Poetry, Complaint, & Baseball

Poetry, Complaint, & Baseball

We are proud to publish a group of 17 short poems by Eli Siegel, which he wrote in 1977 and titled simply “Some Poems.” They are beautiful. Many are playful, have humor. All are musical. And in them is that way of seeing which Eli Siegel always had: he saw, and enabled people to see, the freshness, surprise, wonder that are in things as such. The poems are scientific: they state something factually, sometimes critically. And they show, as Aesthetic Realism itself does, that science and beauty, exactitude about the world and love of it, are the same. This is what people most want to know.

We also print portions of a paper by Barbara McClung, from an Aesthetic Realism public seminar of last month titled “The Ethics of Complaint; or, Do a Woman’s Objections Make Her Proud?” Mrs. McClung teaches 3rd grade at PS 184 in Manhattan.

The matter of complaint, our showing we object, takes in a child’s whining over breakfast, and protests on the streets of a city; a wife’s scorn for her husband’s shirt, and the Declaration of Independence. It can be right or wrong, beautiful or ugly. On October 11, it was present in a way that shocked people and made them ashamed, in the third game of the American League Championship Series between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. What can we learn about ourselves from that violent inter-objection which included Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez’s throwing at Karim Garcia’s head; Garcia’s then trying to hurt Todd Walker with a hard slide past second base; and 72-year-old Yankee bench coach Don Zimmer’s trying to punch Martinez, and weeping with shame later?

The fight which Mr. Siegel showed to be constant within every person is present in us as to sports too. It is “the fight between respect for reality and contempt for reality” (TRO 151). Not understanding this fight, people, including at baseball games, cannot distinguish between respect and contempt in themselves.

Sports, like art, Aesthetic Realism explains, give form to the world: they make a one of reality’s opposites. The known and unknown are one in a baseball game: we know its rules; we know the arrangement of the field with those four symmetrical bases — yet amid what we know, is such surprise, heart-thumping uncertainty, suspense. And expansion and contraction are together: the same ball that hurtles through much space is made to nestle snugly in a catcher’s mitt. People have felt reality as beautiful through baseball. The love for it has been a respect for the world. Meanwhile, there has also been a use of sport to have a sneering victory over the world, to think well of oneself by despising what’s not oneself. This mix-up of respect and contempt can be in both players and fans.

People are confused about their lives, and they would like to have ethics simplified: be able to be utterly against something and utterly for something and not have to think anymore. One way is to love your team and ferociously, stupendously hate the other. Further, people want to like themselves; and a seemingly easy way is by having something which stands for you beat something which stands for all those outside things that confuse and oppose and don’t appreciate you. The desire to feel you’re somebody by despising and defeating what’s different, gets into people’s feelings about a game. It’s contempt, and it’s not the same as loving what baseball is, or soccer, or basketball.

There is a big tendency to divide the world into that which belongs to you and is good, and that which doesn’t and should be defeated and sneered at. This tendency is very ordinary, but horrors come from it. The feeling you’re important if you can belittle or crush or humiliate people you see as different from “you and yours,” is what makes for racism. It had Germans welcome Hitler and take part in horrible brutality. But the same desire has made for riots at soccer games; for parents’ coming to blows at their children’s sporting event; and for the recent viciousness at Fenway Park.

Red Sox fans’ hate of the Yankees has been monumental and ongoing. The fact that the Red Sox year after year did not win a World Series while the Yankees won many, can be taken to stand for all the ways one hasn’t gotten what one deserves from the world. So there is a desire to have utter anger and contempt for one’s supposed humiliator, and in that way put an enemy world in its place.

Can sports be played and enjoyed without contempt and ill will? Can you be for your team yet want to respect the other players, and have tremendous pleasure doing so? The answer is yes. On March 29, 1925, Eli Siegel, at age 22, wrote about a marathon race in his column for the Baltimore American. In the following sentences from it, we see the deepest, proudest feelings people have about sports. And we see, very early, the beautiful, kind thought of Eli Siegel himself. (He uses, in 1925, the word men to mean, of course, women too.)

All persons who show the power of men well should be liked and wondered at. And the reason we are thrilled at hearing of a running record broken, or a broad-jumping one, is because it shows how powerful we also, who are men, can be. … [People] want to see man in general made greater and nobler. They like to see a man do something great, for every greatness of men, taken as individuals, adds to the greatness of men taken together.

In this issue we begin to publish a lecture important in American history: We Are Unrepresented, by Eli Siegel. It is one of his National Ethics Reports of 1968, and he gave it on October 11th of that year.

As background, I mention the following: The Vietnam War was going on, and there was more and more anger about it across the land, more and more feeling that this war did not represent the American people — that it had nothing to do with protecting America or making anybody free. There was to be a presidential election, and Lyndon Johnson had announced he would not run for a second term. He claimed it was because he wanted to concentrate on leading the nation; but it was really because the objection to him throughout America and the world had become so tremendous and so intensely expressed. The Democrats nominated Vice President Hubert Humphrey to run against Richard Nixon. So the American people were given a choice between two justifiers of an increasingly hated war.

In this lecture, Mr. Siegel explains a huge feeling in America — not only about the war. And he places it with the meaning of representation and non-representation in history as such.

Our nation today is different from the America of 35 years ago. But Americans still feel that what goes on in elections does not represent them. In fact, the feeling is even more intense, widespread, and explicit. And the distrust of politicians has never been larger.

In keeping with Aesthetic Realism itself, Mr. Siegel looks at the subject of representation as something not essentially political but ethical and aesthetic. And so, as a prelude to the first part of his great lecture, here are some notes about representation.

1) Representation is an aesthetic matter; that is, it concerns opposites which, as one, make for beauty. Representation is always sameness and difference. When we feel anything or anyone represents us — whether it is a senator, or a team we root for; whether it is our union, or a song we love — we feel that something not ourselves, something different from us, is the same as ourselves too and embodies our feelings and who we are. We need very much to feel this. Unless we can feel that things and people not ourselves can stand for us, we will feel locked in ourselves and apart.

2) Aesthetic Realism explains that there is no limit to how much we can feel what’s not us represents us. This is because everything in the world has a structure of opposites akin to ours. We can feel that the ocean, in its tumult and calm, stands for us, because we want to make sense of tumult and calm in us. We can feel that a staircase represents us — because we want to put together pride and humility, and that’s what the staircase does as it gracefully goes from low to high, high to low. We can feel that a man in Africa, whom we don’t know, stands for us, because that person hopes and worries, wants to care for outside things and for just himself, and so do we.

Out of our primal and constant need to feel represented by the world, arises the specific need Mr. Siegel discusses here, which is also a human right: to feel we are truly represented in our government.

The Art Intention & What Interferes

3) The art in which representing is perhaps clearest is acting. An actor taking on a character is saying, “I want to see who this person is, this Hamlet whom Shakespeare created, this Nora whom Ibsen created; and, through myself, through my very being, I want to express this person truly.” That intention is what people want their government officials, their “representatives,” to have. And it has been much lacking.
4) The big interference with representation throughout the centuries has been the thing which Mr. Siegel showed to be the cause of all injustice: contempt. Contempt is the desire in people to get an “addition to self through the lessening of something else.” One form of contempt, gigantic in history has been: “All those people — they don’t deserve to be heard. They’re inferior to me and to those who share my interests. What they’re good for is to provide us with what will make us comfortable. If we let them be represented, our comfort and power will be in peril. So we’ll keep them unrepresented.” That was the feeling of the nobility in, say, the 14th century, and has been the feeling of ever so many governments and politicians since.

The Human Obligation

5) Every one of us has the obligation to represent truly — to ourselves and others — the outside world: the things and happenings and people and sights and words we meet. We give ourselves the right not to. We give ourselves the right to misrepresent: to think about a person any way we please, to be inexact about him or her; to hear something, and pass on some version of it that suits us, that makes us feel comfortable or important.
This misrepresentation is very common. It goes on in people’s minds and conversations hour after hour. However, Mr. Siegel has explained, “The fact that most people have felt … they had the right to see other people and other objects in a way that seemed to go with comfort — this fact is the beginning of the injustice and pain of the world” (Self and World, p. 3). This “right” to misrepresent people in one’s thoughts to oneself is what has enabled persons to stop others from being represented in government. In order to say, “I should be represented, not they,” you have first to lie about “them,” lessen them, in your mind.

6) I think the principles of Aesthetic Realism represent the world and every person truly. They represent, they explain, who we are, how we hope, how we interfere with ourselves, the delicate and fierce tumult within us. That is because Eli Siegel was so fair to the world. He was, minute by minute and always, its greatest representative.

— Ellen Reiss, Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism

We Are Unrepresented
By Eli Siegel

I call today’s National Ethics Report “We Are Unrepresented.” That is true this year more than has been in the past. The meaning of being represented goes very deep and has been around for a long time. How large it is, is hardly realized. In the fullest sense it means that we’d like something other than ourselves to stand for us in such a way that, perhaps, that or he or she can do better than ourselves — as in having a lawyer represent us. If we felt the lawyer couldn’t do better than we could, why should we use him?

A good part of the history of the world has consisted of people seeing to it that other people are not represented. That is so in every defective government, including monarchy. But in the summer and fall of 1968, people are conscious that they’re not represented, and are also more angry about it. In the past, people didn’t care whether they were represented or not. There was a feeling that whatever occurred in government was pretty far from you, and you didn’t have to worry about it. A good deal of that goes on now: the not caring how we are represented. It’s like a tree not caring how it’s painted, or a child not caring how a portrait is painted of that child. The relation between representation in painting and representation in politics is closer than is thought.

The largest and also most likable work on representation in government is by John Stuart Mill. Representative Government is one of his best works, and it is sadly appropriate and inappropriate right now. Mill quite rightly implies that if a person doesn’t care about how he’s represented, he doesn’t care so much for his life. This work appeared in 1861, and it is well to read a part of it.

Mill says that in the England of that time persons were content to live day by day: if nothing too bad happened, that was sufficient — you didn’t have any large views. Mill is along with Aristotle, who defined man as a political animal; and therefore if man as animal doesn’t care for politics, he doesn’t care for his possibilities. This is Mill:

It is not sufficiently considered how little there is in most men’s ordinary life to give any largeness either to their conceptions or to their sentiments. Their work is a routine … [for] the satisfaction of daily wants; neither the thing done, nor the process of doing it, introduces the mind to thoughts or feelings extending beyond individuals; if instructive books are within their reach, there is no stimulus to read them….
Mill is saying that though representation in England had increased with the Reform Bill and some changes — and it would increase in that decade, in 1867, with the further giving of suffrage — the customary person in England didn’t care too much. He would leave the business of governing England to his “betters.” And the “betters” were very willing to take it.
That has been so, too much, in America. We leave the governing of the country not to persons we call our “betters,” but to others, politicians. Well, this has something of the England of that year, 1861:

In most cases the individual has no access to any person of cultivation much superior to his own. Giving him something to do for the public, supplies, in a measure, all these deficiencies. If circumstances allow the amount of public duty assigned him to be considerable, it makes him an educated man.
It is important to feel that the government is touching you; it’s next to your body. A chance that’s important as any is what is called being on a jury. Most people are not given such a chance. That is why some years ago I questioned my own serving on a jury again. I feel that every person should see what it is to have another person’s fate depend on him or her. And there were many persons who simply hadn’t had that experience of thinking that they were representing something, the judicial part of the government. Since I had had the experience thrice, and felt I was interested in also being for the very best government I knew, I didn’t think that I should eat another meal after having eaten well already. It’s a large matter, and persons were somewhat surprised at my intensity on the subject.
It Is Getting Closer

It happens now that a government, because people are sore, is getting closer to people, which is good. Sometimes a “down with” is a beginning of vision. Going on with Mill:
Notwithstanding the defects of the social system and moral ideas of antiquity, the practice of the dicastery and the ecclesia raised the intellectual standard of an average Athenian citizen far beyond anything of which there is yet an example in any other mass of men, ancient or modern.
Macaulay and Grote wrote about that. In Athens everybody took part in the government, and the dicastery was a group of deciding people concerned also with the judicial. The judicial and the administrative were not different in ancient times as they are now — or seemingly different.
The proofs of this are apparent in every page of our great historian of Greece —
That is Grote. And his History of Greece is a very good history. It’s too little known. It’s in twelve opulent volumes, but it’s quite fair to Greece.
A benefit of the same kind, though far less in degree, is produced on Englishmen of the lower and middle class by their liability to be placed on juries and to serve parish offices; which … does not occur to so many.
Mill was aware that the being on juries was a sign that you were well-to-do.
I think that as soon as a person has his ethics in question, he should be put on a jury so he has to decide about the ethics of somebody else. I’m very serious. Once you have another person’s fate in your hands, you go through something.

[It] must make them … very different beings, in range of ideas and development of faculties, from those who have done nothing in their lives but drive a quill, or sell goods over a counter. Still more salutary is the moral part of the instruction afforded by the participation of the private citizen … in public functions. He is called upon, while so engaged, to weigh interests not his own … [for] the common good…. He is made to feel himself one of the public, and whatever is for their benefit to be for his benefit. Where this school of public spirit does not exist,… every thought or feeling … is absorbed in the individual and in the family. The man never thinks of any collective interest —
If you have to think of a person for ten days in a row, your family interests aren’t so narrow. And if the city put forth that idea, that the purpose of being on a jury is to be aware of what goes on in the city, the county, the state, the country, it would make people less contracted, less narrow. We could use a customary word: less selfish.
The man never thinks of any collective interest, of any objects to be pursued jointly with others, but only in competition with them, and in some measure at their expense. A neighbour, not being an ally or an associate, since he is never engaged in any common undertaking for joint benefit, is therefore only a rival.
More Intensely Asked

In 1968, “What is politics?” is more intensely asked than ever before. It has been asked a good deal, and two of the famous books of ancient times, Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics, are of it. Then there are other works. In the meanwhile, America has been asking, from the beginning, “What is politics?” I am speaking about this because this year it is being felt that there are two parties asking for one’s vote and neither is any good, and they force you to choose one or the other, or choose somebody who may be very nice but who doesn’t have much chance of winning. People would like to vote for a winner. The feeling is: you’re either sorrowful through Humphrey or miserable through Nixon. That’s the craft that has gone on in the history of America. And there are a great many things in motion to stop it. I think it will eventually be stopped; I think enough has happened this year to change it.
There is the feeling in America now that the purpose of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party is to see that you’re not represented. I say this very soberly. It sounds epigrammatic. I don’t mind if it does sound that way. But this year more people feel that’s the purpose, and are annoyed by it.

I remember the first time I voted. I had to make a choice between somebody I knew wouldn’t get in and didn’t stand for me entirely anyway, or some person like Davis or Cox or Coolidge, persons whose ethical equipment was deficient. The party system has often been a way of either voting for somebody you don’t want or not getting the person you do want.