The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941

Intelligence, Feeling, & Our True Self

Dear Unknown Friends:

Here is the final section of the great 1964 lecture Intelligence Is You and More, by Eli Siegel. And with it is part of a paper by Aesthetic Realism associate Barbara Buehler, from a recent public seminar titled “The Real Me; or, What Is True Self-Expression?” Our expression is an aspect of intelligence. And as Ms. Buehler writes about herself of once, she describes a grief had right now by ever so many other obviously intelligent people: the aching sense that, for all their keenness and perhaps abundant education, they’re not really expressing themselves; they’re not being their true selves, and don’t know what this true self is.

Aesthetic Realism is the knowledge that identifies at last the huge opponent in us to both our intelligence and authentic self-expression. That opponent, that obstructer of one’s real self, is something which a person feels is oh-so smart and relies on, but which weakens oneself day after day. It’s contempt: the getting an “addition to self through the lessening of something else.”

At the basis of the lecture we have been serializing is this Aesthetic Realism principle: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.” A pair of opposites central to intelligence is very much part of the present TRO: logic and feeling. There has been a tendency to see intelligence as something apart from feeling. There’s even been a sense that to be intelligent about something you have to put aside emotion. However, the rift between these opposites has brought everyday quiet misery and also agony to people’s lives.

“Intelligence” without deep feeling is, in one of its forms, academicism: the making of knowledge, which should have wonder and life, be instead dry, flat, dead. In another of its forms, it’s horrible trickery: for instance, that of a lawyer who tries cleverly to make what’s just appear bad, and what’s cruel and dishonest seem somehow moral and right.

A big part of being intelligent about something—whether a poem, scientific theory, event in history—is to see its value. That means, too, to feel that value, with its wonder, depth, size. I’ll say simply for now that learning this from Aesthetic Realism was one of the greatest things in my life.

We see in the most important intellects of the world a presence of large feeling as well as logic. Newton had both; Kant had; Coleridge had. In no one was there a larger scope and depth of knowledge, and size and accuracy of feeling, than in Eli Siegel. So as we conclude this lecture on intelligence, I’ll quote from one of his early writings to illustrate what intelligence is. Here, from The Modern Quarterly, is how he concludes his essay “The Scientific Criticism,” which he wrote at the age of 19. It has that oneness of knowing and feeling which was always his:

Man should know that there are no limits to his mind....Only a part of him has been used....To criticize—to look upon the world and man with all his feelings, as an object. This way we can come to know man—and knowing ourselves—Earth! what great things can we not come to be!

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

Intelligence & the 1st Century

By Eli Siegel

Augustus (63 bc–14 ad)—who is included in the passage of Bossuet that I just read—is clearly one of the most intelligent persons who ever lived. He’s one of the great administrators. And there was the rival of intelligence, which is luck: luck is intelligence not meaning to be. I now come to a more recent work: A History of the Ancient World, by George Willis Botsford (NY, 1919).

As we approach the year one (what a year!), Augustus is very much present—or Octavianus, or Octavian, or Octavius. He has various names. He was called Augustus in 27 bc. Cleopatra met her greatest disaster in 31 bc. And in 27 bc the Senate found it prudent to have Augustus be called Augustus and be emperor, although there were complications. He was always reappointed. So the Roman Empire began. It can be said to have begun in 27 bc, when Augustus would have been 36. He died in 14 ad, when Christ, we may presume, was just wondering about the world at the age of 14 or so, if we take the year one seriously. (Some people don’t.)

Well, Botsford on Augustus—first about his prudence. Caesar has been killed and this boy, Octavian, Caesar’s grandnephew, about 18 or 19, is studying in Illyricum. He hears about what happened, and his mother says, “Please don’t get mixed up in this.” Octavian says, “I am going to Rome to get my rights. I am the adopted son of Caesar and I have my rights.” Antony doesn’t want to give them to him, and neither do Lepidus and Cicero. They all think he’s a bold youth who doesn’t have to be looked at very much. Were they mistaken. They didn’t know that they were handling in their minds the smartest person that the last century before Christ had come forth with.

Botsford says—and this is justified by ever so many others—that you find many foolish things in Augustus. You read Suetonius on him and wonder how a person with all those ideas could have gone so far. Yet Botsford writes: “This youth of cool cunning...outmatched even the political veterans of the capital” (p. 443). He did.

Coolness & Passion

We now take for granted that Augustus was emperor. But if you study the history closely, you can see quite easily that he might not have been at all. He just knew what was what. He was cool, and coolness is seen as a phase of intelligence. But it has also been pointed out that the person who cannot have enthusiasm doesn’t have will, and will is necessary for intelligence. So we come to things of mind that are related to intelligence, like will, enthusiasm, even passion. I cannot deal with these now, but I shall not leave them out.

About Augustus as emperor, there is this from section 501:

It occurred to Augustus that...much blood and money might be saved in the protection of the empire by conquering Germany, at least as far as the Elbe River....After Tiberius had completed the conquest, Augustus made Varus, a distant kinsman, governor of the new province. This man considered his subjects mere slaves....They resisted;...they plotted against their tyrannic governor. As he was leading his three legions through the Teutoberg Forest...they surrounded him and cut his army to pieces. Varus killed himself; the barbarians hung their prisoners to trees and tortured them to death (9 a.d.). Though Augustus appeared to bear the news with a brave heart, his spirit was broken by the misfortune he could not repair. From time to time he would say, “Varus, Varus, give me back my legions.” Convinced that the strength of the empire should not be further wasted upon such projects, he established the Rhine as the boundary, and decided resolutely on a policy of peace. [Pp. 455-6]

So we find Augustus choosing a man, Varus, and Varus being unintelligent in Germany, having many Romans killed where perhaps there might not have been so many, or even any, killed. Then we find Augustus saying—as is attested to by Suetonius—“Varus, Varus, give me back my legions.” It happens that everybody can be shown to have regretted something at some time in life. This includes Augustus, and there is no person more astute than Augustus. A famous phrase is that he found Rome to be a city of brick and left it a city of marble.

If one reads The Life of Augustus by Shuckburgh, one gets the feeling that this person knows what’s what and can show good sense just about the time that Christ is going to show some other kind of good sense. “Good sense” in its customary meaning is sometimes seen as synonymous with intelligence. But there is likewise a sense that is less often met with, which many people feel is just as much a part of reality. Beethoven has good sense, and Augustus has good sense, and Delacroix has good sense. How do Augustus, Beethoven, Delacroix, let alone Christ, have good sense, or intelligence? This is one of the important questions about intelligence.

Intelligence Too

Christ was about nine when Varus lost the legions of Rome in the Teutoberg Forest. So we have matters in Roman history—we have Crassus and the Parthians; we have Augustus. And then we have, in St. Mark, the following, which I present as intelligence too, with all other forms of intelligence:

And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

Many persons have found this to be in the field of intelligence. I will not now try to say what these words come to, what they wholly mean. But Aesthetic Realism does say that these words of St. Mark are in the field of intelligence—as is the phrase of Franklin that I began with, nearly: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” When we see where both Benjamin Franklin and St. Mark represent intelligence, we shall know a little more about it.

Self-Expression—What Interferes?

By Barbara Buehler

Growing up, I had many advantages—classes in swimming, horseback riding, violin; and I traveled. All the while, like girls everywhere, I was looking to know who the real me was.

In elementary school, I was excited, amazed, and moved studying the American Revolution, learning that people could come together and fight for one large good purpose. And in high school as I learned about the emerging countries of Africa, which were fighting for their independence from European rule, I was thrilled.

In his lecture Aesthetic Realism and Expression, Eli Siegel explains: “Expression has to do with the word express (press out)....To express means that you...send yourself abroad.” I was in a tremendous fight between wanting to send myself abroad, be interested in other people’s lives, and wanting to keep myself finely wrapped and protected from a world I saw as cold and unappreciative of my exquisite sensibilities. I had a large desire to be a useful person, but I also felt most people were insincere and boorish.

In college—during the Vietnam War, which I joined many other Americans in protesting—I majored in Southeast Asian history: I wanted to know about the people whom our government saw as such enemies that they had to be bombed and napalmed. After college I began to work on something I cared for very much: urban planning. What I liked best was getting into a city car with my colleagues and going out to communities, walking the neighborhoods, looking for sites for daycare centers, healthcare centers, or schools. I felt energized, happy, useful, and wished I could feel like that all the time. Increasingly, however, I was encasing myself in a cold box. I kept my thoughts to myself, and used my parents’ affluent lifestyle to look down on people who were less fortunate.

Some Early Choices

Years later I would learn from Aesthetic Realism that very early a child comes to a way of seeing the whole world through how she sees her parents. My mother had studied art in college and cared for Rembrandt and Leonardo da Vinci. She volunteered as a Brownie and Girl Scout leader, making sure every girl had a chance to draw or sculpt. These things were to be respected. Yet I resented her for being—I thought—more interested in town activities than in me, and I disliked her self-contained manner. I got a scornful victory seeing her as a woman much too concerned with having the right clothes and knowing the right people, and I made up my mind to be just the opposite.

My father’s manner was very different from my mother’s, much more outward. But instead of liking the quality I missed in her, I considered him crass. He was proud of being a volunteer firefighter: though he worked long hours, when he got a call for help from the fire department, he’d race out the door. Yet while he praised me for my looks or how I did in school, he also, as I saw it, had the nerve to prefer being with my mother, cutting short conversations with me in order to spend the evening with her. And when my brother was born, the crowning blow was that I felt my father liked his little boy more than he liked me, and I never forgave him.

Stupidly, I used thinking I should be number one in the household and wasn’t, to be very angry and get revenge by being sulky and defiant and keeping my thoughts to myself. “Why this silent treatment?” my father would ask at dinner. No answer from me. This became a way of life. Years later at work I turned my desk to the wall so I wouldn’t have to talk with my colleagues. At important public hearings I wouldn’t speak up to defend the very projects I’d worked on, and so I often felt I let down the people for whom I was working in the communities.

Then, in my first Aesthetic Realism consultation, I was asked: were there things in my mind I wanted to say but felt I couldn’t? I answered yes but that I didn’t know why. My consultants asked me to read this Aesthetic Realism principle: “There is a disposition in every person to think we will be for ourselves by making less of the outside world.” “That,” they said, “is a description of contempt. Do you think you have such a disposition?”

BB. Yes, I have.

Consultants. Do you think it is hard to show yourself to a world you make less of?

BB. Yes, I think so.

Consultants. There is a self in us that thinks the world is not good enough. And if it is not good enough, we are not going to show ourselves in it. —Then, there is that in you that is interested in dance, in studying ballet, that wants to like the world and express yourself in it.

BB. Yes, there is!

I was learning that I had two desires, one in behalf of true expression and one against it. In The Right Of, Ellen Reiss explains: “We have a desire to be locked in ourselves. When we see that desire, hear criticism of it, and criticize it ourselves—the expression we long to have comes forth.” That is what happened to me. For example, through an assignment to write a soliloquy of my father at age 18, I saw I was wrong to have waged a war against him. I saw that he had a full existence, with questions of his own, and that I should have been interested in knowing him, not seen him just in relation to me. I did the Aesthetic Realism assignment of writing a sentence about something I liked every day. And I noticed ordinary things as though for the first time—the green, yellow, and red of street crossing lights, how interesting the shapes of clouds were.

As I liked the world more, I wanted to take a stand in it, not be scornfully mum. At my job I worked on waterfront certification projects mandating public access to the water through private development; and I now was able to tell real estate lawyers, firmly, that if plans their client submitted didn’t comply with this vital requirement we would not approve the plans—even as they argued we were costing them precious time and money.

My True Self

Central to my expression was an Aesthetic Realism lesson I was honored to have with Eli Siegel. In a document for it I wrote that I felt I still held on to some bad suspicion and coldness toward the world and people. He asked, “Do you think you have had more contempt than you should?” “Yes,” I answered. Then he asked something so surprising: “Do you think you’re sentimental enough?”

BB. No.

ES. I think you’re afraid of sentiment.

BB. Yes, I am.

Mr. Siegel was encouraging me to see something in myself I’d put aside. He asked if I thought tender feelings, even tears, were legitimate, were caused by reality. And he composed a story about me as a girl knowing a boy of 10. It ended this way:

Although she hadn’t seen this boy now for at least 15 years, there was something still beautiful in him which she should never forget, and as she thought of this there was a deep emotion in her having to do with the nature of reality.

Mr. Siegel was bringing forth the real me, the self that both was logical and wanted to have big, authentic feeling about the world and people.

This feeling very much includes one person, Dale Laurin, an architect and Aesthetic Realism consultant. I wanted to be and was affected by him—including by his large, deep knowledge of architecture and art, his energy to be out in the museums and parks, among the people of New York. And being with him, I found I did feel expressed, not at all stifled. How lucky we are to have our true expression strengthened every year of our marriage as we study in intellectually rich, deep, and kind Aesthetic Realism classes.