Nancy Huntting, Aesthetic Realism consultant, writes:
What’s the biggest fight going on in all of us? How is it dramatically illustrated by an important poet? And, as ugly male behavior toward women is being described in the news—what’s the best way to look on it, make sense of it, use that information? Read “Contempt or Respect: The Battle in Everyone,” the thrilling new issue of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known.
The commentary by Ellen Reiss begins:
Dear Unknown Friends:
We publish here the conclusion of the 1949 lecture Poetry and the Unconscious, by Eli Siegel. Throughout this amazing talk, he speaks about the 19th-century English poet James Thomson as a means of showing what the largest matter in the self of every person is. This is literary criticism of supreme greatness. It contains unprecedented and true understanding of who we are. And its prose, spoken prose—rich with kindness, exactitude, and joy in knowing—is beautiful.
What Mr. Siegel is describing in this final section, he put as principle in the following statement:
The greatest fight man is concerned with, is the fight between respect for reality and contempt for reality that has taken place in all minds of the past and is taking place now. [TRO 151]
I’ll comment a little on that fight in relation to something much talked about in recent weeks: the matter of sexual harassment in high places, with various eminent men being accused of dealing with women in uninvited and unwelcome lewd ways.
Mr. Siegel described contempt as the desire to get an “addition to self through the lessening of something else.” He identified contempt as the hurtful thing in the human mind—immensely ordinary yet the source of every injustice, including the most vicious. Clearly, if a man sees a woman as something he can grab and deal with as he pleases, he is having contempt. And the fact that this horrible, centuries-old way of using people is being publicly objected to, is a very good thing. It is in behalf of humanity’s being civilized.
At the same time, there is something long considered a human right, the honoring of which is central to the difference between a just society and a brutal, fascistic one. It is the “presumption of innocence,” the idea that a person should be presumed innocent unless proven guilty. That is a legal term, but it is about everyday ethics too, the way we think and talk. A woman should definitely be able to say, if something cruel was done to her, “This happened!” And some of the men recently accused have admitted their guilt. But we have to see that the making of accusations by persons is not the same as those accusations’ being true. And if we act as though it is, we ourselves are having contempt for truth.
So two things should be obvious: 1) the loathsome corporeal behavior should not be permitted; 2) a person should not be considered guilty unless shown to be—whether we like the person or not.
What More Should We Do?
We need to see—to learn from Aesthetic Realism—what contempt itself is. We need to see how contempt is behind all sexual harassment. And we need to use those instances of untrammeled contempt to understand and be against contempt as such…. Read More