Arrow.AESTHETIC REALISM FOUNDATION Arrow.Aesthetic Realism Online Library Arrow.The Right Of

Home |  Current |  Art |  Literature |  Racism |  Education |  Nat'l Ethics |  Love |  Mind |  Economics |  Memorial |  Site Map

The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 NUMBER 1738.—February 18, 2009

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

What We're After; or, Art vs. Freud

Dear Unknown Friends:

Here is the second half of Reality Includes Sex, lecture 2 in the series that Eli Siegel gave at Steinway Hall early in his teaching of Aesthetic Realism. The talk took place on August 8, 1946. And in the second part, he speaks about Freud.

This is an instance of Mr. Siegel's clear, courageous, logical criticism of Freudian theory—the theory that, at the time, pervaded every aspect of culture, intimidated people, and was the source they went to in the hope to understand themselves and feel better. As I wrote in the last issue, Freud's “explanations” are pretty much unused in psychiatry today, because they have not worked. Yet the practitioners and psychiatric spokespersons have not had the integrity to say plainly that Freud, the Authority for decades, was wrong. As Mr. Siegel speaks of Aesthetic Realism's disagreement with Freud, he is presenting, with vividness and grace, what is true about the human mind.

Take Freud's concept of sublimation, which Mr. Siegel comments on here. That deeply repulsive concept is—mostly—no longer employed, yet the psychiatrists have never said that it is and always was false, unscientific, ugly, and insulting to the human self. This is how Calvin S. Hall, in A Primer of Freudian Psychology (NY, 1954), describes sublimation:

The deflection of [sexual] energy into intellectual, humanitarian, cultural, and artistic pursuits. The direct expression of sexual and aggressive instincts is transformed into apparently non-sexual and non-aggressive forms of behavior....Freud observed that da Vinci's interest in painting Madonnas was a sublimated expression of a longing for his mother....Since they [artists, including Shakespeare] could not obtain complete satisfaction for their sexual cravings in real life, they turned to imaginative creations. [Pp. 82-83]

Art & Sex

So we have two mighty things, art and sex, which people need tremendously to understand. Aesthetic Realism is great in its explanation of both. Eli Siegel was clear in 1946 and earlier and later: Despite Freud, art certainly does not arise from sex. There are two big desires in every person, at war in us: 1) the desire to be ourselves through caring for and being just to the outside world; 2) the desire to make ourselves important by looking down on and manipulating what's not ourselves. The second is contempt. All art arises from the first: art is respect for reality—full, rich, imaginative, certainly critical, but always deep and accurate, respect. And this respect and care for the world is the purpose that sex needs to have.

     “Sex,” Mr. Siegel wrote three decades after the Steinway Hall lectures,

is either a means of having the world just the way we want it—that is, having contempt for it; or it can be the means of making the ordinary things of the world take on more meaning....The chief thing wrong with sex is that it so easily can be used as a means of ecstatic revenge on a world which we see as not having been good to us. Sex often is revenge, not expression.

An article that appeared in the New York Times on January 20 is a means of seeing how deeply unknowing psychiatry still is about sex. The writer, Richard A. Friedman, MD, tells about a young man who would become “depressed for about a day” after having sex, and this doctor says he couldn't see why, since “otherwise, [the patient] had a clean bill of health, both medical and psychiatric.” He describes other patients who also felt intensely bad after sex. Then the doctor says, what needs to be changed is not the unhappiness, but the intensity of the depressed aftermath—that people should expect to feel some sadness, lowness, unhappiness, after sex:

There is nothing strange about a little sadness after sexual pleasure....But these patients experienced intense dysphoria that...was too disruptive to be dismissed as mere unhappiness.

So this psychiatrist takes for granted that people feel bad after sex—that it's inevitable, in the nature of things. It is not ! The reason millions of people feel bad, angry, irritable, empty, ashamed, after seemingly fulfilling sex, is that they've used sex to have contempt—as Mr. Siegel describes in the lecture we're publishing.

The adroit way in which present-day psychiatry retains the Freudian view even while apparently putting it aside, is in the following comment by Dr. Friedman:

Psychiatrists like to joke that everything is about sex except for sex itself, which is another way of saying that just about every human behavior is permeated with hidden sexual meaning. Perhaps.

Well, is it or isn't it? The answer, for the understanding of humanity and reality, is of huge importance. “Perhaps” won't do. Everything is not permeated with sexual meaning, any more than it's permeated with the meaning of baseball. As Mr. Siegel showed in the Freudian heyday, sex and all other things come from the same reality. Each has in it, is permeated with, what reality itself is. And reality, he showed, is “the oneness of aesthetic opposites.”

The solution given in the Times article is: if you take Prozac or a related drug, it will “blunt” the awful feeling that can follow sex. The writer notes that the drug will also make the sex “less intensely pleasurable,” and if you stop taking it you'll feel awful again.

The Aesthetic Solution

Psychiatrists today don't say, as Freud did, that art comes from sex. But psychiatry does not understand art. And it does not know that for people to like themselves as to sex, they need to see the way art sees. Take one of the most famous poetic lines in world literature, by a writer Mr. Siegel speaks of in the talk we're printing: Lucretius (c. 96-55 bc). The line is from the first book of De Rerum Natura: “processit longe flammantia moenia mundi”—“He traveled far beyond the flaming walls of the world.”

The ms in “flammantia moenia mundi” are gentle, even as the idea—the flaming walls of the world—is fierce. The line in Latin is orderly, definite; yet it's about something unbounded, and it sounds that way too, with its wide vowels. The line is a oneness of neatness and the infinite; of gentleness and ferocity. Lucretius was trying, in the intimacy of a Roman room, to see truly, feel truly, what reality is; he wasn't trying to conquer it or put it aside. And so reality's opposites are one in this line.

That care for the world—as Mr. Siegel shows in the magnificent concluding paragraphs of his talk—is what two people should be going after in sex. Then they will not feel sad afterward. They will feel proud, intelligent, and kind.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

Reality Includes Sex, part 2
By Eli Siegel

There is an aspect of Freud that I think it well to comment on now. Freud was confused: he did not see sex as being possibly virtuous and ethical. He looked upon sex as a porch climber, an intruder in the world of thought and logic. He couldn't see that a man could want to be with a woman, and also be interested in mathematics or music or baseball for a reason which wasn't against that. The sublimation idea of Freud is false to the very nature of man.

A child, for instance, is interested in touching his body, sucking his thumb, but also has an interest in listening to a simple tune. Freud won't say the child can be interested in sucking his thumb and listening to a tune for a reason that takes in both. He says the reason the child likes the tune is that he is sublimating a sexual desire, which Freud saw as present in sucking the thumb. Freud implies that when Homer wrote the Iliad it was because Homer, being blind, couldn't have women. And if a person like the geometrician and physicist Archimedes is interested in mathematics and physics, it is his sublimation of sex. What a world!

Can't a person desire a woman with intensity and at the same time desire to hear a collection of notes that has form, or read a book that has humor? Isn't the mind of man big enough to feel that good will can be shown by biology, and at the same time feel there is art in a sonata?

An essential difference between Freud and Aesthetic Realism is this: Freud made sex and libido the cause of the way you meet reality, and Aesthetic Realism says the way you meet reality is the way you are going to meet sex.

The Death Instinct

For quite a few years Freud talked of neurosis as being caused by infantile regression, sex, the Oedipus Complex. Later he wriggled a good deal, but he had enough sensitivity to know that what he had said didn't cover the subject. So, while not saying he had anything to take back, he came to his second large theory: the death instinct. This is from Beyond the Pleasure Principle, which appeared in its first form in 1920:*

If we are to take it as a truth that knows no exception that everything living dies for internal reasons—becomes inorganic once again—then we shall be compelled to say that “the aim of all life is death.” ...  

     The sexual instincts...are the true life instincts. They operate against the purpose of the other instincts, which leads, by reason of their function, to death....One group of instincts rushes forward so as to reach the final aim of life [i.e., death] as swiftly as possible; but when a particular stage in the advance has been reached, the other group jerks back to a certain point to make a fresh start and so prolong the journey. [Pp. 70, 74, 75]

Freud felt deeply that his sexual theory wasn't complete. And in Beyond the Pleasure Principle he tried to show that there was a strange desire making for just simple stillness, stability, nirvana; he called it the death instinct.

How are you going to put together this desire for excitation and libido and this desire for rest? Since Freud didn't think in aesthetic terms, and since he was pessimistic, he got to the death instinct. A pessimist will be attracted by Freud. I think pessimism is sentimentalism in reverse. That is, people like to think the world is bad in order to elevate themselves. Aesthetic Realism would say the death instinct is one phase of contempt. We can readily see that a person wants to be excited but he also doesn't want to be bothered.

Freud became aware that along with an expansive tendency, there is also a contracting tendency. There certainly is. We like to go into ourselves and we like to spread out just as a flower does. But why all this portentousness of the “death instinct,” and why should the desire for repose be against the desire for sex? It is this essential neurotic structure in Freud himself, of putting the instinct for repose (the “death instinct”) against the sex instinct, that is so harmful.

You may remember the definition that Aesthetic Realism gives of happiness: dynamic tranquility. If we are only tranquil, we are bored. If we are only in motion, we have no sense of symmetry. The way of combining rest and motion is aesthetics: dynamic tranquility.

The Individual & the World

Toward the end of his life Freud became sociological and philosophic. He wrote Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, Civilization and Its Discontents, Moses and Monotheism. Essentially, these books are of an uninformed person. Wherever Freud has said something that shows thoroughness and scholarship, I welcome it, but I cannot welcome an attack on the world as being against people. That is throughout Freud's writing. It is in the passage I quoted last week, from A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis:

We believe that civilization has been built sacrifices in gratification of the primitive impulses.... Each individual, successively joining the community, repeats the sacrifice of his instinctive pleasures for the common good.

If “the common good” is against the instinctive pleasures of people, where are we? Freud says if we go along with the common good, we repress or sacrifice. But such a way of seeing is that which makes people go after their wives with hammers, like the man in the article I read. I cannot be calm and academic on the subject, knowing its implications.

What Causes Sadism?

With the death instinct, Freud says that every organism tries to be dead; and it is true that there is a drive in every organism to get to decomposition. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle he says you have to do something with the death instinct: you can't destroy yourself, so you take it out on the outside world. In other words, the self has wanted to kill itself, but it also doesn't want to because it has libido. So it transfers some of its destructive instinct from itself to sadism:

Is it not plausible to suppose that this sadism is in fact a death instinct which, under the influence of the narcissistic libido, has been forced away from the ego and has consequently only emerged in relation to the object? It now enters the service of the sexual function. 
     ...Masochism...must be regarded as sadism that has been turned round upon the subject's own ego. [Pp. 95, 96]

Sadism and masochism do not come that way. Sadism is a way of having power. If you can cause another person pain, you think that your original case against the world is being settled. You can do that in sex. People in sex can think they are conquering each other.

Masochism is quite common. It is also a phase of the desire for power. The ego of a person would rather be able to make a person angry than leave him unaffected. In proving that you can rile a person, you think you have power over him: if you can make him angry and he is cruel to you, you must mean something to him. That is the cause of masochism.

Matter, Space, & Sublimation

In my classes I am discussing a poem of Lucretius, De Rerum Natura. Lucretius, as a materialist, says there are two fundamental things: the solid atom and space. I don't agree wholly with Lucretius, but whatever he did, he did not make for a warfare between space and matter. He felt both were necessary to make the world. An early meaning of sublimation is the changing of a physical thing into something more rare. But Freud used the term to say that sex is the solid object which you have to rarefy in order (for instance) to join a union. In the Lucretian view, space and matter exist side by side and seem to go along pretty well. But in the Freudian world, whenever you do anything in the way of thought it is really an evasion of sex; thought is only a substitute for sex, which is the matter. Lucretius is more sensible.

There is no such thing as sublimation in the Freudian sense. A child wants to have rich candy; a child also wants to learn the English language, and also is interested in finding out about herself. In the same way that the world is the crystal and also the muddy swamp, so the human mind has that which corresponds to these.

Sex, the Unconscious, & the Opposites

Freud didn't see that sex is connected with all things. Sex isn't only sexual; it has to do with the opposites in the world. A person feels he is completed in love. The orgasm is a giving of oneself. If you want to understand sex, you have to understand all things.

The unconscious has purposes that are good and bad. It works in sex, as it does in gambling. You can have a desire to manipulate a person in sex, but you can also feel, “Through meeting this person's body I have become more myself, and through that body's meeting me, this person has become more herself, and I like it.” The real love is when, in getting pleasure from another, you are proud of the way you get pleasure. Sex is a way of using the body for the self's deepest meaning so that the self becomes independent and wonderfully related at once.

Sex is aesthetic: its purpose is to put together the close and the remote; to feel there is a junction and also a sense of individuality; to feel a sense of independence through being affected. There is the feeling of remoteness and closeness in music. The feeling of having a body and not having a body, the sense of emptiness and fulness in sex, is like outline and mass in a painting. Sex should be a means of knowing a person and, through that person, the world.

How can we love a person and say we know everything about her? We can't. Therefore there must be more knowledge, which is in turn more love. That is why love is a constant sense of familiarity and wonderment.

Sex has been a means of getting out of the world, but there should be a feeling of out-of-the-world and in-the-world. If sex is disconnected from the kitchen sink there will be trouble. The wonder of sex has to be related to honeydew rind in the garbage pail.

The purpose of Aesthetic Realism on the subject is to show that love and knowledge, the self as body and the self as that which knows, can go together. In the full sense, just as substance and form come together in aesthetics, flesh and thought are one.  black diamond

*The notes of this talk do not indicate what passages Mr. Siegel quoted. I have chosen those included here—from the 1959 Bantam edition (trans. James Strachey).

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.

red line

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
thin black line
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

Subscriptions: 26 issues, US $18; 12 issues, US $9, Canada and Mexico $14, elsewhere $20. Make check or money order payable to Aesthetic Realism Foundation.
Click here for subscription form. ISSN 0882-3731

  • Click here for a subscription to The Right Of by regular mail.
  • Click here to receive email alerts linking you to each new issue of The Right Of, as well as announcements of events at the Foundation.
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

© Copyright 2014 by Aesthetic Realism Foundation •  A not–for–profit educational foundation