The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941

The Three Failures


Dear Unknown Friends:

A fair idea may be had of what Aesthetic Realism is by considering The Three Failures, as Aesthetic Realism sees these. The failures are different, are in different fields; but they all arise from the seeing of the world and persons representing the world, in an inaccurate and unjust way. These three failures, in contemporary terms, may be described as: One, The Freud Failure; Two, The Greenspan Failure; and Three, The Eliot Failure.

Because Aesthetic Realism sees Sigmund Freud as having failed the mind of man; sees Alan Greenspan as failing now the economics of man where economics is ethics; and sees Thomas Stearns Eliot as having failed poetry as meaning and music at once—an idea may be had of what Aesthetic Realism regards as not failure, or success. For the purpose of understanding Aesthetic Realism, is it not necessary, dear unknown friends, to know what Aesthetic Realism regards as failure and regards as success?

1. The Freud Failure

It is now felt quite generally that Sigmund Freud did not see the mind of man wholly or justly. The mind of man, in its two great aspects, knowledge and feeling, is always going towards an honest like of reality. The other possibility of mind is the extolling and advancement of ego, or the self considered chiefly as in one striving body.

That the purpose of man has not been seen to be the honest like of the world is one of the great, pervasive, and continuing calamities of the world: the calamity has a collective form and also a painful individual form.

In the first three-quarters of the 20th century, there has been a disposition to see sex as more important in personal life than a true idea of reality. At this moment, Aesthetic Realism is still trying to have sex seen as a phase, aspect, possibility, or possession of reality; not that which imperially and carnally commands reality. However indisposed they may be, men and women need to look upon reality as large enough, powerful enough, subtle enough to cause the way a body accompanied by a person can affect another body accompanied by a person. Without reality, sex could not be evil, nor be lovely and just.

Freud, as I have said in previous TROs, qualified and largely retracted his earlier statements concerning the preeminence of sex in the causation of man's mental difficulties. However, he was never forthright enough in his retraction of earlier statements as to the predominance of sex in nervous mishaps. There was some juggling of sex and "libido." And now, largely owing to Freud and his advocates, it is difficult for people to see sex in all its blandishments, insistence, and victories as a form of reality.

The sun shines, man loves: the shining and the loving both represent reality. A stone falls, grass rises: the falling and the rising both represent reality. Sex, like gravity, instances reality as force. Mind, too, shows what reality can be.

Because Freud made so much of sex in earlier years; and then of libido in a larger sense, but still vague; and lastly of the death instinct, he did not have much room to consider good will as a force in life. Good will and the hope to like the world are synonymous or equivalent. To hope the world is good and to want it to be as good as it can be, causes one to hope that a person one knows is good and that he will be as good as he can be. Good will is the authentic hope that reality can be liked; and it causes one to hope that good things happen to Rosalba Bennett or Benjamin Levy. The leaving out of man's widest and deepest need, his greatest unconscious desire, like of the world or good will, is the failure of Freud. This failure has affected the world everywhere. Freud is wrong; but, sadly, he is international. He has appealed to incompleteness in man.

2. The Greenspan Failure

It may seem strange to describe the second great failure of the continuing world through a name many people have not even heard of. Yet Alan Greenspan, economic advisor to the present Republican administration of the United States, is one who typifies selfishness become learned; or ego become institutional; or the narrow self become sociological. In the same way as Dr. Sigmund Freud minimized or banished the meaning of good will, so does the economics of Alan Greenspan and his colleagues of the present Washington administration, minimize or banish good will or like of the world.

I have said at various times that unless the economics of America and the world is impelled by good will as a clearly seen, respected, conscious idea, there will be no economic recovery either for America or the world. The way Aesthetic Realism sees history and the mind of man (also his body) in relation to history, makes it clear that the earlier economic impulsion, ill will, can no longer rule. The economics of the world can no longer continue with ill will, mostly concealed, as the big thing.

Ill will may seem to benefit an individual, but it cannot meet the biological and ethical hopes of man. In economics, biology and ethics work together. We want the best things to happen to our bodies. Economics is the production and distribution of the things our bodies look for. Ethics simply must attend production and distribution. There are no two ways about it. Economists like Greenspan may not be interested in ethics at all; yet there is a combination of biology and ethics all over the world that says the earlier impulsion for production is no longer acceptably workable.

A person like Greenspan may see the ten million or so persons unemployed in America as not economically decisive. That prices have not fallen in America—Greenspan may not see this, too, as economically decisive. But one of these days he may learn that employment and price are tests of the working of an economic system; and he may also learn that employment and price in 1976 and earlier were so, it could truly be said the economics of America was not a success.

One has one's own way of judging the success of an economic system. The judgment of Alan Greenspan where economics is concerned is not valid. The large thing is that economics is much more of a wear and tear on individuals than it has to be. After all, the purpose of economics is to have man in a position to have the best human life, which implies, as Matthew Arnold once gracefully said, the best human thought. Alan Greenspan is dismally far from seeing this or encouraging this. Yet his way economically runs America now. Mr. Greenspan, then, is a protagonist of the second great failure, The Greenspan Failure. Alan Greenspan is the contemporary advocate of an old, old failure. We sadly greet old unkindness in its newest dress.

3. The Eliot Failure

Persons may be willing to grant some close relation between the Freud failure in seeing the mind of man and the Greenspan failure in seeing the work of man that is, the economics of the world. One of the good things about contemporary thought is that there is more of a relation seen between the conditions of economic production and an individual mind. The relation is not as well seen as it might be; but a beginning of seeing has taken place. Therefore, one can point to failure one, Sigmund Freud; and failure two, Alan Greenspan; and be somewhat understood.

As to the third failure, Thomas Stearns Eliot, there is more difficulty, because poetry is not as yet seen as a major matter. But poetry is a major matter. Poetry arises out of a like of the world so intense and wide that of itself, it is musical. That perceptive fulness or adequacy is musical is a great fact, unlimited in its meaning for contemporary man.

How a thing may be honestly felt is part of the truth of that thing. The color of a fruit may please; and this possibility of pleasing is as much of the fruit as its shape, its weight, or perhaps its price. The poetry of the world, as it now exists in many places of the world, tells of the successful like of the world had by individuals through the centuries. To like the world deeply and honestly, even for a while, is no small matter. And if Catullus many years ago liked the world, and if Robert Herrick liked the world later, and if Christina Rossetti liked the world still later—with all her interrupting suffering this should be known.

Anyway, there is music in Catullus, Herrick, and Christina Rossetti, witnessing this like of the world. Music and true description are simultaneous indications that someone has liked the world.

Well, when in recent decades Thomas Stearns Eliot was seen as a poet without his having, however, the true poetic music, that was a failure in civilization related to and explaining the Freud failure and the Greenspan failure.

The Four Quartets of T.S. Eliot, often seen as his most important work, are a disgrace to the music of poetry. That "Burnt Norton" and the other three quartets were seen as having poetic music, the real thing, is a calamity in the history of aesthetic perception.

A man may see a thing honestly, precisely, and his seeing may be musical when he presents it just as it was. This is one of the greatest things about the mind of man and about the world. That precise thought or observation can be musical is a sign that man as scientist and man as individually responding to the world can be one. When Keats said simply:

But where the dead leaf fell, there did it rest—

he was quite exact; and yet what he said, of itself, took an iambic form; which moreover had the quietness and sluggishness of a leaf fallen, with the lightness and delicacy of motion a leaf always has. The stolidity of the world and its grace are in the line. The torpor of reality and its lightness are in the line. Vowels and consonants speak well of the world.

Yet the line, as is apparent, is all monosyllables; and rather ordinary monosyllables at that. Precision and music are in these words of Keats; and precision and music are another way of saying: Intellectual sanity.

The Shakespeare lines said by Horatio at the end of the first scene of Hamlet:

But, look, the morn in russet mantle clad,

Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastern hill

are likewise two lines which, in terms of individual perception, are true and musical. The lines have in them familiar words, mostly monosyllables. The lines make a one of easy and venturesome perception. They have remoteness and nearness in them. They are a mingling of ordinariness and of thought as brave. The large thing is that the lines are musical. There is a music in poetry which Eliot's Four Quartets insults.

That insult to man's mind as ethical and wanting to like the world, which Dr. Freud provided, should be opposed. The insult to man as aware of other men and what they deserve, that Alan Greenspan provides, should be opposed. And the insult to man as a being with deep music and exact observation at once which T.S. Eliot provides in his Four Quartets—this also should be opposed.

4. What Isn't There

Sigmund Freud, Alan Greenspan, and T.S. Eliot, then, do not see the large continuous purpose of man as good will for everything, animate and inanimate. And good will, as I said, is equivalent to liking the world.

For man not to see that good will or liking the world is the big thing in psychology, the big thing in economics, and the big thing in poetry—is failure, as Aesthetic Realism sees failure. Surely, Aesthetic Realism itself is trying to avoid this failure.

With love,

Eli Siegel