Nancy Huntting, Aesthetic Realism consultant, writes:
Can we have the emotions we hope for? Can we be proud of our response to people and things? The answers are crucial to our happiness, and they’re written of honestly and greatly in “Intensity, False & True,” the new issue of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known!
The commentary by Ellen Reiss begins:
Dear Unknown Friends:
We are honored to publish “Reflections on a Certain Lack of Intensity,” by Eli Siegel. This great essay was written, it seems, in the early 1950s, and what Mr. Siegel describes in it has to do very much with the literature of that time. Now, more than sixty years later, various ways of literary expression have changed; but the matters, the troubles, the mistakes that he explains—magnificently explains—are with us still, both in art and in life itself. I’ll mention some of those troubles about intensity as they’re present in lives of men and women day after day.
Mostly, people are intense in ways that make them ashamed—so much human intensity is anger that’s inexact and selfish. One result of this inaccurate intensity is: since people are ashamed of having it, they try instead to be unruffled, unaffected, cool. Meanwhile, people, often the same people, also feel bad because they lack intensity: they’re not for anything passionately; things don’t have wide, sharp meaning for them; they have the flat, flaccid, empty “is that all there is” feeling. So in the streets, homes, cultural establishments of America and the world, people are ashamed of both their intensity and their lack of it.
The ubiquitous culprit, the thing in every person that corrupts our emotions, Mr. Siegel was the philosopher to identify. It is contempt: “a false importance or glory from the lessening of things not oneself.” Contempt, he showed, is “the greatest danger or temptation of man.” And this desire to look down on things can make our intensities narrow, ugly, and cruel.
Contempt also takes the form of a huge desire in people not to feel intensely about the world. Contempt is often a quiet, sneering drive to be tepid, cold, aloof, unstirred. The contempt in everyone says (without the person’s articulating it): “What’s not me is not good enough to move me mightily, sweep me, have such power over me that it makes for feelings I’m not on top of.” Every person is somewhere intensely desirous of being flaccid, indifferent, unmoved.
And all over the world, men and women do not see that their desire to be unaffected so they can feel superior is the thing that makes them unable to be affected when they think they want to be. For instance, a man and woman who were much taken by each other can feel a year or so after marriage, “What happened to us? Why does our relationship seem so tepid?” The most intensity they feel is when they fight with each other; they can occasionally get to some intense moments in sex; but day-to-day life together is pretty flat. And the reason is: both persons have gotten a hidden value from making the world dull.
Art Has What We Want
In his essay, Mr. Siegel shows that this matter of intensity—which has so much to do with every person’s life—is central to what art is…. Read more