Number 2088. July 20, 2022
Dear Unknown Friends:
We are serializing a magnificent lecture titled Contempt Here and There. Eli Siegel gave it 47 years ago, and it is hugely needed now. Central to Aesthetic Realism is his showing that humanity’s “greatest danger or temptation [is] to get a false importance or glory from the lessening of things not oneself, which lessening is Contempt.” Contempt is the source of every cruelty, however tremendous that cruelty is or however seemingly small. And contempt is also the thing within oneself that most weakens one’s own mind and life.
In the lecture we’re serializing, Mr. Siegel’s purpose is to show something of the everydayness of contempt, even its apparent “intellectual” aspects. He quotes from two reviews published in British magazines in 1811. And in the present section, he comments on statements by the English writer Anna Seward, included in a review of her collected letters. In these statements she is speaking about the important, eloquent, deep, sharp, grand, earthy 18th-century critic Samuel Johnson—whom Anna Seward knew personally, and disliked. Mr. Siegel is showing that the things she accuses Dr. Johnson of are phases of contempt—yet she herself is having contempt.
She is somewhat correct as she finds a desire to lessen in this mighty and immortal critic. Yet she is vastly wrong in making it seem as though the picture she presents is of the whole Johnson, the essential Johnson….Read more
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