Part 1:
How Do We Want to Express Ourselves?


Part 3:
How Do We

Want to Express Ourselves?


Aesthetic Realism seminar:
How Do We Want to Express Ourselves?
with a discussion about Horace Greeley
By Michael Palmer

I am grateful to have learned from Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism what it means to express ourselves, truly, honestly.  In his great lecture, Aesthetic Realism and Expression, Mr. Siegel said:
To express ourselves…would be to do that which our selves would be most pleased with and most benefited by.
He showed that the expression that pleases and most benefits us comes from our deepest desire to know and like the world, be deeply affected by it, and to want to use what we are to add to the world.  And he described the greatest opposition to true expression—the desire in every person to have contempt for the world—to lessen the meaning of things and people for the false glory of oneself.  This has made for emptiness, for the ordinary pain people experience in their lives every day, and for the greatest horrors including racism and war.
        Here I discuss what I have learned from Aesthetic Realism about my own life, and about aspects of the life of the famous American newspaper editor of the 19th century, Horace Greeley.  As editor, Greeley welcomed what could have a good effect on people’s lives.  He was passionately for, he said, that in the world which would, “improve the moral, intellectual or social conditions of mankind.”  And he tried to be true to this in ways important in American history.

 Two Ideas of Expression Begin Early

In Aesthetic Realism and Expression, Eli Siegel explained:
We have to be impressed before we can express ourselves.  Part of the being impressed is the being stirred. 
        As I was growing up in the Bronx, I felt most stirred and expressed through sports, especially baseball.  My father and older brother both cared for sports and I got the feeling that’s where life was most exciting and interesting.  I memorized statistics about players and the history of sports and I would practice doing play-by-play descriptions of games, hoping to become a sportscaster.

        But I didn’t know then, what Aesthetic Realism explains, that my deepest  desire was to like the whole world and, like many boys today,  I used my care for sports against everything else.  For instance, when guests came to the house, I chose often to go to my room and stay there alone listening to games on the radio.  I saw people’s lives and their interests as dull and thought it best to keep to myself.  This, I learned, was contempt, which stopped me from seeing meaning in other people, learning from them, and being useful to them.   This contempt made impossible the deep feeling and expression that I desperately wanted.

     When I learned this great principle of Aesthetic Realism, I began to see what I was hoping for in caring for sports, “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”  I began to see that baseball has a structure that is aesthetic, a oneness of opposites.  For instance, on the baseball diamond, there is point and width.  You begin at home plate and go out, all the way to the far reaches of the outfield.  In my life, I was a lonely home plate, hoping all would center on me, and I hadn’t wanted to reach out widely to people and things.  Baseball is also a rich relation of the opposites of one and many.  In a game there are nine individuals, all working together for one beautiful purpose—to play the game well and it is thrilling.

        But not knowing I needed to use baseball, as everything else, to like the world, I instead used it to glorify myself.   As a teenager, I played on a Police Athletic League team.   We had won the borough championship and were going for the City title.  In the semi-final game against Brooklyn, I intentionally ignored a sign from my coach to lay down a sacrifice bunt.  I wanted to impress, among others,  my cousin who had come to the game, so instead of bunting, I swung away and grounded out, killing what could have been a big inning.   The coach took me out of the game.  Hurt and embarrassed, I expressed myself by sulking and rooting inwardly for my team to lose.  This was tremendous ill will.  I didn’t care about my teammates and all the work it had taken to get  us where we were.  Fortunately, my team went on to win the City championship, but I was deeply ashamed of how I had been.

        As the years went on, I cultivated a “nice guy” exterior, wanting to be liked, but I was pretty cold inside and mean, not interested in knowing or strengthening anyone.  I felt my life was empty and didn’t know why.  I was so fortunate to have met the kind comprehension of Aesthetic Realism and began to learn what it would mean to be truly expressed.   In an Aesthetic Realism class I attended with Eli Siegel in 1972, through questions asked me, I began to see how I had been stifling my expression.  He asked me:
Do you think you hope people be as good as they can be?
MP.  I think I can have better hopes for people.
ES.  Do you like the way you see any person here?  Do you like how you see Bill Jones [a student in the class]?
MP.   I haven’t thought about it.
ES.  That’s right, you’re not enough interested.   And he said,
“A human being, according to Aesthetic Realism, has an infinite possibility of being related to other things,  an infinite possibility of conscious relation…{There is} the line from Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses”—‘I am a part of all that I have met. ‘ But Ulysses could also say, ‘I am a part of all that I haven’t met.’   Do you want to come into your heritage?  Your heritage is all reality besides yourself as seen by you.”
I love Eli Siegel with all my heart for teaching me how to come into my heritage by wanting to be just to people and things in the world.  This is an ongoing wonderful adventure and has made for new life in me with emotions and expression that I treasure.

To Part 2, click here

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  Michael Palmer