Dear Unknown Friends:
Here is the conclusion of the great 1974 lecture we have been serializing: Poetry Is of Man, by Eli Siegel. And we print too part of a paper by Meryl Nietsch-Cooperman, from an Aesthetic Realism public seminar of last month: “Intensity & Ease in a Woman: Can These Opposites Be One?”
In Poetry Is of Man Mr. Siegel discusses an article of 1850, from the Quarterly Review. He is showing that humanity, looked at in terms of anthropology, ethnology, evolution, is nothing less than aesthetic—in keeping with this Aesthetic Realism principle: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.” The dear species which is our own—from Lapland to Cape Town, from the Yukon to Tierra del Fuego—is a oneness of one and many, sameness and difference, persistence and change.
In the final section of the lecture, he speaks about what Aesthetic Realism shows to be the central fight within all human beings. It is the battle between ill will and good will, or contempt and respect. Contempt, the feeling we will increase ourselves by lessening something or someone else, is the source of every injustice, prejudice, human brutality. Contempt is the cause of a horrible instance of pseudo-science, which the Quarterly Review article opposes: the attempt for many decades to “show” that black people are a different species than white people (and of course inferior).
Wordsworth: Kind & Accurate
Mr. Siegel mentions two texts he had hoped to discuss in the lecture but, because of time, could not. I'll quote a little from them. First: “The Old Cumberland Beggar,” by William Wordsworth.
In this poem of 1798, Wordsworth writes about a man who for decades has gone through villages in Cumberland begging for food. He is frail; he moves slowly, his eyes always to the ground; his hands shake. Yet this man, says Mr. Siegel, “is given a universal meaning by Wordsworth, which is very kind.”
Wordsworth wrote the poem at a time when there was a government effort to get beggars off the roads and out of sight (but no effort to make their poverty less). He has lines of angry irony addressed to those “Statesmen!... / Who have a broom still ready in your hands / To rid the world of nuisances.” And he says that though the old Cumberland beggar seems stultified, uninterested in anything, lowly—you have contempt for him at your own peril: he is still Man, with all the grandeur that being human includes.
“Be assured,” says Wordsworth, that no creature who “ever owned / The heaven-regarding eye and front sublime / Which man is born to” can sink “So low as to be scorned without a sin.”
As Wordsworth describes the beggar, walking so slowly on the road, or sitting with scraps of food in a bag, there is what Aesthetic Realism shows to be present in every good poem: the structure of the world itself, the oneness of opposites. We hear, for example, in the music of the following lines, a oneness of hesitation and continuing; also, of frailty and firmness, or strength:
On the ground
His eyes are turned, and, as he moves along,
They move along the ground; and evermore,
Instead of common and habitual sight
Of fields with rural works, of hill and dale,
And the blue sky, one little span of earth
Is all his prospect.
That last phrase, about the man looking only at the bit of ground before him, has in its sound, in its music, the confinement of things and the wonder, at once: “one little span of earth / Is all his prospect.”
We are all confined and expansive, frail and definite, humble and grand. When we see that a person stands for the world itself—that any person of whatever background has the poetic opposites which are reality—we cannot be cruel to that person. It is clear that the education through which we can learn to see this way is the most needed in the world. That education is Aesthetic Realism.
What a Person Sighs For
The other text Mr. Siegel mentions is "the third canto of Childe Harold, where Byron talks of the desire to create." And Mr. Siegel uses a beautiful phrase to describe what Byron is getting at: that a person, "while he has two feet and two arms, sighs energetically for the meaning of everything." Here is Byron saying that if he can create, if he can be an artist, he will not be just his confined self:
'Tis to create, and in creating live
A being more intense....
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
What am I? Nothing: but not so art thou,
Soul of my thought! with whom I traverse earth.
Shortly after, Byron writes about himself, "Where rose the mountains, there to him were friends; / Where roll'd the ocean, thereon was his home." Those lines have thrilled people. But it wasn't seen before Aesthetic Realism that they stand for the largest desire of every human being, of every time and place: to say, I am just I—yet I have to do intimately with the world in all its otherness and wideness!
—Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education
We Have Universe & Man
By Eli Siegel
Giving reasons why all people are one species and arise from “one single source of human life on the earth,” this writer speaks about the
fact, now recognized by naturalists, that different species, whether animal or vegetable... had originally definite seats and localities on the globe, whence their diffusion has been effected by accident or design, modified by their locomotive powers and several capacities for bearing changes of climate and place.
This means that human beings, beginning from a single definite place, somehow got to various places on the earth and felt “this suits me,” and stayed there. So we have people in India, and in China. And the Japanese, while seeming very close, are also very different from the Chinese. We have the Maori in New Zealand. We have tribes in Australia. And we have all kinds of Indians. The Indians surely were very economical: while they had perhaps no more than five hundred thousand people, they had tribes by the scores. The meaning of place is important. And in Africa there is a sense of difference between certain people in Nigeria and certain people in what is called, in Anglo-Saxon and Latin arrogance, Rhodesia.
“...modified by their locomotive powers.” It happens that peoples, like individuals, were either nomadic or they liked to settle down, along with a few goats and so on.
The Botanical Geography of De Candolle...defines at least twenty botanical provinces on the globe, each being the centre of groups of species peculiar to itself in origin. The Zoological provinces have hardly yet been so exactly denoted.
So the little cards in the Botanical Gardens of Brooklyn and the Bronx will tell you where these plants are to be found on their home base. And certainly every nice animal in the Bronx Zoo has a slip showing where he was found. What zoology could do without slips is hard to say.
I won't be able to read all of this article today. And I had thought of reading Wordsworth's “The Old Cumberland Beggar”; also the beginning of the third canto of Byron's Childe Harold, to show that man, while he has two feet and two arms, sighs energetically for the meaning of everything. That is in the third canto of Childe Harold, where Byron talks of the desire to create. Likewise, the Cumberland beggar is given a universal meaning by Wordsworth, which is very kind.
We have, then, universe and man. The universe, as I used to say, took the form of a person whom one can call Selma Hudson or William Balstrode, or whatever name. The universe becomes ourselves, and that fact is present in this review, most of which I've read.
Economics Is Concerned
There are two desires of people in relation to other people. The deepest desire of a human being is to be affected by living beings and affect them, and at the same time to like the full meaning of what results. The other desire is also there: we don't care what we do as long as we get ours. Everybody has met such people, and that way is in us. We are all persons who can have the scheming gorilla in us—the gorilla is insulted in that statement.
This has a great deal to do with the present inflation. Everyone is interested in whether man can control his inordinate tendency to raise prices all over the world.
The big thing has to be looked at carefully: Aesthetic Realism says, almost in biological terms, that every living being wants to be related to other living beings, and further, the deep desire is that, as a living being is related to another, certainly the first living being, oneself, should benefit, but also the other should.
One of the things I have been saying in my Goodbye Profit System talks is that there is something which is opposed to the economic rapacity that has been in the world. The going after economics in terms of legalized rapacity has been shown these days to be somewhat inefficient: it hasn't worked. At one time, the profit system was justified in terms of social Darwinism: that it is the one way persons can survive. The idea was that if the kangaroo thinks too much, let's say, of a dove, the kangaroo will suffer.
An Insistence on Good Will
Meanwhile, countries in Africa and elsewhere in the third world, are insisting on their economic rights. Reality now is insisting, “Man has good will too, and what has happened in economics has lied about it! Economics so far has been a great lie.”
—Today, then, I have been presenting thought about the origin of man as having to do with poetry.
Intensity & Ease in a Woman
By Meryl Nietsch-Cooperman
It was the spring semester of my sophomore year at college in Montana. I was with my spelunking class and I had an intense feeling of adventure as we first rappelled over a large cliff—descended with ropes down the side—and then went into the Indian cave. With carbide lamps on our helmets, we crawled through small spaces—and then saw beautiful white stalactites that took my breath away.
Yet this intense, energetic person seemed very different from the woman who would lie in the sun for hours, just letting my thoughts drift.
In TRO 1698 Ellen Reiss explains:
The human self is an aesthetic situation. We have the opposites that are in every instance of art, but so often they are not one in us: they fight; we shuttle between them; we play one off against the other.
I did shuttle. I could dive into a project and work nonstop until it was finished. That was so with household chores, and my father used to say jokingly that he could make a lot of money renting me out. But sometimes I would collapse on the couch for a whole day and not want to lift a finger. I would have spent my whole life painfully going back and forth between these two ways and not understanding why.
Aesthetic Realism taught me that the way I could put the opposites of intensity and ease together was through having a purpose I could respect myself for: the purpose to like the world, to know and value what was outside of me, including people.
And I learned that it is our desire for contempt which makes opposites fight in us. Contempt makes for the seeming ease of being blasé, shrugging things off, letting everything roll off our back. And contempt also makes for the intensity that is really a determination to have our way at all costs.
I grew up on Long Island with five younger brothers, and, as in other families, sometimes there was an anger between my parents that was intense. When my father lost his job as a stationery salesman, he and my mother had the agony and worry so many parents in America have right now: how were they going to pay the bills and take care of their children? But I didn't want to understand what they were going through. And when they raised their voices, sometimes I'd yell for them to stop but mostly I'd have quiet scorn and get to an “ease” by dismissing them in my mind or slamming my bedroom door.
I came to feel that the world was a messy, confusing place, and that if I was going to get what I wanted I'd have to fight for it. I was increasingly fierce inside. When I wanted my way, I had a hard, managing intensity that I both prided myself on and hated myself for.
There were times I had a better relation of intensity and ease—for instance, when I was swimming the backstroke on our swim team. I had an ease and glide as I raced swiftly through the water. On land, though, it was often a different story.
What Is a Woman Intense About?
As a young woman, the thing I was most intense about was how I looked, what I said, whether people, including young men, liked me. I had little interest in what other people felt, and I was not at ease under my skin. Often it seemed I needed a drink to feel comfortable with a man.
Then in Aesthetic Realism consultations I began to learn something very new: that if we're not fair to people, no matter how sunny we may act, we'll never be authentically at ease. I studied what it means to like the world, central to which is good will: the desire to know other people and have them be stronger.
In one consultation I was asked, “What do you think is the first thing in good will?”
Meryl Nietsch. Wanting to know what a person hopes for.
Consultants. But we shouldn't omit the obvious. If you were going to have good will for this glass, what's the first thing you'd have to do?
MN. Look at it. .
Consultants. You'd have to feel it exists, right?
Consultants. This is the ontological aspect of good will: you see something as being.
About the person with whom I had the most difficulty, my mother, they asked, “Do you think that you've seen your mother as wholly existing?” I hadn't; I didn't grant her the depth of feeling I gave myself. I saw her as wanting to manage me, and resented the fact that she didn't give me the easy approval I got from my father. “I try to forget about her,” I said.
My consultants asked, “Do you think you're mad at her because you can't just sum her up?” This was true. They asked, “If you don't want to understand your mother, will it be hard for you to understand any other person?”
To encourage me to see what it means to understand the feelings of another person, I was given assignments to read novels such as Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, and David Copperfield. I was asked to write about how people I knew were trying to put opposites together.
As my study continued, I remember doing something so different from once: talking to my mother about her life. I asked what she felt about boys as she was growing up; what she thought about the Atlantic Ocean near where we lived; what her feelings were as the mother of six children. I felt closer to her, and felt that we were more alike than I'd ever imagined, but also that I was meeting someone new.
Over time, the deeper I was about her, the more I felt I could be a friend to other people. And I began to feel I could honestly care for a man and have real love in my life.
The Opposites & Love
When I began to date Bennett Cooperman, who is an Aesthetic Realism consultant and an actor, I was very much affected by his liveliness and thoughtfulness. He was a keen critic of me, and I felt he wanted to know and encourage me.
Once, when I was preparing for a party I was about to give—running around the house in my usual intense fashion, baking three pies, arranging flowers and much more—Bennett suggested I pause a moment and ask which would make me stronger: thinking about the people who were coming and what they were hoping for, or knocking myself out physically and perhaps pulling my back out, which I often did. He asked humorously, “Is this going to be a chiropractic celebration?” I saw he was right and that I could have more ease, a better relation of action and thought, and I changed—and had a really good time at the party.
When Bennett and I began to live together, I was asked a question that I see as central to a couple's feeling both vividly affected and at ease. In a class, Ellen Reiss asked me, “If a person means more to us, are we more or less?” I have seen with each of our twelve years of marriage that the resounding answer is More.