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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 NUMBER 1814.—January 18, 2012

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

New York Is Land & Feelings

Dear Unknown Friends:

With this issue we begin to serialize the lecture New York Begins Poetically, which Eli Siegel gave in October 1970. Relating aspects of history, literature, and the feelings of people, it is a deep, leisurely, surprising, often humorous discussion. In it, this Aesthetic Realism principle is inseparable from New York—her earth, years, lives: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”

Eli Siegel loved New York, and the city is present in many of his poems. Despite all the injustice, and the suffering too, that have taken place here, New York is beautiful, and one of the reasons is the way suffering and injustice have been fought.

In New York Begins Poetically, it is principally Manhattan that Mr. Siegel speaks of and presents as having that oneness of opposites which makes for poetry. In this first section, beginning with 1626 and Peter Minuit, he comments on three pairs of opposites. And so, by means of introduction, I’ll say a little about ways those opposites can be in us, in all people, very often confusingly and troublingly.

Much & Little

There are, first, those opposites which are about both mathematics and our feelings: much and little. They are sheerly quantitative. Yet everybody has felt troubled by having too little emotion—about something, someone, things as such. And we have also felt that things—including our own emotions—were too much for us.

“So much is going on in me that I’m spinning,” a person has thought. And the same person can tell herself meekly, belittlingly, “There’s not much to me.”

Much and little—which Mr. Siegel describes as poetically one in a very early instance of New York history—are also opposites central to all the cruelty that has ever been. That is because they are central to contempt—that way of seeing from which, Aesthetic Realism explains, every unkindness, injustice, cruelty has arisen. Contempt is the feeling, The more I can see you as little, unimportant, beneath me, the bigger, grander, mightier I am. We can see an ugly relation of much and little in this Aesthetic Realism definition of contempt: “the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it.”

In New York, as elsewhere, there is the horrible fact that some people have tremendously much while others have very little. This awful rift of much and little, with the suffering that attends it, exists because our economy has been based on contempt: on the seeing of human beings and the possibilities of this world in terms, not of what they deserve, but of how much private profit one can wring from them.

Before I leave the opposites of much and little for now, I’ll mention an instance of their being one in people. Whenever we truly respect a person, it is because we feel the person is large: he or she wants to give so much justice to things, see them with depth and fullness. And the more things the person wants to be fair to—and the more deeply and widely—the more we respect him or her. Yet also, in order to respect a person, we have to feel there is a subtlety to the person’s seeing: he or she wants to be fair to those “littler” things, the details, the delicate aspects of facts, reality, people’s feelings. Eli Siegel himself had that big justice and delicate justice in his seeing and expression all the time, on all subjects, and I love him for it. He had these so mightily that it has made, I believe, for the greatest feeling of respect ever earned by a human being.

These Opposites Are Ours Too

Mr. Siegel speaks also about wildness and order in New York. How mixed up people are about these opposites! A person—we’ll call him Bruno—feels his life is too regulated by obligations and the demands of others. He wants to let go, be free, untamed. So at times, especially on weekends, he shows how wild he can be. But the way he gets to be untrammeled makes him later feel ashamed. He also feels—whether he’s disciplined or rowdy—that there is no deep composition in his life, that inwardly he is confused, disorderly, even a mess. The times Bruno feels best are when he’s listening to music, rock or classical. And the reason (though he doesn’t know it) is: in the music that he loves, structure and wildness, organization and letting go, are one.

Other opposites Mr. Siegel comments on here in relation to New York are resistance and yielding. About these opposites, everyone is, in some fashion, like a woman I’ll call Jeanette, who shuttles between two ways. She has condemned herself, saying, “Why am I so stubborn? Why do I have to put up a fight so much when someone gives an opinion?” Yet the same Jeanette can also say, “Why did I let this person walk all over me? Why did I give in when I really didn’t want to?”

To Whom Should New York Belong?

In this first section of his lecture Mr. Siegel speaks briefly about Leisler’s Rebellion (1689-91). He doesn’t give details about it, nor will I extensively. But it had to do with the two constant opposites of land, geography, place, and human beings, human feelings. These are aspects of the biggest opposites we have: self and world.

Leisler and his supporters, like the revolutionaries of 1775, felt that the British were treating the colonists with cruel contempt. They were furious that the New York colonists were not permitted to take part in their own government and were being robbed—used to provide profit for persons in England. The Columbia Encyclopedia (2nd ed., 1950) tells us:

The Leislerians generally set up certain ideals of popular rights as part of their goal....[Leisler] was bitterly opposed by the wealthy and aristocratic faction.

Well, the Leislerians actually “gained control of S New York with the aid of militia” and governed it for nearly two years. Not only was the rebellion, as the Columbia Encyclopedia notes, “an early stage in the revolt against autocratic government of the colonies”: it stands for feeling in New York, America, and the world now, including the feeling of the Occupy Wall Street movement. It stands for what Mr. Siegel described in his book Self and World in 1946:

The world should be owned by the people living in it.... All persons should be seen as living in a world truly theirs.

“Run, Clouds, Across the Sky”

A short poem by Mr. Siegel has to do with the same New York he discusses in relation to Leisler, Minuit, and more. It appears in his Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana: Poems, with the following note:

The clouds were seen across Washington Square, Sunday in summer, 1926—to the west. Washington Square, or no, it seemed sunset and time and west were just that.

In different ways, both his lecture and this poem by Mr. Siegel have the opposites of a New York moment and all time; intensity and delicacy; earth (here sky) and feeling. This, then, with its beautiful verbal music, is a prelude to New York Begins Poetically:

Run, Clouds, Across the Sky

Clouds going across the sky.

Run, clouds, there is time.

O sun, make clouds red.

Run, clouds, across the sky.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

New York Begins Poetically
By Eli Siegel

Among the legends of American history, one of the most engaging is that of Peter Minuit, whose dates are almost like those of Philip Massinger, the Elizabethan or Jacobean dramatist: 1580-1638. The legend is that Peter Minuit had some nice objects and a few coins, and there were people on an island who had some notion that there was much more land farther west and north; and so he said, “How about these for the island?” It’s not told just that way, but there seems to be some truth in it.

It happens that Peter Minuit did get the island peaceably, and Manhattan itself didn’t have any Indian disturbances. There were some around, but all that is contained by Manhattan now—from the Battery to the Harlem River—seems to have been peaceable.

The poetry in the event is the sale or the exchange: to exchange a small thing for a large island that has a lot of history waiting for it, is poetic and goes along with the famous Marlowe line, one of the most famous in the English language, from The Jew of Malta: “Infinite riches in a little room.” This happened nearly forty years after Marlowe’s play.

We have something like poetry there—the exchange of these coins, trinkets, whatever they were, for the island—and the story hasn’t been completely exposed as falsity. Peter Minuit did bargain, as later William Penn did. Others didn’t feel it was so necessary to bargain.

Wildness & Order

The beginnings of New York, or Manhattan, are not as profusely documented as they might be: the descriptions that are firsthand are very scarce. The work, in 4 volumes, that I’m using is valuable: American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart. And in it there is something about the early having of Manhattan. Hart calls the account, by a Dutch historian of the time, “The Founding of New Amsterdam (1623-1628) by Nicolas Jean de Wassenaer (Anonymous Translation).” This is part of it:

The government over the people of New Netherland the aforesaid Minuict [sic], ...who went thither from Holland on 9th January, Anno, 1626, and took up his residence in the midst of a nation called Manhates, building a fort there, to be called Amsterdam....The population consists of two hundred and seventy souls, including men, women, and children. ...The natives live peaceably with them. They are situate three miles from the Sea, on the river by us called Mauritius.

That seems to be a name for the Hudson.

So we have another example of poetry: something taking form. That is, Manhattan looked a little bit like upper New York State now, the part that the picnickers haven’t changed too much. There are such places—Glens Falls, I hear, still has a lot of seemingly disorderly green around. And there are places in the Adirondacks that are as God discarded them years ago; and quite a few other places. In other words, in America there is a lot of wildness—real estate hasn’t yet gotten everywhere. But when real estate does get to wildness, we have that mingling, which is in poetry, of roughness and form.

What happened very often in early American history was, the settlers built a fort. The people at Plymouth didn’t build a fort; they felt, perhaps, they didn’t have to. But elsewhere there were forts built, and that meant a solid, very often quadrangular construction which mingled with the surrounding growing land or growing shrubbery, trees, grass, etc., accompanied by a few acclimated insects.

There is poetry in this fort Wassenaer writes of. The fort is heard of constantly through New York history. Then the fort gets out of Manhattan, on Governors Island. But the need to protect New York has been around, and some people think it needs to be protected now: you can’t depend anymore on Governors Island.

There is, then, that poetic thing of wild land getting real estate on it. You can have some of the feeling in looking at an apartment house in the Bronx surrounded by heights and growing things. It is taking; you don’t see it so well in downtown Manhattan.—That is an item which is supposed to be taken in relation to other items, and can be said to be of 1626.

Resistance & Yielding

There are other governors, of whom Washington Irving wrote. There is a person he called William the Testy: Willem Kieft. Then, there is the one who is meditative and wasn’t energetic, Walter Van Twiller. And then, there’s the most famous, Peter Stuyvesant.

In 1664, while Stuyvesant was governor, the English got interested in Manhattan. They had a fleet somewhere in the waters around it, and then started negotiating with the uncertain burgers and burgomasters, and also with Peter Stuyvesant. The story is that Peter Stuyvesant wanted to resist the English fleet no matter what happened, even if he lost his bowery and the cannonballs fell anywhere, and he stamped around with his wooden leg and said, “No surrender at any cost!” One of the documents that Hart includes questions that story. He calls it “Why the Dutch Surrendered New York (1665) by Michael Ten Hove; translated by E.B. O’Callaghan, 1858.” O’Callaghan and John Romeyn Brodhead, he perhaps more than Brodhead, are the early scholars of New York history.

Ten Hove was Secretary of the Dutch West India Company, and Hart says: “This piece is an answer to Governor Stuyvesant’s attempt to throw upon the Company the responsibility for the easy conquest of the Dutch colony by the English.”

As everyone knows, when the English fleet appeared in the waters outside New York, the Dutch said, “Well, we’ll learn the language—why make a fuss?”—This is from the Ten Hove document; it was either 1666 or 1665:

The Company...will only again say, in conclusion, that the sole cause and reason for the loss of the aforesaid place, were these: The Authorities (Regenten), and the chief officer, being very deeply interested in lands, bouweries and buildings, were unwilling to offer any opposition, first, at the time of the English encroachments, in order thereby not to afford any pretext for firing and destroying their properties—

So there was a tremendous instinct for property preservation, with a little for self-preservation, around. It is said that Governor Stuyvesant had some of that.

—and, having always paid more attention to their particular affairs than to the Company’s interests, New Amsterdam was found, on the arrival of the English frigates, as if an enemy was never to be expected. And, finally, that the Director...gave himself no other concern than about the prosperity of his bouweries, and, when the pinch came, allowed himself to be rode over by Clergymen, women and cowards, in order to surrender to the English what he could defend with reputation, for the sake of thus saving their private properties.

A great deal more happened. I could quote more from the early history and the laws of New Amsterdam. But what I just read occurred about forty years after Peter Minuit did some wise purchasing. Then the Dutch in 1674, taking advantage of the lassitude of Charles II (that isn’t exact history), took New York again. Then there was some negotiation and they rather agreeably gave it back, saying, “Our children—let them be bilingual.” And since 1675 or so, English has been the government language.

An Early Objection

In 1689, when James II had been displaced by William III and Mary, there was an event involving a person who is still being studied: one of the early American revolutionists, Jacob Leisler. He and Nathaniel Bacon are two of the early American revolutionists. There’s one in terms of thought: John Wise, who wrote in the left fashion. But Leisler and Bacon are the predominant American revolutionists before 1765 or ’75 or 1776. Hart includes a document about him, written from the right. In the instance of Bacon, there are documents that sustain him and documents that are against him. That seems to be so with Leisler too. Hart describes Leisler as “formerly a fur-trader, in 1689 a merchant,” and gives the document the heading “Leisler’s Rebellion (1689-1691) by ‘A Gentleman of the City of New York’ (1698).” I’ll read a section of that account, written from the viewpoint of some right person:

Capt. Leysler having a Vessel with some Wines in the Road, for which he refused to pay the Duty, did in a Seditious manner stir up the meanest sort of the rise in Arms, and forcibly possess themselves of the Fort and Stores....A party of Armed Men came from the Fort, and forced the Lieut. Governour to deliver them the Keys; and seized also in his Chamber a Chest with Seven Hundred Seventy Three Pounds, Twelve Shillings in Money of the Government. And though Coll. Bayard... used all endeavours to prevent those Disorders, all proved vain; for most of those that appeared in Arms were Drunk, and cryed out, They disown’d all manner of Government. Whereupon, by Capt. Leysler’s perswasion, they proclaimed him to be their Commander....

Capt. Leysler being in this manner possest of the Fort, took some Persons to his Assistance, which he call’d, The Committee of Safety. And the Lieut. Governour, Francis Nicollson being in this manner forced out of his Command...with-drew out of the Province.

However, Nicollson comes back; there are some dramatic doings (there’s an early play on this subject); Leisler is defeated, and Governor Sloughter has him hanged. There’s much more to say, but I’m trying to establish a relation among 1626, 1666, 1689, 1691. 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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