Aesthetic Realism and Love
By Eli Siegel
The way Aesthetic Realism sees love is not the way that is common. It is not the way talked about by psychologists or counsellors or even clergy. Aesthetic Realism says that no one can be successfully in love until that person wants to love the world. The world is everything that isn’t oneself; and in the fullest sense, it includes oneself too. The reason happiness in marriage is such a rare item is that people have tried to love in a way that would mean less of a like for the world—in fact, a contempt for it.
Take a young lady now. She thinks she’s Something. Most girls do; they have a right to. The question is how they’re going to use that Something. Now, most girls are like most men: they think they’re surrounded by a world they need, but at the same time that world is oppressive. A girl, for instance, has undergone being “oppressed” by her mother and feels older people are in the business of telling her what to do. And she doesn’t like it.
Like everybody else, she wants to think that somewhere there’s ecstasy for her. Somewhere, instead of having her mother tell her what to do, she’s going to be a queen telling a young man what to do. And this young man will adore her. The young lady, whom we’ll call Madeleine, will feel: “With Rupert I’m the queen; everything goes my way. My mother looks like small potatoes. This young man I can bother whenever I want to. I look sulky and he shivers. I look at another man and he groans. I smile, bells ring. I yield to him a little, he has reached paradise.”
Madeleine, however, is a fool. Many people have tried this way, which is a way of saying, “I can make a world for myself with Rupert. And in this world, we’re going to be two lovebirds on a rock—but I, of course, am going to be the big bird. On this rock we’re going to have an isolation, a heavenly isolation, where at times we can see other people, and which at times we can leave to see other people. But the big thing is, I am a queen. Other people—they’ll criticize me and just look on me as a human being; but Rupert thinks I’m an angel.”
Madeleine is using Rupert to hate the world with, because she is saying, “Only with Rupert is life livable.” Most people have thought the rest of the world is dull but love is a way of getting to a special world where someone will be at one’s knees, spiritually, all the time; and in this way life will go on quite pleasingly. That is a false sort of love; because the reason Madeleine likes Rupert is that Rupert joins her in liking herself for a bad reason. When we like ourselves through another, we are stopping ourselves from liking ourselves for a good reason.
The big fight in people’s minds is this: they want to be adored in a hurry, and at the same time they want to be seen as persons. If a woman wants to be seen as a person, she cannot be seen as an angel. You just can’t be seen as an angel and at the same time be criticized as you want to be criticized. When we love a person it should be because that person is bringing out strength in us, enabling us to be more what we want to be. But people don’t think that way, deeply. They want to be taken as perfect already, to be adored. When you want to be adored, it means you don’t want to be known. People complain that they are not understood. But are they courageous enough to be understood?
Does Madeleine want Rupert to know her as she is, or does she want Rupert to say, “You’re wonderful. I can’t live without you”? Anyone who wants to be called wonderful and also says she wants to be understood is a hypocrite. Every human being is wonderful and has a right to be called wonderful—but not in the sense that Madeleine wants to be called wonderful. She would like to be known; but also she wants to be flattered. Consequently, there’s a big fight in her, and she thinks that she doesn’t have to show herself as a person to Rupert.
Adoration without knowledge is empty. But a woman can feel that she will lose her glamour if she is understood. She doesn’t like herself entirely, but she wants to have a man act as if he liked her entirely. That doesn’t make sense.
In an Aesthetic Realism lesson a woman told me she would inveigle the man she was living with into saying to her, maybe seven times a day, “I love you.” And she would think later, “What a dope: he says he loves me and I don’t like myself!” She was aware of this. Other women are aware of it in a lesser way. More important than to be loved is the feeling that one deserves to be loved. And very often a woman works hard to be loved in order to hide the fact that she doesn’t feel she deserves to be. Then, if she is sensitive, she gets into a big difficulty; because she wants to be seen as a woman, certainly, but she also wants to be seen as she sees herself.
What we try to do in having a person love us is to conquer that person. How can you, however, respect a person whom you conquer? The only way to make sense is to feel that to have a person love you, you have to like yourself with the facts present. If you don’t like yourself, your love relation will be something you’re against.
Aesthetic Realism says that no person can like herself unless she likes the outside world. But people also want to dislike the world, to be contemptuous of it. If a woman captures a man, she will say, “Aren’t I big stuff? Aren’t I the Cleopatra of Washington Heights?” In being able to be Cleopatra, she despises Antony. And Antony is not only a person here, but is the whole critical world.
So there is a great deal of difficulty, and very often after marriage a woman does get sulky. She comes to think that she is adored, but it is a limitation. The chief thing that people have against each other in love is that though the relation is very blissful, it is also a limitation. A woman, for example, wants a man to be spiritually on his knees to her; but she also wants to be a complete person—which means that she wants to be interested in the whole world. This battle is in a woman’s mind—it is the essential battle as to love: how can a man love me with my feeling that I deserve it; and how can I, through caring for a man and being cared for, like the whole world and be interested in it?
The Deep Perturbation
If a woman and man don’t like the outside world through liking each other, the love relation is a false one. The purpose deeply of liking a person is to like other persons. You say to yourself, “Because I care for Rupert and he’s a human being and represents the outside world, I can, through him as a representative, care for the outside world, including other people.” But what people want to do is capture a person, and in the capturing of one person, forget and disparage all other persons.
It goes on in other fields: a person thinks that in being interested in music he shouldn’t like painting. This is a way of limiting and crippling oneself.
A woman thinks a man cares for her because she has a desirable body, can smile nicely, can be coquettish, but she doesn’t think that she’s cared for as a complete person, a self. She cannot give up this being cared for—it’s too necessary. But she also feels it’s a limitation; because if she were really known, maybe the man would care for her less. So she is in a constant state of perturbation. This deep perturbation is present in most women.
Most people don’t think they deserve to be loved, because they think that the way they capture someone is not, on the whole, ethical. It doesn’t go after respecting the person.
Our biggest desire is to feel that the big world in which we are is something that makes us grow, something that makes us what we want to be. But we’d also like to think that the world is bad, disorganized, ugly,and that we’re superior to it. We would like to be a god in our own right: that is the victory of contempt. We would also like company; so if we can get somebody out of this world and possess that person, we think we have really pulled a universal fast one. Most marriages have this quality of being universal fast ones.
Two people marry, and they say, “We don’t care for the rest of the world; we’ve got ourselves.” Madeleine and Rupert think they have enclosed themselves in an amorous sphere. In this, which is blissful—just as being drunk or taking opium seems blissful—there is also a deep objection. A man and a woman come to feel limited by it; it gets wearisome; it is not a means of expansion.
Every person wants to be concentrated and expansive at the same time. That is where aesthetics comes in. Suppose Madeleine says, “Rupert represents the outside world. The outside world should affect me; I should affect it. I should be proud of how I affect Rupert, but I should also be proud of how Rupert affects me. In marrying him, I want to show myself to him more each week. There is no limit to being known. There is no limit to how much I can like the world through being honest, excitingly honest, with Rupert.” Then Madeleine wouldn’t get into that discontented, sour state that the Madeleines of America do get into.
But she likely will not say this, because she is afraid of the outside world. She wants to capture a man, and “Who cares for the outside world—I’ve got Rupert!” She comes to be decidedly unhappy. She doesn’t know that through Rupert she is liking herself in a bad way.
She doesn’t want to know Rupert: she is interested in Rupert’s praise. Madeleine feels that to like herself, she needs her husband’s caresses, his adoration, more and more; and at the same time she hates it. She wants to be criticized, but she is also afraid to be criticized. She wants Rupert to stop the junk about her being an angel—she wants Rupert to know her. But she’s also scared to be known. So she is in a tough way. Very often what happens is that a woman gets into a jam: perhaps her children are somewhat grown-up, and she loses interest in life. She is miserable—because her marriage has been a means of lessening her interest in life.
Flattery Is Limitation
Any woman interested in marriage should ask, “Am I interested in love and marriage as a means of increasing my interest in life—that is, the world—or not?” It can happen that in love and marriage a woman loses her interest in life; and maybe ten years after marriage, her interest in life being gone is a cause of her losing her belief in herself.
Most people, in being flattered, cheat themselves. If a man says to a woman, “You’re wonderful. I can’t live without you,” she can lap it up because she feels, “At last I’m a queen: here is somebody who is praising me no end!” Praise without knowledge is an unclean eggshell. It may seem very attractive, but any man who praises a woman without desiring to know her is not her friend. A woman knows when she is being known or not being known, if she really has the courage to ask herself the question. If the relation is to go deeper, she will be in a dilemma. She will be giving her body without giving her self.
The purpose of marriage is to like the world. In marriage ceremonies, the idea of God being present is the religious way of saying that you’re not marrying only a person, but a representative of the outside world. If you respect this person and want to respect the world through this person—yes, you want to marry, which means you want to give yourself and be affected, and affect another. But if you don’t want to respect the world through this person, your marriage is false. Most marriages are false. A woman feels as she is being married, “I’ve got this man; I’ll like him because he adores me. I’m marrying him not because I know him but because he praises me more than anybody else does.”
Then there come to be quarrels. They never come really from the thing that seems to be the cause of the quarrel. They come from the fact that two people who think they adore each other are also limiting each other. The person who flatters us is the person who limits us. If somebody, while practicing the piano, were called by another “the Chopin of the twentieth century,” that would be no help-because the person would think, “If I’m the Chopin of the twentieth century, I don’t have to know any more.”
A woman, through looking a certain way, has the world at her feet. In the meantime she feels uneasy, because she feels that if she had to show the rest of herself it wouldn’t do so well. So the woman consents to be only part of herself. It’s true, men will be got that way; the attraction of carnality is irresistible. But the question is whether it’s good for the woman. Does she like having a man at her feet on this basis?
In an Aesthetic Realism lesson, a woman who was quite beautiful told me she knew very well that when she walked down the railroad aisle, all the men gave up their occupations for that moment and looked at her. I said, “I suppose you liked that very much?” “Yes,” she said, “I did like it. Other girls were jealous of me.” And I said, “Fine. But as those men gazed at your attractions, do you believe they really knew you? And how do you like the idea that the one way you can wow a male is through the way you walk and how you look? Does that look complete for you?” She said, “No, I’d like a man to like me for other reasons too. But this is the best way, after all.”
I said, “It is the most effective way; but you are dividing yourself as a person. If you want to be seen as a self, you have to recognize the fact that along with being able to cause a commotion in a man, you have to want the man to see you as you see yourself. You don’t wow yourself, you know.” She said, “No, I don’t wow myself. I guess I wow myself because I wow men.” “That’s true, but how do you like it?” It is desolating.
Through doing that, women lessen themselves. And they come to be afraid of the years. If a woman depends for her pleasing a man on the things that she is most sure of and those things don’t seem to be as lasting as they might be, she will be afraid. But if she felt that the way she affected a man was with all of herself, and she were sure of herself, not just of her looks, she wouldn’t be so frightened.