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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 NUMBER 1301.—March 11, 1998

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

What Music Means—and Our Hopes

Dear Unknown Friends:

Here is the conclusion of the magnificent, amazing 1966 lecture Animate and Inanimate Are in Music and Conscience, by Eli Siegel. He speaks in this lecture about the inner turbulence of composers—which is like the turbulence of people who aren't composers—and about technical matters in music, including polytonality. And he shows here and in Aesthetic Realism itself what no other philosopher or critic saw: there is a fundamental relation, a makeup in common, among: 1) the feelings of everyone (including our clamorous conscience); 2) what art is; and 3) reality itself. Further, this relation is the most hopeful fact that exists for the life of everyone. It is outlined in a central principle of Aesthetic Realism: "The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites."

Our Hopes Are in Rock

For example, there is rock music—of past decades or now. When a rock song affects people very much, it is because there is the joining of that beat which is so firm, so forcefully definite, with a wildness, a letting go. Rock, then, is a oneness of opposites: it is at once terrific firmness and terrific release; a pounding orderliness and sprawling unrestraint.

As (for instance) The Rolling Stones sang "I can't get no satisfaction...," people were hearing the structure of the world itself—and were hearing evidence that the world, with all its confusions, could be liked. For we can like a world which has firmness, strength, an insistent steadiness we can count on and proudly yield to—like that beat—but which also includes a fullness of freedom, an almost bursting exhilaration. And in that song and any good rock song, we hear too how we want to be: firm and abandoned at once—instead of feeling, as people usually do, that when we're orderly we're not free, and when we let go we're not dignified or kind.

Other opposites crucial to rock, the world, and our own bewildered selves, are in this line from Eli Siegel's poem "Hymn to Jazz and the Like": "The Beatles have used you somewhat to show that the whisper of one person can shout across land and water." That is, rock tells us we're not just separate, enclosed selves, but our depths are also out there, related to everything. Because listen: in a rock song our intimate feelings, the feelings we pore over hushedly within, have become thrusting, pounding, loud, sprawling—they "shout across land and water." 

What Music Says—and Opposes

In 1974, in issue 93 of this periodical, Mr. Siegel wrote: 

Music for a long time has been telling what the world is really like .... Music (like the other arts) is this continuous statement: the makeup, the structure of the world, while being cosmology or science, is also the structure of beauty itself; and of past art and contemporary art.

Music, then, is a beautiful enemy of what Mr. Siegel showed to be the most hurtful thing in the human self: contempt, "the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it." Music says, "This world is made well. It's what you hear in me, a Brahms symphony, in me, a Bach concerto: it's the oneness of opposites. So as you look down on the world and people and things in it, sneer at them, feel cold to them, lessen them, you're not only wrong but massively stupid. And Eli Siegel showed that having contempt for this world that I, music, represent, is the cause of every cruelty and ugliness that has ever been." 

Music has been enjoyed by people who have had contempt (even Nazis went to concerts and were affected by Beethoven). Yet music itself, in its very structure, is always against contempt. When people, through Aesthetic Realism, are able to study this fact and what it means, contempt will be much less able to win in individual minds and in the world. I mention now some other things—forms and aspects of contempt—that music is always against. 

These Are Not Musical

1. Music is against selfishness—for the reason implied in the present lecture as Mr. Siegel speaks about vertical and horizontal. Selfishness is the feeling that the self as vertical—as asserting and caring for its own singular being—cannot also go wide, be fair to what is not itself, give justice to an infinite spreading world. All good music, though, has a feeling of width, even as it gets inside one's very personal heart and bones. We are moved by music, pleased within our most private, throbbing self, because we are hearing and feeling a world we can't grab or sum up, a world that is sweetly and formidably endless. Both Beethoven's Third Symphony and a song like "Comin' through the Rye" are at once intimate and wide.

2. Music is against fake love. Untrue love, Aesthetic Realism shows, is the using of a person to get rid of the world or conquer it. True love is using another person to like the world itself. Music has sometimes been exploited in behalf of false "love": it has been played while two people make each other more important than all of reality. Yet music itself is always an honoring of the world—the very world which two people may so hurtfully use each other to diminish.

3. Music is against depression and the feeling of meaninglessness that is in all depression. A person, Mr. Siegel showed, can have a miserable triumph feeling things come to nothing, because then he can feel superior to everyone, even as he suffers. He can even have a victory feeling his own life is meaningless, because then the person inside him, who exists only for him, away from this defective world, is perfect and supreme. Music, however, shows reality has Meaning, is Meaning. For it is reality's structure—the oneness of slowness and speed, high and low, force and gentleness—that is the value, beauty, grandeur in a musical work. The power and lovableness of music is the same as the fact that reality has a meaning too powerful and lovable for anyone's ego to try to kick around.

4. Music is against the profit system. That is, music is against economics based on some people owning more of this world than others. The fact that humanity as such loves music is evidence that the world which music represents is connected to the very deepest self of every man, woman, and child—and therefore the world should belong to all of them.

I love the poem by Eli Siegel printed here: "Music Has a Future Worthy of It." It is as great an honoring of music as ever existed. And it is musical itself: it has delicacy and reverberation, and sweep. And it has Mr. Siegel's courage in looking at the ugly. 

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

The Melody of Conscience
By Eli Siegel

Note. The passages Mr. Siegel has been looking at are from An Anthology of Musical Criticism, ed. Norman Demuth (1947)

I read now a passage by Percy Scholes, from a book of 1924, Crotchets. He's asking, What's going to happen when polytonality becomes all it can be, and atonality is accepted—what's the composer going to do? And Scholes says feeling, or the heart, is still the big thing. He is discussing a writing in a French journal by Milhaud, "Polytonalité et Atonalité," Revue Musicale:

The factor which will determine the Polytonic or Atonic character of a work will be ... the essential melody which will come from the "heart" alone of the musician .... The whole life of a work will depend upon nothing else than the melodic invention of its composer, and Polytonality and Atonality will do nothing more than furnish him with a vaster field ... wherewith to employ his sensibility, his imagination, and his fancy.

This may not seem so but is, in an indirect way, a saying that feeling is the same as the world as inanimate. Scholes I don't think is very much given to the relation of Nothing to the Real, or the self to what is not alive, but that is what he's writing about. 

The harmony in which we were brought up was for the most part diatonic, that is to say, the notes making up a chord, or the "parts" woven together into a contrapuntal fabric, all belonged to a definite (major or minor) key, and of keys there were twenty-four .... Necessarily, however, the music passed, from time to time, from one key into another.

This has the feeling that if there were 24 keys (and they are mysterious, those keys), they were separate; and then, the 24 said something about each other. So let us hail, with decorum, the existence of the 24 keys while elections went on and wars were being fought and people were leaving one land to go to another. The 24 keys, we may presume, existed in the 10th century. 

The admission that succession of key, or "modulation," was acceptable inevitably implied, says Milhaud, that, at some later stage, superposition of key ("Polytonality") would also be found equally acceptable.

Which gives us this: suppose you hear at the same time something played in this key, and something played in another key; just as you hear two notes in a chord, you hear two keys, or three keys, because polytonality I suppose wouldn't stop if it didn't have all 24.

In a way, this is vertical, insofar as it's depth: you hear one sound imposed on another, and another imposed on the second; you hear them all at once, but you also know they're three levels. And as you hear these levels vertically, you also go horizontally. So, what has that got to do with conscience?

Conscience does want to be, as I said in Self and World, vertical, the utmost in verticality—which means the utmost in depth—and the utmost in horizontality. Depth is important. The criticism we have of people in various fields is, they are superficial. 

Music, then, is a trying to get to the width and depth of a person, or the horizontality and verticality of reality and of a person. And within this horizontality and verticality is the fact that as soon as a person, who is vertical, seems horizontal, he seems to be like all other things, and therefore inanimate in a sense. He seems to be welcoming something against his individuality, and that is why in music people have felt they got out of themselves—as Pepys felt in his famous passage about the wind music of The Virgin Martyr

I am saying, then, that the matter of conscience is described in music; music is also concerned with it. Composers have certainly shown how much they were concerned with it, both as people ordinarily and as people trying to get to things in music, or composing. Also, performers have been. Opera singers, from Malibran on, or concert singers, have been greatly disturbed by themselves. 

Music and conscience, in fact, can be made equivalent. Music is the melody of conscience, and also the sound monition that is in conscience. Music is melodious, even as it says, "This is not present."

And so I have used some composers and various things in the history of music in behalf of this title: Animate and Inanimate Are in Music and Conscienceblack diamond

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Music Has a Future Worthy of It
By Eli Siegel

It is time to welcome the meaning of music.

We have welcomed it here and there,

But have not been able to welcome it as it truly is.

To see music like any sky,

And as large as all skies taken together,

And to see it as all the snippets among clouds,

And fast, almost invisible fragments—

Is to see music.

Even in our most wretched moments,

When our anger is ugliest,

Music is there.

Music is equivalent to reality

In atmospheric accuracy;

And in gigantic next-roomness.

Is there any occasion

Where harmony is not predominant,

Even where a wretch called cacophony is busy

And where another wretch called Nauseating Languor is present?

What sound is possible in this world?—

Is equivalent to the question: How ugly can sound be?

Gulps in their many forms are part of  the ugly possibilities of sound.

The wheeze and the whine and the unnerving semi-heard

Are part of the pervasive ugliness of sound.

Faucets, suckings, interruptions, threats, the auditorily hideous and unthought of,

Are of the ugliness of sound.

Meanwhile, music waits as if it were the whole hall.

Every time one hears something, one learns something about music.

Meanwhile, music is expectant for the chance to say something of architecture.

Sound is gracefully impatient to say something of sculpture.

The musical scales are in a dither to say something about botany.

The staff is trembling in its curved uprightness, waiting to say something of biology.

At least four hundred notes, all in good condition and rapturous, are waiting to say something of history.

An architrave in its propriety, is dizzy with this propriety.

There was never such a collocation of terms and musical substance.

Why does music matter so much here?

It is because music is the definite thing heard, and tells of the permanent possibilities of space: space heard.

For this reason, this poem hints at what is to be seen about music.

It doesn't derogate at all from lightsome seeds floating about in June warmth.

This poem simply says that music has a future worthy of it.

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 Realism
The 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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