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  The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known
 NUMBER 144. — December 31, 1975
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

A Letter to Many People


Dear Unknown Friends: 

     Years ago I wrote the following sentence, which is about how a person with one possibility of himself can have anger with or contempt for the other possibility of himself.  The sentence is on page 12 of The Aesthetic Method in Self-Conflict of 1946, a slender work which I am glad to say will be part of the imminent Self and World; and as part of Self and World will, it is likely, reach more people and be seen better.
     The sentence I am talking about is this:

The person suffering with a conflict, trying to come to peace, has a tendency to say of a Tuesday: "To hell with this"; and on the next day, or for that matter, in the next hour, to say: "To hell with that."

This sentence shows that a person, with the opposites of the world in himself or herself, has a double chance for contempt.  In every person's life, anger has had contempt for sweetness; and sweetness has had, in its way, contempt for anger.  We fume, and later ridicule our fuming.  We forgive, and later we make fun of our forgiveness, calling it soft.  We work, and later we can ask why.  We idle, and can have contempt for our idleness, and anger about it too.  The opposites, then, are a lurking ground for all kinds of contempt; all kinds of displeasure with oneself.

1.  How Valuable Nietzsche Is!

A person who met the opposites in man­kind as richly as anyone is Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900).  There should be, for persons alive today, an annotated edition of Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra (1884).  Perhaps I shall be able to work on such a new edition of Zarathustra.  No work shows more abundantly the plaguing and glorious counter-possibilities in man. 

     Nietzsche himself was aware that he could have contempt for whatever opposite he did not favor for the while.  This is the human way.  If we are gentle, we can decry our wrath; make fun of it, even.  If we are indignant, gentleness of disposition seems a bourgeois sellout.  Every person in America or elsewhere should see the following sentences from Nietzsche's The Antichrist, in Walter Kaufmann's Religion from Tolstoy to Camus, page 195:

There are days when I am afflicted with a feeling blacker than the blackest melancholy—contempt of man.  And to leave no doubt concerning what I despise, whom I despise: it is the man of today, the man with whom I am fatefully contemporaneous.  The man of today—I suffocate from his unclean breath. 

     It is hard to think of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche as complacent, for he represents, like Baudelaire, Dostoevsky, and Thoreau, the "against" principle in literature: deep and lively discontent.  Yet Nietzsche, like all of us, could be stuck in hidden, large satisfactions.  He could be torpid, dimly, secretly, in spurious self-approval. 

     Anyway, even though Nietzsche in his Antichrist gave a sign that all was not at ease within him, he did not take it seriously enough; nor, for that matter, has it been taken seriously by commentators.  It is felt that the uncertainty of a world man-of-letters is different from the uncertainty of a housewife in Delaware or a bookkeeper in West Virginia.  However, Nietzsche suffered the way others have.  Also his suffering is inseparable from a loss of mind told of in every biography of the iconoclastic and learned German writer. 

     The passage from The Antichrist I have quoted was written about 1888, the year usually given to the beginning of Nietzsche's insanity.  Things of his were published after 1888, but he wrote nothing more between that year and the year of his dying, 1900. 

     I think the material in himself that Nietzsche used to become insane is the beginning also of a great book of the world, Also Sprach Zarathustra, 1884. Literature gave form to a broken chair. 

     It has been said often that Nietzsche's insanity does not invalidate the comeliness or value of a book like Beyond Good and Evil (1886).  That is so; yet we can ask what is working in some lovely or keen sentences of a valuable disturber of Europe's false repose.

2.  Loveliness Towards Disaster

Zarathustra, at the beginning of Nietzsche's work, leaves the mountain where he has been for ten years.  He finds he wants to say things to people.  Zarathustra has been seen, in the criticism of the world, as arrogant.  How much evidence there is that Zarathustra, like Nietzsche himself, was one of the magnificently kind beings reality has had!

A saint asks Zarathustra why he is leaving solitude. 
The saint asks: "Alas, wilt thou again drag thy body thyself?"
And Nietzsche tells us:

Zarathustra answered: "I love mankind."

     Later the poet of the mountain talks against his early expression of love for mankind.  Zarathustra, therefore, shows the contempt one part of ourselves can have for what is valuable to another part of ourselves.  This contempt, present in the constant battle which individuality is, may be along with contempt for something outward or neighboring.  Nietzsche is like Swift, who had a battle in his mind between existence as unappetizing and existence as grand; between the sight of man as displeasing and the sight of man as puzzling grandeur. 

     There was much Nietzsche had contempt for.  He was contemptuous of philology and the Prussian military.  He was contemptuous of both classicality and formlessness.  He was contemptuous of the peasant and the strutting noble.  He was contemptuous of man assertive and man in doubt.  A lexicon of contempt is in Nietzsche's Zarathustra.  Perhaps, as TRO goes on, I shall give more instances of dreary and dazzling contempt in Nietzsche's Zarathustra and other works. 

     The contempt that perhaps harmed Nietzsche most was the general contempt for man: a reality that walked and ate.  Nietzsche's disdain of customary man can be found in Chapter 28 of Zarathustra, "The Rabble. " Here is one sentence:

Not my hatred, but my loathing, gnawed hungrily at my life! Ah, ofttimes became I weary of spirit, when I found even the rabble spiritual!

But Nietzsche in Chapter 63, "Talk with the Kings," also has this:

The best and dearest to me at present is still a sound peasant, coarse, artful, obstinate and enduring: that is at present the noblest type. 

It is well to see Nietzsche as an intermittent agrarian; but how much more, some of it catastrophic, may be said of how Nietzsche saw people in rural places, in cities, in colleges. 

3.  Nietzsche, Women, Ibsen

As hurtful a contempt as any in Nietzsche's Disdain Gallery is his contempt for femininity—Nietzsche has, surprisingly, contempt for both Prussianism and women.  As to his contempt for women, that is fairly understandable.  Women, it seems, were too bent on pleasing—perhaps managing—the remarkable young Friedrich Wilhelm of Rocken, Prussia.  What can you do if a living being insists on being subservient to you?  Therefore, since mother and other feminine beings chose to serve the learned, youthful dweller in a province of Prussia, what else but contempt could he have for these servitors in skirts?

     Yet it must be said that Nietzsche, like Schopenhauer, was not pleased with himself for his low opinion of the mentality and worth of women.  It is not well that no woman is in Also Sprach Zarathustra.  Some strange, significant beings are invited by Zarathustra to stay in his remarkable, world-renowned cave; but no woman is invited.  Even Athena or Antigone, of whom Nietzsche must have talked in his Basel lectures on the languages of ancient Greece and Rome, might have been excluded. 

     Nietzsche also had a way of disdaining his contemporaries.  He was contemptuous grandly of such people as John Stuart Mill and Carlyle.  And Nietzsche has one of the strangest sentences in the history of man's criticism of writers and dramatists.  It is in his Ecce Homo, written apparently in the year of his insanity, 1888.  The question in this sentence is: How in the world did Nietzsche come to call Ibsen an old maid? The sentence itself is on page 61 of the Modern Library edition of Ecce Homo, translated by Clifton Fadiman:

A whole species of the most malicious "idealism"—which by the bye, also appears in men, in Henrik Ibsen for instance, that typical old maid—has as its object to poison the clear conscience, the natural element in sexual love. 

     It is tearful to see such a sentence by him who wrote many great, lovely sentences in Also Sprach Zarathustra—kind, powerful, musical and, yes, true.  What is in this fairly grotesque sentence of Ecce Homo?

     All through his life, Nietzsche had a fight about "idealism," with its immateriality, its abstraction, and its great kindness, often.  We find idealism thought well of in one of the noted sentences of Zarathustra:

Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman—a rope over an abyss. 

     A hint of the fact that Superman is man at his kindest, best, greatest, can be discerned in this earlier sentence of the first chapter of Zarathustra:

Lo, I teach you the Superman: he is that sea; in him can your great contempt be submerged. 

And Nietzsche praised the ideal in Aphorism 382 of the Gay Science:

We have a still undiscovered country before us, the boundaries of which no one has yet seen, a beyond to all countries and corners of the ideal known hitherto. 

4.  Nietzsche Uncertain

The ideal, then, is what Nietzsche changed his mind about.  He cared for it in his early years; and thought it was pretense, bourgeois goodness, morality, and such things, in his later years.  Nietzsche, however, did not change his mind about women.  He saw the feminine being as weaker than man, frail as to truth, and having purposes not mighty or commend­able.  And he was doubtful about Ibsen from the beginning.  The contempt had in different ways for these three realities or subjects: the ideal, Ibsen, women, helped to make Nietzsche inarticulate in loneliness, in his last years. 

     The ideal exists as definitely as the post office of any town.  The ideal belongs to form, one definition of which is: the real as not visible, but effective.  The ideal can also be seen as the possibility for being at its best that a general, an onion, a school girl, or anything has.  Since value exists, value is quantitative; and a thing at its quantitative, likable utmost is the ideal of that thing. 

     Ibsen, more than Nietzsche, was interested in woman at her best, or as ideal.  The Nora Helmer of 1879, Nietzsche likely heard about.  Drama, though, was not Nietzsche's specialty.  The Doll's House of Ibsen, 1879, was talked of in all Europe.  Women, through Nora, were seen as having lives of their very own.  A woman was a living being as clearly as Mont Blanc was a mountain, or the Thames was a river.  Nietzsche did not like thinking about women.  And as soon as Schopenhauer came to some con­clusions suiting him, Schopenhauer rested also. 

     Ibsen later, in Hedda Gabler, 1890, presented a woman suffering and angry in the way, largely, Nietzsche was suffering and angry.  Hedda Gabler did not put together, at least in the play, her desire for honesty and her desire for love.  Neither Zarathustra nor Nietzsche put together his desire for honesty and love.  To understand Hedda Gabler is the beginning of the understanding of that shudderingly immortal literary world figure, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. 

     And Nietzsche could not make up his mind about Jews.  He praises Heinrich Heine very much on page 34 of Ecce Homo.  Nietzsche loved learning and hated books.  One of his lively sentences against books is this, from Ecce Homo, page 43:

To read a book early in the morning, at daybreak, in the vigor and dawn of one's strength—this is sheer viciousness! 

     Apollo and Bacchus! all that Nietzsche had contempt for in a way that helped not his stability, his aplomb! Yet Nietzsche can be loved, respected.  Like Zarathustra, he was kind.  Like Hedda Gabler, he was good.  There is this lasting sentence from Zarathustra:

Then did they recognise...that it was Zarathustra...and they loved him. 

     And the meaning of this sentence from Ecce Homo, page 35, is immortal in its usefulness:

After glancing at my Zarathustra, I pace to and fro in my room for a half hour, unable to control an unbearable fit of sobbing. 

We all of us should go on from there.         

With love,    
Eli Siegel     

©1975 by The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

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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Racism & Its Solution

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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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