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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 NUMBER 1381.—September 22, 1999

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

The Drama of Excitement and Love

Dear Unknown Friends:

We are serializing Eli Siegel's great 1949 lecture Poetry and Excitement. And we print too part of a paper that anthropologist and Aesthetic Realism consultant Arnold Perey presented last month at an Aesthetic Realism public seminar titled "Which Goes Wrong—Love or the Lover?"

The landmark principle at the basis of Aesthetic Realism is the means of understanding both excitement and love: "All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves." Mr. Siegel shows in this lecture that excitement is always a feeling of opposites converging: hope and fear, for instance; much meaning and a single moment. And he has shown that love too is a oneness of opposites—most notably self and world. The purpose of love is to have more feeling about, be more just to, the people and things of this wide and various world through caring for a particular self whose lips we may kiss. When love "fails," it is because we have failed in making these opposites one.

And Mr. Siegel has identified the thing which has us fail at love, which interferes with every aspect of our life; which makes us unable to be excited, or has us be excited in ways that make us ashamed. This thing is contempt, the "disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the outside world." The two subjects of this TRO—what excitement is and what love is—meet, often tormentingly, in people's lives. Millions of people right now are in the following situation—which we can put in the words of Kira, married 5 years to Phil: "Here is this man who once made for such excitement in me. When we were dating, just the idea that I would be seeing him, that we would hold each other's hand and look in each other's eyes, made for such a stir inside me. Now we're together—and I'm sure not excited. He's become someone I get so quickly irritated with; talk sarcastically to; even scream at. I suppose we'll stay married for the rest of our lives; but there's a big dullness and emptiness instead of that excitement I once felt. I feel bitter, mixed up, and ashamed."

I am very grateful to present now five questions about excitement and love. They arise from Aesthetic Realism principles, which are the means of doing what Kira and humanity thirst to do: distinguish between true and false love—also between true and false excitement. And when love is true, true excitement is with it—and lasts.

Questions about Love & Excitement

1. Is the excitement you have felt in love the excitement of feeling the world itself is friendlier, more lovable than you thought? Is it the excitement of seeing the world itself—with its history and happenings and humanity—as dearer to you because this representative of the world is now dear to you? Or is your feeling of excitement the feeling that through this person you can get away from the world and be in a superior one with somebody who fervently acts like you're better than all the rest of reality? The second is the fake love and excitement: it's contempt. And contempt is what inevitably has two people become dreary, disgusted, and furious with each other.

2. Do you find trying to understand this person as exciting as being kissed and praised by him? In Aesthetic Realism consultations, women have been asked, for instance: Do you find it exciting to think about how a man sees his mother; how he feels about a coworker; what affected him 15 years ago; what (besides you) affected him today? Usually the answer is No. And that means you're really having contempt for the person. You're not so interested in knowing who he deeply is—you're interested in his making much of you; he is, as Mr. Siegel once put it, "a compliment machine."

3. Does the excitement you feel about this person make other things more exciting—books, your relatives, your friends, objects, happenings in the world? Or do you see the rest of life pretty much as something to be endured until the "exciting" time—when he is making much of you?

4. What excites you more: when this person you say you care for shows he likes something in the world—or when he's praising you? Not only have people been unexcited by a loved one's feeling for other things and persons—they have been in competition with anything he might like. That was so with Kira as she dated and married Phil. Such competition is really cruel, because it is a hope that a person dislike the whole world.

     I think the following statement by Eli Siegel is as thrilling as it is logical: "The very self of a thing is its relations, its having-to-do-with other things." If we are not excited by what a person is related to, we are unexcited by the person. And when the gratification of being flattered wears off, we are left with the uninterest, the ill will, which we deeply had all along. So it was with Kira. 

     5. Do you think there is anything in you which would prefer not to be excited by a person, even as you say you are looking for love? For things and persons to excite us is for them to have power over us; and that interferes with our ability to look down on and manage them.  

     I love the way Aesthetic Realism explains love, excitement, poetry, our tremendous and puzzling human self. I love it for enabling authentic love, authentic excitement, to be real and glorious in people's lives. I love Mr. Siegel for that beautiful oneness in him of excitement and steadiness: to be just to people and the world itself was his constant purpose; and it was clear that he saw justice as the most exciting thing there is. 

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

Excitement and Comedy
By Eli Siegel

There is the excitement that can go along with comedy. "Little Billee," by Thackeray, is a poem I have been fond of for many years. I remember liking it at a time when it was almost improper for me to like poetry, I was so young. I don't think he is such a good poet generally; but this, in its comedy, is also scaring, and I think Thackeray is trying to combat some of the concessions to evil that we find in his other works.

There were three sailors of Bristol City 
Who took a boat and went to sea. 
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . .  
Now when they'd got as far as the Equator 
They'd nothing left but one split pea. 

Says gorging Jack to guzzling Jimmy, 
"I am extremely hungaree." 
To gorging Jack says guzzling Jimmy, 
"We've nothing left, us must eat we." 

Says gorging Jack to guzzling Jimmy, 
"With one another we shouldn't agree! 
There's little Bill, he's young and tender, 
We're old and tough, so let's eat he."...

This is na´ve, but it shows how evil almost won and didn't; and it has suspense. One of the things so hard to take in novels and pictures is people hungry and not knowing what to do. And though this is dealt with comically, we have it here in "They'd nothing left but one split pea."

"O Billy! we're going to kill and eat you,

So undo the button of your chemie."

When Bill received this information,

He used his pocket-handkerchie


"First let me say my catechism,

Which my poor mother taught to me."

When people are in great stress, they are deciding what to do. And it can make for all the meaning of the years coming in one moment. This gambling with all of time—that is an exciting choice. The question is, Is Billy to get off? We have this feeling of almost—he is almost killed, but then he isn't. He goes to the mast; he looks out—and he sees something:

Then Bill went up to the main-top-gallant-mast, 
And down he fell on his bended knee, 
He scarce had come to the Twelfth Commandment 
When up he jumps—"There's land I see!"

One of the phrases most exciting in the world's history is "Land! land!" Anything that is sudden and means a lot—"There he is! At last! at last!"—can be very exciting. I think this is a good poem. It does show the complete triumph of good, and when we have a big thing seen by a person with just his two eyes, that is mighty.

"Jerusalem and Madagascar, 
And North and South Amerikee, 
There's the British flag a-riding at anchor, 
With Sir Admiral Napier, K.C.B." 

So when they got aboard of the Admiral's, 
He hanged fat Jack and flogged Jimmee, 
But as for little Bill, he made him 
The captain of a Seventy-three.

The just rewarding of good can make for excitement.

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Which Goes Wrong—Love or the Lover?
By Arnold Perey

The way Eli Siegel explained what love is and how a person can love truly, is one of the great things of this world. I once felt there was something in the nature of things that made love an impossible situation—attractive and inevitably hellish. But Aesthetic Realism says it is never love that goes wrong; it is always the lover.

I learned that real love, by its very nature, is kind, because its purpose is, through a person, to like the world. In powerfully descriptive sentences, Mr. Siegel explains: 

Love is either a possibility of seeing the world differently because something different from ourselves is seen as needed and lovely; or it is an extension of our imperialistic approval of ourselves in such a way that we have a carnal satellite. [TRO 150]

Where men have gone wrong as lovers, we have ALWAYS gone by the second of these. Because of what I learned—instead of shame and pain, I have a large feeling of romantic love for a woman: my wife, Barbara Allen, Aesthetic Realism consultant and flutist.

One Instance—in My Teens

When I was in high school, I met a young woman, Melissa, and thought if she cared for me, my whole life would be transformed. But she had one date with me and that was all she wanted. I met her again, after longing and suffering for two years, when I was 19 and a sophomore in college; and we began seeing each other.

One night, a lovely starry summer night in Mt. Vernon, New York, I said to her, "Melissa, I think I know what your thoughts are." "What are they?" she asked me. I said, "They're beautiful. They're filled with beauty." She turned away with a disappointed and bitter look, and I felt I had done something very wrong, but didn't know what it was. This was an instance of my almost complete lack of desire to understand a woman—including the most important thing to anyone: where she questions herself—and it is the central reason lovers go wrong.

I was to learn from Aesthetic Realism that I was a man who, in the classic way, had gone wrong as to love. I was literally using Melissa against the world. As we listened to Bach, looked at the heavens through a telescope—I felt other people were our inferiors. We were the Sensitive Couple. Once, at a gathering of friends, we sat together on a couch holding hands; enraptured (I thought); saying very little to anyone or to each other—which often was the case. She was special, I was special, and together we were very special.  

What was going on with me is explained by Mr. Siegel: "When we use a person not to like the world but to make ourselves important or successful, we are having contempt both for that person and the world" (TRO 150). That is what happened; and Melissa, to her credit, could not go on with it. I am immensely grateful to know why now, and to have a different purpose.

Mind and Body

Men have wanted to get pleasure from a woman's body while resenting the fact that she does have a mind, and we have despised ourselves for this. I am thankful that Mr. Siegel encouraged men to see exactly. On the subject of mind and body, he asked me in an Aesthetic Realism lesson, "Do you think a girl, for instance, who knows computing, can know more than a man in a tweed suit, even while she is in a state of undress?" "Yes," I answered. 

He encouraged men to see that our mind can and should be deep in thinking about a woman. In the same lesson, Mr. Siegel quoted lines from Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress":

My vegetable love should grow

Vaster than empires, and more slow;

An hundred years should go to praise

Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;

Two hundred to adore each breast;

And thirty thousand to the rest.

And he asked, "Do you believe that part of this shows an unwillingness to know something prematurely or superficially?" Marvell doesn't leap, prematurely, to think he knows a woman.

My wife and I are studying Aesthetic Realism together in classes taught by Ellen Reiss and having the time of our lives! I am a grateful husband to know that my wife wants me to be completely fair to human beings of all history and to the thought and person who have at last explained the deepest desires of everybody: Aesthetic Realism and Eli Siegel.  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

Two Teachers Speak on a Class Taught by Ellen Reiss
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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