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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 NUMBER 1722.—July 9, 2008
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

Our Purposes Every Day—& Evolution

Dear Unknown Friends: 

e continue to serialize Poetry Is of Man, by Eli Siegel. In this 1974 lecture his manner is informal, sometimes humorous, while he is, as always, careful and exact. He looks at an article that appeared nine years before Darwin's Origin of Species—a review of five books having to do with aspects of evolution. And we see the 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” —illustrated through questions concerning the coming to be of species, including that being who (before our gender-neutral time) was called Man.

     Is evolution a oneness of continuity and change, sameness and difference? Does that make evolution like (for instance) a good symphony, where each musical phrase arises in some way from those that came before, even as each is different and new?

    We also print an article by Aesthetic Realism associate Steve Weiner. It's part of a paper that he presented last month at a public seminar titled “Why Are People So ‘Difficult'—& Could It Have Anything to Do with Me?”

The Protoplasm of Injustice

r. Weiner's article is a means of seeing an exceedingly important fact: Just as scientists in the 19th century came to know that there is something in common among all instances of life, protoplasm, so there is a Something-in-Common among all injustices, from the most everyday to the most massive. Eli Siegel has identified that common source and presence, that essential thing needed for injustice and cruelty to be. It is contempt, the desire, present in every person, “to get a false importance or glory through the lessening of things not oneself.”

     Let's take that ordinary way of seeing which Mr. Weiner writes about. All over America people are finding other people “difficult,” annoying—pains in the neck; also bores. And certainly there are things to object to, sometimes intensely, in our fellow humans (and ourselves). But we don't see that we have a preference to feel people don't measure up—because if they're unworthy, then we can feel superior to them. Indeed, we can feel superior to the world itself, which is infested with such inferior and irritating creatures.

     What's more, our readiness to be exasperated with a person close to us or a stranger, has, in all its everydayness, the same source as something as ugly as racism. Racism too arises from and embodies contempt: it's the desire to see a whole race as not measuring up to oneself; it's the making of oneself large by finding what's different from oneself unworthy and inferior.

     What protoplasm is in the beautiful field of life, contempt is in the field of injustice. Mr. Siegel explained:

As soon as you have contempt, as soon as you don't want to see another person as having the fulness that you have, you can rob that person, hurt that person, kill that person. 1

I regard that statement as not only immensely kind but scientifically historic. Again, contempt, the false sense that we're more through lessening something or someone not us, is what injustice could not exist without. That's so whether the injustice is an everyday coldness to the feelings of a person, or a bombing of a person's home.

     Unless we study and criticize our contempt, we ourselves will be unjust, including in ways we don't see or understand. Aesthetic Realism is the philosophy which explains contempt, and this is one reason why it's so mightily needed by the world.

Our Fundamental Purpose

esthetic Realism explains too the thing in us that opposes contempt, the purpose utterly contrary to it. Much in fashion these days is “evolutionary psychology,” the attempt to show that the various choices we make arise from evolution. Yet often this approach is a seeing of evolution too narrowly, and distortedly: as essentially a series of efforts by living beings to succeed by beating out opposition. Evolution, as the lecture we're serializing shows, is much more.

     For example, I wrote in the last issue that evolution is a tribute to the relatedness of all things in the world. And the opponent of contempt in everyone is the drive to see ourselves as joined to the unlimited, multitudinous world not ourselves. Aesthetic Realism explains that the desire to like the world, find meaning in it, is the most fundamental thing in us. It is what art comes from; what the desire for education comes from; what love comes from; what kindness comes from; what science comes from. This desire authentically to like the world—to see ourselves as having to do with everything—is, as human purpose, an embodiment of that relation which evolution stands for.

     I quote, then, as prelude to the current installment of Poetry Is of Man, sentences Eli Siegel wrote early in the history of Aesthetic Realism. This is the opening paragraph of “The World, Guilt and Self-Conflict,” of 1942, the second chapter of Self and World. The prose is at once ringing and quietly factual. The statement is great in its comprehension of humanity, and is, as I said, in keeping with evolution itself:

The basis of the Aesthetic Realism method is that every human being is a self whose fundamental and constant purpose is to be at one with reality. It is impossible for that self to evade this purpose, although he can curtail it, obscure it, limit it.

ELLEN REISS, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

Species: A Poetic Matter

By Eli Siegel

Note. Mr. Siegel is discussing an article in the Quarterly Review of January 1850.

round the time of this article, fossils began to be studied as part of the history of man.

The study of fossil remains, in representing successive epochs of change, and renewed creations of organic life on the surface of the globe, becomes the interpreter of facts of transcendent interest.

     An anthropologist was once defined as a person who could use the word artifact glibly. If he talked about artifacts as if he were talking about lunch, you knew he was an anthropologist. There are remains of early times that can be used to study the character of the peoples then, and also how long they were on earth. In 1850, the word artifact wasn't as popular. But fossils were being studied.

Even the lacunae which still exist in the series of zoological types are in progress of being filled up from the same fertile source [fossils]—yet of man, we repeat, no one vestige is to be found.

The writer is saying that man doesn't have any ascertained definite beginning. Man belongs to zoology and, at the same time, to the academy. He's the only being who's at home in zoology and also the portico, the academy.

     There's a great deal of research into the first horse. He is now seen as eohippus, but he must have had something before. Before eohippus was, there was something a little more primeval. He couldn't trot around, feeling he knew everything about being a horse. Cuvier was the zoologist of the time, with Le Règne animal. He impressed Balzac very much. Every living being on all the continents was told, You may be unknown yet, but wait till Cuvier gets you!

Is the human being a single species of what naturalists call the genus Homo? or do the diversities of physical character which we see in different races compel the admission that there were more species than one in the original act of creation?

This writer, like Prichard,2 feels that man came from one human source.

     There is the question of how do species change? What made one species have different varieties—change here into a Newfoundland, and there into a poodle, and there into a Pekinese, and there into a bulldog? The dogs have given such diversity to the meaning of species. Pussycats, somewhat less. But somehow the dogs—they have the Sears & Roebuck catalogue.

     The reviewer mentions Lamarck. He is used by Shaw praisingly in Back to Methuselah: Shaw says he agrees more with Lamarck, who thought acquired characteristics could be inherited, than with Darwin. The large matter is that there was something in living beings themselves that wanted to change the way they were, and change even into other species.

     The problem of the inheritance of acquired characteristics has come up again. There is a big discussion in Russia, involving Lysenko, who went for the inheritance. The idea was thought to be disproved, but the matter simply won't die out. Well, whether acquired characteristics are inherited or not, both theories are poetic. There is the conservatism of the biological organism in not having acquired characteristics that progeny could inherit: “What I've acquired during my dangerous lifetime, my children cannot have in just that form.” And there is the boldness of acquired traits being inheritable. The conservatism and the boldness are both poetic—the restriction and the expansion.

     In mythology there's a feeling that anything can change into anything. Bacon, in his Wisdom of the Ancients, has a discussion of Proteus, which is the principle of change. We know that it would be very difficult for a dog to change into a turtle. Even the boldest would say so. But as to dogs changing into another kind of dog, that they would grant.

     In this article, the problem what is a species? comes up. It would be very easy to make conclusions about varieties which should have been saved for species. And many things that belong to a genus, or a family, or an order, don't look like each other. So we have difference and sameness there too. There's this sentence:

Doubts have been stated as to the actual existence of true species in nature; that is, of separate tribes of beings with specific organization and incapable of transmutation into one another;...

     That is in keeping with the Greeks, and also the philosophy called vitalism: that life had one form and took many subforms. Therefore, it might be possible that one of these subforms or varieties could change into another, because they all come from the same source. Bergson made that idea of one source more acceptable with his élan vital. He said there's a life force going through everything, not only living beings, but things that don't seem to be alive.

     The writer indicates that there would be two kinds of thought: Lamarck would say that any species, in the long run, if it's long enough, could change into another; while others would make for restrictions:

...and though few have ventured as far as Lamarck, many have trodden on his traces, and resting on some singular phenomena of hybrids, particularly as disclosed in the experiments of Weigmann and others on hybrid plants, have supposed the power of transmutation within a more limited range.

     The Greeks had a child be born out of Leda and a swan. The swan was Zeus. And Ovid's Metamorphoses is all about transmutation: how a professor changes into a tree, and things like that. In the Metamorphoses people do change into growing things. And this author says: “It is curious to observe how closely some of these recent views approach to the discarded notions of the ancient philosophy.”

     Hybrids are being studied everywhere in the world. How can you have one thing give rise to another, quite different?

Why Are People So “Difficult”?

By Steve Weiner

y my teens, I pretty much saw everyone I knew as “difficult.” If only other people weren't so bothersome, I thought, I wouldn't have so many problems with them.

     In Self and World, Eli Siegel explains my state of mind and that of many persons when he writes:

The first victory of contempt is the feeling in people that they have the right to see other people and things pretty much as they please[ ,] a way that seem[s] to go with comfort. [P. 3]

     My desire to be comfortable was very large, and (though of course I didn't state this to myself clearly) I felt I'd be made uncomfortable if I gave anything beyond a bare minimum of thought to other people. About my father, who often was irritated after working overnight shifts to support our family, I'd ask annoyedly, “Why is he so ill-natured all the time?” And about my mother, who went from praising me a lot to getting angry—“How come she's so moody?”

      But I wasn't interested in trying to answer those questions. I was too busy seeing myself as the “good” son in our family. After all, wasn't I well-behaved? Didn't I do errands for Mom and excel in school, while Fred, my older brother, who was very rebellious, was the “difficult” son? And even as I made new friends with some ease, as soon as there was a disagreement, they were added to my long list of “difficult” people in my life.

The False Criterion

see now that at an early age I came to an unconscious criterion for judging humanity: those people who gave me a lot of approval, let me have my way, or allowed me to manage them, were “nice”; nearly everyone else was “difficult.”

     A large reason, I learned from Aesthetic Realism, why I was so intent on finding people oppressive, was to prove that the only person worthy of care was myself. By age 18, I'd pretty much succeeded in having little feeling, and justified myself by thinking I'd been wounded by nearly everyone.

     I appeared energetic and sure of myself, but I was very worried about how empty I felt. It never occurred to me that there was any relation between my attitude to people and how bad I felt.

     Then, in the first class taught by Eli Siegel that I attended, I learned something entirely new. About my trouble with people, he asked, “Would your problems be solved if you were less selfish?” Did my pain come chiefly from my “insufficiency of seeing, or because people are so mean to you?” And he described a desire in me to feel that “experience has been too much for you and you should huddle in the coal bin.”

     That was what I felt. I immediately had a sense of relief—that there was something in me I needed to and could change. And I began to learn a way of seeing humanity that had me like myself so much more. It's in these sentences from Mr. Siegel's lecture Aesthetic Realism and People:

People are simply reality when most complete; reality when aware of itself. The importance of people is that they are reality in the richest form....No person has ever disliked people and been proud of it. [TRO 606, 607]

The Hope to See a Person as “Difficult”

s my study of Aesthetic Realism continued, I learned that I had such a hope. In one class I spoke about my father, Sam Weiner, and described him as tyrannical and also aloof. Mr. Siegel asked: “So because he was not interested in you, you paid him back by not being interested in him?”

     SW. That's what I've done.
     ES. Is that wise? When you retaliate, make sure the effect on you is good.

I began to see that what I'd done wasn't wise; the effect on me wasn't good. In my desire to retaliate, I made myself smaller and meaner. I also robbed myself of the experience of trying to understand my father and learn about myself through seeing another human being deeply.

     When I told Mr. Siegel that there had been much pain between my parents, he asked: “Do you think that when your father quarreled with your mother, he felt his knowledge of women was insufficient?” “He must have,” I answered. Before this, it had never occurred to me that my father could be unsure about anything.

     ES. Do you think he had some reason for self-doubt?
     SW. I think so.
     ES. Did he know how to use his doubt of himself?
     SW. No.
     ES. Do you?
     SW. I don't.

      Mr. Siegel was encouraging me to be fair to the depths of Sam Weiner, and to see that they were like mine.

      I'll never forget the day I asked Sam questions about his life—and how pleased he was to see the son who had been so scornful, now really interested in him! He told me later that this was the first time “you treated me like I was a human being.” After so many years of tension between us and ill will on my part, there was now ease.

      And this man, who I once so smugly felt sure was unreasonable and would never change, began to have Aesthetic Realism consultations. He loved the logic of what he was hearing and welcomed questions about himself, and was happier and lighter than I had ever seen him.

      Aesthetic Realism can teach us how to be proud of how we think about other people. This is a greatly hopeful and urgent fact!  

1James and the Children (Definition Press, 1968), p. 55.
2James C. Prichard, two of whose books this article reviews

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  

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Ellen Reiss, Commentaries in TRO:
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Lord Byron | Harry Potter  |  Sherlock Holmes
Robert Burns  |  The 'criticism' of John Keats
Racism & Its Solution

Aesthetic Realism Resources
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Two Biographies of Eli Siegel:
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[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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