Aesthetic Realism Consultant, Writer, Poet (1919-1980)
Turning Over a New Leaf; or, What Is Literature? By Sheldon Kranz
Presented October 19, 1974, at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, 141 Greene Street, New York City
4. People and Novels
I had the greatest personal and aesthetic experience when I began to study Aesthetic Realism with Eli Siegel. My life was given a form, a shape, a coherence which made me respect myself and life more. That personal and aesthetic criticism is continuing now.
In his lecture on the novel, Mr. Siegel says:
If we could find some arrangement in the happenings of our lives, we should that much be prouder of ourselves and we'd be happier, stronger, and so on. It is that arrangement of events, with all that goes with events, that novel criticism is trying to understand; and it is that arrangement, likewise, that we must try to understand if our lives are to make sense. Very few lives have made sense. Novel criticism is the same, in the deepest meaning, as criticism of events in any person's life.
It is the aesthetic criticism of self, which Eli Siegel has formulated and put into action, that makes him unique in the history of thought. It is the showing of how we have to have our lives be like a poem or a novel, and what that implies, that changed my life and has changed the lives of others so magnificently. It is this way of seeing people that I now teach to others in Aesthetic Realism consultations. A question I've asked is: "How do you think a novelist would see your mother? How is that different from how you see her?"
The way life and the novel met in my lessons was wonderful. How I saw people as such in relation to how I saw characters in a novel I was working on was one of the chief subjects. To a large degreee I saw people, remotely, two-dimensionally, and also as interferences. Clearly, this was not much help in writing a novel. And it was criticism like the following that had me reconsider what kind of world I was in and who people were, and were the means of my seeing them with new warmth, accuracy, and depth. This made it possible for me to become an Aesthetic Realism consultant and talk to people about the questions of their lives, with the perception of a good novelist--with dimension, perspective, and a good deal of emotion--people of different backgrounds and experiences, men, women, husbands, wives.
For example, Mr. Siegel asked me:
Eli Siegel: As you write, are you mastering the characters, or are they mastering you?Then referring to the main character in my novel, Martin, and his mother, Elsa, Mr. Siegel asked me: "If Elsa were very hurt by Martin, could you describe that in all its terror?"
Sheldon Kranz: I'm mastering them.
Eli Siegel: In the long run that's bad. You don't write about them as if you were afraid
of them. People in real life you think are terrible, but you'll manage them in the novel
and make them softer. In a way you're getting revenge on people. You've been too
polite to let your powers as a novelist come forth.... We have to take the elbows of
people and like them anyway.
Sheldon Kranz: No. I'd tailor it. I think that's giving it form. I can't get the "raw" effect.
Eli Siegel: If you cared more for people, you could get the "raw" effect. Do you think that's
a trend in you? Do you want to put cashmere robes on all machines? If I thought you
did this because you really cared for people, it would be all right. But I don't think so.
I think it comes from contempt.
Then Mr. Siegel asked me a surprising question:
Eli Siegel: As a complete human being, do you mean enough to yourself? Are you enough
excited by the fact that you can think of Peru now? Do you give it enough meaning?
Sheldon Kranz: No.
Eli Siegel: If you're more interested in your private self than in the self that is in relation,
you won't be enough interested in that. I believe you're having a time about the novel
because a certain thing about perception you haven't welcomed enough. You don't
see that you don't like the fact that you made the world manageable. You're after
Sheldon Kranz: I can say I'm thinking about my characters proudly. But it's hard for me
to say I'm thinking about people proudly. Why is that?
Eli Siegel: You want to think about people only if they belong to you. Do you want to
know a person as thoroughly as you can?
Sheldon Kranz: I haven't.
Eli Siegel: You want to make up by immaculateness with a book for insufficiencies
outside a book. You go within Martin and give him complications because he's
you. But when you get in the other persons you sort of tiptoe. You are going
more within people, but you are not comfortable there, yet. It's going pretty
well, but I don't think you feel people yet the way you want to. Every one of
these characters is a forest; would you like to be in it?
Sheldon Kranz: Not wholly.
Eli Siegel: That's right. You're still somewhat repelled by the self of another. But there
are signs of courage there.
I never heard anything remotely like this in my writing courses at the University of Iowa with Robert Penn Warren and others. What Eli Siegel saw about the relation of literature and the self is new and so needed: that a person, like a character, wants to be seen as a mobile relation of opposites--of self and universe, of unity and diversity, strength and weakness, good and evil, and more. To see oneself as having an aesthetic structure like a character of Hawthorne's or Thackeray's has, is to see oneself as one truly is. To see other people with the depth, mystery, and intricacy they have is to see as a good novelist does.
It is this seeing that Aesthetic Realism consultations carry on. And when the world, including the literary world, understands the magnitude of the work Mr. Siegel has done in this field of self and aesthetics, he will be placed among the great critics of all time.
I didn't see how revolutionary what I was hearing was. But it was true criticism, and it gave me new life and new perception. Eventually, it made for the writing of poetry I am proud of.
5. Love Has the Opposites in ItLove is still one of the emotions men and women are trying to understand, have to understand if they are to be happy. Perhaps that is why it has always been, and still is, the most popular subject in literature. According to Aesthetic Realism, the purpose of love is to care for the whole world through another person. And in every great piece of literature about love, even where there is pain, there is the feeling that the world is very much present and that another person represents the world. One feels that in Romeo and Juliet, in Jane Eyre, in Wuthering Heights, and in the love poems of every century. Take these final lines from Francis Thompson's "An Arab Love Song."
Leave thy father, leave thy mother
And thy brother;
Leave the black tents of thy tribe apart!
Am I not thy father and thy brother,
And thy mother?
And thou--what needest with thy tribe's black tents
Who hast the red pavilion of my heart?
Those lines are intense, yet how they spread out in that last line: "Who hast the red pavilion of my heart." Thompson, at the moment he came to that line, saw love as warmly intimate, yet taking in the whole world; neat and spreading out. It is why he could see his heart as a red pavilion. It is how we want to see love; as a oneness of the personal and impersonal. However, as literature tells us, love can go wrong; and Aesthetic Realism is the first body of knowledge to show that the chief reason love goes wrong is because another person is not used to like the world but to disdain it, have conempt for it. A person is used for consolation, which separates the opposites of personal and impersonal with the emphasis on the personal.
Every Aesthetic Realism consultation is a novel or poem in process; and where the question of love comes up, as it so frequently does, consultants have seen how two people unknowingly go against the principle represented by the Francis Thompson poem, and use love to go away from the world, and cause each other pain.
For instance, take Richard Lehman, a married man in his early 30s, who had consultations with an Each and All trio. He was a successful businessman who lived on Long Island, and seemed to charm everyone but his wife. Though they had two children, they were considering divorce. We asked Mr. Lehman:
Each and All: Do you feel you see your wife in relation to other things?
Richard Lehman: I'm not sure.
Each And All: Are you interested in the question?
Richard Lehman: Not especially.
Each And All: Then your wife will go on punishing you.
What we were trying to show Mr. Lehman is that a good marriage, like a good poem, has the presence of the world in it. When Francis Thompson talks of the "red pavilion of my heart," he makes his heart like the outside world; and the poem, with all its seeming desire to possess a person utterly, has a great sense of the large, impersonal beauty of reality.
And a wife may do the same thing as a husband. There is Harriet McLean. Mrs. McLean lives in Cincinnati. Her husband is a corporation lawyer, about 40. She had come to feel he was more and more distant. She and Mr. McLean came to New York for a week to have Aesthetic Realism consultations. At one of Mrs. McLean's consultations we talked of how love can be used as a solace and against the world, and how the personal is used against the impersonal.
Consultants: Did you feel that the outside world was unfriendly, and in having Mr. McLean
care for you, that would take care of things?
Harriet McLean: Yes, I did. I felt he was a comfort and would protect me.
Consultants: Aesthetic Realism says that when we use a person to hide from the world with,
eventually we come to hate that person because we have used him and he has used
us against the biggest desire we have.
And we asked Mrs. McLean:
Consultants: Do you think you see your husband too personally? Do you only want to think
about how he sees you?
Harriet McLean: Well, that is the thing that concerns me the most.
Consultants: Do you think in order to understand your husband accurately, you have to put
together where he is personally concerned with you and where he has a large impersonal
relation to the rest of reality? We can tell you, Mrs. McLean, if you do that, your husband
will not be distant from you.
Mrs. McLean was learning how to see her husband as a relation of personal and impersonal, near and far, intimate and wide. In the "Song of Songs," from the Old Testament there is an intense personal feeling that takes in the whole world. The images are of reality as such; and yet how intimate they sound. The music of the lines is wide and generous, and simultaneously, there is economy and compression. Richard Lehman and Harriet McLean need to see that love, like a poem, is a making one of these opposites; and consultations go after making them a reality, as they are in these lines from "The Song of Songs."
The voice of my beloved!
Behold he cometh leaping upon the mountains; skipping upon the hills.
My beloved is like a roe or a young hart:
Behold, he standeth behind our wall,
He looketh forth at the windows, showing himself through the lattice.
My beloved spake, and said unto me,
Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of the singing of birds is come,
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.
6. The Most Difficult of Subjects; and, Style in Prose
If love is the most written of subject in literature, death, surprisingly, is the next most popular. It is the subject that, in ordinary life, has been the most frightening, the most depressing. So why should one deliberately go out of one's way to write about it or read about it? It shows that people have a courage and a desire to tackle the most difficult of subjects, to take existence where it is least understood, toughest, and make sense out of it--at least, to so shape it through words that beauty occurs. If beauty can be made out of the subject of deem, including grief at some person's death, it says something in favor of reality.
Death has been written about with surprising color, liveliness, and variety. For example, Christina Rossetti can write strongly and sweetly:
When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me.
Robert Browning can write with his customary rough energy:
I was ever a fighter so-one fight more,
The best and the last!
I would hate that death bandaged my eyes and forebore,
And bade me creep past. . . .
Edna St. Vincent Millay eloquently expresses people's anger at death. She speaks musically for the centuries when she writes:
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind:
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
Walt Whitman sees death very differently. He can write this way, and one feels it is sincere:
Dark mother always gliding near with soft feet,
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?
Then I chant it for thee, I glorify thee above all,
I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come unfalteringly.
And death has been written about in a simple, plain style; it has also been written about in a style that is rich and complex. Both ways can be beautiful. But as Aesthetic Realism points out, simplicity and complexity are made one in every fine piece of writing, including every fine piece of writing about death, though one opposite may be more apparent at first glance.
A prose writer who has stood for the bare, the simple, the unadorned sentence is Ernest Hemingway. The prose style of his stories and early novels of the 1920s affected writers for decades afterward. Many tried to imitate that tight-lipped, economical, monosyllabic style. Most of the imitations were hollow. For at Hemingway*s best, the simple style was not only that. It gave rise to large emotion. There was a feeling of what had been left unsaid; and the unsaid was rich and complex. "The purpose of a clipped style," said Eli Siegel in talking of Hemingway, "is to show you have composure, and to say: Reality, I can take you."
As moving an instance of this as any, is the closing scene in Hemingway's 1929 novel, A Farewell to Arms. The subject is death. It is World War I. Frederick Henry, who narrates the story, is an ambulance driver in Italy. He falls in love with an English nurse, Catherine Barkley. Catherine becomes pregnant, and at the end of the novel she dies in childbirth. We have love, pain, and death expressed with the utmost economy and simplicity. Simultaneously, we feel a world of emotion, of heartbreak just below the taut surface. The effect is powerful. As Mr. Siegel observed, "This was said with such simplicity, people felt at last English was dealt with justly." This is the conclusion of A Farewell to Arms:
It seems she had one hemorrhage after another. They couldn't stop it. I went into the room and stayed with Catherine until she died. She was unconscious all the time, and it did not take her long to die.
Outside the room, in the hall, I spoke to the doctor. "Is there anything I can do tonight?"
"No. There is nothing to do. Can I take you to your hotel?"
"No, thank you. I am going to stay here a while."
"I know there is nothing to say. I cannot tell you-- "
"No," I said. "There is nothing to say."
"It was the only thing to do, " he said. "The operation proved--"
"I do not want to talk about it," I said.
"I would like to take you to your hotel."
"No, thank you. "
He went down the hall. I went to the door of the room.
"You can't come in now," one of the nurses said.
"Yes, I can," I said.
"You can't come in yet."
"You get out," I said. "The other one too."
But after I had got them out and shut the door and turned off the light, it wasn't any good. It was like saying goodbye to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.
Style, like the world itself, can be a spare New England landscape. Hemingway represents that. Style can also be like a tropical jungle, rich and complex.
A writer of the 18th century, not a novelist, but an essayist, who represents this aspect of style and who wrote one of the most eloquent passages on death, is Joseph Addison. We are a long way from Hemingway in these sentences of Addison from his essay on Westminster Abbey. His prose has a swelling cadence, a rising and falling, that brings us close to poetry.
Both the New England landscape and the jungle are in us, and both can be cared for. And we should be able to care for Hemingway and Joseph Addison as representing these opposites of contraction and expansion, or the simple and the complex in ourselves. One of the things I am most appreciative of is the fact that, through my study of Aesthetic Realism, I have come to care for such diverse writers, such different ways of seeing.
Addison, in his essay, says he uses looking at the tombs in Westminster Abbey to rid himself of envy, greed, and human vanity. Death, for him, is the great joiner, that which makes every person akin. And he expresses this with grandeur and a rich, organ-like music. Yet, there is simplicity, too, in his long sentences. It is in their careful symmetry, in the way segments are balanced one against the other; it is in the essentially simple idea of death as the great leveler to which all men must come. Here is the conclusion of "Westminster Abbey" by Joseph Addison, which appeared in Number 26 of the periodical, The Spectator, in 1711.
When I look upon the tombs of the Great, every Emotion of Envy dies in me; when I read the Epitaphs of the Beautiful, every inordinate Desire goes out; when I meet with the Grief of Parents upon a Tombstone, my Heart melts with Compassion; when I see the Tomb of the Parents themselves, I consider the Vanity of grieving for those whom we must quickly follow; When I see Kings lying by those who deposed them, when I consider the rival Wits placed Side by Side, or the holy Men that divided the World with their Contests and Disputes, I reflect with Sorrow and Astonishment on the little Competitions, Factions, and Debates of Mankind. When I read the several Dates of the Tombs of some that died Yesterday, and some six hundred Years ago, I consider that great Day when we shall all of us be Contemporaries and make our Appearance together.
Compare this to: "After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain."
Both are musical; both show reality truly. Death, from one point of view, is a simple, monosyllabic fact. From another point of view, who understands it, it is so mysterious and fathomless. So it has the same opposites life has in another arrangement. And when these opposites of simplicity and complexity are reconciled, art occurs. Death then can be a lively subject of life; it can be a subject of beauty; and, as such, it can be used to like the world as much as any other subject or fact. This is the message of Ernest Hemingway and Joseph Addison.