Arrow.AESTHETIC REALISM FOUNDATION Arrow.Aesthetic Realism Online Library Arrow.The Right Of

Home |  Current |  Art |  Literature |  Racism |  Education |  Nat'l Ethics |  Love |  Mind |  Economics |  Memorial |  Site Map

The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

NUMBER 1291.—December 31, 1997

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

More Life!

Dear Unknown Friends:

We are proud to begin serializing Animate and Inanimate Are in Music and Conscience, a 1966 lecture by Eli Siegel that is a critical masterpiece. It is a deep, surprising, powerful illustration (with humor too, and charm) of the principle at the basis of Aesthetic Realism: "All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves." In that principle, stated by Eli Siegel, is to be found the criterion for beauty, sought by critics for centuries. And it is the means of understanding also this huge thing not understood before: what art has to do with every person simply as person—tossing in a bed, angry at a job, worried about money, laughing at a joke, in a classroom, in love, in confusion.

The central opposites Mr. Siegel speaks of in this lecture are Animate and Inanimate. He speaks of how they are present in the technique of music, and in music as sheer pleasure. Then, these opposites are ours. They can be ours terrifyingly; because animate comes from the Latin animare, to give life—and every person feels he or she is not alive enough. All over America now there are people who laughed animatedly at parties or in their offices and later felt empty inside, and numb to things. Millions of people have gone from a true exuberance, the aliveness of being swept by music, of delightedly breathing in fresh air or seeing a blue sky—to feeling there was something deeply wooden in them, unresponsive, inert.

People have not known what it is that makes a person more alive, and what it is that makes a person less. We need tremendously to know the answer—and it is in Aesthetic Realism.

Eli Siegel is the person in the history of thought who has identified the thing within every person which is most against our own lives, against our being all we can be, against the vitality of our minds. That deadening thing is Contempt, which he has described in this principle: "There is a disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the outside world." The feeling that we will be more by lessening what is not ourselves is the beginning of every cruelty that has ever occurred on this earth—from ordinary snobbishness to genocide. But our contempt is also that which makes us less alive: less able to have emotion about things, less responsive, hollower, deader.

The Desire in Behalf of Life

Mr. Siegel has also identified the thing in every self that is most in behalf of life. It is the desire to like the world—to be vibrantly fair to what is not ourselves. This is the deepest desire we have. It is equivalent to our life's purpose, and is at war every day with our desire for contempt.

I am grateful without end to say: the beautiful study of Aesthetic Realism enables the desire to like the world to win! And so it makes people feel more alive, be more alive. I love Mr. Siegel for this magnificent, solid fact—real in the years and hours of my own life!

I am honored to present seven questions here that can have a person see more clearly the tendencies toward animate and inanimate in oneself—what makes us more alive and what makes us less.

1. A baby is being born right now in Oklahoma. Do the parents of little Darren hope he will be able to smile at an Oklahoma sky, welcome light from the sun, respond happily to the voices of other people, welcome words and make them a part of him, show pleasure at music, run gladly across Oklahoma grass because he feels it to be a deep friend to him? Do Darren's parents see such things as these—instances of his liking the world—as standing for how alive he is? If they couldn't occur, would the parents feel there was a terrible curtailing of their child's very life?

2. If Darren, 28 years from now, feels he is too good to be affected by another person—that the feelings of a co-worker of his, Mark, are unimportant—is that like being numb to the sunlight and Oklahoma sky? As he asks to be unaffected, is he asking for the depths of him to be dead? 

3. Who is more alive: 1) a person who can look at an object, maybe the bare branch of a winter tree, and be interested in it, feel that in its humble bareness yet proud diagonal lift it is beautiful?; or 2) a person who looks at the branch yet doesn't really notice it, and moves on?

How Do We See Truth?

4. Is there any relation between how much we care for truth and how alive we are? 

5. Were we born to meet the things of the world with accuracy and justice? And is our desire to change facts to suit ourselves, to do whatever we please with the world in our minds, to make truth subservient to our ego and our notion of comfort, the same really as killing the basis of ourselves? Is our desire to feel superior to truth or evade truth the same as making ourselves deeply dead?

6. Tennyson, in "The Lady of Shalott," describes a person who felt she would take care of her life and individuality by keeping things and people at a distance, viewing them only indirectly, through a mirror:

And moving through a mirror clear,

That hangs before her all the year,

Shadows of the world appear.

There she sees the highway near,

Winding down to Camelot;

There the river eddy whirls,

And there the surly village churls,

And the red cloaks of market girls,

Pass onward from Shalott.

In turning what was not herself into "shadows," was she really making herself unalive? Are you in any way like the Lady of Shalott, whom Tennyson tells of so musically? Do you make people and things flatter, dimmer, more distant than they are, instead of wanting to see them fully, vividly, with all their dimensions?

Eli Siegel has explained that the world is the other half of yourself. If you take the life out of other things, as a means of being superior and safe, are you taking the life out of yourself? Is that why you can feel bored, dull, empty, locked in yourself?

7. Another poem of Tennyson, "Ulysses," is about the desire to be fully alive. Ulysses' way of seeing is the opposite of the Lady of Shalott's. Ulysses says, "I will drink / Life to the lees," When he states in proud iambic pentameter, "I am a part of all that I have met," and describes himself as "yearning in desire / To follow knowledge like a sinking star, / Beyond the utmost bound of human thought"—is he illustrating this great statement from Mr. Siegel's essay "Art As Life": "A thing's being related gives it life"?

Because Eli Siegel himself used his life and mind to be fair to the whole world, he was the most alive of persons, and, like Tennyson and Bach, is immortal.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

Music and Conscience
By Eli Siegel

I found that the depths of Aesthetic Realism could be shown in a rather new way through music. And strangely enough, the most modern things in music, the most difficult things, are the most useful there. The fight between structure and emotion, between emotion and music almost as solid geometry, does go on. And there are terms that concern conscience—the earlier term polyphony, the new one polytonality, also atonality. And I hope to show that looking at these things is a way of seeing conscience too.

The fight between the diatonic scale as perpendicular and the chromatic as horizontal, is one way of putting it. And the fight between the two kinds of polytonality—across and in depth—which is present in music now, concerns this matter of conscience. These things are not easy to see.

My purpose is to show that Aesthetic Realism is true; that there's a theory of the world that is in action now, and it is in action in the various arts. It would be well for persons to look at the particulars and use that to see whether Aesthetic Realism is true.

I'm using a book called An Anthology of Musical Criticism, compiled by Norman Demuth (London, 1947). A problem goes on from Monteverde to Alban Berg. I think this book makes it clear that it does. It takes new technical forms, and at the same time says more about conscience.

So we begin with a person born three years after Shakespeare, in 1567: Monteverde, Claudio—who is one of the most talked of composers now, and also is in more homes than he ever thought he'd reach. This is Hubert Parry on Monteverde:

Monteverde belonged to that strongly defined order of composers who are not so much impelled by the mere delight of music itself as by the opportunities it offers to interpret vividly emotions, moods, human feelings. . . . They . . . do not supply us with inspiring examples of absolute music: but they delve into human life and feeling.

These words about Monteverde illustrate, somewhat justify, the title I felt was just for this talk, Animate and Inanimate Are in Music and Conscience.

The Bad Inanimate

The relation of animate and inanimate is of things. One of the beliefs of Aesthetic Realism is that every person, in being himself and trying to be not interested in other things, is accepting the inanimate in a bad sense. That is the true death instinct, not the one that Freud wrote about. The protection of oneself, the going towards the inanimate and the hidden, is something present. The other thing, the meeting of what is not oneself in a live fashion (that is how it can be said quickly), has much meaning too. 

One of the things that art does, along with making the universe and individual one, is to make that which can be called the inanimate and the animate one. To an individual, the rest of the world is somewhat inanimate. He cannot give it the warmth that he gives himself; he cannot give it the life.

For example, I thought of discussing a play of Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie. The girl in the play, after all, is given to these glass animals, and the symbolism of glass is all over the place. But glass is inanimate; and the fact that people have thought they were made of glass is something to see.

Music does concern the inanimate. When we look at notes and see how cold they are as they are printed, and then think of the melody they make for—"Tales from the Vienna Woods" looks awfully cold as music: it's structure. And then, it can set people, with much feeling, moving about the dance floor.

Conscience and Applause

Well, there's Monteverde. And the first thing that we have to see, whether it's Italy in the 17th century or elsewhere, is that every person wants to get applause. Applause can be called a substitute conscience. For people to applaud you is a way of saying that something is for you, and even if your conscience is troublesome, the applause of people will make up for it. 

We can be pretty sure that Monteverde wanted applause. He wanted his own applause, he wanted the applause of his contemporaries, including that of nobles, and he wanted somewhere the applause which he has got, the applause of posterity. Monteverde here is like two other Italians whose names begin with M: Machiavelli, who came earlier, and Manzoni, who came later. (There's also Maffei, who wrote a play on the same subject as Voltaire, Merope.) So Monteverde was after something, and he is one of the people of the 17th century, late 16th century, who are alive.

Parry speaks of "composers who are not so much impelled by the mere delight of music itself as by the opportunities it offers to interpret vividly emotions, moods, human feelings." It is interesting to see where music as "delight" is the same as absolute music—that is, music that is not program music. Parry says if you're interested in music itself as delight you don't want music to interpret human problems, but Monteverde was not interested only in music as delight: he felt that music should interpret human problems.

We can see that problem in Verdi. And one of the reasons opera is so popular is that as somebody sings with passion, there's a feeling that loudness has become graceful. A contralto has to make more noise than a receptionist. She's passionate. And if a singer is Lucia, she talks about love, it's very personal, but it brings the house down. Her last surmise reaches the ceiling. Well, we have this feeling in Monteverde. The opera about Nero (The Coronation of Poppea), can make for a good deal of loudness.

About Something

Parry says Monteverde is among "the musicians who instinctively feel music's sphere is in the scheme of things. They . . . delve into human life and feeling." This is music, then, which is about something. And what I have quoted says something about everything. Everything is what it is, and everything is about something. The talk which we used to hear, "This music isn't about anything—it is what it is," is less now. It's less said about poetry too. People don't say so much, "This poem is what it is." 

In opera we have the most concern with human feeling. There is Mozart, and he's interested in how people felt; he's gay about it. There's Wagner, and his people in the Nibelungen Ring, in Tannhäuser, in Lohengrin, are very concerned.

Monteverde, then, is interested in people. However, he is important in structure. He is noted for his madrigals, which are a way of having a number of people behave. They may not by themselves, but in taking part in madrigals they go well with each other.

The problem here—and Monteverde had it—is how to be fair to the inanimate world and also fair to how he felt. This thing which is in art is a large matter in conscience.  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.

red line

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
thin black line
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

Subscriptions: 26 issues, US $18; 12 issues, US $9, Canada and Mexico $14, elsewhere $20. Make check or money order payable to Aesthetic Realism Foundation.
Click here for subscription form. ISSN 0882-3731

  • Click here for a subscription to The Right Of by regular mail.
  • Click here to receive email alerts linking you to each new issue of The Right Of, as well as announcements of events at the Foundation.
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

© Copyright 1998 - 2014 by Aesthetic Realism Foundation •  A not–for–profit educational foundation