Jeffrey Carduner, Aesthetic Realism consultant, writes:
The human self in all its mystery–who are we? what are we going for?: that’s what “The Self—Always and Now” is about. In it there is such a surprising, exciting looking at what and who a person is, with our depth and complexity, and our emotions, both good and bad. We learn about ourselves and what we most hope for through maxims by Eli Siegel from his wonderful book Damned Welcome: Aesthetic Realism Maxims. And there is much more. Read “The Self—Always and Now,” the newest issue of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known.
The commentary by Ellen Reiss begins:
Dear Unknown Friends:
Here is the final section of The Renaissance Shows Self, a lecture that Eli Siegel gave in 1970. Using the anthology English Renaissance Poetry, edited by John Williams, Mr. Siegel discusses poems that could be seen as far off in time, by writers whose lives could seem different from our own. Yet he has us feel the living self within each of those poems, and has us know better, and more proudly, the self that is our particular own.
To accompany the final installment of this remarkable, rich, kind talk, we preface it with fourteen maxims from Eli Siegel’s book Damned Welcome: Aesthetic Realism Maxims. From one point of view, every maxim in Damned Welcome is about the self or about the self’s opposite, the world; or about both. But the ones gathered here are among those that, I think, tell of what the self is with a certain pointedness.
What a Maxim Has
One reason for joining those fourteen maxims with the conclusion of The Renaissance Shows Self is this: the nature of that literary form which is the maxim is so different from that of the poems Mr. Siegel discusses here. A maxim is a rather short prose statement in which an idea is conveyed with succinctness, playfulness, charm, often a snap. Eli Siegel, as philosopher, explained what the human self is, and he did so in his Self and World and other books, in essays, in poems, in the lectures he gave. But he could also show what the self is and is concerned with, in a pithy, sometimes humorous, yet deep and compassionate and musical maxim. I’ll comment first on three of the maxims, as a means of presenting Aesthetic Realism principles about the self. Then, these will also be included among eleven others in our maxim-prologue to the conclusion of The Renaissance Shows Self.
Let’s take this maxim, from part one of Damned Welcome:
When you care for something truly, pat yourself on the back.
That sentence, with its rapidity and neatness, its wonder and also its congratulatory rhythm: what is behind it? The self of anyone, at any time, in any place, has an opposite. This opposite is the world, the whole world which is not oneself. Aesthetic Realism explains that the fundamental and largest need of the human self is to take care of itself and at the same time value truly what the self is not—the world of people and facts and knowledge and happenings. However, there is that in everyone which feels we care for ourselves not by valuing other persons and things but by looking down on them, managing them, seeing them as unimportant or as ever so much less important than we are. This way of seeing, this way of self, is contempt. It’s in a constant fight with our deepest desire: to like the world through knowing it. Contempt in us says: valuing, respecting, seeing meaning in what’s not us is a humiliation, a lessening of ourselves.
And so we come to the maxim I quoted: “When you care for something truly, pat yourself on the back.” In its no-nonsense yet treasuring manner, it tells us that caring for what’s not us is an achievement, a cause for self-congratulation. It tells us this without fuss, and with a music of neat, factual pride….Read more