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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 NUMBER 1800.—July 6, 2011

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

What Impels Us?

Dear Unknown Friends:

With this issue we begin to serialize You Can Gossip Philosophically about Psychology, the lecture Eli Siegel gave on May 15, 1970. In keeping with its title, the talk has casualness, humor. And as always with Mr. Siegel, the lightheartedness is inseparable from depth, scholarship, exactitude.

He is illustrating the very foundation of Aesthetic Realism: The deepest desire of every person is “to like the world on an honest or accurate basis.” And further, the self of everyone is a philosophic and aesthetic matter, because we are always trying to put opposites together in ourselves—opposites that are fundamental to reality, and that are made one in every instance of art.

What Made Him Do It?

A matter much in the news in recent weeks has to do with what the self is and what impels us. And so I’ll comment briefly on the Anthony Weiner revelations: the fact that this noted congressman, whose political future seemed bright, had been sending erotically revealing photos of himself to various women via Twitter and other social media. Weiner has since resigned. But as commentators eagerly hashed over the revelations day after day, one heard such statements as, “I don’t understand what made him do it—it’s a mystery” and “How could a sharp, media-savvy guy like that be so careless—didn’t he know he’d get caught?”

Aesthetic Realism understands, beautifully understands, the self. That includes the self of a person who could fight tenaciously in behalf of good causes yet also have another way of seeing, rather low; a person ever so smart yet also ever so foolish. Three years ago I wrote about this fact in relation to another eminent politician: Eliot Spitzer, former governor of New York.

Aesthetic Realism explains that there is a big fight going on in every person all the time. It’s between that deepest desire of ours, to like and respect the world honestly, and the desire to have contempt, to make less of the outside world as a means of elevating ourselves. Every particular impetus or drive or choice of ours comes from one or the other of those two desires, or from some mix-up of both.

Along with all the jokes and indignation around the Weiner scandal, there has been a good deal of discomfort, because people don’t understand how they themselves feel driven. And people do feel impelled in various ways that make them ashamed. Sometimes it’s in the dramatic field of sex, but it’s also in many others. People are deeply troubled by a drive to eat excessively; to make mean remarks; to compete with other people in conversations; to spend too much time online or in front of the television. People have asked themselves, about so much, “Why am I doing this? Why can’t I stop?”

Here, then, are some explanatory statements about the trouble of Anthony Weiner, and about what can drive a person.

1) Everything we do is about the world itself. If we don’t like the world—if we don’t see being just to it as making us important—we’ll try to conquer it, triumph over it, make it serve us while we look down on it. There are many ways of doing this—many ways of having contempt. You can use economics to have contempt for the world and people. You can use sex. You can use the Internet.

2) The true purpose of sex, Mr. Siegel writes, “is to feel closely one with things as a whole.” That purpose is respect. When people feel driven as to body in a way that makes them ashamed, it’s because they have a different purpose: sex can be such a rapid, explosive, powerful means of victorious contempt. Sex has been used to make the world please you and be affected by you mightily without your having to be fair to it and to that representative of it whose body you’re dealing with.

3) A person can get a thrill sending a lewd photo of himself to someone, because in doing so he has an effect, shocks the person, makes the person center on him, makes his own personal flesh the focal point of the world to the person. He has the heady feeling that the world and another person have come to a halt at his body. He feels he is running them: he is (for the moment at least) more important than everything else in the universe. The big thing wrong with what Anthony Weiner did was the contempt in it for people and reality.

4) The reason contempt can often take the form of some intense propulsion is that contempt is a determined evasion of what we most deeply are and want. It is a fake way of solving the question of our relation to the world. And it always makes us ashamed. One of the things not seen about Anthony Weiner is that as he sent messages and pictures through cyberspace, he felt very clever but also tormented and ashamed.

5) Weiner lied at first about what he had done. It happens that lying is even more popular than sex. But lying comes from the same thing that the contemptuous use of sex comes from. When you lie, you feel reality is yours to do with as you please: you don’t have to be fair to truth; truth should serve you. Managing truth is like managing a person, through body or otherwise. Both are contempt.

Respect & Self-Importance

6) We can be sure that Anthony Weiner did not feel fighting for his constituents gave him the full importance he was hoping for. Otherwise he would not have gone after the spurious, ugly importance that felled him. The tragedy of humanity is that people have not felt respecting things and people made them powerful, important, made their blood happily tingle. But if respect and self-glory have to be apart, we are doomed to be cheap and unkind.

Art, Aesthetic Realism explains, is always both respect for the world—and glory, pleasure, self-assertion: as one. Aesthetic Realism is the education in how to see, in our own lives, the way art sees. It is the education in how to criticize contempt. It is the most needed, kindest, most exciting education in the world.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

You Can Gossip Philosophically about Psychology
By Eli Siegel

I have called this evening’s talk “You Can Gossip Philosophically about Psychology.” It will begin with psychology and get to other things. One of the purposes is to meet the request of Arnold Perey,1 who asked for evidence that people want to like the world, and asked how can you show that—a priori or a posteriori? The evidence is of many kinds. I’ll mention some, in psychology and elsewhere. People then should be skeptical, critical, and sensible—and the third adjective will take care of the first two.

I am using the best book on psychology I’ve met in recent years. There are quite a few from the old days. One is by Woodworth.2 And James’s shorter version of Principles of Psychology was popular. There is the book by Bentley, and there are others: by Hunter; by Dashiell; and there’s The Ways of Behaviorism, by Watson. There are quite a few very large ones, with illustrations, rats, quotations in German—all kinds of horrible things. But this book has boxes and figures that are really very taking, the best I’ve seen, and most of them are fairly understandable. It is Elements of Psychology, by David Krech and Richard S. Crutchfield (1958, Knopf). The book is well arranged.

I’m using it to show there is a philosophy of psychology, as there is of anything. There is a philosophy of metals, and there is a philosophy of psychology. In the first chapter, “The Study of Man,” the authors say:

In studying man, then, we first analyze his perceptions—how he sees, hears, smells, and feels the world about him. We next concern ourselves with the motives and emotions of man—his needs, desires, aspirations, fears, and loves. Then we examine man as he attempts to adapt to the demands made upon him....Finally we consider man as a unique individual living in a world of other men—his personality and his relations to society.

Always Rest & Motion

This takes in a very great deal, but it should be noticed that philosophic subjects or situations are present. Whatever the mind of man is, it is divided the way the outside world is, the way things are. For example, a person has an impression. And if you look at the word you will see it has rest in it. Take the statement, “Because of my impression I had a desire to know the subject better”: desire is more in motion. There is attitude, which is a situation and has rest in it: “I don’t like his attitude. I hope he’ll change it.”

Then, there is the word drive, which is obviously in motion. If you compare drive to attitude—“I don’t like this person’s attitude. He must have succumbed to some horrible drives”—I think you can feel the rest and motion.

Those are philosophic matters, because the world is stillness and motion. What I’m going to try to show is that at the basis of psychology, even as current psychologists present it, one can see the philosophic permanencies and the metaphysical nothing-else-but, or the metaphysical inconceivabilities-without.

Passive & Active

We see in psychology that occasionally one is passive and also one is active. In the first sentence of the passage I quoted we have perception, which is essentially active. It means capturing something, taking something, while the word sensation is more passive: it’s something that you feel; it comes to you. All the psychological terms are to be seen first in terms of rest and motion, and then in terms of things happening to you and things that you do.

Take the word stimulus: as it is usually thought of, it is something that comes from the outside to you. You are the recipient of a stimulus. And then, if you’re a polite person, you have a response, which is more in motion. If you’re impolite you have a drive. Then there is will, which has effort with it. Will isn’t very much used these days. It’s sort of old-fashioned (not that it’s out of the language).

Of the two big words feeling and thought, feeling is obviously more restful and more passive, while thought, however dull it sounds, has a little action in it. Even the word brood is a little active. Most people who are contemporary take brooding for thought. But they’re both active.

In that first sentence we have “how he sees, hears, smells, and feels the world about him.” These are four of the five senses, which are faring pretty well. They really are still the world administrators. And I hope they do better than other administrations. Seeing and hearing have a great deal to do with active and passive. Smell seems to be quite active, and more active than taste, which it’s related to. Touch is the most mysterious, and is supposed to take in all the others.

Perception itself, including the senses, is something more passive than the next division. The authors say: “We next concern ourselves with the motives and emotions of man.” Motive, since it comes from the same word as motion, should have more of motion in it. And emotion quite clearly is only motion with an e somehow before it.

Adaptation: Enduring & Liking

“Then we examine man as he attempts to adapt to the demands made upon him.” A large question about liking the world is: how much of liking the world is in the word adaptation? When an animal talked of by Darwin tries to adapt himself to the outside world and use it in the best way so that his descendants a thousand years later can survive and be written of, has the adaptation anything to do with liking?

Adaptation is a word with the opposites present. Whenever you adapt yourself, you endure, and there’s something of pain in enduring. But you also like. For example: A person wanted to see a show very much. She couldn’t get the seat she wanted, but she got a seat on the left. Her friend says, “Gussie, have you adapted yourself to this seat?” And Gussie says, “Oh, I’m doing quite well. In fact, I’m enjoying the show.” Which means that though there’s still something to endure—she wanted another seat—she’s liking.

Adaptation has a mingling, as life itself has, of liking and enduring. And all art shows somewhat how enduring can be the same as liking, or liking the same as enduring. A person says, “Once I endured Beethoven’s sonatas. Now I feel I can like them. And I think if I didn’t endure them, I would not now like them.” And when you cultivate a taste, it means there’s a little period of endurance.

Again, the large question here is: How much does adaptation, a term used in biology, psychology, sociology somewhat—have of liking the world? And if adaptation is only enduring, is it the best adaptation? If a person says, “I can stand tea,” we feel maybe he hasn’t adapted himself to tea yet.

I’ll go so far as to say that every psychological term says something about liking the world. Occasionally that is to be seen with more difficulty than on another occasion, but it is there.

We Are Individuality & Relation

“Finally we consider man as a unique individual living in a world of other men—his personality and his relations to society.” This is that interesting time when psychology begins behaving like sociology. Psychology is often disguised as sociology. When you take part in a demonstration, psychology becomes collective and becomes sociology. But you still have your psychology. Everybody in a parade still has his individual responses.

We have this, about perception:

Each man lives in his own world. His world is what he experiences—what he perceives, feels, thinks about, and imagines. And what he perceives, feels, thinks about, and imagines depends upon the physical and social environments in which he lives and upon his own biological nature....His world is his own, and different from the worlds of others, because his brain and nervous system and his physical and social environments are not exactly like anyone else’s.

“Each man lives in his own world.” But it’s striking how much one’s “own” world has a likeness to somebody else’s world. One’s world is a way of taking the world.

The world is a little like a theatre. It has 800 seats, and in any seat you are, you are still in the world. There can be many other comparisons.

“His world is what he experiences—what he perceives, feels, thinks about, and imagines.” Experiences is a passive word: experience is how you find things and what remains in you after you’ve met or found things. But imagines, though it’s an inward business, is quite active. Imagines seems to be in motion. Imagination is as active as one’s tongue when one talks.

Care for the Environment & for the World

“And what he perceives, feels, thinks about, and imagines depends upon the physical and social environments in which he lives and upon his own biological nature.” The social environment does come into psychology. The word environment is well known. It has taken on something of a melodramatic meaning. Once it was a dull word and meant what was with you when you became delinquent. That was the way it was used—you had an unfortunate environment. But the word has taken on a new meaning, because one may not like the world but one does want to make the world of America prettier and more livable. In relation to environment, the two aspects of liking—one, health; the other, beauty or prettiness—are both present.

The reason we want our environment better is so that uninvited germs not fell us and make us sick. We feel that there are things that are opposed to us and the world has them, but it hasn’t yet said it wants to keep them. There is a desire to make the world look better and act better. This is going on and it’s part of our time. Never was there such a sense of environment. Never was Standard Oil so interested in what happened to the birds around the oil wells. Wonderful company, that Standard Oil!

This much can be said: whatever happens to you, your life consists at any one time of yourself and your environment, because environment is only the world become particular. If you want to like your environment, that much you want to like the world.

“His world is his own...because his brain and nervous system and his physical and social environments are not exactly like anyone else’s.” We may have our own world, but every time we subject ourselves to television or a magazine or a newspaper or a conversation, we let another world invade ours. Those persons who years ago read Anthony Adverse, and later read Gone with the Wind, and then later Forever Amber or Captain from Castile, whatever else they did, they wanted to change worlds—because if you wanted to get into the world of Queen Isabella in the 15th century or the world of Queen Eleanor in the 12th century, you were changing worlds. There’s a lot of changing worlds. When people say they want to escape, one of the things to be escaped from is one’s own world. Well, there’s a lot in that sentence.

I’m gossiping. And there are two modes of expression: one is casual, and the other is exactitude and fullness. I have to say that I have in mind exactitude and fullness too, even while I’m gossiping. black diamond

1Arnold Perey, PhD, is an anthropologist and Aesthetic Realism consultant.

2 The authors mentioned here are Robert S. Woodworth, William James, Isaac M. Bentley, Walter Hunter, John F. Dashiell, and John B. Watson.

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

Third Saturday of each month, 8 PM: Aesthetic Realism Dramatic Presentations
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The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known (TRO) is a biweekly periodical of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation.
Editor: Ellen Reiss
Coordinators: Nancy Huntting, Meryl Simon, Steven Weiner

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TRO: Home |  Current |  Art |  Literature |  Racism |  Education |  Nat'l Ethics |  Love |  Economics |  Memorial |  Site Map
"Is a Person an Aesthetic Situation?" by Eli Siegel: a short explanation of Aesthetic RealismThe Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company in New York City. Authors in the repertory include Ibsen, Sheridan, Shakespeare, O'Neill.
Ellen Reiss, Commentaries in TRO:
The Mideast  |  Poetry of Eli Siegel |  Unions
Lord Byron |  Harry Potter |  Sherlock Holmes
Robert Burns |  The 'criticism' of John Keats
Racism & Its Solution

Aesthetic Realism Resources:
Aesthetic Realism Consultations
Two Biographies of Eli Siegel:
[1] Aesthetic Realism Foundation
[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

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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