Understanding Our Lives Through Study of Aesthetic Realism

After many years of searching for a way to understand myself and other people, I met it in this kind, practical, philosophy of Aesthetic Realism, founded by the American poet and historian, Eli Siegel.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Here is Part I of a seminar I gave on what I learned on this very prevalent subject : "DO WOMEN HAVE A FIGHT BETWEEN LOVE AND SCORN?"
Part II is a discussion of Nellie Forbush from the Broadway musical "South Pacific" to further illustrate the answer to this question.

Many women, including myself of once, in answer to the question of our seminar, would say something like, "I'm not in a fight between love and scorn. I just want to love a man, and be loved. I only have scorn for him because he makes me--acting so bossy, then he's so helpless!" Meanwhile, I knew I was scornful and I was ashamed--as I have seen many, many women are.

Aesthetic Realism taught me what I was thirsting to understand in myself: that without knowing it, I hoped to have scorn for men, and even relished it because I was looking to have contempt for the world itself--the world a man represents. In a 1969 lecture, Eli Siegel said:

The awful thing about women's perception is, it's not articulated and doesn't change into the best kind of criticism. Women enjoy their scorn too much to make it public, except at very acute moments, and even then there are certain elements of the scorn that are kept to oneself. A woman's heart is often a treasury of satirical observations.

My heart was "a treasury of satirical observations" and glad to have changed because I learned to have what is the great opposition to scorn: good will, which Mr. Siegel defined as "the desire to have other things stronger and more beautiful, for this desire makes oneself stronger and more beautiful." Studying this has made possible the happy marriage I have now with Jeffrey Williams, whom I love very much.


I learned that we are in a fight from the very beginning between the desire to like the world, respect it, and the desire to have contempt for it. When I was a child, I could be very lively, but I also worked on having a cutting wit, and liked making fun of people, especially adults.

Meanwhile, from age seven, I also loved to draw and paint, and spent many house trying to be exact about a still life or even a portrait of someone. I was proud at these times, but there was a big interference in me to caring much about art or anything, including other people. In her commentary to issue #1497 of The Right Of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, Class Chairman Ellen Reiss explains:

The big trouble with loving another human being, and the big trouble with being excited by something--whether it's a book, music, a sunset, a dance, a sport--is that this person and this thing are not us....There is that in every person which feels, the read treasure is my own dear self, and if I find someone or something else ever so pleasing, I am unfaithful to my first love: me.

This was true about me. By the time I was 14, I felt that going home after school to draw or paint was dull and corny, and that it was much more interesting to fool around with friends. When I won an art contest for a drawing of a girl playing the guitar that was published in a national students' art magazine, I was thrilled. But soon after, I remember feeling scornful of my teacher and the judges, thinking "It wasn't so good", and my interest in drawing eventually fell by the wayside.

Without knowing it, this same attitude would also affect my relationships with boys, and later men. My father, Christopher Fennell, worked hard to provide a family of six a good home, the things we needed, and also things like generous Christmas celebrations and summer trips to the seashore. But I was in a fight between care for my father and scorn for him because he was confusing--he could change from toughness to unsureness. I knew I was "Daddy's little girl," but even as he praised my golden curls and obedience, I secretly despised what I saw as his shortcomings. I remember him getting very angry, and thinking he looked ridiculous for losing his dignity.

Years later I was able to begin to understand what went on in me as I studied in Aesthetic Realism consultations. My consultants were critical of how I used my father to be disgusted with all men--seeing men as both tyrants and weaklings. I saw how much I had undervalued what Christopher Fennell could honestly be loved and respected for. In his work with the Emergency Squad of the Yonkers Fire Department, he had a beautiful relation of toughness and tenderness, for instance, when on a call, he took off his heavy outerwear and boots on a winter day, went into a nearly frozen pond, and helped pull a child to safety.

Had I been able to study Aesthetic Realism from childhood, I would have been kinder to everyone, especially to the young men I met. I thought they were impressed with how I was lively and feminine, and a funny, "wiseguy" sort of girl. In issue #770 of The Right Of, Mr. Siegel explains the real source of my sarcastic wit, when he wrote:

"There is a kind of bitterness that takes the form of cracks. The desire to take people not seriously or to forget about them is next door to a desire to hate them."

This was true about me! Sometimes my sarcasm came out in ways I regretted, and I remember the sting of recognition at hearing lines from a song by Billy Joel:

"She can promise you more than the Garden of Eden;
Then she'll carelessly cut you, and laugh
while you're bleedin'."

But I didn't know how to change! I once laughingly made fun of a neighbor's serious work as an actor, and he said, "You think you can make fun of anything you want! Well, you can't!" and with a man I said I loved and wanted to marry, I would talk with scorn of his commitment for his family's business, which was open later and on weekends and interfered with his taking me out. I had the nerve to act annoyed and say things like, "I hate that pile of bricks." He was rightly angry and critical as he said, "Well, maybe you should go marry someone else, because this is my life. Make up your mind!"

When this relationship ended, and others after that, while I mostly blamed the man, I had the nagging feeling that I didn't have the warm feeling a woman should have for a man. As time went on, I felt more and more desperate, and like a failure in love--but would never have figured out why!


By the time I began to study Aesthetic Realism at age 31, I had given and gotten much pain in love. I also had less and less interest in things, and felt the only place to meet men was in "singles" bars.

An important turning point in the fight between love and scorn in me was in my second consultation. Assuming my consultants (being women) would agree with me, I talked with amused scorn about how a man I met had talked for hours about having his first book published, and showed no interest in knowing me. But far from commiserating, they showed me that while this man might have done better, I was having contempt for him; I'd made his inner life--his hopes and fears--like nothing, and could not like myself for it. And they said, "When you listen to [the tape of this consultation] six months from now, you will cringe at how you were speaking about this man."

They were so right! I was learning to see how much I depended on my ability to put a man in his place to feel important and that this was the reason I despised myself. And I was learning that it wasn't inevitable!--that I could criticize my contempt, and see how to be a critic of a man with good will.
For example, in a later consultation, my consultants asked if there was a man I was interested in, and I answered:

MF: "Yes, but I don't know him so well. I admire very much how Bill Hemmings speaks....I see a relation of hardness and softness that I think is beautiful."

Consultants: "Do you think he feels it could be more beautiful?

MF: "I hadn't thought about it."

I learned that I was doing what many women do. I went from being scornful of man to wanting to praise him utterly. And both are inexact and contemptuous. My consultants said:

"The job a woman has is to put together admiration and criticism. The qualities you just mentioned--hardness and softness--do you think he could have a better relation of hard and soft? Do you think he is satisfied with [how he does with them]?"

MF: "Maybe not. Like I said, I don't know him very well."

Cons: "Do you think he is looking for someone to be critical of him--as a means of his being stronger?"

MF: "Yes."

Cons: "So that is what's being encouraged now."

The knowledge I was getting then, and continue to receive, is the means of ending the anguish women have about love, asking: "What's happening to us? We were so happy not long ago!" And when a man feels that a woman wants him to be a better person--kinder, stronger--he feels honestly cared for. My education is proceeding richly in classes taught by Ellen Reiss, and some of the questions I’ve been asked are: "Do you want to see a man as a person in this world, as himself, or do you make him a Marion Fennell adjunct?"; "Are you interested in a man as a means of knowing the world better, or for him to make you the center?"; "Do you associate love with not thinking?"; and, "If a man is on your mind very much, does your thought about him make you fairer to everything else, or less fair?"

I am seeing in my marriage that good will, which includes warm, critical encouragement, is the same as love--and is the only proud alternative to scorn!

Part II to follow soon!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Caring for People--Wisdom or Foolishness?


Most people, if asked the question: is it wise to care for people?--might pause before answering--because if you care for people, you might get hurt and be disappointed. This is what I felt; and at the same time I longed to feel I could really care for a particular person or persons, and was pained because I wasn't sure I could.

Aesthetic Realism is necessary for understanding what it means to care for people, and why it is wise! I learned that, through knowing other people, wanting to see them truly, we will know ourselves. In a lecture of 1950, "Aesthetic Realism and People," Eli Siegel shows the dignity and large meaning every person has. He says:

“The importance of people is that they are reality in the richest form....The more we like people, the more we will be proud of ourselves.”

And the logic of this Aesthetic Realism explains resplendently. Our deepest desire, it shows, is to like the world on an honest basis--and this includes the people who inhabit this world. But this desire is in a fight with another desire--to have contempt for reality and people. In the lecture, Mr. Siegel explains:

“There is something in us that doesn't want to like people-- that doesn't want to like anything. There is something in us that says: if we respect something, or like something, we have taken away from ourselves. There is that in us which wants to like nothing but ourselves, and any time we consent to like something else we think we are giving up some of the love pie, the approval pie.”

Like young woman today, I had friends, and liked going to concerts, nightclubs, movies, and theaters. But with all the conversations I had with girlfriends, I was not really interested in knowing deeply their thoughts and feelings, what they were worried about, or hoped for. And often, these conversations centered on what we wanted to buy for ourselves, gossiping about other women, or on how the young men we knew were either Prince Charming, or selfish brutes, or little boys to be taken care of. It wasn't until years later I learned from Aesthetic Realism why I often felt so terrible after these conversations--and my friends did, too: it was the contempt in those talks that made us feel bad--foggy-headed, ill-natured, and exhausted, needing a nap!

Now I will tell more of what I am learning from Aesthetic Realism, and about aspects of the life of a woman, Constance Markievicz, who did care for people in a wide, important way in the struggle for Irish independence.

I. I Felt Caring for People Was Foolish

As I was growing up, I liked playing games with other children. Sometimes I wanted to be useful to another child, but I was also pretty selfish and spoiled‑‑secretly feel­ing I was better than other people. And like many girls, I used the fact that the adults around me weren't so interested in what I felt inside, to put up a wall between myself and others‑‑seeing it as smart to protect myself from getting hurt by them, and also getting pleasure hiding what I felt, and inwardly laughing at them. This was contempt, and it came with a high price.
In his lecture Mr. Siegel explains what was working in me, and what I needed to know. "The more we like people," he says --

“the more we'll be proud of ourselves. No person has ever disliked people and been proud of it. It isn't because people are people; it is because they are reality. We cannot afford to despise reality. If we do, we are giving ourselves poison.”

That was true of me, and it took its toll. While still quite young, I remember watching the movie "Heidi" and being aware that there was something wrong with how I was so cool toward people. When a mean relative tries to take Heidi away from her grandfather, I cried along with her, and wished I could show that much feeling for someone!

Aesthetic Realism explains the purpose we need: it is good will: "the desire to have something else stronger and more beautiful, for this desire makes oneself stronger and more beautiful."
I spent my teens and 20's not knowing this, and my desire to have contempt accelerated--as did its hurtful results. I had boyfriends, traveled on vacations, studied fashion--and only cared for people, not because of who they were, but because they made a lot of me. Anyone looking at me would think I "had it all together," but more and more I put on a show: hiding the emptiness I felt inside behind a smile, drinking too much, and, inside, afraid of never being able to care truly for anyone. Once, when the brother of a close girlfriend became ill with cancer and died, I remember feeling ashamed at how unmoved I was. I never once asked my friend what she felt.
Then, near the end of 1981, I learned about Aesthetic Realism from my brother, Kevin. I attended a Thursday evening seminar--and felt I had met at last what I was hoping for! I began to study Aesthetic Realism in classes and consultations. In one consultation, when I said I was afraid that thinking about a friend who was having difficulty in her life would make me sad and feel like sinking, I learned what the real reason was: I felt it would take time away from thinking about my favorite subject--myself. And my consultants asked:

If you look at people [deeply] do you think you will find not just sadness?...Are the elements in the drama of every person elements that will make you fuller and lighter if you think about them? If you see them truly?

I saw that this was true! I learned that the world and people I had once tried to get away from and scorn are actually related to me--and that every person can tell me something I need to know about my very self. And my education richly continues as I study to teach Aesthetic Realism in classes taught by Class Chairman Ellen Reiss.

In a class I attended some years ago, I spoke about my feeling troubled that I wasn't enough interested in other people, including friends, and Miss Reiss asked, referring to three of my friends, "Do you think if you knew Joanne Belle you would know yourself better?" I said that I wasn't sure. And she asked: "Do you think that Marion Fennell is an unrelated entity, or made of the same elements that Bill Marcus is made of, that Barbara Jackson is made of?" Miss Reiss then explained what only Aesthetic Realism teaches: that we are related to every other person through the opposites. All people, I learned, are a relation of sureness and unsureness, hardness and softness, energy and thoughtfulness, hope and fear. And if we don't want to see that relation, we have to feel our care for people is a donation. But when we do see our kinship to people we feel, as Miss Reiss said, “Encouraging a person is the utmost in selfishness."

What I have learned in these years has given me such a happy life, with a mind that is much keener and deeper, and a desire to know what people feel--people both close to me and far away.
In Part II, I will continue this subject using the life of the important Irish patriot, Constance Markievicz.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Trouble About Love & Commitment - Part II

Part I is a description of what in me interferred with love. In Part II, I discuss a book on the subject, and a song which has, in its structure, the answer to the trouble about love and commitment.

What Is the Real Meaning of “Fear of Commitment”?

A recent book, He’s Scared, She’s Scared by Steven Carter and Julia Sokol, is a instance of what people find in bookstores all over America when desperately looking for answers to why there is so much trouble about love—but don’t get those answers. Because of copywrite law, I will describe and paraphrase what is in this book. The authors, who describe themselves as “writers, not therapists” created the term "commitmentphobia" to describe the fear of caring deeply and steadily for another person. As they categorize commitment conflicts as either active or passive, the authors claim that recognizing these conflicts in yourself can enable you to change and make better choices, but they don’t give any scientific logic. Their description of attaining a permanent relationship is not even an attractive goal, described as compromise where no one wins.

This book is essentially useless because while describing in detail the many fears people can have about love--such as growing bored with a person, or losing one’s individuality--they do not know: 1) what love really is, and 2) that the deepest cause of all the fears they describe begins with how we see the world, which another person is part of and represents to us.

For instance, the authors quote Theresa, age 28. Her experience is included because of how a man goes from the pedestal of “Mr. Right” in her eyes, to the lows of “What did I ever see in him?” Theresa relates that she really thought David was the man for her, but when living together she found him impossible, and like living with her father.

Many questions could be asked about their purpose with each other, and if Theresa were to have Aesthetic Realism consultations, she might be asked: “How is the world seen in your home?--as something to know and respect, or to scorn and escape from?”, and “Do you think knowing another human being is an exciting, adventurous, deep experience?” As men and women study the Aesthetic Realism explanation of love, it makes for a freshness and fullness every day that is the farthest thing from the boring, “ordinary life” women fear, as I once did.

Toward the end of He’s Scared, She’s Scared, there are pages of advice about what to do about your conflicts—such as buying something new for your kitchen or hanging a work of art on a wall. Take it from me: I had plants, pictures on the walls, and kept appointments, but it never encouraged lasting care for a man because if you don’t see and criticize your desire to feel nothing in this world is good enough to “have” you, it has to cripple your ability to “live your life to the fullest,” and to love another person.

Today, it is my great joy to know and love my husband, Jeffrey Williams. He is a junior high school teacher of health and physical education, and I respect him for the way he wants to bring out his students’ desire to learn. And he has written important articles about how the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method has the answer to the failure in education. I love Jeffrey for being a good friend and critic of me, which often includes delightful humor, and for what I am learning about his life as an African-American that has me hate racism even more.

Early in our knowing each other, I was affected by the lively way he spoke about his experiences, such as traveling in the U.S., Canada, and Europe as a hockey player. However, though I had changed a lot, I sometimes wanted him to concentrate on me, and felt agitated when he was talking about something else. When I spoke about this in an Aesthetic Realism class, Ellen Reiss asked why I thought I was not at ease. I said I wasn’t sure, and she asked:

"Do you think you want to see Jeffrey Williams as a person in this world, as himself, with meaning and wanting to get meaning from other things; or do you want to make him [an adjunct to yourself?]"

Hearing this, I thought of how I had already been devising ways of managing him and having him do things for me. And I was learning about what in me interfered with love, as Miss Reiss asked: “Do you think a woman would like to run a man?” “Yes,” I said, and she continued –

"Love has been for people a time when they run the world. How much [a woman] wants to run the world, and how much [she wants to] like the world has to be looked at."

I am in the midst of the most romantic and practical education-—learning both what interferes with love, and about the real pleasure of trying to know another person, and through him the wide, various world. And as Jeffrey and have been married for over four years, it is priceless to have the means of never feeling bored or trapped. We know that through studying the rock-solid principles of Aesthetic Realism we can be happier and more in love with every year!

A Song Has the Answer to the Trouble in Love

I learned that the answers to the biggest and most intimate questions of our lives is in art. “All beauty,” Eli Siegel stated in this landmark principle, “is the making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”

A song which I think has beauty is one that was very popular during World War II: “I’ll Be Seeing You,” written by Irving Kahal & Sammy Fain. This song puts together opposites central in love: intimacy and distance, specificity and width—the meaning of one unique loved person, and the meaning of the world in its diversity. The word “seeing” in the title itself is important. It has a lovely melody and the big, moving thing about it is that we hear someone showing love for another, not through concentrating and being exclusively, but through seeing that person in relation to other things. You feel the person singing this wants to like the world, even though far away from love.

The melody, which begins each verse, falls and rises in a way that is both poignant and hopeful. “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places.” This woman doesn’t say, as I once felt, “Everything is gray since you’re not here,” or “It breaks my heart to be reminded of where WE were alone together,” or “Who cares about all those places—if you’re not there!” She says she care more for these places, sees more meaning in them, through knowing him:

I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces all day through.
In that small café, the park across the way,
The children’s carousel, the chestnut tree, the Wishing Well.

As the melody rises and falls, we also hear that other people are included—-in a café, and the park; and we feel this woman is not using a man to feel she’s in her own miserable den of sadness, or that the world revolves around her, but that knowing him has her care more for the diversity of reality—through the circular whirl of a carousel, the verticality of a tree, and the depth of a wishing well.

Then, the last verse has even greater width, as notes rise higher, and we feel distance is at one with intimacy as she says that the qualities she cares for in a man she’ll also find in a summer’s day, in the morning sun, and in the moon. In the final phrases there is a repeated “oo” sound, which has wonder in it, on the words new, moon, and you. And that last “you” goes higher still, as if she wants her care for that man she is close to be related to the distant moon—in one world that they were both born to like.

I’ll be seeing you in every lovely summer’s day
In everything that’s light and gay –
I’ll always think of you that way.
I’ll find you in the morning sun,
And when the night is new,
I’ll be looking at the moon
[And] I’ll be seeing you.

I've been "having a blast" through learning what it means to use a man to care more for all people, and encourage that in him. It is the means for any person to have what Eli Siegel described as “the true grandeur, the true intensity of love."

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Trouble About Love and Commitment - Part I

I know many people will be glad to learn what is in this month's installment about why there so much trouble about Love:


Women have wanted to love passionately, fully, and have hoped to have the kind of wide emotion expressed in the lines of this famous sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and Ideal Grace.

But most women see ever having such a grand, enduring emotion as a one-in-a-million chance. Many things are blamed for the trouble about love: from not finding the “right man,” to feeling that the demands of work or family leave no time for a love relationship. But we can also feel: “There’s something wrong with how I see love and men, but I don’t know what it is.” At last women can learn what in us interferes with love, and change!

Eli Siegel explained that how we see the world as a whole affects everything we do, including how we see love. “Love,” he wrote, “is a means of liking the world through a person.” And, I learned, the thing that interferes with love--as in every area of our lives—is our desire for contempt. In The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, titled “What Opposes Love?” Mr. Siegel wrote:

"As Aesthetic Realism sees it, the only reason love is confusing is that it is a continuation of the confusing battle between a narrow like of ourselves and imaginative justice to the world…The answer, then, to the question: What opposes love? Is, The narrow self opposes love, with it great continual treasure, contempt."

What a relief it was to learn that the biggest cause of trouble in love was in me, after all the pain I felt and had given. As I learned what it means to give “imaginative justice” to people, and to criticize my contempt, I grew happier and, also, was able to care truly for a man, my husband Jeffrey Williams.

Here I tell of what I learned, and how my life continues to change; about a recent book on “commitmentphobia”—a modern term that has both sadness and humor; and a well-known song of the 1940’s which comments on the question of this seminar.

I. A Major Interference to Love Begins Early

Growing up, I was in that confusing battle Mr. Siegel describes between a narrow like of myself, and wanting to be just to things. From an early age, I remember the thrill of trying to draw accurately the roundness of a tree trunk, and I loved singing in the elementary school chorus—working with my classmates to join our voices rightly in harmony.

But being just to what wasn’t me didn’t seem to satisfy, and having contempt was a much quicker way to feel important. One way of narrowly liking ourselves is to feel we are too good for this messy world, and are superior to other people. Eli Siegel describes this in a young woman in his book Self and World:

"There is, for example, Miss Tessie Wilson who is displeased by her environment. She sees it as dull, and though she behaves like a good daughter, she feels that her mother and father are boring, that her relatives are boring, that the town in which she lives is boring, and that life, as she sees it ordinarily, is a pretty small thing.”

I also felt life was “a pretty small thing.” I remember wondering how I ever got into such a dull family, and bemoaned the fact that my parents were not in show business, because then I could have gotten the training and “breaks” for my singing talents. Feeling morbidly magnificent, like some sparkling jewel tossed in a dustbin, I spent lonely hours brooding on a desolate hillside in Yonkers, NY.

The one person I felt was good enough for me most of the time was my brother Kevin. He was an approving playmate, and we saw each other as so superior and witty—-making fun of everyone around us. But as we made less of the world together, we also had contempt for each other. Years later, Kevin and I became true friends when he encouraged me to study Aesthetic Realism. It means so much to me that we changed from laughing at the world, to encouraging each other to be fair to the world--to have honest emotions about people and things, near and far. And I respect Kevin for the important seminars on Aesthetic Realism he has given, the articles he has written on music, and for his work as a singer in The Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company!

II. Not Wanting To Know a Man Makes For Trouble in Love

Like many women, I thought that the purpose of love was to make me feel appreciated, adored, and able to get away from a cold, confusing world. When I was 19, I met John Templeton, and was very affected by his liveliness, good looks, and his adventurous desire to go new places like outdoor festivals, or take a spontaneous ride to Chinatown for an egg roll. I conceitedly saw myself as being everything a man could want, but after several years, John repeatedly put off our getting engaged. I was quietly furious and hurt, but I was not interested in knowing if his hesitations had to do with what he may have missed in me.

Years later, I was to learn from Aesthetic Realism that a man represents the world to a woman--the world she was born to know and like. Even as I was attracted by John’s energetic interest in things, I preferred getting him away from people, so we could be alone together. I was making a bad choice, which Eli Siegel describes in “What Opposes Love”:

“Love is with a possibility of seeing the world differently because something different from ourselves is seen as needed and lovely; or it is an extension of our imperialistic approval of ourselves in such a way that we have a carnal satellite.”

John and I eventually broke up, but I hadn't learned anything about what in me had made for the trouble. As years passed, I grew more bitter, and remember thinking with anger and despair when another relationship failed: “What does it take to get a guy to want to sick around, anyway?!” At the same time, I was also afraid to get married! I worried about our growing bored, and the thought of myself as an “ordinary housewife”, with small children pulling at my apron, struck terror in my heart!!

Then, by a phenomenal stroke of luck, I heard of Aesthetic Realism. In my first consultation, when I told about not having any luck in finding the “right man,” my consultants kindly asked: “Do you think some of the reason you feel bad, and don’t know why, is because there’s not enough love in you for other things? I answered “Yes” without hesitation, and they continued:

"According to Aesthetic Realism, love is the same as good will: the hope that another person or thing is stronger and more beautiful, as the means of ourselves being stronger. This is what women don’t know…. You are far more interested in how a man sees you that in how he sees the world. It is the first mistake a woman makes, but you don’t know how it makes you suffer."

In Aesthetic Realism consultations, I studied how to see my life in relation to the art and culture of the world. I worked on assignments that encouraged my desire to see other people fairly—like writing a short biography of my mother, and studying the opposites in characters like the very selfish Rosamond Vincy in George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch, and also the very admirable Jane Eyre in the novel by Charlotte Bronte.

In one consultation, when I complained of feeling unappreciated by a man, my consultants encouraged me to see that while men, too, can make mistakes I would benefit from thinking about what a man could object to in me—and asked if I wanted to think about this question, put humorously: “Are There Any True Reasons Why A Man Wouldn’t Want to Walk Down the Aisle With Me?” I had wonderful time thinking about this, and saw that I had had an energetic determination not to be pleased by things, or to think deeply about what a man feels. It was something important for my life to see I actually had a hope to be disappointed, and I felt like celebrating because I was able to scientifically criticize my contempt and change!


Coming in Part II: Discussion of a book about the fear of commitment, and concludes with a song--"I'll Be Seeing You"--which has the answer to this question.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Lord of the Rings and Its Meaning For Our Lives Right Now!

This month's post is an important article by Kevin Fennell on a story much cared for by readers and moviegoers:

The huge popularity of the current series of films, The Lord of the Rings has sparked a new interest in the trilogy of books on which they are based, by J.R.R. Tolkien. And they have caused people who read those books years ago, as I did, to remember what a pleasurable, gripping experience it was, and how deeply they affected us.

What is it about this fantastic tale--of two hobbits, Frodo and Sam, and the epic quest of what comes to be called the Fellowship, including dwarves, elves, and men--that has stirred people so deeply? What does the Ring of Sauron represent? And why does it matter so much to us that the Fellowship succeed in destroying it?
As a student of Aesthetic Realism, the education founded in 1941 by the American poet and critic Eli Siegel, I am excited to see that the reason these books have meant so much to so many people is that they deal with the most crucial matters of our lives in a powerful, even beautiful way. Aesthetic Realism teaches that every person is in a continuous fight between our deepest desire--to like the world honestly, to see meaning in people and things--and our desire to have contempt; to get “a false importance or glory from the lessening of things not oneself." The understanding of this fight in us is the key both to our individual happiness and to the biggest problems facing humanity now. It is also the key to understanding why people have loved Tolkien’s trilogy.

In a recent class taught by the Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, Ellen Reiss, she spoke about The Lord of the Rings--its meaning, its value as literature, and its relevance to us right now in the 21st Century--and it was absolutely thrilling! At the outset of this great class, Ms. Reiss said, “This book is about ethics centrally. A big thing throughout is whether there is anything that is going to be more powerful than this ring.” Do the Ring and the evil power it embodies correspond to the ordinary desire for contempt that is in every person, but which, through the Ring, becomes absolute: unchecked? And she quoted this important passage from Eli Siegel's book, James and the Children, A Consideration of Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw”, in which he describes what that fullness of contempt, would come to:

"You would see the whole universe as existing in order to be despised and give you glory…The tendency to take every beautiful thing and to see it as only serving you, is the fulness of certain tendencies which, in ordinary civilization, are kept within bounds because people wouldn't stand for it if they weren't. If this fulness were seen, people would think it was in another world."

There is an “other world" quality in the evil doings of Sauron, his dwelling in Mordor, and his strange, supernatural servants, the Ring Wraiths. But these are full-blown, fantastic representations of our desire to have our way with the world—to have another person or thing “serve” us—without any regard for what that person or thing truly is or deserves. Aesthetic Realism shows that the deepest thing in us--stronger, more insistent than the hope for contempt--is our desire to be fair, and that is the motive we are deeply longing to have win in our own lives! "The great fight in the Tolkien books," said Ms. Reiss, "is between good will and contempt."

Two Kinds of Power

An important aspect of Tolkien's story is his creation of hobbits--human-like, comfort-loving, small in stature, but having in them also something grand. In fact, the whole fate of Middle Earth comes to depend, not on characters with great outward power and wisdom like the wizard Gandalf and the Elvin queen Galadriel, but on Frodo and Sam. This has big meaning. Said Ms. Reiss:

"The fact that it is going to be the persons who seem most humble, non-magnificent, who are going to be the ones who will save the world, is quite beautiful. Frodo has good will. Sam has great good will in his faithfulness to Frodo...It is a great thing and a beautiful thing."

We heard a moving instance of this in a passage near the end of The Return of the King. Frodo has accepted the sole responsibility of destroying the Ring, but he and Sam have become separated in the wilderness of Mordor after an attack. To protect Frodo, Sam has taken the Ring and is wearing it around his neck. As he feels himself nearer to Mount Doom, in whose fires the Ring was made and must be destroyed, Tolkien writes, "The Ring's power grew, and it became more fell, untamable save by some mighty will." The Ring tempts Sam, tries to delude him into feeling that by putting it on his finger he could become a very powerful “hero of the age." There is a terrific struggle in Sam, but he is not fooled. He keeps his perspective. “He knew in the core of his heart," Tolkien writes, “[that] the one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command."

What Aesthetic Realism enables you to see--and I’m very grateful for this--is that honestly liking and respecting the world makes you strong; far stronger and happier than the contemptuous pleasure of elevating yourself above everything and everyone. What can look to us like the greatest triumph is really our greatest downfall. Learning this in Aesthetic Realism consultations changed the direction of my life. Contempt needs to be understood, in ourselves and in nations. The desire to have “a garden swollen to a realm," and “the hands of others to command" is a description of the contempt that drives the profit-based economic system that has done so much harm throughout history—and which people, more and more, are showing we don’t want; and it is also what has one nation brutally want to control another.

Frodo and Sam—and the Fight In All of Us

The intense fight between good will and contempt is stark in a further passage. When Sam finds Frodo and tells him he still has the Ring, which Frodo had thought was lost to the servants of Sauron, he at first is grateful. But as Sam begins to return the ring, having felt its terrible power, he bravely offers to share the burden with Frodo. “‘No, no!’ cried Frodo, snatching the Ring and chain from Sam’s hands. ‘No you won’t, you thief!’”

Although Frodo is soon very ashamed and apologizes to Sam, he shows here the readiness in a person to be suspicious, ill-natured, jealous. Even his dearest friend Sam can suddenly look like an enemy. “The contempt seems to all be coming from the Ring,” said Ms. Reiss, “and of course that’s not true.” What the Ring is able to evoke in Frodo is part of the basic equipment of every self: our desire to feel the world is against us and we have to, therefore, beat it out.

The fact that good characters in this book don't simply fight evil beings on their way to Mount Doom and dispose of the Ring, but also have to battle evil in themselves--and that they win--is very important. Virtue is not easy. There's something ugly in us that we need to come to grips with and see for what it is, for the better thing in us to come forth.

I didn't know, for example, that the way I wanted to use and manipulate other people (though I acted innocent and well-meaning); the way I inwardly hoped someone would do something weak or stupid so I could feel superior; or the way I wanted a woman to worship me and do my bidding, was why I disliked myself so much. I see now that my hope to change was the big reason I loved this book. It stands, in its strangeness and fantasy, for the change we all are looking for.

People and nations need to learn the difference between liking the world and contempt, and Aesthetic Realism is the education that can teach us that difference. It is taught in public presentations and individual consultations (in person and by phone) at the not-for-profit Aesthetic Realism Foundation, 141 Greene Street, New York, NY 10012, (212) 777-4490, www.AestheticRealism.org


Kevin Fennell lives with his wife and 11-year old daughter in New York City, where he is employed by the U.S. Postal Service and is studying for the profession of Aesthetic Realism Consultant in classes taught by the Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, Ellen Reiss. He has given public seminars on subjects including imagination, integrity and ambition, and has spoken about the lives of Wayne Morse, Elvis Presley, James Connolly, and such works as Charles Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit and Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Clothing and Our Effect on Men - Part II

Part I of this paper was posted on this blog, and can be seen in its entirety on my website: www.marionfennell.net.

Clothing and Our Effect on Men - Part II

2. The Beautiful Practicality of Good Will For Men

A crucial aspect of being proud of our effect on men is having good will, the “desire to have something else stronger and more beautiful, for this desire makes oneself stronger and more beautiful.”

I began to learn about this in a later consultation when I said I had felt unsure of how to dress when going on a date--not wanting to wear a tight sweater, or to wear a “sack”. For example, my consultants asked:

Consultants: Do you think you can ask yourself: `Should I appear in such a way that he will have to think about me, or is it good will for him to be able to see me as one of many people?’ If you’re interested in what affect [your appearance] will have on a man, that’s part of it. Would you like a man to feel that he can be pleased by how a woman looks, and like himself for how he is pleased? Because most men don’t.

MF: No?

Consultants: No, and they can resent a woman very much for the way they come to feel.

I was so surprised by this! It never occurred to me that a man could feel angry at what is brought out of him! Yes, men need to hear criticism about how they see the bodies of women. But women also need to respect the powerful, mysterious facts of reality which govern how men and women affect each other. With a purpose to have good will, a woman can look very beautiful and encourage a man's keenest interest in the world at the same time.

One of the greatest compliments a woman can receive from a man is for him to feel that she represents the wide world he hopes to know and care for. But unknowingly, our contempt interferes with this hope, preferring to have a man in an exclusive, cozy state of adoration, away from the world. In the Preface to his great essay “The Ordinary Doom”, Mr. Siegel writes:

“To know a person is to know the world become throbbingly specific. It is always the universe on two feet, with two eyes, and an articulate mouth. It is the universe we want to skip.”

How fortunate for me that I had been learning to see a man as representing the universe when I first met Jeffrey Williams, who is now my husband. While working on this paper, he reminded me of how I told him then that I hoped to dress in a way that would have people feel the world looked good to them. He felt it important for me to relate what a good effect hearing this had on him--that he had never heard anything like it, and would never forget it.

3. An American Designer Met the Hopes of Women

In the 1920's, the new direction in fashions also affected a young woman, who became one of the first designers promoted as having "The American Look": Claire McCardell. And as I say some of why her work is still widely respected, I’m not in any way saying that this is the style women should follow to feel proud of their effect on men, but as a means of illustrating the Aesthetic Realism principles I’ve described.

I use a book about her life and work, Claire McCardell: Defining Modernism, written by Kohle Yohannan and Nancy Wolfe in conjunction with F.I.T. Born May 24, 1905 in Frederick, Maryland, Claire McCardell grew up in privileged surroundings, and was affected early by the fashions her mother had made by a personal dressmaker.

After attending a local college in Maryland for two years, she finally convinced her parents to send her to New York City to study fashion design in the spring of 1925. This happens to be the same time that Eli Siegel’s article on the new styles appeared in The Baltimore American, and I wouldn't be surprised if she read it.

The 1920s was an era of much change in America, including in how women dressed. And in his article, Mr. Siegel wrote: "The best style in clothes is that which shows the beauty of [one's] body most with as little perceptive effort as possible." Claire McCardell said she felt that--and here we see the opposites of delicacy and sturdiness--

“Clothes ought to be useful and comfortable. I’ve always wondered why women’s clothes have to be delicate-why they couldn’t be practical and sturdy as well as feminine.”

It is this philosophy that led Ms. McCardell’s designs to be loved by many thousands of women, and for her to be called "the designer for Mrs. America.” She was also among the first designers to popularize separate, coordinated pieces, now called “sportswear”, and was widely admired for creating practical, affordable, attractive styles--many of which are still popular today.

But some of her ideas were at first met with resistance--as being too radical. Yohannan and Wolfe describe Ms. McCardell as caring for biking, skiing, and swimming, and say that she felt, for instance, that the padded, matronly swimwear then on the market, were "repressive", and unfit for the purpose of swimming. In one discussion on the topic, she added coolly, “Swimsuits are for swimming. If it’s a dress you want, I have that, too.”

The “Diaper Suit” was first introduced by McCardell in the 1930s, but was not widely popular until the 1940s. While it may not appeal to every woman's figure or taste, I think it shows "the beauty of [a woman's] body with as little perceptible effort as possible." And it certainly has met the hopes of women for over 60 years now, as I saw styles just like it on the racks last spring.

A young woman today might ask, "So, what's the difference between a bathing suit that was once seen as too daring and is now accepted as `classic’, and my wearing a thong bikini now?-—I’m ahead of the times!" I would ask her to ask herself: "Will the relation of hidden and shown in this swimsuit encourage a man to be more interested in the world, or have him focus exclusively on me?"

Claire McCardell will be remembered by students of fashion for many more innovations than I can show tonight, including her deep commitment to using America’s mass-production capabilities to provide millions of women with stylish, affordable clothing. One is her immensely popular day dress called “the Pop-over” of 1943: a denim, wrap-front with an attached oven mitt! And while women today don’t usually wear a dress for chores, it could be asked: could we be proud of our affect on a man, children, or a roommate by going around in something looking fresh and energetic.

One more example is from 1951: which has this description: “Top-stitched cotton twill sheath dress with slash pockets. Inexpensive and elegant: this credo defined McCardell and helped launch her in the world of working women." [p. 108]

It is, I think, a lovely relation of tightness and looseness, hidden and shown--what women are still hoping for to be proud of their effect on men.

In the final sentences of Mr. Siegel's article of 1925, he wrote:

“It is great fun, and it is needed fun, to watch the world change, and change for the better. How it changes can be seen by things--like fashions in clothes--most historians and sociologists do not use. They ought to use them.” Eli Siegel is the historian and sociologist who did use fashions to see how the world changes, and to understand the deepest hopes of people, of women and men--and I am glad he did!

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Clothing and Our Effect on Men - Part I

This article, is also published on my website: www.marionfennell.net

In my mid-20s, I was an active young woman who liked music, parties, good movies, and hoped to get married to a man who would love me for the rest of my days. But as years went by, I was increasingly unhappy with my life. After trying work as a secretary and a waitress, and two important relationships failed, I decided to go to college to study something I might really like to do: design clothing. I had liked sewing outfits for myself and others, and later earned good grades at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where I learned about some of the beautiful fabrics and garments of the past and present.

I was excited about what I was studying; but it wasn't until I studied Aesthetic Realism that I learned about the true, deep meaning of clothing. Decades before he founded Aesthetic Realism, Eli Siegel, then a young man of 23, wrote in an article for the Baltimore American newspaper about why he liked the new direction in the fashions of 1925, placing them in relation to cultural history:

“The kind of clothes that the people of any country wear, or the people of any time, shows the mind or spirit of that country and time. It is the most outward things that show the deepest desires and the desires least known.” [TRO #1545]

Aesthetic Realism teaches that the criterion for being proud of anything we do--reading a book, eating a meal, kissing a man, or putting on a garment--is whether our purpose is to respect the world, or have contempt for it. Learning to distinguish between these two purposes is crucial for a woman to be proud of her effect on men. I've learned, too, that the existence of clothing as such is evidence that the world can be liked. In the Aesthetic Realism Explanation of Poetry class, Ellen Reiss spoke some years ago on what poetry says about clothing, and asked:

“If clothing keeps you warm, makes you prettier, it makes you more yourself. With all the misuse of clothes, is it a tremendous tribute [showing] that the world is for us?” And she described how the phrase "It fits like a glove" is about that garment and you, but also says something so large about how reality can fit you. It never occurred to me to be thankful that the world provided materials to make clothing--like the earliest made of grass fibers, and later made of fabrics woven from spun threads--or to respect the people who made them.

I will tell here of what I learned, and Part II (next month) will include a very good, very influential American designer of the early to mid 20th Century, Claire McCardell. And as I talk about how women can use clothes and fashion to be proud of our effect on men, I also have to say that it is horrible and unnecessary that millions of people in our rich nation can't afford to have decent, attractive, well-made clothing to wear!

1. What Interferes With Being Proud of Our Effect on Men?

I am sure that along with knowledge of color coordination, proportion, and this season’s hemlines--women need to know that there is such a thing as one's purpose as to clothes that we are either proud or ashamed of. That is what I was learning in an early consultation as I spoke about how much the "right" wardrobe meant to me. My consultants asked me questions no one had before, such as:

"Why should you look as good as you can? Does the world somehow benefit? Or is it just that you would knock people’s eyes out? When you get dressed, or sew garments, is it to beautify reality, or to be superior to reality?" My answer was, "Superior."

And I came to see that that hurtful desire began early in my life. There were times, for instance, when after shopping for a new holiday dress and shoes, my mother would ask me to “model” them for my father, and to thank him. But what was more important to me was how he would say "Ohhhh, you look beautiful" than being grateful for his hard work which enabled me to have them.

As I grew older, I yearned for the day when I'd have a woman's figure, and could use it to my full advantage--feeling "If you've got it, flaunt it." Meanwhile, even as I sometimes worked hard to make a stunning appearance, I felt somewhere uneasy, not proud. Then, I began to learn there is an ethical basis for our choices as to clothes! In her commentary to The Right Of #1545, Ellen Reiss explains:

"Clothing should be a means of relating ourselves accurately to the outside world, or showing ourselves honestly....[but] people so often use clothes really to hide who they are and to put forth something that will impress and fool people; that is contempt, and is a big reason people are excessive about clothes."

I feel described by these sentences! There were times I had great pleasure in finding or making an outfit that had me feel “This is me!” And I once stayed up all night to make an outfit for my sister to wear for a special occasion, when she didn’t have money to buy one.

But many times I used clothing to impress and fool men, without knowing how much it made me ashamed. Women the world over need to know what Miss Reiss writes further in her commentary: "And, of course, women have used clothes as weapons, to weaken men."
When out on a date, I often dressed in a flirtatious manner in some of the daring clothes of the day: tight tops and hot pants, or a low-cut jumpsuit.

One summer my boyfriend, John, and I drove to Canada to see the Montreal Expo. After visiting several exhibits, I was surprised when he said he thought my outfit was too revealing, and that he was uncomfortable with how other men were looking at me. I dismissed his feeling as being old-fashioned: I was a modern, liberated woman, and thought: “If men can’t keep up with evolution and accept woman’s new freedom of expression, it’s their problem." But I wasn't proud of this attitude because I was looking for a cheap victory as I arranged to turn men's heads toward me, and not at the exhibits of countries from around the world. And as I think of that outfit now, I see it did not have a beautiful relation of the opposites of tightness and looseness, hidden and shown, and didn't encourage people's respect for women.

Today, many styles are even more revealing, such as skimpy tops showing bare torsos, and the low cut pants I see on girls in the high school where I work. Many of these states of undress are promoted by music videos and designers as the most avant garde fashions. But with all the bold and surprised-how-they-stay-on kinds of garments women wear, it is simply a fact of reality that when we use anything—money, education, love, or clothing— to have contempt for the world and people, we have to be ashamed.

Aesthetic Realism certainly doesn't tell people how to dress, or say women should look like prudes. But it does teach that we have an ethical unconscious, and we judge ourselves for how fair we are to the world, in everything we do. This knowledge is more precious than gold--what women and clothing designers are hoping for.

Part II will be posted next month!