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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 NUMBER 1428.—August 16, 2000

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

Energy, and an American Election

Dear Unknown Friends:

We are serializing the magnificent lecture of 1949 Poetry and Energy, by Eli Siegel. Here too is part of a paper by actress Carol McCluer from the Aesthetic Realism public seminar of last month titled "In Trying to Be Important, What Mistakes Do People Make?"

As Mr. Siegel speaks on what energy is, we are in the midst of this central principle of Aesthetic Realism: "All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves." Energy that is valuable, he is explaining, is inseparable from something very different: purpose, or shape. When energy—in ourselves or anywhere—does not have an accurate purpose, and does not have form, it is not really energy but something people experience often: painful hecticness; or agitation accompanied by a sense of hollowness; or ugly determination-on-the-move.

And so we come to the US presidential campaign—for it contains some of the most wasteful, fake energy ever. As I write of it, my purpose is not to comment on whom Americans in voting booths might or should or shouldn’t choose, but to describe something of the state of mind of millions of people, whatever choice they make. I see the 2000 election as both repulsive and very hopeful. The hopefulness is in the fact that Americans feel, with more clarity than they ever felt, that neither principal candidate represents them and that something fundamentally false and sickening is taking place. The monumental lack of enthusiasm about this election is deeply beautiful, because it shows that Americans can’t be manipulated and fooled as much as some persons would like them to be. The big feeling across this nation is that American politicians are not really in behalf of the American people. And the "voter apathy" is the American people crying out, "These babies don’t represent us!"

I think the single sentence that best explains the 2000 election is the following, from a lecture Mr. Siegel gave in 1971: "The profit system of America is trying to go on while individual psychology in America is now against the profit system" (TRO 522). I have written much about Mr. Siegel’s great, historic showing that profit economics has failed. For now, I say this: There is the sense in millions of Americans that what the politicians they are asked to vote for are mainly interested in is the continuance and flourishing of the profit system. Millions of Americans feel these politicians’ chief concern is that corporate owners make money. And never were Americans clearer that interest in profit and interest in having people’s lives fare well are opposed!

Mr. Siegel explained that the most hurtful thing in everyone is contempt, "the addition to self through the lessening of something else." He showed our desire for contempt both weakens our minds and makes us mean. And it is from contempt that all the enormous injustice in history has come. Profit economics is part of that contempt. It is the seeing of one’s fellow human beings in terms of how much money one can get out of them. And this economic contempt has had businessmen, who were themselves heads of families, think it right to employ little children in factories and mines. The contempt at the basis of the profit system made and makes for sweatshops, starvation wages, working conditions that cause disease and accidents. A boss or stockholders taking the wealth someone else’s labor produced is, as such, contempt.

It is this contempt-as-economics that the two major parties presently stand for; have tried to force on the rest of the world with the help of the IMF, WTO, weaponry, and US "advisors"; and see it as their primary function to support here. Americans, with various degrees of clarity, feel this and resent it.

An Election, Described

I am going to quote a poem by Eli Siegel, containing three short poems, about the election of 1960. "1960 Regret Poems" appears in his book Hail, American Development; and I will quote too some sentences from his note to it. Every election is different of course, and America 2000 is very different from America forty years ago. But the poem and note have a mighty and clarifying relevancy to our present situation. The two candidates then were Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. Mr. Siegel thought much less of Kennedy than many did; and I think the sentence about him in Mr. Siegel’s note is a true and kind depiction of that politician.

The poem is humorous—and beautiful. It has wonderful rhythm, different in each of the three poems-within-the-poem. The first is essentially composed of dactyls (a heavy syllable followed by two light syllables). The dactyl can make for a sense of slowness and grandeur; it is the poetic foot Homer used, and Virgil in the Aeneid. The third poem has the sound, become music, of American good-natured toughness. This, then, is "1960 Regret Poems" (the term in the second line is explained in the note):

1. Time, An Indian

Time is an Indian 

Knocking off Poskudnaks. 


2. Tuesday, November 8, 1960

Next Tuesday, November 8, 1960, 

The country will be attacked by two bruisers. 

The country will be deceived. 

But it will go on. 


3. Don’t Look, Boys

We got to take it easy. 

There seems to be an election. 

Don’t look, boys. 

There is nothing to see.

"A Great Stall"

Here are sentences from Mr. Siegel’s note to the poem:

The American election of 1960 was essentially a confrontation of nullity or the absence of value. One contender was evil minded with, being less strong than all the American forces, a large likelihood of welcome ineptness. The other was more generous minded, but with a strong tendency to put aside the generous mindedness and go with the unethical political and industrial current. Evil and good came to equal strength in the two unappetizing contenders, and the way evil and good could submerge each other in the contenders made the election a great stall, or a transitory nullity....Time does knock off Poskudnaks, or unhandsomely selfish people .... [In 1960] two persons, neither of whom deserved it, went for the nation’s acclamation. There was not an election, because there was nothing substantial to choose.

Whomever Americans vote or don’t vote for this year, they want something that is not represented by the current contenders. They want what Mr. Siegel describes in Poetry and Energy as that which gives shape to energy: the oneness of the general and the individual. They want an America truly interested in the well-being of every individual person, and an America owned truly by all her people. They may not see so clearly that this is what they want, but the desire for it is making them feel this election is phony and sickening. In keeping with the opposites: America’s present disgust stands for her grandeur—because that disgust has a chance of becoming a clear demand for something honest and kind.

On August 16, the birthday of Eli Siegel, it moves me very much to say that he, who understood America, represented always the grandeur, knowledge, kindness, and honesty she aches for.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

There Is Shape Too
By Eli Siegel

What makes the sun shine, the waters flow, the Pacific Ocean have waves; why air keeps busy; why three million blades of grass and more are going to grow in the state of Ohio this summer; and why there will be all kinds of living beings—all these things have to do with energy.

But every time energy has occurred, there is also shape. If a man were just wobbling along, we wouldn’t say he had much energy; as soon as we see purpose or shape, we say there is energy. And in the world we can see that shape. We don’t see it entirely; that is why the world seems so messy. If we saw it entirely, we would see the world as poetry. Energy plus shape—energy standing for the moving thing, and shape for the restful thing—or energy plus purpose (because purpose and shape are really synonymous deeply), is something, or are something, which makes the world as poetry.

We should see that what makes a person go is, from one point of view, a more intricate way of that which makes a ball roll. We can say, without disparagement, or without being materialistic in the superficial sense of the word, that everything we do—which includes our imagination, our memories, our subtleties—comes from energy. Energy can be very subtle. It is something which exists in everything that is real. And the energy in a human being has to do with pleasure or pain for himself; that is, it can become desire. One sees a baby as having energy. As soon as a baby has energy going for something more specific than it did before, we say that the energy has become desire. Then, if the desire becomes even deeper and more shaped, it gets towards art.

     Wherever there is energy that, while being energy, also becomes shape, complete shape — that is, purpose which is individual and general—we do have art and we have poetry. 

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Trying to Be Important
By Carol McCluer

I learned from Aesthetic Realism that what makes a person important is her wanting to be accurately affected by the world and people, and her hoping to have a good effect on them. I had glorified myself, and made other people like faded, two-dimensional figures compared to the vivid drama of my life. I was making myself important through having contempt. And that is why, by age 25, though I had an acting career and one boyfriend after another, I felt cold and empty and had a constant feeling that I was selling myself out. 

Mistakes about Importance Begin Early

Growing up in Brea, California, I saw our family as better than any other—more artistic, funnier, deeper, more attractive. I used the praise I got from my parents, particularly my father, to think I was very important. I felt he and I were more "with it" than anyone else in the family. He called me his "sweetheart," and I came to think I had feelings of a finer, even more spiritual, quality than my mother, sister, and brothers. Though a girl like many others growing up in a California suburb, I felt other people’s primary function should be to adore and serve me. 

But this false, ugly way of getting importance was, I would learn, the very thing that made me dislike myself. I was nervous speaking to people and felt painfully "shy." I could go from being placid and obedient to being suddenly imperious, and throw screaming, crying fits if I didn’t get my way. And there was a hard, cold, angry feeling in me that wouldn’t go away.

I was fiercely competitive with my younger sister, Rebecca. Anything she got, I felt I should have; and I could be ruthless. Once, when she had just finished carefully sewing a blouse, spending hours embroidering it with pink flowers—before she had even worn it , I took it out of her closet and wore it to school. When she saw me there she was enraged and tearful, while I acted cool and superior.

There was also a deeper self in me that was trying to be important through knowing the world and liking it. I loved ballet and piano lessons. And though I tried to hide it, my heart would swell when we sang hymns on Sundays. I would spend hours reading. But increasingly, my way of trying to be important was to act unimpressed. In his lecture Mind and Importance, Mr. Siegel vividly describes this mistake: 

The theorem is this: if I can make the world like old chewing gum, I am the sunrise; if I can make the world like old leather, I am the moonrise; if I can make the world like old onion peel, I am the Napoleonic noon of romance. [TRO 663]

I moved to LA, and began to get jobs as an actress and singer. I also met many men and tried to act liberated and breezy about sex; but I was more and more tired and sad, and desperately confused about love. None of my relationships lasted; and I felt cheap and disgusted with myself.

Then at last, through a friend and fellow actor, Bennett Cooperman, I learned about Aesthetic Realism. I came to New York and soon began to study in consultations—and I met the comprehension I was thirsting for! I give an instance: 

In one consultation, when I said in a whine, "I feel like if something is really deep, I cry," my consultants replied with humor: "Every time you have to respect something, you should weep, because it means you’re not superior!" They asked me, "Do you get excited about anything if you’re not praised? You sound as if giving attention to anything where you’re not central hurts you. There is that in a person that feels, ‘I should be the one important thing in the world!’" 

My True Importance

Studying Aesthetic Realism, I began to see that my true importance would arise from seeing other things and people as important. The inner lives of people—including characters in plays—became more real to me, and tremendously interesting. This made me kinder, and also gave me an ease at auditions I had never felt before, and I began to get more work as an actress. I did the Aesthetic Realism assignment of writing every day about one thing in the world I liked, and saw the opposites in things—and my relation to them. One day I wrote: 

I like the violet flowers so much. They are lean and beautifully graceful, also rich and heavy. They are proud, and they also bend and curve gracefully, humbly. They do not begrudge each other’s existence. They are more beautiful because they are together, more interesting. Their stems intermix harmoniously and there is room for all of them.

And what I had despaired of ever happening happened: I fell in love with a man, Kevin Fennell, and married him! I am proud that next month we will celebrate our 14th anniversary and that we are the parents of a 7-year-old daughter, Sara.... 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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