Steven Weiner, Computer Specialist and Aesthetic Realism associate, writes:
What’s in “The Coronavirus, a Woman of France, & Our World” is urgent knowledge. It’s about how to think about the current health crisis “in a way that strengthens our minds and feelings and makes us proud”! People are thirsty to know—people are desperate to know—how to do that. And in the same issue, an important woman in world literature is deeply and truly understood. You’ll be very much encouraged as you read this needed, kind issue of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known!
The commentary by Ellen Reiss begins:
Dear Unknown Friends:
This issue of TRO has two subjects. It is about something that has been frightening millions of people throughout the world: the pandemic of COVID-19, the new coronavirus. And this TRO is also about one of the most noted women of French literature: Madame de Sévigné, who lived from 1626 to 1696 and wrote letters treasured for 3½ centuries. We continue our serialization of Instinct & Madame de Sévigné, by Eli Siegel, a lecture he gave in 1964—a masterpiece.
As people in America and the world are faced with something dangerous that we don’t understand, what does it mean to think about it in a way that strengthens our minds and feelings and makes us proud? We should, of course, follow the guidelines of governmental health organizations as to behavior and hygiene; however, I’m writing here not about that but about How can we have a state of mind we truly like ourselves for having? Increasingly, one sees the phrase “coronavirus anxiety.” That is, with COVID-19 so much around, huge numbers of people feel (for instance) depressed, persistently ill-natured, agitated, low, scared in a disproportionate and overwhelming way. What it comes to is that people are using this phenomenon, this ailment, to see the world as cruel and ugly.
The Fight in Us All
Aesthetic Realism’s explanation of the large fight within the self of everyone, is knowledge great and needed for human life as such, whatever we’re in the midst of. Tremendously, people need that knowledge now. We all, Aesthetic Realism makes clear, have two hopes battling in us. One is to see meaning in the world, to like the world honestly. That is our deepest desire. It is the purpose for which we were born. But we also have a desire to look down on the world-not-us, to find it unworthy of us—to have contempt, “a false importance or glory from the lessening of things not oneself.”
With everything we meet there is a choice we make, mainly unconsciously: Should I use this thing to despise the world, feel superior to it—or respect it? And the choice doesn’t depend on the goodness of what we’re meeting. We can use a very likable thing to have contempt for the world. For instance, we can use a lovely strawberry shortcake to feel (without articulating it), “Mmmmm, as I eat this I finally have something on my terms, pleasing me, and for this while I can forget about everything else. I feel victorious in putting the rest of the world aside—I’ve beaten out the world. I don’t have to think about what it means to be fair to anything and anyone. As I take some of this luscious cake into me, I feel at last something is adoring me, serving me utterly, making me superior to everything.” (Fortunately, strawberry shortcake does not have to be used that way. It can be used to respect the world itself, from which it comes, including the people and things that are part of that world.)
It is enormously easy to use COVID-19 to have contempt, to feel “What a disgusting world this is,” to feel anything you touch and anyone you pass on the street is going to infect you. Again—of course one needs to behave prudently; there is danger. But people don’t see that there is something in us which hopes, even thirsts, to find the world an enemy. Wrote Mr. Siegel, commenting on contempt:
To see the world itself as an impossible mess—and this is often not difficult at all—gives a certain triumph to the individual. [Self and World, p. 11]
If you find the world an inimical, disgusting thing—while you’re suffering you’re also having the victory of feeling you’re in a world not good enough for you. You’re superior to it; and so you don’t have to question yourself….Read more