LECTURES BY ELI SIEGEL
Visit the Aesthetic Realism Online Library for more of Mr. Siegel’s lectures online.
From the introduction by Ellen Reiss: “In his book Self and World, Eli Siegel writes: “The purpose of love is to feel closely one with things as a whole” (p. 171). He taught that to love a person is to use that person to like the world itself: to be fair to people, books, objects, facts. I am inexpressibly thankful to have learned this and to have learned from Eli Siegel that the interference with love is our desire to have contempt.
Women and men who thought they would love each other forever are suffering now. They are glaring across tables, hurling sarcastic remarks, weeping. They will not learn the reason from therapists or self-help books or talk shows. The reason is in Aesthetic Realism and this great  lecture: Two people have used “loving” each other to make less of the outside world. Yet the largest need of each of their lives is to like that very world. And so each feels deeply lessened by the other, and ashamed….”
Ellen Reiss writes, in her introduction: “…In [this] 1949 lecture…, Eli Siegel explains that subject, Expression, in all its beauty, puzzlingness, and pain. Right now men, women, and children have the ache of non-expression: they feel that what they are inside has never come forth.
Mr. Siegel is the person of thought who, with tremendous diversity and constancy, spoke for most, fought for most, and explained the need of people to be expressed: to be truly expressed in our personal lives, and in how a nation is managed and owned. He showed that the need for expression—the need to have what we deeply are become outward and add to the world—is a need as inevitable as the need to breathe, though it may go unfulfilled all our lives….”
This 1949 lecture begins: “Most people don’t think that hoping is an exact thing. There is something corresponding to the manic-depressive state in every one of us: the person who changes from thinking he can do everything, to one who thinks he can’t do anything; a person who thinks he can cross the Pacific because he has a new way of flying, and then thinks that he can’t eat an egg because his stomach is made of glass. That is going pretty far; but there is a tendency to play around with the materials of the world—to fear them too much, and to think they are too much our own. The only way out of it is to think that there is a constant relation between the way things wholly and imaginatively are and what we want…”
The introduction to this lecture by Ellen Reiss begins: “The Drama of Mind is a lecture that Eli Siegel gave in 1964. And in it he does this mighty thing: he shows what mind is, what is in common among minds anywhere, from the mind of a paramecium to the mind of Shakespeare.
Eli Siegel cared for, and in his teaching of Aesthetic Realism spoke and wrote on, such diverse describers of mind as Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, Kant, John Stuart Mill. Yet it is Mr. Siegel himself who explained mind, including mind at its most bewildering and bewildered….”
Ellen Reiss writes, in her introduction: “The lecture Aesthetic Realism and Learning was given by Eli Siegel in 1950. He is the educator who explained what learning is. He is the philosopher who discovered and explained that in everyone which is against learning: contempt, the “disposition in every person to think we will be for ourselves by making less of the outside world”—and he showed that contempt is the most dangerous thing in the life of man. And it is Eli Siegel who explained the purpose of learning: to like the world by seeing that the world and the things in it have an aesthetic structure—they are a oneness of opposites….”
“The first necessity in being able to get what we are after is to see what is already good that has come our way. Most people, because what they get is not what they think they are after, can’t appreciate what they do get. I think modesty is the beginning of wealth. Real self-criticism is the beginning of wealth. We don’t know what we want, and if something comes along that we want, we may not be able to see it. If we have the modesty to think that, then we are more after what we want in a way that will please us….”
A report by Ellen Reiss of a 1972 talk Eli Siegel gave on the Village Vanguard and Greenwich Village. Ms. Reiss began, writing about that time: “Max Gordon, proprietor of the Village Vanguard, one of the most famed Greenwich Village night spots, is currently working on a book about the Village and the Vanguard as he remembers them. In the Vanguard’s first years, the mid-1930s, Eli Siegel was the chairman of the poetry events that took place there.
“Recently, Mr. Gordon asked Mr. Siegel to assist him in placing some of what occurred during those years. And in response to this request, Mr. Siegel spoke in an Aesthetic Realism class about the meaning of Greenwich Village, and how the philosophy Aesthetic Realism grew out of that meaning. Max Gordon was present as a guest. In that talk…Mr. Siegel explained that he was purposely going to mingle the trivial with eternity—as the world itself contains broken combs and planets.”
Ellen Reiss writes, in her introduction: “Eli Siegel gave the lecture Mind and Intelligence on April 8, 1949. And it is a magnificent fact that Aesthetic Realism encourages and brings forth intelligence in people as nothing else in history has been able to do.
Nations, like professors, secretaries, and schoolboys, want to be intelligent. But daily life and history show that individuals and nations can be stupid while thinking they are quite clever. Every empire that declined and fell had leaders who thought they were being smart; and every woman who ever said, “How could I be so dumb as to marry that man?” thought she was wise at the time she chose him. The thing that America, as nation and individuals, needs to see is what Eli Siegel has explained: good will is the only real intelligence.”
Ellen Reiss writes, in her introduction: “In the schools of New York and elsewhere, there is a battle between learning and anger. Aesthetic Realism can have learning win.
Eli Siegel has shown that the deepest desire of every person is to like the world. This is true of a girl we can call Nora Jimenez. Six years old and entering first grade, she has heard her parents fight loudly, seen rats in her apartment, and sometimes gone without lunch because there was not enough money. It is true about a high school student—we’ll call him Christopher Morgan—of Forest Hills. He has come to feel everybody is a phony and out for number one; he thought last week of killing himself in the basement of the Morgan home. Aesthetic Realism shows that if a person dislikes the world he will be deeply disinclined to take that world into him in the form of subjects in a school’s curriculum. He will also want to punish the world, manipulate it, leave it.
In issue twelve of this journal, Eli Siegel described the purpose of education: “to know and like the world.” Liking the world is an emergency now in the schools of New York….”
Ellen Reiss writes, in her introduction: “On March 14, 1973 Eli Siegel gave, at one of his Wednesday Nevertheless Poetry Classes, the lecture Educational Method Is Poetic. Though he saw it as having a certain casualness, it is mighty. It is an urgent classic for educators and everyone. And we are honored to begin serializing it here….
In the present lecture, Mr. Siegel explains that education itself, the very procedure of learning, is a oneness of the opposites which are also one in a line of poetry. Let us take, for example, a line of Keats, from “Sleep and Poetry”: “A pigeon tumbling in clear summer air.” We will see Mr. Siegel showing that education is, at once, freedom and structure. And so is the line of Keats: the iambic rhythm, with its order, goes on, as we feel the motion of that pigeon, and the air itself, are grandly untrammeled. Education, Mr. Siegel shows, is always an individual self merging truly with the outside world. And the line I quoted has lived because the self of John Keats, in all his particularity, was so fair to an outside fact that the result was musical. Then, the line makes other opposites one. There is great exactitude in it, yet how warm it is—we can almost feel the heartbeat of that bird; and true education is both exact and warm. And the line has, as education should have, a simultaneous beautiful accuracy and wonder….
This lecture by Eli Siegel begins:
The most distressing thing about people is that they are not interested sufficiently in themselves and in others, and do not know, in an organized way, that the only way to be interested in themselves is to be interested in other people and other things. The chief cause of the misery that people have about people is, there is something which keeps them from knowing them.
There can be no such thing as love without knowledge. Where there isn’t knowledge, you are really loving somebody else—somebody you made up. Even after someone has died, the job of knowing that person goes on. But there is a deep feeling that if we know another person adequately, we are going to lose something of ourselves….
Here’s how this great lecture by Eli Siegel begins:
If one looks closely at education and the history of education, one finds a set of recurring problems, and these problems fall into pairs. For example, education should be practical, and also should be general. Education should be exact, and it should also be imaginative. Education should be about oneself, and it should also be about all kinds of things. Education should be cultural, and it should also tell you how to repair pipe….
This excerpt from Mr. Siegel’s 1969 lecture on Hedda Gabler and Anna Jameson begins:
I have mentioned various people as illustrating Hedda Gabler. Today, I deal with Anna Murphy Jameson, 1794-1860. What hurt Hedda Gabler seems to have hurt her. She was the daughter of a pretty well known miniature painter, an Irishman named Murphy. Some of her writings are very notable. Anyway, a lawyer, Robert Jameson, proposed to her. They were engaged; the engagement was broken off. Later there was a marriage, and the marriage didn’t last very long. The pain of Anna Jameson came to be known, because she wrote about it.
What can be presumed is that Robert Jameson was interested in Anna Jameson because of the fact that she had mind. But they separated soon because the idea of being so close to a feminine being with mind apparently didn’t please Robert Jameson. Anna Jameson was hurt too. I think there is a likeness of the hurt of Anna Jameson and the hurt or bitterness of Hedda Gabler….