiness and relief I felt when I first heard Mr. Siegel explain that there is an instinct to reason, to be logical! Instinct is not at odds with thought: there is an instinct to become educated, an instinct to think deeply and widely. And this instinct to understand is no less primal and intense than the instinct for sex.

And instincts, Mr. Siegel showed, are not just the fierce, raging things Freud pictured. Instincts can be mild, fairly dull: there is an instinct to wipe a table; an instinct not to take a walk; an instinct to smile.

Aesthetic Realism explains too that there is a criterion for the goodness or badness, rightness or wrongness, salubriousness or harmfulness of any instinct and how we use it. The criterion is: is the purpose of that instinct, or of what we do with it, to have respect for the world or contempt? The fight between respect and contempt for the world is the big, constant fight in self.

There Is Love

In the lecture we are serializing, Mr. Siegel looks at that tremendous instinct Love. His purpose is to relate love to the other instincts, and to the structure of reality, which he has described in this Aesthetic Realism principle: “The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites.” For example, he shows that love, with all its embraces, quarrels, yearning, triumph, sex, disappointment, arises from the primal opposites to and from.

In the lecture, while Mr. Siegel is certainly serious, he also has playfulness and humor (for instance, as he speaks about novels and the Brontës). He says of his approach:

I am trying to place love among the other instincts and give it no special popularity....

I am trying to point out...that every instinct has something to do with the most popular of all, love—also the most generous and lovely of all, and the most terrible. And in seeing how the instincts explain each other, how they are in words, how they are in things, we can see one—the most difficult to see sensibly—with perhaps more sense.

Though in this talk Mr. Siegel is looking at love in terms of instinct, Aesthetic Realism is that which explains the intricacies of love as individuals ever so personally and specifically experience them. It explains the love that confuses people every day, the thing people think about, exult in, and suffer over. It explains what men and women right now are after as they register on some Internet dating website. And it explains their mistakes.

In issue 150 of this journal, titled “What Opposes Love?,” Mr. Siegel explains that the mix-up people have about love arises from the fight we have about the world itself: the fight between respect and contempt. He writes, in prose I think is beautiful:

The only reason love is confusing is that it is a continuation of the confusing battle between a narrow like of ourselves and imaginative justice to the world. It is this battle which may take an unbearable form when love, with its powerful bodily help, sex, is ours.

Love, as Mr. Siegel shows in the present lecture, arises from the world. And it always has to do with the world: “The purpose of love,” he says in his book Self and World, “is to feel closely one with things as a whole.” That is why our desire to have contempt for the world, to have “a narrow like of ourselves,” affects love deleteriously and devastatingly—in thousands of ways.

Let’s take a woman who yesterday registered on a dating website in order to meet men. Emma thinks she wants to love a man—and with part of her she does. She is matched with Harry, whose photo and description look good. But Emma doesn’t know she is in a fight between caring for all things more through a man and using a man to get away from the world. She doesn’t know that, on the one hand, she wants Harry or someone to encourage her to find more meaning in all people; and on the other, she wants him to show her she is far superior to everyone and is right to look down on them and put them aside. She doesn’t know what Mr. Siegel explains in TRO 150, in his magnificent and earthy prose:

The answer, then, to the question: What opposes love? is: The narrow self opposes love, with its great continual treasure, contempt. Love is either a possibility of seeing the world differently because something different from ourselves is seen as needed and lovely; or it is an extension of our imperialistic approval of ourselves in such a way that we have a carnal satellite.

Because Emma has the same fight as to a man that she has as to the world itself, she wants to feel much about someone yet she also wants to feel little, be able to make him not matter at all. She wants to value a man very much—but she also wants to feel superior to him and make fun of him. She wants someone to have large meaning for her—but she doesn’t want to see him as a complete person, affected by a whole world outside of them; she wants adoration from a person she doesn’t want to work to comprehend, to know.

You can be matched online to the hilt, but if you don’t understand the desires for contempt and respect in you, there is bound to be trouble.

Two Thousand Years Ago

A person who lived in and near Rome over 2,000 years ago wrote about that trouble in musical and immortal Latin. He is Gaius Valerius Catullus. He has many poems about the woman who confused him terrifically—her real name was Clodia. But the mix-up about love, and the pain arising from the mix-up, have never been more succinctly told of than in this one, which consists of two world-famous lines:

Odi et amo: quare id faciam fortasse requiris.

Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.


I hate and I love: why I do so, perhaps you ask.

I do not know. But I feel it happen, and I am in agony.

Well, we know from other poems that Catullus thought Clodia was unjust to him. But I believe he was thirsty to be asked, in Rome or Bithynia around 56 BC:

Do you think you’ve had two purposes with Clodia? Have you wanted to use her as a means of seeing the whole world as larger and friendlier? And have you also wanted to use her as “a carnal satellite,” through whom you can have “imperialistic approval” of yourself? I know you feel she has been unfair to you, but might you also suffer because you have two purposes that don’t go together, and you are very much ashamed of one of them?

In one of your poems you say to yourself about Clodia, “Miser Catulle, desinas ineptire (Wretched Catullus, stop being a fool).” Can we feel we’re a fool because we don’t have a clear purpose we can like? Do you think we can come to hate a person we’re very drawn to because we have a purpose with that person that makes us ashamed?

As poet, Catullus had a purpose that was clear, authentic, and mighty: to be fair to the world, to love the world through the subject he was dealing with. That, Aesthetic Realism explains, is the purpose impelling all good poetry, and it is the purpose love needs to have. In the couplet I quoted, we hear as musical the structure of reality itself: we hear, in the Latin, strength and firmness at one with delicacy and trembling; we hear fierceness and gentleness together; we hear a composition of neatness and width, even as that width contains the unbearable.

Eli Siegel is the critic who understood both poetry and love. He would have had, I am sure, the deep thanks of Catullus—and also that poet who lived 19 hundred years later and is quoted in the lecture we are serializing: Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822).

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

Instinct: Beginning with Shelley
By Eli Siegel

I have pondered on how, in these talks on instinct, to speak about the most popular, dangerous, pervasive, and also most accented instinct of all, the instinct which sometimes very soberly is called love. You will find, for example, in McDougall’s Psychology and other very sober works, a set of instincts, which, as they appear, look awfully innocent. You find love and hate, also esteem and aversion, friendliness and pugnacity, the constructive and destructive—all kinds of things that look very dull and should just remain on the page.

Then, love is a term of religion. The greatest statement that people don’t know what to do with is “God is love.” Love is something that seems to be the most innocent thing in the world, the greatest thing in the world, and then we also know that it is the most attractive nuisance of all time, the most inevitable peril.

I thought of how to deal with love in such a way that I could begin at the beginning and at the same time not avoid the customary notion. And I had various authors in mind. I thought of using passages from Darwin’s Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, which at times is not so innocent. I also thought of taking passages from St. Augustine’s Confessions; from Samuel Richardson; from Stendhal’s De l’amour. I even thought of discussing Tennyson’s The Princess. But I felt that the best way would be to begin with something in the prose of Shelley, his essay “On Love,” because, while Shelley is philosophic, he does seem to represent love in a pretty intense manner. I think that in his work, more perhaps than in any other work, we can see love first as philosophic, then as physical and chemical, then as the troubling thing we know.

Shelley died in 1822, and in 1819 his wife published the essay in The Keepsake, an annual very popular at the time. “On Love” is well-written, deep, and lively, and contains love as an instinct in more ways than anything of its size that I know. The essay looks, of course, exceedingly innocent. However, looked at closely, that which often is thought of as not innocent is present. It begins:

What is Love? Ask him who lives, what is life; ask him who adores, what is God?

Both Love & Hate Have To & From

Philosophically speaking, the world consists of prepositions, and two important prepositions are from and to. There has been no instance of love, including carnal love, that hasn’t had from and to with it. Other prepositions are present likewise. Love is perhaps the most interesting instinct; the second is its opposite, hate; and we find that both hate and love have to in them. If you hate a person, you’ve got to find that person interesting—which means going toward the person. There are a few people in American political life one just can’t keep out of one’s mind because one despises them so much: they’re so pernicious, they ought to be talked about every moment.

It is quite clear that if you hate something very much, you go towards that in your mind. There can be an obsession— which is an instinct gone wrong, and mighty powerful, where you can’t keep away from something. An obsession is something you need not like but you have to think about—as, let us say, a person has an obsession of a cow mooing in the bottom of a well. He can’t keep away from that cow mooing at the bottom of a well. (We can, of course, try to give the obsession dignity and say the cow represents benighted man.)

With the instincts love and hate are attraction and repulsion—as soon as we get to those we are really interesting, and interested. In the more philosophic field, there are esteem and aversion. There are also favor and disfavor, and, in terms of the face or body, smiling and frowning. There is a for and against, also a to and from, in every pair of opposites I mentioned. Esteem and aversion have for and against.

The big matter is still to and from. Oil and water, for instance, are supposed to represent a frequent thing in marriage: that two people don’t mix. Oil and water have a chemical aversion to each other; they’ll maintain neutrality but won’t mix. So there is a successful stoppage of to and from.

I am trying to place love among the other instincts and give it no special popularity.

Life Is To

“Ask him who lives, what is life.” Shelley also has an essay, short, “On Life.” Life is obviously a going to, because anything that is not inert has a motion toward something else, however faint. Even a plant is going toward something in a way that a rock is not. Further, there is a motion from, as with a well-behaved sunflower: while it goes toward the sun—the sunflower for years has had an illicit relation with the sun—in the evening when the sun is tired the sunflower discreetly goes back. This shows that the sunflower is very sensible.

When the petal of a flower unfolds it seems to be more loving; when the petal closes it seems to be something other than loving—not so much hating, though it can be said to be less interested. I am not giving any malign purposes to petals of flowers; I only say they have moods.

Then, there are some flowers that are awful: they capture higher forms of life; that is, they go after insects. They love these insects, but insofar as the insect doesn’t do so well when that insect gets into the petals, it is also hate. The greatest feat of the modern novel is to show more clearly than ever that love and hate are the same thing. As soon as you show that love and hate are the same thing, you’re contemporary. While you show that love and hate are different, you’re still with George Eliot or Jane Austen. In between Jane Austen and George Eliot was Charlotte Brontë, and she went pretty far, what with Jane Eyre and Rochester, to show that love and hate are the same thing. And her sister was terrible in Wuthering Heights: you can’t love anybody unless you want to destroy them.

The instincts for construction and destruction are clearly a little bit like love and hate. It happens that all living beings build something. The bee just loves to construct a hive and the farmer thinks it’s for altruistic purposes—that is, for the farmer. The constructive instinct and the destructive instinct are related to pugnacity and friendliness, and, in turn, to love and hate. It has been said that he cannot construct who does not know what to destroy.

Life, insofar as it is motion, is a going to. There are other prepositions that are important here: across is important; but across can be seen as to and from too.

Adoration & Toleration

“Ask him who adores, what is God?” An agnostic was once differentiated—maybe I did it—from a Church of England man by saying that while the agnostic tolerates God, the real churchman adores him. Toleration is in between love and hate. And most insects tolerate. The attitude of a well-behaved insect to the New York Public Library is one of toleration: it has no use, but why get agitated? That’s the attitude of insects to most liquids: just not interested. What an insect can fly past without showing any reaction whatsoever!

So adoration is in the field of love. It happens that even carnal love gets toward adoration. In France when love, however carnal it is, is going on, there’s a tendency for the lover to say raptly, “Je t’adore,” and if he doesn’t the girl misses something. The tendency of even carnal love to take on religious terminology is a scandal: “Tu es un ange, un séraphin!” That means, “You are an angel, a seraph” because I rang the bell and you answered.

Well, adoration is a very big thing, and it’s in the field of for. It’s hard to adore anybody you’re not for, though it very often happens that adoration does change into not being for.

“Ask him who adores, what is God?” So there is God, and God is loved; God is love itself. The word is used: God is loving, and God is loved. Meantime, the word love is in many other places. A bibliophile is one who loves books. And the phile, if you take it by itself, looks awfully improper. 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:
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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