Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Terrain Gallery's 50th Anniversary Exhibition!

I want people in the NYC metro area to know of this momentous occasion. What follows below is the beginning paragraph of an announcement telling of this exciting anniversary: "In 1955 the Terrain Gallery opened with the extravagant idea that 1) beauty could not only be talked about but defined; 2} that all the arts had something in common; 3) that art and life were integrally related. All this was in the great philosophy of Aesthetic Realism as we had studied it with its founder, critic and poet Eli Siegel. In America in 1955 the idea of talking about beauty was not au courant. We did it anyway." To read the rest of this announcement and to know when, where, and the time, please follow this link: http://www.terraingallery.org/50th-anncmt.pdf And to know more about how Aesthetic Realism describes art and its relation to life, visit the Terrain Gallery.

See you there,

Lynette Abel

Sunday, March 27, 2005

"Presence and Absence: A Consideration of the Arts and Sciences"

In an Aesthetic Realism class conducted by Class Chairman, Ellen Reiss, we heard a tape recording of a lecture titled "Presence and Absence: A Consideration of the Arts and Sciences," given by Eli Siegel February 21st, 1969. This was a remarkable lecture, in which Eli Siegel showed throughout, using surprising and diverse examples, how the opposites of presence and absence meet in both art and science. He began by saying:

[Absence and presence] are exceedingly important. They have to do with mathematics also with some of the greatest emotions— [as in] 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder' and 'Presence of Mind.' Absence and presence are very much and constantly in all the arts and sciences. Occasionally the two things meet—the scientific way and also the artistic way.
To illustrate, Mr. Siegel presented a person in history, he said he imagined very few people had ever heard of—Constantine Francois Comte de Volney, whose years are 1757 to 1820. "Volney has affected me for a long time," said Mr. Siegel. He was one of the earliest travelers to the East. He knew Arabic and wished to observe what the East was like. "Volney did it so well" Mr. Siegel noted, "Napoleon used his observations when he invaded Egypt.

He read about contemplating the ruins of Palmyra from Volney's book The Ruins; or Meditation on the Revolutions of Empires and the Law of Nature, translated by Joel Barlow. "The idea of going back to the past is here" said Mr. Siegel,"associated with something scholarly. This passage has affected me for years; it is pretty exact but also one of the most emotionally fraught passages in French Prose. If given a certain structure it is poetic." Volney writes:

"The sun had sunk below the horizon: a red border of light still marked his track behind the distant mountains of Syria; the full orbed moon was rising in the east, on a blue ground, over the plains of the Euphrates; the sky was clear, the air calm and serene; ...The aspect of a great city deserted, the memory of the times past compared with its present state, all elevated my mind to high contemplations. I sat on the shaft of a column, my elbow reposing on my knee, and head reclining on my hand, my eyes fixed, sometimes on the desert, sometimes on the ruins, and fell into a profound reverie."
And of the Reverie Volney writes:

"And now behold what remains of this powerful city: a miserable skeleton! What of its vast domination: a doubtful and obscure remembrance! To the noisy concourse which thronged under these porticoes, succeeds the solitude of death. The silence of the grave is substituted for the busy hum of public places; the affluence of a commercial city is changed into wretched poverty; the palaces of Kings have become a den of wild beasts; flocks repose in the area of temples, and savage reptiles inhabit the sanctuary of the gods. Ah! how has so much glory been eclipsed? How have so many labors been annihilated? Do thus perish then the works of men — thus vanish empires and nations?"
"This has something which is tinglingly, poignantly, emotional as anything" commented Mr. Siegel "how it once was — how different from long ago. To say it is concerned with the procedure of science and mathematics can be illustrated quite indefinitely.”

Mr. Siegel commented that Volney "is poetic here but his knowledge of poetry as such is lacking. There is one semi-colon after another, or comma. He doesn't see certain statements should be by themselves and have periods." And Mr. Siegel showed how the arts and sciences meet in a surprising way when he said:

"Style is just as scientific as geometry. Geometry is always concerned with curves and angles, curves and straight lines and style is too. In style we have the angular and the cut short and then the gliding."
Then to show absence and presence differently, Mr. Siegel read Volney’s portrait of a camel, made famous by the 19th Century Critic, Sainte-Beuve. Noted Mr. Siegel, "The camel is here seen as the one animal which man could not live without in Arabia or Asia Minor." Translating from the French, Mr. Siegel read the following of Volney quoted from Causeries du lundi of Sainte-Beuve, February 14, 1853. It reads in part:

"...the desert would become uninhabitable and it would be necessary to leave it if nature had not attached to it an animal of a temperament so strong and also frugal with the ungrateful and sterile soil, if she had not placed here the camel. No animal presents an analogy so marked and so exclusive to its climate.... Wanting that the camel live in a land where it would find but a little nourishment, nature had economized the matter in all its construction. She did not give it the plenitude of forms neither of the cow, nor of the horse, nor of the elephant; but limiting itself to a small head without ears, on top of a long neck without flesh. She has taken off its legs and its thighs all useless muscle to the movement of them.... She fortified it with a strong jaw in order to chew the harshest foods but for fear that it would eat too much made its stomach small and obliged it to ruminate....The camel alone serves all the needs of his master. Its milk nourishes the Arab family in the diverse forms of curdled milk, of cheese, and butter. Often one eats its flesh. Shoes are made and saddles from his skin. Clothes and tents are made from his hide. Heavy burdens are transported by means of the camel...Such is the importance of the camel for the desert which if one leaves it out, one will subtract or take away all the population of which it is the unique pivot."
Commented Mr. Siegel "The camel is presented as if God or evolution were just working to have certain areas of Asia inhabited. If the camel were absent other things wouldn't be present.” I was affected to hear about the camel and to see how the opposites of presence and absence are in his very structure and show his value. Of Volney's writing here, he explained:

"The description of the camel is careful enough and emotional enough to be a dual presentation of art and science. Volney is a mixture of scientific explorer and letting emotion go as much as emotion can go."
Next, Mr. Siegel read from a book he had used in Elementary School published in 1909 by Ginn & Co., and part of a series which he said are the most famous textbooks of their kind in America: Wentworth's Complete Arithmetic. He said, "It was this very book. Arithmetic that you didn't write down I just loved. " Ms. Reiss commented later in the class, "One got a sense of Mr. Siegel himself, developing, as he was in the midst of Elementary school, this beautiful way of seeing the world which made for Aesthetic Realism. He wanted to like the world.”

Commenting first on an illustration of a girl and a boy with a string across a pit, he said, "There is a quality of things present and absent." And under the heading "Rectangular Solids" he read this:

"These children are measuring an excavation, and find it to be 6 ft. 2 in. wide, 8 ft. 4 in. long, and 4 ft. 3 in. deep. Assuming it to be practically rectangular, how many cubic feet of earth have been removed?"
Said Mr. Siegel "You get the feeling cubic feet are present and absent. All mathematics," he continued "is a study in presence and absence." And he showed that these opposites are in reality as such: “A pore, a hole, a pocket, a vacancy is a oneness of presence and Absence.”

Then Mr. Siegel went on to more complicated problems. He said, "I know I loved some of these questions years ago. This is one of them":

"If the greatest known depth of the Atlantic Ocean is 27,366 feet, and Mt. Washington is 6,279 feet high, how high does Mt. Washington stand above the bottom of the Atlantic at its greatest known depth?"
Mr. Siegel went through the calculations saying, "You add 27,366 to 6,279. It is 33,645 feet above the bottom of the Atlantic. The idea of a mountain and the bottom of an ocean is already taking."

Under the chapter heading "Common Fractions," Mr. Siegel read a problem, which he said "gives one a scientific sensation and also an aesthetic, sensation." And he added, "I must say, I worked it out.”

"A boy lost 1/4 of his kite string in a tree, 1/3 in some wires, and 1/5 in a hedge. What part of the string was left?"
"Here the common denominator has to be 60" Mr. Siegel explained. "There would be 47/60ths lost, 13/60ths left. To feel 13/60ths of some string has been saved—it is exact and also right in the midst of reality."

What Mr. Siegel said next, points to the understanding of self he came to through his seeing that the structure of all reality is an aesthetic oneness of opposites. “I asked in lessons,” he commented, "what is the common denominator with people. What do people who are different have in common?" And in a discussion, which followed this talk, an elementary school teacher said that through what she has learned from Aesthetic Realism she is able when teaching math to her class, comprised of students who are Hispanic, African-American, Asian, and white, to show how "Equivalent fractions" are both the same and different as people are. For instance: "2/4ths, 1/2 and 8/16ths all look different but they have the same value. I’ve asked “Does that show that the persons sitting next to you, though they may look different, may be more like you, have more in common with you than you may see at first?"

In the Wentworth there is a definition of a circle. "We have the definitions of what can happen to space," Mr. Siegel said. And he read this: "A plane figure bounded by a curved line all points of which are equally distant from a point within is called a circle." "You get a sense that the world makes sense at last. Things have happened but that center from which all points in the circumference are equally distant will always be the same. People don't answer letters, there could be fires--it is the same." Mr. Siegel used so many more examples of problems about pickles and olives and firkins of butter and rolls of matting, all having within them scientific principles while also making for new and sur­prising emotion about the world. He said, "Whatever can cause emotion is very close to art."

About the last example I'll read, Mr. Siegel said "This... problem is one of the most beautiful I can think of—it makes you concentrate exactly and makes you see reality in such a way.” Under the chapter heading "Problems of the Farm" he read:

"Taking the annual rainfall of Indiana as 41.5 in., what will be the weight of water that will fall on 1 sq. ft. of land per year? on 1 sq. rd.? on 1 Acre?"
"The idea of rain falling in Indiana on a sq. ft. for a whole year is exceedingly engaging," Mr. Siegel noted. And he continued, “It is well to feel we're thinking of possibilities of quantity, possibilities of life, and at the same time we are thinking of beauty.”

And to read an article about what can interfere with self-expression, I recommend this article by Miriam Mondlin

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Aesthetic Realism Arts and Sciences Class given by Eli Siegel; Part 2 of a report by Lynette Abel

Here is the conclusion of the Arts and Science class of June 13, 1975 given by Eli Siegel

The immediacy of understanding the opposites of respect and contempt was central in the next discussion as Mr. Siegel took up a narrative, entitled "What became of the Man I Married," from the book Mrs. Success, A Report by Lois Wyse. Lois Wyse a writer of verse and also a social critic became interested in interviewing Polly Winters when she read in her letter "I believe Living patterns Research Institute might be interested in a not so untypical situation of a poor boy that reached the top and left his wife and three children after nineteen years of a good marriage." In the interview Polly Winters talks of how she didn't do any of the things you always hear about. "I didn't get fat or stop enjoying sex or refuse to go on trips." Throughout this interview it was felt by persons in class, Mrs. Winters though deeply pained, leaves out a great deal. One gets a sense that she took this poor boy from the other side of the tracks and cultivated him. Mr. Siegel asked, "Can a woman want to find someone with ability and then arrange him?" Mrs. Winters needed to know what Aesthetic Realism shows, that love is a oneness of criticism and encouragement. She didn't see that she got a great deal of importance out of owning a successful man. " To her, said Mr. Siegel, "he was a magnificent toy."

Throughout this narrative Polly Winters is questioning, but she doesn't get to any clear explanations as to why her marriage ended. Eli Siegel stated, "Aesthetic Realism believes that if a person is seen as honestly trying to respect someone, there will be no separation. The hope to respect," he continued, "has been the thing lacking in marriages."

* * *

To see writing, including book reviews and poems by Eli Siegel click here

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Aesthetic Realism Arts and Sciences Class given by Eli Siegel; Part 1 of a report by Lynette Abel

Here is Part one of an early class I reported on nearly 30 years ago.

"The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites." The Arts and Sciences class of June 13, 1975, exemplified this principle of Aesthetic Realism, when Eli Siegel showed the relation of music to love, to ethics, and to the world.

Continuing his consideration of Leonard Bernstein's book The Joy of Music, Mr. Siegel said, "I want people to really know what is meant by the opposites." Leonard Bernstein asks, why does music have such power over us and move us so deeply? Bernstein feels that one enters into a mystic or even magic area when the subject of music is broached. It has been felt generally that the effect music can have on a person is something which is unexplainable. Referring to music as being a combination of mathematics and magic, Bernstein writes, "We are still in our own day, faced with this magical block." People have not seen, what Aesthetic Realism shows, that the relation of opposites that make for beautiful music corresponds to the relation of opposites that make for a happy person.

In a discussion with Sharon Pickering, Mr. Siegel asked, "What happens when you change words to music? Which is more impersonal: speaking or singing?"

Sharon Pickering: I think singing is more impersonal.

Explained Mr. Siegel, "The large difference is that in singing, a person feels he is singing not just for himself. Mr. Siegel told an interesting anecdote of a person who stuttered when he spoke, but never did when he sang. "It is because when he sang, he felt the world was with him."

Continuing, Mr. Siegel stated: "Every object and situation can be seen in three ways corresponding to three ways of seeing the world: monistic, dualistic, and pluralistic. This picture of the world is precisely what is in music." To illustrate how a person is seen in these three ways, he explained, "when someone is walking tomorrow, he'll be tired or not tired but in the meantime he consists of many corpuscles." Every person is one, two, and many.

To show that people are coming to see that having two separate purposes is a large thing in marriage, Mr. Siegel read from an ad in the New York Times about a recently published book:

"Are you and your mate growing in your relationship? Do you have meaningful personal relationships outside your love relationship? Is your love free to pursue independent interests without your feeling resentful? Would you prefer your lover to be happy elsewhere rather than be with you?: If your answer is no to most of the questions, then you should read Love and Addiction by Stanton Peele."

Out of these questions, followed an important discussion with Adrianne French. Mr. Siegel asked her, "Are you and your mate growing in your relationship?

Adrianne French. I don't know.

Eli Siegel. There are two things that love can be judged by, 1) Am I getting to be a more complete person? 2) Do I respect myself more through how I see this person? The idea of growth is important. There are many persons having a good time through another person, but they aren't getting to be more themselves. This has caused persons so much agony.

Mr. Siegel then asked her, how is the word "growing" a flagrant example of opposites?

AF. I'm not sure.

ES. It changes to be more itself. Growing is motion that makes the thing more itself. One justification for Aesthetic Realism is that it encourages true growth in a person. Are you tired of growing?

AF. Yes.

ES. Every person has a terrific desire to be bored. Being bored is the same thing as trying to prove nothing has done one any good. To be bored is to be a conquerer.

The large thing to ask is, is Aesthetic Realism true," said Mr. Siegel. "Truth never runs out. Contempt has been the key to many a dreary door. My purpose is to extend your horizon and intensify your impression."

The names of persons in the class have been changed.

Check back for Part 2 of this moving, important class. In it, Mr. Siegel will discuss a chapter titled "What Became of the Man I Married," from the book Mrs. Success, A Report by Lois Wyse.

Until then,


Saturday, February 05, 2005

"Shakespeare's Interesting," Part 2 of an Aesthetic Realism class given by Eli Siegel; Reported on by Lynette Abel

This is the conclusion of this great class

Then, using an annotated 18th Century edition of Hamlet Mr. Siegel explained, “I’m not going to read the play as such. I’m going to begin with the notes for casualness. Every passage I do read, he said, will be incidental to an 18th-Century observation.”

Critics have been very much puzzled by the Ghost right from the beginning. “The main point,” said Mr. Siegel “ is whether Hamlet’s father was troubled himself. Why is the Ghost in such a hurry? It seems he was uncertain of himself.” The critic Warton in a note says the vanishing of the Ghost “is like a start of guilt.” “This backs up Aesthetic Realism” commented Mr. Siegel. “Hamlet’s father was not so good—he was better than his brother maybe but that isn’t saying much.” Then reading from the famous scene in which Hamlet speaks to his father, as Ghost, Mr. Siegel commented,” This is one of the passages Hamlet: Revisited sees as rather humorous.” I read from it now:

Ghost. List, list, O, list?
If thou didst ever thy dear father love—

Hamlet. O god!

Ghost. Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.

Hamlet. Murder?

Ghost. Murder most foul, as in the best it is,
But this most foul, strange, and unnatural.

Hamlet. Hast me to know’t that I, with wings as swift
As meditation or the thoughts of love,
May sweep to my revenge.

“In my raffish, profane fashion,” commented Mr. Siegel “I think these words show some mocking. If the wings are as swift as meditation it is not fast. And thoughts of love are usually slow. ‘What does Rita really think of me?’ I regard this as funny as “The Importance of Being Ernest.” And Mr. Siegel read Warburton’s note on the word meditation:

“This word is consecrated by the mystics to signify that flight of mind which aspires to the enjoyment of the supreme good.”

Mr. Siegel commented, “Any mystic that’s in a hurry would be kicked out.” The critic Steevens points out that there is not other ghost that compares to this ghost. “It happens,” said Mr. Siegel “the Ghost in Hamlet in terms of the supernatural is the best of its kind.”

It was pointed out that all of Shakespeare’s plays are interesting because of the problems they show. “The wonderful thing about Hamlet,” noted Mr. Siegel “is that while it has these problems it is so everlastingly poetic. While people are being dramatic the clash and clang of words, verbs, nouns and conjunctions and syllables are being dramatic too.” This class was a great instance of literary criticism. Like the world, it was casual and profound.
Hope you enjoyed it!

By the way, I'd like to suggest you check out my friend's literary blog, which is titled Aesthetic Realism and the Works of Edith Wharton and see her website too.

Best regards,

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

"Shakespeare's Interesting," Part 1 of an Aesthetic Realism class given by Eli Siegel; Reported on by Lynette Abel

In 1973 I had requested to study Aesthetic Realism with its founder, poet and philosopher, Eli Siegel. On October 20, 1973 I attended my first class. And I studied in classes with Mr. Siegel from 1973 - 1978. What a cultural, historical, ethical, illuminating, exciting experience these classes were! In them, Mr. Siegel gave extemporaneous talks on the arts and sciences, literature, history, economics, medicine, humor, the human mind, and more; he discussed the complete works of Shakespeare, the life and work of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Walt Whitman, Henry James, William Butler Yeats, Carl Sandburg to mention just a few things. I wrote reports of some of these classes. Several of them, I will publish here.

My education continues now in professional classes taught by Ellen Reiss, Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism. And along with other students in the class, I have the joy of hearing each week the recorded lectures given by Mr. Siegel from the 1940s through the 1970s. I begin to serialize a report of a class I wrote in 1979, one of hundreds, he gave on Shakespeare's great play Hamlet. Hope you enjoy it!

In a recent History of Aesthetic Realism class consultants and associates heard a tape recording of a poetry class Eli Siegel gave December 9, 1970 titled, "Shakespeare's Interesting." Mr. Siegel often said the play he cared for most was Shakespeare's Hamlet. In 1963, he placed the play in relation to world culture with his major work Shakespeare's Hamlet; Revisited. " The approach today," Mr. Siegel began, "will be different from anything that has been before. The accent will still be on Hamlet but the subject today is that Hamlet was related. My purpose," he explained, "is to have persons truly at ease about Shakespeare and Hamlet and other things. I shall be casual; I shall go hither and thither." With wide, careful scholarship, Eli Siegel looked at notes of various famous Shakespearian crit­ics commenting on many of the puzzling and famous passages of Hamlet.

He began with a 1950 work which is very much esteemed Shakespeare's Problem Plays by E.M.W. Tillyard. "A problem," said Mr. Siegel "asks how to have it solved. The problem of life is how to make a one of the fact that one is oneself and is surrounded by all else, the universe." Tillyard quotes Theodore Spenser "that Hamlet's soliloquies show a progress in his power to convert the personal into the general [though] his behavior at Ophelia's funeral, which comes after all the soliloquies, shows a very thorough relapse." "Spenser is saying," explained Mr. Siegel "that while Hamlet seems to do better in soliloquies, he's not so good later. We do go from meditation to immediacy in a way that is not so good. How to make a one of our deepest, quietest thoughts and our motions is a problem."

"Tillyard makes more of Hamlet's relation to his mother than most people," said Mr. Siegel—-his father is almost incidental. Anyone who has a mother has a problem of focus and comprehensiveness. Hamlet had the problem of trying to think of his mother as worthy of being cherished and at the same time trying to honor science. Everyone has this problem. The great problem in life is how to relate desire to fact." Tillyard comments on this in relation to the scene where Hamlet talks to his mother:

"Once Hamlet can face his mother and share with her the
burden of what he thinks of her he can at least begin
to see the world as something other than a prison."

"It's true," explained Mr. Siegel "because a person who is afraid of the real­ity of his mother is likely to be afraid of other things. An incomplete person he observed can not welcome a complete universe."

"The keen problem that hasn't been understood about Hamlet," said Mr. Siegel "is how he saw his father and why he had a hard time both obeying and disobeying his father. Whatever Hamlet is doing, he has the questions per­sons do have. What am I doing here? How should I see it all? Though Hamlet wasn't a complete success in dealing with his problems, the way he saw them was already a success." Tillyard implies that Hamlet did not solve his prob­lems. "But," stated Mr. Siegel "he did the first thing: He tried to be honest about them."

I will be serializing Part 2 of "Shakespeare's Interesting" soon
Lynette Abel