The Drama of Mind
By Eli Siegel
The following introduction to this lecture is from Ellen Reiss’s commentary in issue #885 of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known in which the first part of the lecture was published.
Introduction by Ellen Reiss
The Drama of Mind is a lecture that Eli Siegel gave in 1964. And in it he does this mighty thing: he shows what mind is, what is in common among minds anywhere, from the mind of a paramecium to the mind of Shakespeare.
Eli Siegel cared for, and in his teaching of Aesthetic Realism spoke and wrote on, such diverse describers of mind as Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, Kant, John Stuart Mill. Yet it is Mr. Siegel himself who explained mind, including mind at its most bewildering and bewildered. The thousands of Aesthetic Realism lessons he gave to individuals, beginning in 1941, constitute the greatest comprehension of mind in human history, the minds of real people in the midst of life. I am infinitely grateful to be one of them, and to say the following, which represents the effect of every lesson that Mr. Siegel gave: Eli Siegel, who explained the structure of mind as such, understood my mind in all its particularity.
He explained to me how I saw love, my family, education, the past. He enabled me to see where I was untrue to the deepest purpose of my mind, and the human mind—to like the world—and why therefore I felt bad. He taught me to use my mind exactly, widely. Eli Siegel was the greatest strengthener of people’s minds in world history.
This principle of Aesthetic Realism is true about mind anywhere—about your hoping, questioning mind: “The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites.” In The Drama of Mind Eli Siegel defines mind; and he shows that it is aesthetic. Mind is always making a one of such opposites as knowing and feeling, fact and value, self and world.
As a prelude to the first section of The Drama of Mind, in which Mr. Siegel discusses mind at its most primal, I quote three passages by him about the human mind. It is Eli Siegel who honored most the grandeur of that mind—who wrote, for example, in 1922, “Man’s mind was made to know everything.” And it is he who explained the source in the human mind of every instance of brutality that has ever been: contempt. “Contempt,” he wrote, “must be defeated if man is to be kind”; contempt “is a continuous, unseen desire making for mental insufficiency.” Contempt is the “disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the outside world.” The following three passages are great as English prose:
- This passage from Self and World describes the fight in every mind all the time:
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. This is the subject and object conflict, the personal and impersonal conflict, the Self and World conflict. 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.
- These sentences, also from Self and World, at once so critical and honoring of man, show with ringing conviction how central knowing is to what we are:
We can own the world only by knowing it. We can possess the world only by having it in our minds; that is, by having knowledge of it. All other possession, both in love and economics, is false and hurtful. It is seen by the possessor as a substitute for real possession, but it will never do. The unconscious will never be at ease.
- These sentences from “The Equality of Man,” published in the Modern Quarterly when he was twenty-one, represent that passionate, exact respect that Eli Siegel always had for every person’s mind:
Mind needs nourishment, care and training all by itself….And the fact is plain enough that millions and millions of people from the beginning of the world, with man living in it, have not got this mind’s nourishment, care and training. Their llves were forced to be led so, to get food enough for their stomachs, was all that they could do….And I say it is wrong, to say that any one’s mind is inferior, until it has been completely seen that it has been given all the nourishment, care and training that it needs or could get.
In the Aesthetic Realism consultations now taking place, is the true nourishment every person’s mind is hoping for. That nourishment exists because Eli Siegel himself was mind at its most beautiful and courageous.