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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 NUMBER 1646 — August 10, 2005
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

What Kind of Attention Do You Want?  

Dear Unknown Friends: 

e publish here the conclusion of Psychiatric Terms and Shelley, Byron, Keats, by Eli Siegel. In this 1966 lecture, Mr. Siegel begins with an American Psychiatric Association glossary. And he illustrates what Aesthetic Realism has shown about the human self—what the mind of everyone most deeply is, and what, from within, interferes with it.

     "The useful way of seeing mind," he writes in Self and World, is "to look upon it as a continual question of aesthetics." That is, in every aspect of our lives we are hoping to put opposites together—the same opposites that are one in every instance of art. In this final section, Mr. Siegel quotes the poet Keats to show how a person with one of the most important of minds was struggling to make sense of pride and humility, uncertainty and sureness, the being for the world and against it.

     We also print part of a paper by actress Carol McCluer. It's from an Aesthetic Realism public seminar of some months ago titled "The Drama in Everyone about Getting and Giving Attention." That's a huge life-concern and confusion for everyone from toddler to senator and beyond. Ms. McCluer emphasizes one crucial aspect of it: she shows courageously that our like of ourselves depends on how much we want to give genuine, vivid attention to the world other than ourselves.

     I'll comment a little on another aspect of the subject: the fact that people, while craving attention, while thirsty to be made much of, do not know what the attention is that they really want to receive.

The World Should Be Interested in Everyone

o be alive is to deserve and want attention, because our lives are always composed of the opposites of self and world. We were born into the world and are part of it every moment, and the idea that the world should be uninterested in us is unbearable. But the attention that we yearn for at our center is not flattery or adulation: it's the being known as we truly are.

     In his great essay "The Ordinary Doom," Mr. Siegel writes:

There is a certain relation between affirmation of life and the desire to be known as we are; so if this desire is not honored, our being alive is that much interfered with or defeated. We live not only in our minds, but in other minds; our minds depend for their full existence, on being apprehended by other minds justly, beautifully. If this does not happen, there is misfortune.

The Competition

et our fundamental, organic desire for the true attention of being known has a fierce competitor. There is a terrific desire to keep ourselves hidden, our feelings and thoughts unseen—because that way we can fool the world and manage it. Besides, we feel the outside world isn't good enough to know us. Our desire to be hidden is usually accompanied by the desire for people to praise us and treat us as a superior creature, even while our real self is unseen. However, if we get this praise, Mr. Siegel explains,

our achievement is our curtailment....If we are praised without being known, no matter how intense and multitudinous the praise may be, we are not wholly alive. To be taken for someone else is hardly a way to be alive in one's own right.

     The matter of what kind of attention do you want-for others to see what's true about you or be taken by what you put forth as you hide and pretend-is very much in American politics now. But it's also in every life.

Keats and Attention

here is a statement of Keats which concerns that matter of attention for oneself. It is a great statement, written in a letter in February 1820, when Keats was very ill. He was 24 and would live only a year longer. He wrote:

"If I should die," said I to myself, "I have left no immortal work behind me—nothing to make my friends proud of my memory—but I have lov'd the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remember'd."

     To hope to be remembered is to want attention. And Keats, it seems, wanted that. But he wanted to make himself remembered through being sincere-so sincere that there would be art. He wanted to get the attention of the years through being fair to "the principle of beauty" and to the world, through showing his feelings so honestly that they would become poetry. And he succeeded.

     "The principle of beauty" has been explained by Aesthetic Realism. And through Aesthetic Realism people have gotten what persons of all the centuries have wanted: to be comprehended authentically, known as one really is.

ELLEN REISS, Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism

John Keats: Uncertain & Assured
By Eli Siegel

hen Keats published Endymion in 1818, he had an awful time with the preface. He wanted to be modest—everybody writing a preface has to be modest, or the reviewers will do things to you—and in his letters we see how uncertain he is. The preface as we have it now is uncertain. But he had written one on March 19, 1818, in Teignmouth, and his friends apparently didn't care too much for it. One of the persons who objected was John Hamilton Reynolds. So he writes a letter on April 9, 1818, talking about the preface and how he feels about it.

How to See the Public

e find that authors and actors and painters have always had an ambivalence about the meaning of "the public." They all are sending kisses to their public and also saying, The hell with it—I don't want to do anything for that thing anymore! You can find in every artist a doubt of the person who may see his work. And Keats is not exempt. He doesn't know how to place his public. I don't know how much he thought that his public would consist of people now who wouldn't fare well in their studies if they weren't Keats's public. He has, in fact, a captive public. So have Byron, Shelley, and others.

     In 1818, Keats doesn't know what to do with the public, which is another way of saying the world. I'll read a paragraph from the letter to Reynolds; he uses an eternal reality as against the public. This too concerns the grief and uncertainty of man:

Since you all agree that the thing is bad, it must be so....I have not the slightest feeling of humility towards the public—or to anything in existence,—but the eternal Being, the principle of beauty, and the memory of great men....But a preface is written to the public; a thing I cannot help looking upon as an enemy, and which I cannot address without feelings of hostility....I would be subdued before my friends, and thank them for subduing me—but among multitudes of men—I have no feel of stooping, I hate the idea of humility to them.

Keats here is like Van Gogh, or Gauguin, or Wagner, or Delius, or Peter Warlock, or ever so many other people, gigantic and seemingly not so gigantic.

And There Was Modesty

ow I'll read two sentences from the preface itself, April 10, 1818.

This is not written with the least atom of purpose to forestall criticisms of course, but from the desire I have to conciliate men who are competent to look, and who do look with a zealous eye, to the honor of English literature.

You can see the modesty and the pride of Keats, the uncertainty and the assurance, which is of self itself. Then, the last sentence of the preface has its meaning:

I hope I have not in too late a day touched the beautiful mythology of Greece, and dulled its brightness: for I wish to try once more, before I bid it farewell.

The saying he wants "to try once more" has modesty in it and also assurance—that he's entitled to try once more.

     These three names, then—the names are some of the best known in all world culture—Keats, Byron, Shelley, are inexhaustible illustrations of the aesthetic meaning of the psychiatric terms. I perhaps shall give more evidence that the word inexhaustible is not incorrect.

The Drama about Attention
By Carol McCluer

once had a part-time job at a café in Los Angeles as the in-house tap-dancing singing telegram person. Customers would tell me it was their friend or relative's special occasion and give me some information about that person; then I would make up a song to the tune of "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" and surprise them at their table: "Pardon me, Joyce, the word is out that it's your birthday. So I've come along, just to sing you a song...." I'll never forget the horrified expressions on many people's faces as they were made the sudden center of attention—and I'm sorry now for how cold I was to what they felt. "What's not to like about everyone looking at you?" I thought.

     But the truth was, I was tormented by the way I craved attention and then gave—and didn't give—attention to other things. I learned there's a fight going on all the time in everyone about attention, and it's part of the fundamental conflict Aesthetic Realism explains is in the human self: we hope to respect the world; we also hope to have contempt for it. We may complain all over the place, as I once did, about not getting enough attention. Yet our pain on this subject comes chiefly because we've been untrue to our deepest desire: to give, with largeness and depth of thought, our attention to other things and people. And when we do give this attention, we'll feel we deserve to get authentic attention.

Giving & Getting Attention: What For?

"The purpose of attention," Mr. Siegel said in his lecture Mind and Attention,

is to see a thing as it is, wholly as it is, cheerfully as it is, courageously as it is, and not let what it is be interfered with by some junk from ourselves. [TRO 1334]

That interference in us is contempt, the desire to get a "false importance or glory from the lessening of things not [one ]self." Contempt says nothing is worthy of our attention, or we should be the one object of attention.

     Growing up in Brea, California, even as I was an enthusiastic piano student, an avid reader, and later a singer and actress, I was in a fierce battle about attention. On the one hand, I was interested in many things. On the other, I was driven to be important not because I was fair to something but just because I was me and therefore superior, and I looked to make less of other people. As a child, at the dinner table I worked to be the focal point and to beat out my younger sister and two brothers for attention through entertaining my parents with stories about my day.

     But away from my family I was nervous, quiet, and shy. Shockingly, other people didn't see me as the center of the universe the way my parents did, and it made me furious. In every situation I was in, I gave a great deal of attention inwardly to the question Who is being made more important right now, me or somebody else?

     With all my insistence that I should be paid attention to, I was very unsure of myself. For instance, when I was 14 my piano teacher made it possible for me to take part in a recital held at a nearby junior college. Though I loved the piano and practiced faithfully, when it came to performing, the battle about what should get attention—the music, or me?—reached a crisis. When I arrived at the auditorium and heard the seriousness and care with which other persons my age played the piano, I had to look up to them. I started having thoughts like, "These 'little artists'—they're so ridiculous the way they bow, all stiff." Then it was my turn—I was petrified! I couldn't remember the piece I had prepared, stumbled through it, and was ashamed and angry. Later I tried to soothe myself by sarcastically laughing it off.

     By the time I was a theatre major in college, I was impatient in classes and had a hard time paying attention. I wrote in my diary that all I really wanted was "a standing ovation." I had once had a happy intention to read every book in the school library, but by my early twenties I had almost completely stopped reading. Knowing things seemed boring in comparison to the thrill of being in the spotlight. Yet I detested the flighty, narrow person I was becoming.

I Meet the Logical Answer

began to study Aesthetic Realism. And as a result, what had felt like a growing vacancy, a feeling I had somehow lost something very precious in myself that I could never get back, changed to self-respect, to an ability to use my mind much more truly and have happiness that I never could have had.

     In one class discussion, Ellen Reiss asked me questions that have within them the answer to this agonizing drama about attention which I, and so many others, have had. She asked me, "Do you think if you honestly praise something, you really praise yourself?" And she explained the logic: We are part of the same world as everything else. The opposites that are the structure of reality also make up our very selves. So in liking something in the world, we're liking what we are of, what we are.

     She gave this example: "People have large feelings from music: there is a swelling and a pride. What does it come from? Do you think hearing music you feel you have more grandeur because you belong to that world which music is about?"

     I answered, "Yes!" And she said of the feeling people have when they're affected by music: "It's about the world, but also about oneself. If a person is really taken by something beautiful, there is the feeling, Something is better in me than I thought."

     I've seen that when you hope to give real attention to things outside yourself, you're at ease in your own skin—you can really like yourself. And there isn't a certain nervousness when you do get attention, because you don't feel you're out to be superior to people. Being driven to get attention by presenting a pretty picture of yourself, pretending to be someone you really aren't, loses its allure when you experience the deep pleasure of being able to give concentrated and wide-ranging attention to the outside world. And that includes knowing yourself as you are: a drama of opposites-rest and motion, intellect and feeling, particularity and universality, good and evil, yielding and assertion.

Some Trouble about Attention & Love

ne of the mistakes women have made about men throughout the ages, and I made it, is this: When he is showing intense emotion about something else, get his attention off of that and back onto the main subject, me! In an Aesthetic Realism consultation I was asked, "What if a man were really interested in something besides you for a whole afternoon?" I answered, "I'd probably have to be very critical of myself"—because I felt it would displease me so much. And my consultants asked what I went after when I met a man: "Do you want to be a means of his liking the world, or do you want to conquer him?"

     CMcC. I think to conquer him. But I see both things in myself.

     Consultants. Of course you have two things—you're not the Typhoid Mary of the spirit. Meanwhile, we should be clear about which purpose is in the ascendancy and running us. When you see a man, is your first feeling a sweet feeling, "I hope this person likes all that is not himself whether I have anything to do with it or not," or is your first feeling, "How can I have him look at me?"?

     CMcC. To have him look at me.

     Hearing this criticism, I saw I didn't want to have a purpose with men based on contempt, because it weakened the man and it also weakened me. I learned that love is a deep interplay of getting attention—hoping to be known as we are, exactly and comprehensively—and of giving true attention by trying to know another person exactly as he is and in relation to everything.

     Aesthetic Realism taught me the purpose of love: to know and like the world more through knowing one person closely. "Attention," Mr. Siegel explains, "is a kind of love."

     Today I'm married to a man I love and respect very much. When I met Kevin Fennell in 1983, I was able, because of my Aesthetic Realism education, to give deep attention to who he really is—his life growing up in Yonkers; his thoughts about music and singing and mathematics; places he loves, like the Grand Canyon and the island of Maui; books he cares for by Charles Dickens and Anthony Trollope. I want him to give his attention to things in a way that is thoughtful and fair. And I cherish the fact that my husband is a kind critic of how I give attention to things and people. Studying Aesthetic Realism together, and being parents to our 12-year-old daughter, Sara, we are seeing more all the time that attention truly is a kind of love.   

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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Aesthetic Realism Resources
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Friends of Aesthetic Realism—Countering the Lies

Art and Literature
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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:
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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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