Aesthetic Realism Consultant, Writer, Poet (1919-1980)
Aesthetic Realism Class of September 13, 1948
Taught by Eli Siegel
Report by Sheldon Kranz
Realism says that the world is dialectic. If this is so, then every
reality is also dialectic, i.e., made up of opposites, and this would
self. Eli Siegel has been showing this
by examining many fields, such as history, justice, physics, biology,
sociology, psychology. Last week,
philology, the study of language, was looked at, and shown to be
aesthetic, and related to humor.
Language Is Personal and Impersonal
Mr. Siegel said that if one looks at oneself, you will see that you have thousands of words in you, words that you feel are intimate and which you use every day. And yet these words go far back into the past and have tradition. English has to do with something as ancient as Sanskrit. Tradition is behind the commonest word, said Mr. Siegel. What we see is that even where we are being most individual in our use of words, we are still related to the whole world that went to make language. Mr. Siegel noted that a person in a mental hospital will sometimes make up a private language, trying to get to an isolated uniqueness; but even these people must use syllables that are familiar.The silliest sentence, he said, has parts of speech belonging to tradition. So language has to do with the utmost in being personal and the utmost in impersonality.Mr. Siegel read from Marquardt's Introduction to the English Language, to show the immense distances in time and space language has gone through to get to what we now know as the English language.
All language had its roots thousands of years ago in a language designated as Indo-European. Its exact dates are uncertain; where it was spoken is also unclear, although it is guessed to have been between the Vistula and Dnieper Rivers. But it is known that all the languages in the world today are dialects of Indo-European.
this happened is the study of philology. And, said Mr. Siegel, just as
evolution is going on all the time, so it should be seen, is language;
languages developed, how the unconscious of people was working in a big
Studied by the Grimm Brothers
Language, Mr. Siegel showed, is aesthetic--that is, opposites are made one. There is a sameness and yet difference among languages There is something basically the same in the word "father," in English, "Vater" in German, "Pater" in Latin, "padre" in Spanish, etc.; and yet one can readily distinguish among them, see their differences. How these variations occurred was studied, Mr. Siegel noted, by the Grimm brothers, who explained the great Consonant shift in language; how various things happened to the consonants in various parts of the world. This is known as Grimm's law. Another pair of opposites to be seen in language, said Mr. Siegel, are the personal and impersonal, which was mentioned above. Another pair Mr. Siegel mentioned is logic and feeling.
He said: Look at any sentence you speak. It has laws operating whether you know it or not. It has logic and structure. You can break it down and show parts of speech--the relation of every word to every other word. A tough guy as well as a professor talks in a strict, logical form. But, he said, a sentence is more than just that. It also has feeling, and aroma. To take a beautiful sentence like the closing sentence of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and see only its grammatical construction, he said, is to see only half of the sentence.What makes it beautiful is the oneness of grammar or logic, and deep feeling. Take a simple sentence, like "The sun shone on the weary girl." There is feeling in this sentence, but, noted Mr. Siegel, it should also be remembered that it is full of tradition in the history of each word.
Siegel pointed out how grammar goes along with the unconscious. He
said, every time
you know more about yourself, without being morbid, you are more
Grammar is ourselves. The mind of a person is as simple as reality
looking for organization. Words are part of that organization.
How Do Languages Change?Mr. Siegel also showed how men have protested against language. There has always been one force trying to keep language pure, and another force constantly experimenting and changing it, he said. This can be seen in Jonathan's Swift's essay written for the Tatler in 1810. Swift complains of all the slang, truncating of words, in a sloppy way, as "rep" for reputation. Said Mr. Siegel: "This reminds one of the expression of last year, "natch", for "naturally." Swift's protest about what was happening to the language in the 18th century shows how economy goes through language. Words have been collapsed for convenience, and sometimes it has taken centuries to accomplish it. But, said Mr. Siegel, where it met something in people, it stayed.Where it did not, it disappeared. "Who can say who turned a word like 'hospitalium' into its present form 'hotel'?" The changes in language have been collective, have had to do with the unconscious of peoples. Language has persisted and also changed at the same time. Mr. Siegel showed this with selections from The Life and Growth of Language (1875), by the foremost American philologist, William Dwight Whitney. Mr. Siegel also read an essay of Lord Chesterfield on language, written in 1754. "He, too, is worried about the language," said Mr. Siegel, "and he nominates Samuel Johnson as dictator of language. He will set up the laws. But where there have been laws of language, there has also been the breaking of laws."
Slang: Some Fails, Some Succeeds
For example, slang is a part of language. Some of it fails, some succeeds. But, noted Mr. Siegel, slang keeps to grammar. Every sentence, no matter how slangy, has a relation to a sentence a thousand years ago, and to one that will be a thousand years from now. Slang that has remained does so because of its success. Words like "schliemiel," expressions like "fit to be tied," a word like "barfly," a phrase like "wise guy," all have sounds that in many cases can be seen as poetic, and express something in people that makes them stick and become part of the language.
Said Mr. Siegel, looking at language, and especially the English language, we see many other opposites made one. Language is soft and hard, has curlicues and backbone. The English language has had a music from the beginning. It has the possibility of expressing something roughly and also intricately.
Mr. Siegel read from Richard Carew, Epistle concerning the Excellences of the English Tongue (l605), who talks of the beautiful dualism of the English language. Italian, he says, is too delicate, Spanish too majestical, Dutch too gutteral. English has delicacy and strength at one.
Then we heard a Jesuit, Dominique Bouhours (1632-1702), attack all languages, except the French. That is the only civilized language, he says.
To show what happens in
translating from one language to another, and
certain things are so as to construction and expression in different
Mr. Siegel read the second half of his great poem, "Hot Afternoons Have
Been in Montana," translated into French by Jola. He noted that there
deep reason for the French construction, a logical one.
Grammar, Language, & Ourselves
To see the problem of grammar and language aesthetically, Mr. Siegel concluded, is to see it closely related to oneself. And he said, what a beautiful sentence is doing is what we are trying to do. This was made wonderfully clear with the talk of last week on philology.