Dear Unknown Friends:
We have been serializing the great lecture Philosophy Begins with That, which Eli Siegel gave in April 1970. It is an illustration of the philosophic basis of Aesthetic Realism, the principle “The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites.” Mr. Siegel is showing that philosophy is not merely abstract, or remote. Rather, the opposites that make reality—such as freedom and order, continuity and discontinuity, sameness and difference—are the heart of every object we touch, thought we have, situation in which we find ourselves.
In this issue too we print an article by award-winning filmmaker Ken Kimmelman. It’s part of a paper he gave in March at a public seminar titled “Acquisition vs. Understanding: The Big Debate in Every Man.” Mr. Kimmelman illustrates another Aesthetic Realism principle: that every person’s “greatest danger or temptation...is to get a false importance or glory from the lessening of things not oneself; which lessening is Contempt.” From contempt comes all injustice. And our desire to be big through lessening what’s not us is also the weakener, from within, of every person’s mind and life. As can be seen in the wording of the principle, contempt makes for a fundamental enmity between the central opposites in our lives: our self and the outside world.
Philosophy & Unemployment
A pair of opposites Mr. Siegel speaks about in the present section of his lecture is Cause and Effect. How utterly philosophic these are. Yet they have with them the turmoil, the anguish, and also the possible happiness of people. I’ll comment a little about cause and effect in relation to an agony of today: unemployment.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that, as of January 2012, there are in America 12.8 million people unemployed. And this figure does not include the millions of “discouraged workers”: people who have failed for so long to obtain a job that they have given up looking for one. It does not include the “under-employed”: millions of people who, because they cannot get fulltime employment, are working at part-time jobs definitely inadequate to their needs.
We should be very clear. The cause of unemployment is the profit system: the fact that you’re able to work only if some individual can make profit from your labor. No matter how much good you could do other people, no matter how they could benefit from your abilities, if some boss or stockholders cannot aggrandize themselves through you, you can’t work.
I have written often about what Eli Siegel, in the 1970s, was the philosopher, educator, historian, and economist to show: economics based on seeing people contemptuously, in terms of how much money you can get out of them, no longer works. I have written about the reasons and evidence he gave, and have described the various forms the profit system’s failure is taking now. Today, in order for profit economics to continue at all, people have to be made poorer and poorer.
Again we have cause and effect: the increasing poverty in America is caused by the desire of certain persons to keep the profit way going when it is a mortally ailing thing. The situation can be described quantitatively. The wealth generated when something is produced is of a certain amount. Today, in order for owners and stockholders to get a lot of that amount, they must make sure less and less goes to the workers. That is why various persons are on such a ferocious, lying campaign to destroy unions: because unions fight for what workers deserve.
We come to the matter of joblessness. Its cause has three aspects: 1) As part of the failure of profit economics, millions of American jobs are gone; they’re now being done in other nations. 2) As part of the futile attempt to keep the profit way going, companies are not only cutting wages but firing people in huge numbers. 3) Public sector jobs are being decimated because local and state governments prefer to subsidize private owners rather than pay public workers.
What They Have Been Made to Feel
Even as joblessness is an effect, it has effects. Among these is hunger, including the hunger of children across the land who cannot get the food their little stomachs need because their jobless parents are unable to purchase it. And there is this effect: every person who wants a job and cannot get one, feels a certain way. When a person sends off a resume and gets no response or is turned down; or goes for a job interview, then learns he has been passed over; or, after working someplace for years, is told his services are no longer needed—there is tremendous feeling. Millions of people are being made to feel that they cannot be of use, that America does not need what they can do. That feeling is horrible. And it comes from a lie.
The publication date of this issue, July 4, the anniversary of our nation’s birth, is a good time to say the following: Every person now unemployed could be useful to his or her fellow Americans and fellow citizens of the world. Therefore, he or she should have work, and a salary.
There is no bigger matter in America than this—having to do with the philosophic opposites of cause and effect: What should be the cause of production in America?
Today the cause of production, of jobs, is the profit motive: how much money can some private individuals squeeze from the labor and needs of their fellow citizens? Along with the fact that it no longer works, this way of thought as an engine of economics was always ugly and cruel. The solution for our economy is not a matter of political parties, of left or right: it is a matter of ethics and practicality. One of the ways Mr. Siegel put it is: “Jobs for usefulness, not for profit.”
With such a basis, a person in America can feel: “I can do something; I can fix a computer—or design a garment—or play an instrument—or paint a house—or teach a language. What I can do is good for my fellow citizens. It can make them stronger. And they can do things that will make me stronger. None of us is being exploited by somebody—someone who’s not doing the work. And we are all being respectfully compensated.” When this good will is the cause of production in America, no one will be unemployed. And there will be pride, and means for people’s true expression.
Just as America went from being ruled by a king to democracy, there will be a going from an economy run by contempt to economic democracy. And persons will ask about profit economics, as many ask now about kingship, or slavery, “How could people let it go on so long?!” That question, too, has an answer. But for now it’s good to stay with the question, and the realization, indignation, and hope it embodies.
—Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education
A Joining of Self & World
By Eli Siegel
Note. Mr. Siegel is commenting on passages from the Journal 1929 of novelist Arnold Bennett.
Bennett visits a relative who is in a famous hospital of London, St. Bartholomew’s. We can identify ourselves with anything. As soon as we are of something, our hope is to be an old grad and be proud of it. This relative identifies himself with the hospital. So self becomes the world:
My relative told me with pride that Bart’s was the oldest hospital in the world. Perhaps it is. Remarkable how inmates of an institution immediately identify themselves with the institution and take pride in it.
It’s difficult these days to have a fervent love for a hospital. Identification, however, is a great thing in art. It has to do with why in a novel there is a joining of character and background.
What’s the Cause?
There is a passage that has to do with something else in philosophy: the relation of cause and effect, which has been written of a good deal and which is most interesting—though Hume denied there was any such thing. He said it was just a frequently seen sequence. Still, people have a tendency to think of things in terms of cause and effect. They think the reason the kettle is boiling is that a few minutes earlier you turned on a flame where the kettle was.
A big thing can make for a small effect—as, let us say, a tremendous prairie can be seen as having in it one dandelion, or one gopher. Also, weather is a big thing but can affect us very personally. Everything is both cause and effect. And there’s no limit to how anything can be cause and effect. If a thing hasn’t been a cause and effect so far, an artist is waiting for it. For example, some growing thing in Durham, England, has not had a certain effect yet. But somebody can think about it; it can have an effect.
This is all about a section in Bennett’s journal that I saw as having a philosophic beginning: where he says wine of a certain taste can come only from true Bordeaux territory. As soon as you go to a territory south or north, you have wine of another kind. Bennett tells about it this way:
The managing director of a large hotel, equally expert in cookery, wine and cigars, told me at a banquet that all the true Bordeaux in the world came from a single stretch of country thirty miles long by six wide, north of Bordeaux. The quality of its grapes depended on the combined influences of general climate, sun, and soil. The same vines would not produce the same grapes if planted anywhere else in the world. It was easy for me to deduce that only a small percentage of wine described as Bordeaux really is Bordeaux.
I have a notion that this hasn’t worried too many people. Everybody’s used to having champagne that never saw Champagne.
So there can be a large thing that has a delicate effect, as one hears a tremendous symphony and has a new quiver.
Esteem of Self through Something in the World
Bennett writes about esteeming himself. There is an election going on in England, and he bets on it:
As a result of betting on the election result with great press-lords, life-long electioneering experts, and sagacious persons with their fingers on the pulse of the public, I made £30 by backing my own uninstructed opinion against theirs. A small reward financially, but large in the dangerous gift of self-esteem.
Why should a being want to think more and more of itself? In the same way that persons told about in an earlier entry used winning on a horse for self-esteem, now Bennett uses betting on the election. Whence? How, in an infinite world, do we have esteem from betting on elections?
To Acquire or Understand?
By Ken Kimmelman
I didn’t like to think of myself as acquisitive; after all, I was an artist. But the desire for acquisition is deeper than I knew. In his lecture Aesthetic Realism Looks at Things: Seeing & Grabbing, Eli Siegel explained:
From the very beginning a child wants to see things and also wants to grab things. That term [seeing and grabbing] is colloquial for two things that torment because they are not joined: the desire to understand and the desire to possess. [TRO 459]
The debate between them was in me from a young age.
I loved drawing objects. I remember painting in 3rd grade, with the help of another student, the scenery for our class play: a 10-foot-high paper backdrop of a forest. Later I attended Art & Design High School, where I studied watercolor, architectural drawing, sculpture, and cartooning. And even as I went into the film and animation industry, I continued taking life-drawing classes at the Art Students League. On painting trips in the country, I carefully studied how objects looked—their structure, the relation of light and dark, form and color. It made for composure in me because my purpose was to understand.
As a boy, I also collected baseball cards, which I traded with my friends, and flipped them to win. I remember the time I lost all my cards: I ran to the candy store, and when I saw the many cards on display, greed took over. I neatly stacked about ten in the palm of my hand so it looked like I was buying only one. Moe, the owner, saw this, grabbed me by the collar, took me to the back room, and read me the riot act. I was scared and ashamed, and never did it again. But the desire for acquisition took other forms—including as to people.
Growing up, I felt my mother favored me over my two brothers and would do practically anything to please me, which wasn’t an easy feat. I felt she was mine.
We often sat at the kitchen table consoling each other for supposed hurts—how other people didn’t see us right. The upshot was always: at least we have each other in this cold, unfriendly world. And when my mother came home from work, there was always a little treat: my favorite Horn & Hardart dish of franks and beans, or jelly donuts from the bakery. I assumed very early that her job in this world was to cater to me. The idea of trying to understand her, see what she felt, never entered my mind.
This way of looking at a person, I later learned, was contempt and was what made me so unsure of myself, lonely, and unkind. It was the cause of much pain in love. I felt owning a woman was my birthright, and I expected the women I knew to treat me the way my mother did. Needless to say, there was great objection. As Mr. Siegel years later so aptly put it: my motto was “Kimmelman-ize women”; my hope in love was that “all criticism come to an end”; and what I expected was “love, kisses, devotion, and illusion.” It was true! That acquisitive, hurtful way of seeing was completely opposed to my deepest hope, to understand a person and the world, which my care for art represented.
Acquisition in Love
I would often focus intensely on a woman, feeling I had to have her. There was Myrna Jaffe, whom I met at the end of the summer when I was 18 and working in the Catskills. We danced in the casino the night before she left, and arranged to meet in the city. All I could think of was Myrna.
In the city we went out for dinner. Then, back at her house, we sat on the couch in her den. She had just started college and I wanted to impress her. I took a book of poetry off the shelf—I think it was Whitman—and asked her to read a poem. By the second line, I found my attention drifting to the curves of her long neck. And by the end of the poem I leaned over and kissed her neck. She was taken aback and asked why I did that. I told her it was because I was so moved by the poem, but inside I was seething: the idea that she had the nerve to question my purpose! I felt the “romantic” mood go up in smoke. My goddess had suddenly turned into a shrew! I was furious and wanted to leave.
What I took to be love had nothing to do with understanding and everything to do with possession. I wasn’t interested in seeing her contours, as I would be in a life-drawing class: I wanted to grab them. I don’t think I even asked her what she was studying in college. When you want to own a woman, you feel you have the right to think about her any way you please.
Years later, in an Aesthetic Realism lesson, Mr. Siegel explained why love had not succeeded in my life:
ES. Aesthetic Realism says that things have gone wrong because there has been a huddle of opposites. Suppose a man marries a woman, and he wants to respect her and also deeply wants to despise her. Many men marry that way. Women do too. Do you believe the result will be disliked?
KK. Well, sure!
ES. For instance, you can criticize a person and care for that person. But you can’t want to revere a person and at the same time want to despise that person. The opposites have to be rightly there. There is such a thing as imitation opposites, than which there is nothing uglier: “I’ll put opposites together—I’ll kiss her now and slap her later.” It’s very convenient. But the thing is, our efficiency begins at the beginning of our purpose. And I’d like to encourage you to see that your motives were already impossible of fulfillment.
The Thrill of Knowing
Mr. Siegel opened my eyes; he taught me to see what I was really hoping for. He enabled me to be with a woman in a way I could respect myself for. While once I would go from revering a woman one moment to despising her the next, it is so different now, in my marriage to Marcia Rackow, artist and Aesthetic Realism consultant. In our recent celebration of 15 years of marriage, I was proud to say how grateful I am to her for being a true friend and making me stronger. I admire Marcia’s care for art and her interest in my work in film. We’ve had exciting discussions about painting, the art classes she’s preparing, and filmmaking. That we can be good critics of each other for the purpose of respecting and caring for each other more, has made for happiness, and for deep feeling when we are physically close.
Experiencing the thrill of wanting to know and understand a woman is so different, and so much more pleasurable, than anything I ever imagined!