Michael Palmer, Aesthetic Realism associate, writes:
Many people are troubled by their lack of intensity, by their feeling flat and thinking nothing is worth getting excited about. That was certainly true of me. I thought showing intensity about most things—except sports—was beneath me. Then there were times I showed a great deal of intensity, becoming suddenly angry in a way that made me ashamed. I couldn’t make sense of these conflicting ways in myself until I met and studied Aesthetic Realism. What I learned changed my life.
Issue 1877 of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, titled “Intensity, False & True,” is about the crucial difference between intensity that is inexact and dishonest, and intensity that is fair to the world and has us like ourselves. It includes a powerful commentary by Ellen Reiss and a thrilling essay by Eli Siegel, about the need for honest intensity, both in life and in art. What’s in this issue is more urgent today than ever.
Ms. Reiss’s commentary begins:
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. The relation of art to our lives is in the following landmark Aesthetic Realism principle: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.” Intensity can be seen as having various opposites: intensity and ease are opposites; intensity and calm; also intensity and width; intensity and logic; intensity and structure. These opposites are together whenever something is beautiful—whether a song, a play, a sentence, a painting, a dance. And every person is thirsty to have them truly together in our own feelings—even though we’re driven to that fake combination of narrow intensity and flaccidity which is contempt. Aesthetic Realism shows that the desire to make reality’s opposites one in us by seeing them as one in the world, is, really, the most intense longing we have. It is the same as our deepest desire: to like the world. >>Read more