Mind and Intelligence
By Eli Siegel
We introduce Eli Siegel’s lecture Mind and Intelligence through portions of the commentaries by Ellen Reiss from the issues of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known in which this lecture was serialized.
Introduction by Ellen Reiss
Eli Siegel gave the lecture Mind and Intelligence on April 8, 1949. And it is a magnificent fact that Aesthetic Realism encourages and brings forth intelligence in people as nothing else in history has been able to do.
Nations, like professors, secretaries, and schoolboys, want to be intelligent. But daily life and history show that individuals and nations can be stupid while thinking they are quite clever. Every empire that declined and fell had leaders who thought they were being smart; and every woman who ever said, “How could I be so dumb as to marry that man?” thought she was wise at the time she chose him. The thing that America, as nation and individuals, needs to see is what Eli Siegel has explained: good will is the only real intelligence.
People have felt that good will was entirely different from intelligence; that good will was giving an elderly woman one’s seat on a bus, or was a pleasant sentimentalism experienced near a Christmas tree—but it was not the same as taking care of oneself. Eli Siegel is the person who has shown that good will is the toughest thing in the world, the most powerful, the cleverest, and is the only true selfishness. In Aesthetic Realism lessons he taught and convinced me, for example–and I am eternally grateful–that the only way I would ever really love a man and feel loved was by having good will. Good will, like art, is a oneness of opposites; and, Aesthetic Realism shows, “Every person is always trying to put together opposites in himself.” Good will is the oneness of utter exactitude and imagination, of criticism and encouragement. Good will, Mr. Siegel writes, is “the desire to have something else stronger and more beautiful, for this desire makes oneself stronger and more beautiful” (TRO 121).
Women, Intelligence, Love
In this lecture we have his great discussion of a woman, Julie de Lespinasse, who lived two centuries ago. Mr. Siegel speaks about this woman of thought and passion to show what intelligence is, and what interferes with it. But within these paragraphs is too the comprehension of women that women have longed for and that Aesthetic Realism gives.
Eli Siegel understood the self, and so he understood the self of woman. That includes the tremendous particular matter about which women have felt so unclear, bitter, confused, ashamed: “I have this feeling about a man, and then I am interested in culture and what is happening in the world—and the two seem so different.” Aesthetic Realism is the education that describes this subject and provides the solution.
Mr. Siegel’s discussion of Mlle de Lespinasse is literary criticism of the finest kind. It also represents what I am most grateful for in this world: Aesthetic Realism enabled me as person, as woman, to be whole—to feel that aspects of myself are not against each other, that they have the same purpose. For example, in an Aesthetic Realism class in 1973, Mr. Siegel explained to a man I knew, “What’s your guess about the emotion Ellen Reiss is missing? She is displeased with herself because care for you is not equivalent yet to her care for all reality and art.” In that class, Mr. Siegel described the one way passion can be pride, love can go along with art: “One of the things we need is to know someone who is interested enough to encourage what is best in us and bring it out. Love is intense good will, [the feeling that] in bringing out the best in another person we’re taking care of ourselves. The procedures of sex are for this organic dual encouragement.”
Mlle de Lespinasse knew, as Mr. Siegel says, some of the mightiest intellects. They did not understand her. He did. And I hear her friends François Marie Arouet de Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Jean le Rond d’Alembert saying now, “Thank you, Eli Siegel, for describing truly those great things to which we gave our thought: reality and man. We honor your mighty Aesthetic Realism principle ‘The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites.’”
The Right to Be Intelligent
In the lecture Mr. Siegel speaks too about Benjamin Franklin, as a person standing for true intelligence. He quotes a beautiful and angry letter by Franklin. And here is one reason why Aesthetic Realism is necessary for the well-being of people’s minds: it explains that there are two kinds of anger, one that makes us proud and one that inevitably makes us ashamed. Aesthetic Realism can enable a person to distinguish between these, as people are learning to do now through Aesthetic Realism consultations. In homes and offices and schools, people are tormented by their anger, and it weakens their minds, they feel ashamed, but compelled to be angry. Psychiatry has been incapable of teaching people to be good critics of their emotions, and does not even know such a thing is necessary. Every person, for his or her mind’s health, has to know that anger is beautiful when it is for the purpose of making the whole world better; anger is ugly when its purpose is to despise the world, and “venting” this anger or doing anything besides criticizing it will weaken one’s life.
I point the reader’s attention to Eli Siegel’s tone in the lecture Mind and Intelligence, to the quality of his sentences: it is beautiful. It has that oneness of factuality and depth, grandeur and humanity, tenderness and criticism, delicacy and power, which characterized him. There was no rift in Mr. Siegel between feeling and knowledge. He himself was beautifully, grandly, lovingly intelligent about the world in all its richness, and about the minds of people. In my opinion, he was the most intelligent person who ever lived.