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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 NUMBER 1297.—February 8, 1998

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

The Beautiful Judge in Everyone

Dear Unknown Friends:

The great 1966 lecture By Eli Siegel we are serializing, Animate and Inanimate Are in Music and Conscience, illustrates with might and also charm this principle on which Aesthetic Realism is based: "All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves." We publish too part of a paper that associate Harriet Bernstein presented in December at an Aesthetic Realism public seminar titled "Domestic Life and Largeness of Mind: Can They Go Together?" 

This issue of TRO is about opposites tremendous in art and everyone's life: Personal and Impersonal. Every artist, Aesthetic Realism shows, is an artist because, while being his personal self, he has us feel something much larger than himself in those notes, shapes, syllables. As we listen to Mozart we hear, Mr. Siegel writes, "the universe for a while come into form in the concert hall" (Self and World, p. 99). In Rembrandt we see the light and dark, the glow and mystery, of things as such, in the particular face of the Man with the Golden Helmet or the thoughtful face of the Jewish Bride. And when Dryden wrote about the poetry of Chaucer, "'Tis sufficient to say, according to the proverb, that here is God's plenty"—Dryden was saying Chaucer stood for the largeness of reality. Chaucer, Mozart, Rembrandt were personal yet fair to an unlimited impersonal world. 

All over America people are unaware that the unseen inevitable criterion on which they themselves judge the persons they know is that aesthetic one: is this person personal and impersonal at once—is he or she honestly trying to be fair to a world different from himself, herself? 

We can go after approval from someone, decide he's good if he makes much of us and is mean and cold if he doesn't. We can be uninterested in how he sees the world, because there's that in us which doesn't give a damn about the world and wants to get away from the world. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful fact, and no more in our control than our blood circulation is, that our true opinion of the person is based on: does he want to use himself to know the world, see it justly; does he respect it, care for it? It is a beautiful fact that if a person makes much of us yet has a narrow way of seeing the world, we distrust and despise that person. 

How Children Judge Their Parents

Children too are unclear yet inevitable aesthetic critics of their parents. And when parents and children learn from Aesthetic Realism what this means, there can be at last a vibrant kindness, largeness, respect, and proud tenderness in the homes of America. For instance, in Baton Rouge now a little girl of 5 of course wants her parents to act as though she is ever so important. But as they hug little Kimberly and give her gifts, they don't see that the deep question within her is, "How just are my parents to this big world I came into? Do I respect the way they talk about other people? Do they want to value other people, or be superior to them?" 

Mr. Siegel has explained what is behind every injustice in human history. It is contempt, the "disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the outside world." Every child is deeply looking at a parent to see whether that parent wants to make less of the outside world. Every child is deeply longing to respect a parent, and the one basis for respecting a parent is: "Mama really wants to understand what I feel inside and to encourage me to like the whole world, and Mama wants to like and respect the world herself." 

Every child also wants to have contempt. So if she can't respect how a parent sees reality she may go for the victory of looking down on the world with a parent—and of looking down on the parent too. Little Kimberly may get a glory through having her parents see her as much more wonderful than the messy world. I hope she doesn't.

A Famous Father and Son

In 1857 Matthew Arnold wrote the poem "Rugby Chapel," about his famous father, Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby. The father had died when Matthew Arnold was 20. We can be sure that this dignifiedly ardent critic and poet did not feel the depths of him were known by his father, did not feel that his father was trying much to understand him; because Matthew Arnold describes in his work the pain at not being seen at his depths by anybody. And I'm sure Matthew Arnold had objections to the way Thomas Arnold saw the world itself. The father was more interested in using the force of his character to have English schoolboys become upstanding citizens than in loving the richness, subtlety, delicacy, and might of literature that his son saw as so important. 

Yet the notable thing in "Rugby Chapel" from a family point of view is that the care Matthew Arnold expresses for his father is not because of his father's making much of him. What he cares for is that there was a largeness in Thomas Arnold's seeing of the world, a power of kindness toward humanity as such. He says his father had a "strength, / Zealous, beneficent, firm," and because of him, Matthew Arnold was better able to see other large, just persons in history as real: 

And through thee I believe 
In the noble and great who are gone; 
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 
... souls temper'd with fire, 
Fervent, heroic, and good, 
Helpers and friends of mankind.

Every child today wants what Matthew Arnold wanted at age 10: for a parent to go after comprehending him in all his puzzling depth, never give up trying to know him; and for the parent to be honestly a "friend ... of mankind" and of reality. If a child cannot feel both, all the supposed parental boosting of the child's "self-esteem" will not allay his profound disappointment.

Aesthetic Realism itself is magnificent in its oneness of personal and impersonal. It is knowledge of the most fully impersonal kind: it is true about the nature of reality and every aspect of it. And this same knowledge comprehends, as nothing could before, the feelings of each individual person in all our keen particularity. I saw that Eli Siegel himself was a beautiful oneness of these opposites: a living person, he was true every minute to the great philosophy he founded.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

Mahler: Awesome and Frail
By Eli Siegel

Note. Mr. Siegel is quoting from Norman Demuth's An Anthology of Musical Criticism.

Then we have the controversial person who is as loud as Wagner and just as ominously mystical—more so: Mahler. The letters of Mahler and even things he wrote in his compositions show Mahler was a wonderful example of, well, awesomeness and frailty. 

This is how Mahler seems to be to Henry Boys: "His commanding personality left few people who came into contact with it neither hot nor cold." Wagner, it is said, tended to make everybody who ever worked for him afraid of him, and here he is like Toscanini. There are stories of how Toscanini would drive a musician home in tears to his wife. Mahler, however, was less sure of himself than Toscanini, all in all. Boys continues: 

Mahler's music often gives the impression that he is compelling the listener to feel things to the same intense degree as Mahler felt them himself .... Those who ... do not want the revelation Mahler seeks to give, will feel that they are being bullied.

Mahler has that quality of wanting the audience to become new people, and Mahler is going to do it for them. There's a touch even of bullying in Tchaikovsky, with that cannon. And there was a feeling when Beethoven got in the chorus that he was going to try to have people come to him through the voice. Mahler is still being studied, and he hasn't been placed. It's good to say that no composer is wholly placed. There are unseen rooms in every one of them. 

The criticism of the Germans in the English journals was, they were diffuse: Beethoven was diffuse, Brahms was diffuse, Schumann was diffuse, everyone. Mahler definitely is diffuse. The English got the idea you listen to music for fifteen minutes and then you talk about what's going on. 

"His commanding personality "—the relation of personality to work is to be seen. Quite clearly, Mahler's personality is in his work. But his work is not his personality.

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Domesticity and Largeness
By Harriet Bernstein

Iam tremendously grateful to Aesthetic Realism for showing there does not have to be a division in a woman's mind between domestic life and largeness of thought!

I learned that the one purpose that will integrate a woman's life is to be just to the world. And the desire to have contempt is the greatest force for disintegration in life and limitation of mind. Wanting to diminish the value of things in order to feel superior inevitably results in a woman's feeling—as I once did—narrow, despairing about her ability to have large, passionate feeling. 

The Fight Begins Early

As a girl I liked to read, and mathematics was exciting to me. But the way numbers could be in my mind, with accuracy and pleasure, was not how I thought about my family.

The youngest of three children, I felt special, but I wasn't interested in what was going on inside the people I was close to. If something didn't make me important, I felt it wasn't worth my attention. So as we sat around the table in our Brooklyn home and my parents talked about work or politics, I would daydream. When my reverie was interrupted by the simplest question, like "Do you want something to drink?," I would be irritated. "Why are you so nervous?" my mother would ask. In TRO 1107, Ellen Reiss explains:

The fight in everyone, going on this minute, is: do I want to feel more and more how I am related to this multitudinous world—or do I hope ... to look down on and manage a world I see as not good enough for me? People are going after the latter, and don't know that in the process they are literally lessening their minds and causing themselves to be nervous, fearful, ill-natured, depressed, lonely.

I grew increasingly silent, and worried about being able to express my thought coherently.

I love Aesthetic Realism for beautifully criticizing my contempt and encouraging my desire to like the world. When I began to have Aesthetic Realism consultations with the teaching trio There Are Wives, something deep changed in me right away. I no longer got so lost in myself that I couldn't hear someone speak to me. I had a greater interest in people and wanted to be more known myself. My mind was keener! 

Marriage Has Reality's Opposites

When Len Bernstein and I married in January 1975, I was working full-time and going to college at night. But crossing the threshold of our apartment, I felt I left one world to enter another where I expected Len to adore me, make things "nice" for me. When he asked about school I was resentful; often answered, "I'll tell you later"; and usually did not. I often got moody and silent, saying only "Oh, nothing" when Len asked what was wrong. We wound up arguing, each feeling slighted by the other. 

I learned when two people collaborate to kick out the "multitudinous world," they will feel furious with each other. I didn't know that in wanting a cozy retreat where my husband served and praised me, I was asking for misery. I began to feel trapped.

Then, when we were married just ten months, we had the good fortune to begin studying Aesthetic Realism. When my consultants learned that Len had a serious care for photography, they asked me, "Do you think photography has to do with shadow and radiant things—there has to be a relation of darkness and radiance?" And they asked if my husband's thoughts also had "a composition of the opposites of the world—of dark and light." 

I, who had been coldly uninterested in how Len saw people or what he was concerned about, felt thrilled to begin learning how a man has the eternal structure of reality: the oneness of opposites. I began to see Len freshly. I wanted to know how he saw his family, what his hopes were as he was growing up. And it was wonderful to discover that through knowing him, I could learn about all people, including myself. 

I am very grateful to be seeing now in my marriage how domesticity and largeness can truly be the same. For example, one snowy Sunday morning I planned a "special" breakfast, and when Len called out from another room, "That smells good," I felt self-satisfied and ripe for praise. I was surprised when he came into the kitchen and, instead of sitting down at the table, said, "This is beautiful—I have to photograph this." As I continued cooking, Len photographed and described what affected him. But I regret I got annoyed, because I wasn't the sole focus of his attention. 

I am grateful that my husband had the good will to criticize me and I had the good sense to listen to him, so instead of getting into an argument, we sat down to breakfast and had a conversation we are both proud of. We talked about the opposites in the food before us—how there were neat round pancakes in the warm interior of the kitchen in relation to the snowflakes blown about by the wind in the cold outside. And we spoke about how every person deserves to have a warm home and good food to eat, and how much we despise an economic system that keeps these from them. We felt honestly closer to each other, and had larger feeling about other people.

I love Aesthetic Realism for teaching that justice to people and the world is central to the warmth and success of a marriage! 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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