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  The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known
 NUMBER 220.-. June 15, 1977
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

The World Gets It

Dear Unknown Friends:

         It can be said sensibly that every time a person feels bad, the world is disliked. Man has not as yet understood how a world which may seem to be painful, disappointing, can truly be good and worthy of sincere praise. Religion has now and then done a great deal for the acceptance of the world. Yet the persons of this world, like persons of a past world, don't like it. To feel bad, unless the feeling bad is given an honest, aesthetic form, is to be against the world. What we often do is jest at the uncaringness of the world for how we feel.

     Years ago, I wrote four rhymed lines which now can be called:

The World Was at the Bottom of It

You know,
Once I stubbed my toe
On a sculpture of Michelangelo.
The world again was a cause of woe.

     When a person stubs his toe or twists his ankle, he can say, Damn it! The "it" that is being damned can be usefully seen as the misbehaved world. Aesthetic Realism sees this matter of disliking the world as most necessary to look at. One's dislike of the world is more present in what one does than is realized. Our philosophy does affect our breakfast, our conversation, our love.

1. Hemingway's Sad Person

Perhaps Ernest Hemingway's best short story is "Soldier's Home," which appeared in the Contact Collection of Contemporary Writers, 1925. Harold Krebs, the hero or victim of this story, is a study, told with drab melody, of a fellow who, having been in World War I, sees the world as immense, changeable, dreary. Hemingway himself, it seems, came to see the world that way, as did his friend and counterpart—or, if one wishes, likeness and contrast—F. Scott Fitzgerald. Dislike of the world has appeared much in the American novel and short story. The Captain Ahab of Melville and the Ethan Brand of Hawthorne join the Krebs of Hemingway and the Gatsby of Fitzgerald.

     Well, to Harold Krebs of Kansas, discharged somewhat late from that part of the United States Army which had been occupying territory in Germany. Harold Krebs felt that because he came back from the war after all the celebrations were over, people might be making fun of him:

Now the reaction had set in. People seemed to think it was rather ridiculous for Krebs to be getting back so late, years after the war was over.

When we dislike the world, we may think people don't have a high opinion of us; and we also want to have contempt for the world. There is often a reciprocity of contempt between ourselves and what is different from ourselves.

     Krebs has had a rather dull time in the war and after. However, if we cannot make dullness interesting through giving it aesthetic form, we may be disposed to lie about it. Our romance has to come legitimately from the exterior universe or illegitimately from our inwardly working self. So the Ernest Hemingway of 1925 or earlier tells us:

A distaste for everything that had happened to him in the war set in because of the lies he had told.

This means—changing Hemingway into some evangelist of reality—that if we try to make the world more favorable to us by changing it to suit ourselves, a distaste for reality may be encouraged. Greetings, Ernest Hemingway, minister or evangelist in behalf of reality.

2. Mother Is Used Unfavorably

How often a mother has been used and is used to get an unfavorable opinion of the world! Harold Krebs, Hemingway tells us, used his mother unwisely in 1919. Historically, it may be said that Woodrow Wilson also used the world unwisely in 1919, for that was the year the famous president collapsed as he was making speeches for the presence of the United States in the League of Nations.

     However, Woodrow Wilson can be thought of at another time. We go back to Hemingway's fine imaginative protege, Harold Krebs. Hemingway informs us:

She (his mother] often came in when he was in bed and asked him to tell her about the war, but her attention always wandered. His father was noncommittal.

How frequently, in the American fiction of the 1920s, there is a mother who simulates a loving, assiduous interest in a son or daughter with the son or daughter not believing in it. It is seldom that anyone believes another is truly interested in him; and the casualty list of mothers in the matter of true interest in a son, is high. O'Neill, in his plays, joins Hemingway in his stories. And there were critics of mothers in Germany and France. Thomas Mann and Andre Gide are instances.

3. Girls Are of the World

Girls, because they may want to be close to one and yet not want to understand him, have been the cause of many a dislike of the world in a murkily striving, murkily desirous young man of the Middle West. Krebs was after a girl, but wanted no feminine complexity. He would like to have a girl, but a girl was too different from himself. Hemingway says of the girls Krebs might have met in the United States, this:

But the world they were in was not the world he was in. He would like to have one of them. But it was not worth it.

4. Religion, Mother, Freud

Again, to our dolorous hero and the musical, resonant, clipped prose of Hemingway.—His mother is talking to Krebs:

      "God has some work for everyone to do," his mother said. "There can be no idle hands in His kingdom."
     "I'm not in His kingdom," Krebs said.
     "We are all of us in His kingdom."

The mother has a point here, for "kingdom," as it is used in Christian thought, is the same as reality or the universe. In fact, when a Christian—Tolstoy notably—said, "The kingdom of God is within you," he was in accord with Aesthetic Realism. Aesthetic Realism says, "Since the world is in you, you might as well listen to the world as in you." The kingdom of God contains all the arts and sciences, all lands, all business, all history, all living beings. When we eschew the kingdom of God, we are alienating ourselves; and it is quite clear that Harold Krebs, with all his failure to flash as a saddened intellectual, is alienated.

     When Krebs says glumly, "I'm not in His kingdom," he is a little more straightforward than many a person who pretends to like the world which surrounds him and the world a little in the distance. Krebs has the courage of his Dostoevskian-Topekan convictions. Let us salute him and hope Hemingway could tell us that he got a job at last which went along with his plodding, inarticulate pessimism; for one can be pessimistic and still do work deserving pay.

     At this time, man's distaste of the world or suspicion of it has taken the form of a greater unwillingness to work strenuously than at any time in history. I think it would have been well if Sigmund Freud had studied the Krebs of Hemingway and seen that it was Krebs's picture of the world which bothered him. I shall make up for this by mentioning the one place I know where Freud talks of man as working—in a note in Civilization and Its Discontents, 1930 (Norton paperback edition, 1962, page 27):

The great majority of people only work under the stress of necessity, and this natural human aversion to work raises most difficult social problems.

Here is Freud granting that libido has to do with work. Here Freud, without knowing it, looks at the Krebs of 1919. Here Freud, too, anticipates the world recession that began clearly in 1970.

5. Continuing Krebs

Now that I have digressed, I hope wisely, it is well to look at Krebs and love again. Love, in man's history, has been the easiest thing to get to in a way, and the hardest thing to get to deeply, adequately, truly. How easy it is to love!—how hard it is to love well! Most people know that the author of Krebs, Ernest Hemingway, had a difficult time caring for a woman truly. And in "Soldier's Home," Krebs sums up the situation for many people when he says, with his mother crying: "I don't love anybody."

     Aesthetic Realism has been saying for a long time that unless you are inclined to like the world, you can't love anybody truly. The big thing in love is that someone can bring something to ourselves we cannot have alone. In order, therefore, to love someone, we have to grant the likelihood that something of ourselves is not had by us as yet, but is in the outside world, perhaps looking for us. To care, then, for what is different from ourselves as that which we need or which completes us, implies a like of the world. This is not had as a general thing. It is not even thought about. There are few people now who think that a clear opinion of the world is either possible or necessary. There are fewer people who think it would be deeply advantageous for their lives if they could sincerely feel the world was deeply good.

     We look again at Krebs.—In saying to his mother that he doesn't love anybody, he has made her cry. Hemingway at this point has one of his yearning fictional moments:

He went over and took hold of her arm. She was crying with her head in her hands.
     "I didn't mean it," he said. "I was just angry at something. I didn't mean I didn't love you."
     His mother went on crying. Krebs put his arm on her shoulder.
     "Can't you believe me, Mother?"
     His mother shook her head.

     The "something" that Krebs says he was angry at can be described as the world itself. And Krebs's mother also has the ability or misfortune to dislike the world. This abruptly conscious dislike of the world has made her tearful. When Harold's mother says, "I believe you, Harold," she is trying to get away from a deeper pained feeling, the feeling that the world may not be for her at all.

6. Krebs, the Bible, the Talmud

The Bible is about Krebs, and so, surprisingly, is the Jewish Talmud. The first sentences of the Bible are about how God made the opposites of heaven and earth one: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth "—the firmament and the ground under our feet. In the first chapter of Genesis, there is a rever­ent dance of oneness and duality, of dark­ness and light, water and water. The opposites as aesthetically one can be magnificently felt in the first chapter of Genesis.

     In religion the world is often seen as the oneness of the desirable and the disorderly, the pleasing and uncaring. For the moment, let us look at Jewishness. This is from the Agada of the Talmud, as given in Ausubel's A Treasury of Jewish Folklore:

The adherents of Shammai argued that it would have been far better for man had he never been created. The followers of Hillel maintained that it was good that man had been created. Finally both schools concluded their controversy on a compromise: that it would have been far better for man had he never been created, but, since he is already here on earth, it is his obligation to make the best of it and live uprightly.

We should go on from here, with Krebs perhaps along.

With love,        
Eli Siegel         

© Copyright 1977 by Aesthetic Realism Foundation  •  A not-for-profit educational foundation

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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