The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941

The Beauty of Art & the Pain about Love

Dear Unknown Friends:

We are serializing The Opposites Theory, an important philosophic work by Eli Siegel, written in the late 1950s. In it he shows, with scholarship, liveliness, authority, and ease, that what all instances of art have in common is “the oneness of the permanent opposites in reality, as seen by an individual.” The second chapter, published here, continues a discussion of the opposites Oneness and Manyness.

We also print part of a paper by Aesthetic Realism consultant Devorah Tarrow. It is from a public seminar of last month, titled “Mistakes Women Make in Love—What Are They, & Is There an Answer?” This TRO, then, is an illustration of the fact that Aesthetic Realism is strict logic, philosophic logic, and is also up to one’s most personal confusions and the hopes and griefs of social life right now. In both respects, Aesthetic Realism is great.

To bring together more closely the chapter from The Opposites Theory and Ms. Tarrow’s discussion, I’ll give two examples of how those opposites Mr. Siegel writes of—Oneness and Manyness—are central to mistakes in love. And let us be clear: while Ms. Tarrow and I are speaking about women, the mistakes both sexes make are quite the same.

A Man Is One & Many

All over the world, millions of women are making the mistake which can be called unifying a man falsely. Every man is multitudinous. He has in him feelings; thoughts; the effect on him of all the people he ever met; an impression, say, of sunlight on snow when he was five; worry about a friend; his job, with all its aspects; his interests; his resentments; the books he’s read; and more, and more. Yet let’s take Katie, a woman standing for ever so many women: if asked, she would grant that of course the man she’s close to, Sam, has to do with numerous things other than her—but she doesn’t really think so, in any vivid way. And she doesn’t like the idea.

She goes to the movies with Sam, has visited his family, listens to his complaints about work, but essentially she sees him in terms of this one idea: how does he treat me? She sees him, in fact, as existing to make much of her. The other aspects of him, in their manyness, are pale in comparison to one thing: his relation to her. Quite a few of those other aspects are annoying if she’s made aware of them (for instance, she doesn’t like it when he talks to his friends on the telephone), and very many she doesn’t think about at all.

What I’ve been describing is a form of contempt—that way of seeing which Mr. Siegel showed to be the big weakener of mind and the source of all injustice: the feeling we’ll take care of ourselves, heighten ourselves, by lessening other things. So Katie makes a man’s multitudinous relations to the world unimportant and gives him a unity, a singleness, created by her: he’s a-person-whose-function-in-life-is-to-glorify-Me.

So much pain comes from this way of seeing. Katie has wiped out all that is truly interesting about Sam. She has wiped out who he is.

Why They Fight

Through Katie we can look at a second ubiquitous mistake about Oneness and Manyness. She has decided, without putting it into words, that this one person will solve all the questions of her life. If Sam will just love her, she’ll “feel good about herself” at last and everything will be all right.

A woman can be modern, ambitious, have an active career, yet still see a man and love that way. Katie is a lawyer. But she uses Sam to get away from the diverse world she was born to be fair to. Without stating it, she wants to annul in her mind co-workers, clients, news events, law, demands of family and friends, time, facts, happenings, through this one man’s approval, in this one man’s arms. She has given Sam a truly ugly job: to make her feel superior to that manifold reality not Katie. He wants the same from her. Both comply; but it’s a purpose they can’t like themselves for. So they find themselves ill-natured and fighting, and don’t know why.

Real love, Aesthetic Realism explains, is a oneness of One and Many, as art is. Love is the using of one person, in his or her tremendous particularity, to know and care more for the busy, puzzling, abundant, multifarious world.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

Comment on the Opposites in Art

By Eli Siegel

The grandeur of things and their triviality both show what things are. In art—which is like things— there can be the grand approach, accompanied by theoretical drums, and there can be the approach of strategic lesserness or triviality.

Oneness and Manyness is a central situation in reality and in art. You can find them or it in reality itself—as Heraclitus, Aristotle, Aquinas, Spinoza, and Samuel Alexander have interestingly exemplified or shown. But you can, too, find Oneness and Manyness in all the arts: in Music, Painting, the Novel, the Play, the Dance, Architecture.

     And stepping aside a bit, are Oneness and Manyness that which brings or bring together in sculpture the Apollo Belvedere and Giacometti, the Laocoön and Lachaise? Is there the manyness of painful expression, one may ask, in the Laocoön along with the oneness of the work itself; is there the manyness of feminine fleshly ripple in Lachaise along with the imposing Lachaise singleness?

     Again, does the ancient and also ever so contemporary notion of Oneness and Manyness, or Sameness and Difference provide a mode of junction for all the arts?

It does, but it has been difficult to use the philosophic aspect of art and the technical aspect in a graceful, accurate way. Yet something philosophic is buzzing in every technical aspect of art: the eternities are busy within the moment’s artistic choice.

And so, it is necessary to see that Art as Oneness and Manyness is present somehow and surely in every technical artistic choice, process, or result.

I present an example which is a compound of art as grand and art as related to the significant “trivial” or lesser.

There is an essay by Somers Clarke on stained glass in a book of 1893, Arts and Crafts Essays, with a preface by William Morris. This book is decidedly out of fashion, as William Morris more or less is. Yet the problem brought up by Somers Clarke writing on stained glass, looked at closely, is desperately contemporary:

A visit to one of our mediaeval churches, such as York Minster, Gloucester Cathedral, or Malvern Priory, church buildings, which still retain much of their ancient glass, and a comparison of the unity of effect there experienced with the internecine struggle exhibited in most buildings furnished by the glass painters of to-day, will surely convince the most indifferent that there is yet much to be learned.¹

I am using this quotation to show that the problem of Oneness and Manyness, or Sameness and Difference, is not just a grand, conceptual problem given over to the philosophic generalizers, the outrageously spacious theoreticians.

The problem of Oneness and Manyness has in it how things go with each other. Mr. Clarke says that the stained glass of the 1890s didn’t go with the buildings it was put in. There was an “internecine struggle.” Mr. Clarke thinks this “internecine struggle” was not good. He wasn’t for, apparently, busy sewing machines in a cathedral or trotting horses in a staid museum.

The Idea of Struggle

However it was, the idea of “struggle” cannot be separated from the idea of Oneness and Manyness, or Sameness and Difference; because as soon as we have manyness we have things having to do with each other, which means they are either blending with each other or fighting each other, or both.

Oneness and Manyness are in a fight themselves; and in Manyness—in any manyness—there is a Fight, a Struggle, an Asymmetry, an Imbalance.

The technical problem arising from Oneness and Manyness is how to get the Fighting and Blending, the Contrast and Similarity to go for one artistic purpose.

There is, then, in good stained glass a struggle, however decorous. Details anywhere don’t go with each other meekly. Stained glass is like Beethoven: in the same way that Beethoven had to make sounds go together, a worker in stained glass had to make segments of glass, colors, intensities and quietnesses of color, shapes to go together.

Stained glass and a large symphony are both profound.² They have beautiful quarrels within themselves and they both look to be in place. Even today, a symphony shouldn’t go on, in Johnstown , Pa., at the same time as a boxing match; nor should stained glass be exhibited in a moving rowboat.

A contemporary notion, then, is that of struggle, tension, imbalance in the arts. Is this contained within that immemorial pair of opposites, Many and One? —Yes.

The Insistent Question

The passage I have quoted from the forgotten Somers Clarke concerns the insistent question of the artistic hour: the timelessness and immediacy of contemporary sculpture are concerned; the wanderingness and tightness of Miró; the rigidity and ambience of Picasso.

Oneness and Manyness, Sameness and Difference are philosophic opposites containing wriggling, screaming, riveting, bolting, hitting, making, seeing. They are as fresh as the newest darting thing in entomology.


¹ Arts and Crafts Essays by Members of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, with a Preface by William Morris (New York, 1893), p. 101.

² That stained glass has its profound side—as profound as anything—can be seen in these notable lines from Shelley’s Adonais: “Life, like a dome of many-colored glass, / Stains the white radiance of Eternity."

Mistakes Women Make in Love

By Devorah Tarrow

Women more than ever are searching for answers about our mistakes in love. The central mistake, I’ve learned from Aesthetic Realism, is that a woman has used being close to a man to make herself the most important thing in the world, lessening the meaning of everything else.

     Why is this a woman’s biggest mistake? Because the largest purpose of our life is to like the world. A man represents the world; so caring for him should be a means of caring for it. “The purpose of love,” writes Eli Siegel in Self and World, "is to feel closely one with things as a whole."

In the current book Been There, Done That, Kept the Jewelry, Cooper Lawrence, who is a woman, a developmental psychologist, and a talk show host, tells other women:

Just as you would with a good home fixing little cracks in your foundation and installing a “fabulous-man-seeking” device in your head, you will...figure out why you chose those awful men for magnificent you, and then learn how to spot the wrong ones earlier and move along more quickly.

What woman doesn’t want to be called “magnificent"? Meanwhile, Ms. Lawrence is saying a woman’s mistake is not in some purpose she has, but in faulty choices among a vast number of inappropriate men. She sums men up into nine types: “the bachelor, the hot guy, the older guy, the proximity guy, the wounded guy, the clingy guy, the younger guy, the workout guy, the party guy.” The appeal to a woman’s contempt here is big and very hurtful.

Purposes with the World & a Man

By the age of 23, I had taken psychology courses at a good college and been in a long-term relationship with a man I'd hoped was the one—and we'd been desperately unhappy. In the early days of my knowing David Harper, I felt I'd found my soul mate. We both hated the then-current administration and the war in Vietnam; we despised people we called “phonies"; we thought we were superior to just about everyone. But after a few weeks I felt David draw away from me, and I began to be consumed with (as I thought to myself) “getting him to love me.” I cooked, cleaned his apartment, and tried to manage him into having sex with me.

I knew I was doing something wrong, and when he went on a business trip, I agonized over my mistakes. I wrote to him: “I'm ready to admit things I’ve never said....I have been forcing you since the day I met you to love me. I’ve been so blind.” My solution was that we needed to “communicate” better, something Dr. Lawrence advocates. But neither of us really knew what to communicate, and though we tried to continue our relationship, a year later we broke up with recrimination and pain.

It was at this time that a friend told me about Aesthetic Realism, and I read these sentences in the book Self and World, by Eli Siegel:

To love another human being simply as an outside object is decidedly hard for nearly everybody. If this were done it would mean that something external has been permitted—so it seems—to affect the autonomy of a self; and there is a disposition fiercely, constantly, deeply, ramifiedly to maintain that autonomy. Therefore, when we have decided to permit an outside human affect deeply what we are, we first must come to see that outside human being as belonging to us....All of us have an inclination to love by owning a person, in the depths of our minds....The whole self and the truly free self wants something else, something larger. [Pp. 65-66]

How Mr. Siegel’s straightforward logic met my own self-criticism! I could now consider: Am I angry at being affected at all by someone not myself? Have I tried to annex a man, own him, manage his life because I didn’t like the world?

A short time later, in an Aesthetic Realism class, Mr. Siegel said to me: “There’s a tendency to think that anyone we know closely is an invader. Have you seen other people as invaders of yourself?"

DT. Yes, I have!

ES. What do you think men have had against you?

DT. They’ve thought I was trying to take them over.

He explained: “There are three possibilities for a person: 1) self and universe; 2) self and self; 3) self and grudgingly the universe."

I began to see that I wasn’t put on earth to manage the world through a man, but to know it. And this, I was to learn, is the purpose of love.

What’s the Big Mistake about Sex?

I thought I was a modern woman and that it was some outdated Victorian ethic that made me feel guilty as to sex. In a class, Mr. Siegel asked me: “Are you sensible about men?” “No,” I answered. And he said that the following can be stated “rather dogmatically: Every person’s purpose is to have as good a time as possible and to respect oneself as much as possible. The thing to look at is: Do you think it’s possible to have ecstasy and respect oneself too? It happens that when people have a good time they usually feel sinful. That still goes on."

Yes; and Mr. Siegel explained why: “There is an association of being pleased with guilt, because there are two things in us: we want to like the world; and we also want to feel we don’t need the world and can please ourselves. Most often the pleasure of sex is associated with a fooling of the world, a victory over it. [There’s the feeling that] despite the world and its seeming being against us, we did have pleasure—which means there is an accomplishment of self. But it happens that as we want to like ourselves, we want to like the world too. This is the question that has to be debated: As soon as you have pleasure and you think it’s only from yourself, can you respect yourself? This is what I ask persons to look into."

I did look into it—and saw there was something I wanted more than the victory of using my body to feel I'd conquered a man. I wanted to have a different purpose: to use myself—mind and body—to have a strengthening, kind effect on a man.

In Aesthetic Realism classes I heard Mr. Siegel talk to men about their lives, hopes, questions. And I saw that a man could be as against himself for how he saw women as I could be for how I saw men, that a man wanted to put together pleasure and self-respect as much as I did.

As I came to know Jeffrey Carduner, who is now my husband, I was asking, What can I learn about the world from him?—not, How can I have him dazzled by me? I was learning that the way I'd like myself is through good will, “the desire to have something else stronger and more beautiful, for this desire makes oneself stronger and more beautiful” (TRO 121).

Good will isn’t soft. It’s tough as well as pleasurable: you are so much for a person, you want to take care of the best thing in him, which includes wanting to know what he has against himself, where he’s asking more from himself. And I love the way Jeffrey encourages me to think, to be less narrow, to have a greater sense of history and of what people living now deserve.

Yes, there is an answer—and Aesthetic Realism provides it—to our mistakes in love!