Wednesday, December 10, 2014
I am glad to resume writing and very much encouraged to see more than 14,000 visits to these posts during the time I was away, very busy elsewhere.
Next week my anthropology class, consisting of very knowledgable people, will study the place of aesthetics in anthropology. Their interest on this subject is something I respect. For the place of art, it's central importance to the well-being of human beings, is still very little known and hardly recognized. Just what does art do? -- all the arts?!
When the functionalists and structural functionalists wrote about art, they were tentative and usually placed it somewhere to the side if at all. Malinowski did not see its place, though he respected Trobriand literature and translated it well. Some of the most admirable anthropologists -- like Firth and Sapir -- felt it was deeply important, but it has been hard to see just what function art actually has.
Through one's study of Aesthetic Realism a person begins to see that effective art is always a like of reality. To begin with, this concept needs to be studied for itself: and a fine place to begin is in Eli Siegel's great essay "What Is Art For?" in The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known.
Then one can see how it is of great advantage to an individual (let's say a Nuer of East Africa) to successfully like the world more, not less: not to be felled by difficulty -- but to be courageous: to see reality as something often difficult but always friendly. Not to fall by the wayside if for instance there is a raid on the cattle and many are stolen. To fight back and be part of the strength of the tribe or lineage -- to see what can be cared for: these are ways of liking the world and not seeing it as an enemy to be gone away from.
And then to show love for the world around one by, for instance, honoring the means of subsistence, the cattle of the people, in naming them imaginatively, admiring their markings aesthetically -- which a successful Nuer does. And this is part of the irreplaceable function of art.
Further, all the arts strengthen the individual and strengthen society. Art is critical. Art represents in a successful dance, or carving, or story, or song--a well organized reality. This is what we can see in a people when Aesthetic Realism leads the way and shows how it's there.
In The Aesthetic Method in Self-Conflict, Eli Siegel shows definitively how art, for art gives to a person, in outline, the resolution to conflict--which everyone in every culture feels in himself or herself. Mr. Siegel writes, giving personal histories, about this principle of great moment to the human sciences: "The resolution of conflict in self is like the making one of opposites in art."
How the opposites, beginning with Self and World, and going on to include such opposites as inferior and superior -- which I had in myself so intensely; being separate from people and together with them; selfishness and guilt, all of which affect the Nuer of E.E. Evans-Pritchard as much you or me -- how these opposites are resolved in art is central to understanding human societies. It can be shown that art has encouraged humanity's strength in meeting diverse environments and circumstances in every culture that's been described in detail enough to perceive it. It is evident that art has been central to the evolutionary success of the human species.
And as such, art belongs in every description of a particular society and how it functions.
What I've just written about is some of the background to what we will be discussing next week in the class at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation titled "Anthropology Is about You and Everyone" with delightful ethnographic examples from diverse cultures on December 19th.
My best to you all!
Monday, June 20, 2011
Spring-Summer 2011Alternate Wednesdays at 6:00 PM
May 18 - “Me vs. the World” in Anthropology
June 1 - Why Do Men and Women Fight in the Tribe and the Apartment?
June 15 - The Battle of Employer vs. Employee
- From Siberian Nomads to Detroit and Flint, Michigan
- Icelandic Sagas, tribal wars, and a recent New York Times
July 23 - Saturday 11 AM [Not Wednesday, July 27]
- "Tribal Art Looks for the Answer." Saturday @ 11 AM, Metropolitan Museum of Art. We meet with the Visual Arts and the Opposites class, taught by Marcia Rackow
- Students in the class present evidence of the need for aesthetics, in the widest sense, in anthropology and the social sciences.
141 Greene Street, New York, NY 10012
Thursday, July 31, 2008
The current series of issues in The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known deals with that, beginning with an anonymous review written in 1850 (Quarterly Review) about which I'll say more another time. The review is written passionately, and insists--at such an early time, 9 years before Darwin published Origin of Species--that all varieties of humanity across the globe evolved from a single source. The opposites of variety and unity, or many and one, are written about with a true egalitarian passion by this reviewer, as a matter of scientific fact. The atmosphere of the time, with attempts to justify slavery in so many quarters, "scientific" and not, is stoutly opposed in the article.
But in the class to which I'm referring, we asked about the first appearance of human beings as we know them: our undoubted direct ancestors in body, mind, and culture. And the oldest clear occurrence is in South Africa--the Blombos Cave and Stillbay region--some 70,000 years before the present. Sophisticated stone tools called bifacial points are there--and delicately made implements of polished bone, 40,000 years or so before they appeared in Europe: a fact that has surprised archaeology.
The people of Europe are direct descendents of those culture-brothers-and-sisters who left Africa and eventually found their way to Europe with the tool kit first observed in Blombos, at the southern tip of South Africa, by the seashore.
And the first "scratchings" of art are there: red ochre oblongs engraved with straight lines in regular geometric patterns! This is the first time in the world such a thing occurred. Even if earlier instances are found, this gathering of artifacts shows that the minds that made them were like our own. Humanity did not have to wait until the flowering of Franco-Cantabrian art for the art instinct to have begun to show itself.
What all this comes to is that a tremendous threshold had been crossed by 70,000 years ago--the threshold into humanity. The relation of person to world, and the relation of person to his or her self, had changed.
So then, what changed? And how do we know these living beings really did change from their ancestors? All of us feel we can be more human. What does that mean?
In the class I pointed to the fact that opposites that are in animals, including our immediate primate ancestors, came to a new, richer and kinder relation in human beings as we became truly human. And they can be in a better relation still. Those I spoke about first were Subjective and Objective. I learned how crucial these were from a lecture by Eli Siegel, founder of Aesthetic Realism--I'll quote this lecture in a moment. And there will be more about this entire subject later.
The answer to What does it mean to be human?--to be a person? we discussed was in several paragraphs of Mr. Siegel's lecture titled Aesthetic Realism and People. I will reproduce two paragraphs which are crucial both anthropologically and philosophically here, from issue no. 606, The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known (14 November 1984). I will not attempt to comment now, but I will later. Note that there is humor here along with philosophic strictness:
A person is a living being that can look at itself--look at one's motives, see how justly one is looking at the world--and be a critic of oneself. It is a great fact that out of inanimate reality, billions of years of whirling atoms, arose awareness. We are "reality when aware of itself."
To know what people are is very necessary, because through knowing what other people are we know about ourselves. There is not a person who has ever lived who can't tell us something about ourselves. For that matter, there isn't a thing. People are simply things, more complete than other things. The difference between a person and a lamp post is that the lamp post is a person who is incomplete because the lamp post is not conscious of itself. In other words, when that which is in the lamp post is in such a form that the reality becomes aware of itself and aware of things that can be called purposes--a certain attitude to everything else--the lamp post would be a person. It is necessary to see that between things and people there is a continuity; between people and ourselves, our very selves, there is also continuity; and at no point is the continuity broken.
People are simply reality when most complete; reality when aware of itself. The importance of people is that they are reality in the richest form. Through seeing that reality can be people, we see what reality can do. And so our attitude to plants and animals and to rocks and the skies can become richer.
The simple fact that people in Blombos caves decorated their bodies with beads made of shell, perhaps colored themselves with that red ochre, shows in the most elemental way that they were aware of themselves. "How do I look?" is a sentence of self-awareness. And when one looks at one's own motives, and asks, "How to I look to myself? Do I like myself or not, for the way I was angry last night?" it's self-awareness even more grandly. All this came from the evolution of inorganic matter into matter with awareness.
The period of South African prehistory in which awareness of self was emerging, when a new relation of opposites in the human consciousness was coming to be,is one of the highest points of human evolution. And we came from them.
For more about the Aesthetic Realism understanding of Anthropology, see Aesthetic Realism: A New Perspective for Anthropology and Sociology.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
It is possible--in fact it is necessary--for people of one culture to be able to understand people of any other culture. If it is true, as some think, that every culture is so completely unique that the feelings of a person born into it cannot be understood by a person of another background--well then, how can there be hope for the world to be kind? How can there be hope for citizens of the United States, steeped in American culture, to understand the people of Iraq from within and so, be kind? How can there be hope for Palestinians and Israelis to understand one another so deeply that war and hate are no longer the compelling things they have been for years?
For mutual understanding between people of different backgrounds to be possible--and we know it has occurred in history--there must be things that every culture has in common, every person has in common. It is this common basis that makes possible the "translations" we know have occurred: as when, for example, Sir Walter Scott wrote about a Jewish family, Isaac and Rebecca, with sympathy and accuracy in his novel Ivanhoe.
Certainly every culture is unique: the culture of Japan is unique. The culture of the Paiute-Shoshone nation is unique. But is every unique culture made up of general components shared by all cultures? Is every unique individual human being made up of general components shared by all people? Is it right to say that representatives of three cultures--let's say the Inuit of Alaska, the Mengti of New Guinea, and the Americans of Mt. Vernon, NY--are like the elements Zinc, Potassium, and Argon which are, all three, built of the same particles: protons, neutrons, electrons? Are there "elements" that build every culture, and are in a unique arrangement in each? If so, what are they? How can they be discerned and described?
There is an obligation on the part of every anthropologist to use our discipline, anthropology, to cross the cultural barricades that have separated people. As students of culture we ought to be in a unique position to make international understanding a reality. But that has not happened--and will not happen--through the accustomed channels. The big reason is this: Anthropology is still looking for a way, or method, of understanding a culture so that (1) the anthropologist can describe it truly and (2) people of any other culture can understand that description. I believe there are already some anthropological works that do convey inner feelings present uniquely in specific world cultures. Three are E.E. Evans-Pritchard's The Nuer; Bronislaw Malinowski's Sexual Life of Savages in Northwestern Melanesia; and Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa . But if we ask how can we do this ourselves, what information about a culture and selves in it we need to convey, and how we can gather that information, there is only one place in anthropological theory to find the answer.
It is the mission of this website to show that the method of Aesthetic Realism--the education founded by the poet, critic, and scholar Eli Siegel--is the means to meet this large and humane goal of scientific anthropology.
The Permanent Opposites Are the Natural Units Anthropology Needs
In every branch of science there are natural units by which measurements can be expressed. What are the natural units of anthropology?
A meter is a natural unit of length which is unquestionably used to measure--anything: the diameter of a star; the circumference of a diamond ring; the height of a child. Writes www.learner.org, "The meter was originally based on the size of the Earth, with the distance from the equator to the North Pole being arbitrarily defined as 10 million m."
What about the feelings of people? Are there natural units within them? For instance, if a person in China a thousand years ago left home to go on a journey, and then came back, would his or her feeling be intelligible to a person in any part of the world, of any culture? Are tears universal? Are smiles universal? Is longing universal? Are reunions universal? Here, I would say two pairs of "natural units" are the opposites of Separation and Junction, and For and Against.
The poem of Li Po (AD 701 - 762) "The River Merchant's Wife" has the immense poignancy of separation and junction, for and against. These opposites are so deeply and exactly seen by Li Po that the power of his poem to communicate deep feeling transcends cultural barriers. This poem enables a human self of ancient China to show itself clearly to a human self in America. It was translated by Arthur Waley and then Ezra Pound. All successful art refutes the notion that people of different cultures cannot communicate their deepest feelings.
A major purpose of my website Aesthetic Realism: A New Perspective for Anthropology to show how the natural units of anthropology--the actual elemental forces in the human self, and in culture, and in society--are the opposites that philosophy, aesthetics, and physics employ.
Among the most salient opposites in anthropology are: self and world, difference and sameness, separation and junction, order and freedom, for and against. They are aesthetic opposites, as first defined and described by Eli Siegel. I refer the reader, for example, to his Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites? (1955). Look at Freedom and Order and ask, Is any society without both? I will be saying more about the natural units of anthropology as time goes on, and why they are necessary and also give anthropology a beauty akin to art and literature.
January 23 • The Scientific Concept of Contempt
The difference between what a thing deserves and what a person gives it, explained Eli Siegel, is one definition of contempt. The contempt principle is new to the social sciences and necessary in order to understand anthropology & oneself.
February 6 • Liking the World: The Evidence from Anthropology
The thing that makes human selves different from other life forms is seeing and caring for the world’s structure of opposites, and showing this in art, science, and in language itself.
Saturday February 23 • Selves and World in a Great Museum
Anthropology class joins THE VISUAL ARTS AND THE OPPOSITES class at the Museum of Natural History (Central Park West @ 79 th - 81 st Street) at 11 AM.
March 5 • Equality, What Is It?
Looking at tribal cultures in Africa, America, and elsewhere—& wealth inequities in the U.S. today—we ask, “What is equality, really?”
March 19 • Good and Apparent Good
When Hamlet questioned the apparent good of avenging his father, did he stand for the best in a human self—in Africa, Asia, Oceania, or Manhattan?
April 2 • Selfishness: the One Thing Seen As Evil in Cultures Worldwide
From the Wall Street Journal: “Trader Made Billions on Subprime. John Paulson Bet Big on Drop in Housing Values” (1.15.08).
April 16 • The Organizing Principle Is Always Aesthetic
Students in the class speak on instances of anthropology, explained by Eli Siegel's Theory of Opposites.
Resources by Ellen Reiss, Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism. Important, powerful instances of her writing in the fields of literature and the social sciences
- Ellen Reiss on poet Robert Burns: 'I comment on two poems of Robert Burns that are a means of asking, How should jobs and work be in this land?'
- Ellen Reiss commenting on eight poems by Eli Siegel. The collection is titled "The Persistence of Fabric."
- Aesthetic Realism Can End Racism Writing by Ellen Reiss and others : Includes links to not-to-be-missed articles and websites countering racism
- Description by two New York City elementary school teachers of a class conducted by Ellen Reiss, discussing how a child deserves to be seen.
- Ellen Reiss writes on J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter, & the Romanticism movement in English literature. How are the ordinariness and strangeness of reality seen by Ms. Rowling?
- Ellen Reiss describes the motive behind unjustly "criticizing" John Keats in 1818 and illuminates why Aesthetic Realism has been seen untruly in our time.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
AESTHETIC REALISM AND ANTHROPOLOGY
Taught by Arnold Perey
6:00 PM alternate Wednesdays 3rd Floor Library
Aesthetic Realism Lesson in Anthropology Taught by Eli Siegel
This semester we study an Aesthetic Realism lesson in which Eli Siegel explored questions central to anthropology. We study it in light of this great organizing principle: “The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites.” Is this the concept which brings organization to the diversified field of anthropology? In this semester we say why the answer is yes.
January 24 Thanking the Corn Maiden—and Others
February 7 Does Marriage Include More Than a Couple? Looking at Westermarck’s History of Human Marriage
February 21 The Terrible Transformations of Respect -- India / Africa / USA
March 7 Thievery, Plagiarism & Contrariness in the Tribe
Beginning with Indians and getting to those of us who aren’t.
March 21 Separation from Reality and People: Why?
“The King of Abyssinia always dines alone.” --Ernest Crawley, The Mystic Rose
April 4 The Organizing Principle Is in Aesthetics
Students speak on an instance of anthropology.
Saturday April 21 What Principle Is in Native American Art?
Joining THE VISUAL ARTS AND THE OPPOSITES class at the Museum of the American Indian, 11 AM at One Bowling Green, NYC
For more information go to my website: Aesthetic Realism: A New Perspective for Anthropology and Sociology.
Monday, September 11, 2006
This class meets alternate Wednesdays, 6-7:30 PM, at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City.
• September 20.... Anthropology at Its Simplest — and Your Place in It
• October 4.... What Should Children Know about Anthropology?
• October 18.... The Evolution of Speech: Self-Expression and Raw Survival
• November 1.... Africa’s Blombos Cave: Were the First People in History Anything Like Us?
• November 18.... SATURDAY [ not Wednesday, Nov 15 ]
We meet with The Visual Arts and the Opposites class to see the show, “Coaxing the Spirits to Dance: The Art of the Papuan Gulf” at 11 AM, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
• November 29.... How Sameness and Difference Fight and Add to Each Other in the U.S.A.
• December 13.... Do Opposites Unite You to Everyone? Students Speak on their findings
Call the Aesthetic Realism Foundation at 212-777-4490 for information or log onto www.aestheticrealism.org.
See: Friends of Aesthetic Realism--Countering the Lies for point by point refutation of obviously ridiculous but nonetheless horrible lies by a few angry people.
And see: The Aesthetic Realism Online Library for a true account of the basis of Aesthetic Realism, reviews, an interview with Eli Siegel, and the truth about this kind philosophy.