Mind and Intelligence
By Eli Siegel
INTELLIGENCE is that which enables you to repair a faucet, understand a child, get a bus sometimes, do well when you are cleaning your clothes, be more sensible in politics; and then, it is about the very biggest question of all: how to spend one’s life. Intelligence has been given many definitions. A recent one is the capability of adjustment to a mobile environment. That, in fancy terms, is the ability to take care of oneself. In fact, intelligence can be defined as the ability to take care of oneself and also to care as such. That second part is an Aesthetic Realism necessary addition, because the purpose of knowledge is to take care of oneself but the question is, what does it mean to be able to take care of oneself? In intelligence, we want to be smart about how to take care of ourselves, but we also have to do a good job with everything else.
So intelligence goes all the way from making sure whether you go to hell or heaven, to whether you buy the right kind of shoelaces or not. People can be intelligent in one way and not in another: a person can be a very good plumber but a bad nephew; a person can be a good carpenter but a bad husband. This, about intelligence, appeared in the Herald Tribune this morning: “Too many psychiatrists are using electric-shock treatment to ‘shake the nonsense out of unhappy wives,’ a physician writing in ‘The British Medical Journal’ said today. Dr. R. MacDonald Ladell…warned that many psychotherapists discover too late they are treating the wrong member of the family. Often, he asserted, it is the husband who causes the marital headaches.”
Complete intelligence is always like the two sides of a piano: you have to be able to see yourself and the other person. Wherever, in one of the very deepest demands of intelligence—the being able to get along with the person closest to you—there is a mishap in intelligence, it is never a unified affair. We can be the victims of stupidity but at the same time the exercisers of stupidity. So women can not see a husband who is not seeing them. In this matter where the very deepest emotions go on, with the greatest possible subtle intelligence there is the most conspicuous and also saddest deficiency.
There is the title of an Elizabethan play, A Woman Killed with Kindness. Without knowing it, in being “kind” to ourselves we can also be stupid about ourselves, and in being “kind” to others we also can be stupid. We have a problem of intelligence: on the one hand, we don’t want to disturb a person; on the other, we have to criticize a person. Husbands and wives are in the situation very often. On the one hand, they want all quiet along the Potomac; on the other hand, they have to feel that something should be brought up.
In this article, psychotherapists who have been using shock treatment are called unintelligent. Unintelligence is a very democratic thing. A person can be smart in politics and dumb about emotions. A person can see one kind of emotion and not another kind. The being able to be stupid is so versatile that one can never get through with the varieties. To be intelligent means to have an ability to know—not just one kind of thing, but those things that life in its uncertainty, richness, and variety can bring up. It is a sort of mobile likelihood of knowing, and it means that the knowledge is of all kinds.
One can have a knowledge of brass, of copper, or rayon or cotton or leather, or orders, bills, invoices; but there is also a knowledge, which is just as much knowledge, of what goes on in one’s own mind and other people’s minds. If a person who wants to know what goes on in other people’s minds is not interested in the things that are sold in a hardware store or grocery store or those things that make up business administration, that person is really losing out; because the prosaic kind of knowledge is that which makes the more subtle kind of knowledge actual. The world is that which makes for the unconscious and also for the everyday things. That is why in studying Aesthetic Realism people write about such things as a chair in order to know their husbands better or themselves better. In seeing truly one aspect of reality, you are more likely to be more intelligent about the next, perhaps more difficult aspect of reality.
The highest kind of intelligence is to understand another’s intelligence. Since knowledge is something that consists both of pleasure and pain and of exactitude about any one fact; and since knowledge as mobile, having a purpose, is intelligence—it stands to reason that in order to understand another person’s intelligence (which is a way of saying the soul of another) we have to see the mobility of the world, see it as superficial and as deep.
A Problem of Intelligence
Julie de Lespinasse, who was born in the same year as Washington, 1732, and died in 1776, was much interested in the science and literature of the time. She knew such people as Voltaire, Diderot, Helvetius; and at the same time, she was impelled to be in love. She could not put together the two kinds of intelligence: the intelligence that made her an acute and an adroit conversationalist, a woman who was aware of the civilization of the time; and an intelligence that could make her take care of herself in the deepest way in relation to another self. I read an interesting letter from the translation [by K. P. Wormeley] of her famous letters, in order to show the material that intelligence has to have. She had known a man, M. de Mora, who died; and now, after having been disappointed in one of the scientists of the time, an encyclopedist, d’Alembert, she was much taken with M. de Guibert. Two years before she died, she writes this letter to him:
…Mon ami, I love you to madness; all things tell it to me, all things prove it—and often more than I wish. I give you more than you desire; you have no need of being so much loved, and I, I have much need of repose, that is, of death.
But I am too selfish; I talk to you of myself, whereas I ought to tell you of the pleasure with which I read your words: “Better—all goes well—I am at ease.” Ah! mon ami, I breathed again; it seemed as if those words gave back to me both life and strength; for three days I was annihilated; they say this condition came from the nerves, but I who know more than my doctor, I know that it came from you….
M. de Chamfort has arrived; I have seen him, and we read together his “Eulogy on La Fontaine.” …M. Grimm has returned from Russia. I have overwhelmed him with questions….Diderot…sends me word that I shall see him to-morrow; I shall be very glad. But in the present condition of my soul, he is the man of all others whom I would rather not see habitually; he forces the attention, and that is precisely what I cannot and will not give consecutively to any one….I do not wish my thoughts to be distracted from the one person who fills them wholly….It would be sweet, indeed, to be loved by you! but my soul cannot attain to that degree of happiness; it would be too much.
Mlle de Lespinasse is going through a problem of intelligence which many people have gone through. On the one hand, she is occupied with one big emotion: M. de Guibert—who, by the way, shortly married and made her feel unhappy. She is interested in what goes on, M. Grimm, M. Chamfort, particularly M. Diderot, but she feels a cleavage: she feels that the turbulence that is going on in herself is something that she has to attend to, and even a person like Diderot is an intruder because he demands her attention. M. Guibert is famous now only because he made Mlle de Lespinasse unhappy; therefore he is immortal. She is definitely unintelligent because she is making for a separation between two kinds of mind. I feel, and she seems to be aware of it, that all this business was getting her sick. She did die two years later. M. de Guibert helped.
The problem of intelligence is a problem of integration. A person wants a big emotion, because in having a big emotion we are taking care of ourselves. It is important that we love and are loved. But if the feeling that we love and are loved is apart from, say, meeting M. Diderot, that eminent man of letters, that charming, comprehensive person, that much more interesting person than M. de Guibert—then there is trouble.
The first thing bad for intelligence is the separation. For example, people want to take care of themselves, and they also want to be nice people. They want to be religious sometimes, and they cannot put together their practicality with their desires to be noble. People have wanted to look upon themselves as good persons; at the same time, they have wanted to feather their nests. If they cannot do both at once, no matter what else may be said of them, they are stupid. It is a very common stupidity.
Though Mlle de Lespinasse belongs to French literature, she does not say that the emotion that M. de Guibert caused in her is of the same world as her interest in M. Grimm, who was writing news to all the courts of Europe, in Diderot, Chamfort, other people. She has accepted division. That is the most awful kind of stupidity.
Earlier, I gave as a definition of intelligence, the ability to take care of oneself and also to care, as such. This means that in the desire to care for other things and people we have to see that we are taking care of ourselves. If we don’t, depression, neuroticism, and the rest of the psychiatrists’ darlings are on the way. People are unintelligent because their intelligence is separated. They have one kind of intelligence for one thing and another kind of intelligence for another. A man has a different kind of mind for his work from the one he has for his wife. He is doing what Mlle de Lespinasse is doing in this letter. She is saying, I have one intelligence for Diderot, that eminent man of learning, and I have another intelligence for my lover, M. de Guibert. Poor, poor lady. And she was welcoming her coming death.