Part 1: Heavy and Light; or Radio, Cinema, and a Bit of Literature

Part 2: Heavy and Light; or Radio, Cinema, and a Bit of Literature

Part 3: Heavy and Light; or Radio, Cinema, and a Bit of Literature


Aesthetic Realism class report:
"Heavy and Light; or Radio, Cinema,
and a Bit of Literature"
By Michael Palmer

     In the Aesthetic Realism class I report on, we heard a tape recording of a lecture given by Eli Siegel on June 22, 1975 titled "Heavy and Light; or Radio, Cinema, and a Bit of Literature."  This talk was an illustration of the great Aesthetic Realism principle, "All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves."  In explaining how the opposites of heavy and light are in the world and in ourselves, Mr. Siegel provided the understanding of questions that have troubled people, including why they feel low or depressed.   He said, "I'd like people to see at the beginning that the relation of heavy and light is an aesthetic matter, and fully seen, it is the one ground for hope in the world." 

      Mr. Siegel used as a text a book of 1938 America Now, an Inquiry into Civilization in the United States, edited by Harold Stearns.  In the opening chapter by Louis R. Reid titled "Amusement: Radio and the Movies," Reid speaks of the increasing popularity of those arts, and says it is, because American society is looking for entertainment and diversion.   Commenting on this, Mr. Siegel said, "The purpose of radio and the cinema is to entertain but if a person were entertained and couldn't say he learned something, he'd be very displeased with himself."  He explained, "Motion pictures and radio, like all art, are made up of two things corresponding to heavy and light.  All perception is learning.  All art tells us something.  Furthermore all art should entertain.  So we have a oneness of heaviness and lightness."  He said this is related to contempt and respect; "contempt is lightness used for ego purposes--whenever you have contempt you make light of something."   This explains what made for great pain in my life.   I preferred making light of things, trivializing.  I was not deeply interested in people and their feelings.  And therefore, I often felt empty, lonely, weighed down.

      Mr. Siegel showed that the right relation of these opposites is what people are looking for.  He said, "it is because we have two desires all the time.  We'd like our life to be full, but we don't want it to be burdened.  How to have that?  It is necessary to see at any moment that we are looking for the oneness of heaviness and lightness to be found in art."

      He explained that this desire has been dramatic in the history of America as to music.  Americans, he said, have not been sure how serious they want to be about music.  For example, in 1938, "the Toscanini era had begun."  Reid mentions that Toscanini was brought to America by NBC but had competition on the airwaves from sports broadcasts and comedienne Gracie Allen.  I and others in the class were moved as Mr. Siegel described how Toscanini put together heavy and light.  He said, "Toscanini affected people musically very much.  While he was debonair as all conductors should be, there were stories [showing] that he could be furious, keep his orchestras overtime to be sure they played the right way."  Toscanini, he said, "is part of the national imagination." 

      And while America, Mr. Siegel said, had been "edging and edging to Tchaikovsky, then to Bach, Schoenberg and Shostakovich, people were also affected by Tin Pan Alley which could be called light music."  "The writer of songs, he explained, "had the problem of affecting the emotions of people and still not taxing their perceptions too much."  He mentioned torch songs and said "There are songs which take weeping and show it to be material as great as any in art.  In opera, the aria is chiefly sad--how sadness is presented to the delight of listeners is something."

      Later in the class, during the discussion of the lecture, I mentioned how much I had been affected by torch songs.  I used to turn off the lights and listen to Frank Sinatra recordings--something I didn't talk about.  While not praising this, Class Chairman Ellen Reiss asked me, based on what we were studying in this lecture, "Do you think in doing this, you were trying to be heavy and light at the same time?  Do you think it made for any release in you and also made you feel more stable, rooted, solid?"  Yes, it did.  This made conscious the opposites I was hoping to have in a better relation.

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