Nancy Huntting, Aesthetic Realism consultant, writes:
Is there a central fight going on in everyone—which people haven’t understood and which has made for turmoil? And can we have a really good time, through art, making sense of it? Yes! Read “The Battle in Us All—& Matthew Arnold,” the deeply kind new issue of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known!
The commentary by Ellen Reiss begins:
Dear Unknown Friends:
It is an honor to publish the essay “Conflict as Possibility,” by Eli Siegel. He wrote it quite early in his teaching of Aesthetic Realism—the late 1940s, I estimate, or the beginning of the ’50s. That word, conflict, is not used as much now as once to characterize the turmoil in people, but the thing itself certainly exists just as much. In the 21st century, as in others, battles are going on within everyone, battles that put people in a whirl, and can make them feel bogged down, angry, disgusted. Aesthetic Realism is that in the history of thought which shows that these conflicts are aesthetic: they are answered in the technique of art. “All beauty,” Aesthetic Realism shows, “is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”
There is a fight going on in every person—sometimes a fierce fight—about how to care for another human being and yet be free; between our desire to be proud, and our desire to be modest; between anger and guilt; between our like of someone and our dislike of the same person. There is a fight in us between the desire to be in motion, energetic, active, and the desire to be very still—and we can go from feeling agitated to feeling immobile and stuck. And, of course, there is a fight between those tremendous opposites logic and emotion. But logic and feeling, rest and motion, self-assertion and humility, freedom and justice, and other opposites, are always one in every work of true art.
The Underlying Fight
Writing in 1946, Mr. Siegel described the underlying conflict, on which all the conflicts I’ve mentioned depend. He wrote, in Self and World:
The basic conflict in the human mind—present, I believe, in all particular conflicts—is that between a person warmly existing to his finger tips, and that person as related to indefinite outsideness….In every person there is a drive towards the caring for and pleasing of self; in every person there is a drive towards other things, a desire to meet and know these. Often this drive towards self as an exclusive thing collides painfully with the drive to widen the self. [P. 93]
Aesthetic Realism describes too the huge interfering purpose in everyone—the thing which makes all the opposites in us battle, because it pits our sense of our particular self against what’s outside us. That interference is contempt: the “disposition…to think we will be for ourselves by making less of the outside world.” Contempt, which people use to elevate themselves and be falsely confident, is that which really makes for deep unsureness, agitation, dullness, even self-loathing. Further, Aesthetic Realism shows: contempt is the source of every cruelty, including racism and war.
In the essay printed here, Mr. Siegel speaks of what psychiatry needs to know in order to succeed. Because, these decades, practitioners have not learned from Aesthetic Realism, psychiatry has failed to understand the human mind and exists principally as a prescriber of drugs.
Matthew Arnold Tells of Conflict
Mr. Siegel’s essay is philosophically mighty and vividly down to earth. As a prelude to it, I’ll comment on a poem—one of the most popular in English—which is about self-conflict, though it has not been seen that way. The last lines of Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” (1867) contain a famous simile:… Read more