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Originally presented in an Aesthetic Realism Foundation seminar


Includes a discussion of the great anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski and his Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term, in the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea

The following is an introduction to the papers by three Aesthetic Realism consultants. The paper by Arnold Perey follows this introduction:


     Good evening. We are Robert Murphy, Bennett Cooperman, and Arnold Perey. We’re teachers on the faculty here at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation.

     Tonight we speak about the fight between idealism and practicality in the lives of men and how we’ve learned this fight can be resolved. As long as there’s been history, these have fought. The philosopher Berkeley, a pure idealist, said ideas are the only real things in the world--while Samuel Johnson famously said, “I refute him thus,” “ striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone” (Boswell: Life). Today, a practical man might say in an office, “Charlie, this is no time for idealism. I’m interested in the bottom line.” But the same man might say, idealistically, the next day — “Charlie, we can’t compromise on quality. I won’t buy cheaper materials.” Men go back and forth from one to the other.

Even Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary makes the two fight: An idealist, it says, “puts ideals before practical considerations.” While “practicality” is “not theoretical or ideal.”

Aesthetic Realism says this fight is like others in people’s lives: “In every conflict,” Mr. Siegel wrote,

there is no side which is to be suppressed. The person suffering with a conflict, trying to come to peace, has a tendency to say of a Tuesday: “To hell with this”; and on the next day, or for that matter, in the next hour. To say: “To hell with that” (p. 94, Self and World).

It’s humanity’s good fortune that Mr. Siegel explained the solution: “The resolution of conflict in self,” he stated, “is like the making one of opposites in art.”

In tonight’s seminar we’ll be showing how this is true. Our basis is in these two statements:

1. Everyone’s deepest purpose is to like the world honestly. A form that liking the world takes is good will to people and things.

2. The greatest danger of the human mind is to have contempt for the world and what is in it — “liking oneself too much and everything else too little.”

We’ve learned—and continue to learn now in classes taught by Ellen Reiss, the Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism—that there’s only one way to be really practical, and that is to be a thorough idealist. This means to do all we can to like the world with all the facts present--to be fair to things and people. This is what makes a person like himself and be kind.

     Because of events in the world more and more people in America are asking that there not be the hideous rift between fairness to people, and seeming practicality, that has been.

     In our papers tonight, the names of individuals having consultations have been changed for this public presentation.

Arnold Perey

Every one of us is a compound of idealist and practical person. And whether we want to go for contempt or respect for the world will determine how well we do with these two inevitable aspects of our own minds.

Men have wanted to be altruistic, but most of the time we feel that if we are we’ll be losers: it’s just not practical. In Self and World Mr. Siegel wrote:

Altruism has been looked on, most often, as a sentimental, soft word. But the real meaning of hard and inevitable and big....We cannot be whole beings if we are not fair to what is not ourselves. It is incumbent on ourselves, therefore to be fair; that is to be altruistic. Altruism here is the same as selfishness in the largest and strictest sense (p. 279).

Growing up in Mt. Vernon, NY, I was a Boy Scout, and the Scout Oath, which I took every Monday night at our troop meeting, is evidence that somewhere, in everyone, is a hope to be an authentic idealist and see it as practical:

A scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.

I was never able to be all this. The same day I might be kind to someone at school, I’d find I was morose at home (not "Cheerful"). If I was thrifty and didn’t want to spend money foolishly for a whole week, I might still insult my mother and wouldn’t measure up to “a scout is courteous.” After a while I gave up. Why is it that people do not stick to respect and kindness, that is, one’s ideals?

Aesthetic Realism explains the reason: it’s that we also have a desire for contempt. We get a pleasure from feeling we are big while other things are small. The pursuit of that pleasure can seem like the most practical thing. I had a whole set of fake and contemptuous ideals in my mind. For instance, along with a desire to learn about scientific discoveries and mathematical proofs, to see value in great works of art, I also felt: “I, Arnold, must be: better and smarter than other people, must have a pretty girlfriend who must put me first and admire me above all others; I must become a scientist who makes brilliant theories; I must win every argument; I must impress people with my quiet wisdom and my impressive, penetrating gaze; I must put fear into the heart of my science teacher.” These “ideals” were all fakes, dressed—up contempt, because they add to self through lessening something else. In the international field such false ideals can take the form of spurious patriotism—such as “My country right or wrong,” which literally means to hell with ethics, and therefore is nothing but contempt. In my life, going after many false “ideals” was entirely impractical. They made for bad results; and even going after them is a defeat for oneself.

1. Practicality and Idealism in New Guinea

I’ll speak about four early years (1914 – 1918)inthe life of an anthropologist who became the most famous social scientist in the world during his lifetime and is greatly respected today: Bronislaw Malinowski (1884 — 1942). Malinowski was Polish and was allowed to remain on British soil during World War I as an enemy alien, just where he wanted to remain: in New Guinea (then a British territory). There, in three expeditions from the ages of about 30 to 34, he conducted some of the most profoundly accurate anthropological research ever done. And there, at the same time, he had intense angers at people both black and white, and wrote about painful confusion as to sex and women. In the following years he went on to write immortal cultural descriptions of the Trobriand Islanders, an ancient tropical Pacific way of life. How he saw the ideal and the practical were elemental in his confusion and his triumphs.

Malinowski had a scientific ideal. He felt the huge unorganized multiplicity of a tribe’s culture really had an organization that hadn’t been seen. Before him, anthropology consisted largely of collecting cultural descriptions, folk tales and customs by the hundreds, and transporting countless tribal artifacts to display in museums and to study. He said customs, folklore, and objects—headdresses, canoes, carvings—shouldn’t be seen as separate, isolated traits. A society consists of living people and all these parts of their culture work together to meet their practical everyday needs: for food, shelter, and reproduction; and some subtler needs. This is known as functionalism. Malinowski showed this irrefutably as he lived for two years with the Trobriand Islanders (anthropologists had rarely lived with tribal people before then)—and he changed forever how anthropologists see.

The practicality also has romance—the ideal—within it. There is agriculture at one with religion in Coral Gardens and Their Magic. And Malinowski saw a Homeric grandeur in the seafaring Trobriand Islanders, calling his first book about them The Argonauts of the Western Pacific. In it he shows their long voyages are impelled by economics--the exchange of valuables--and by “the lure” of such “romance” as this (p. 25):

The Trobrianders will sail deep, shaded bays....The scenery seems saturated with myth and legendary tales....On such an island, the great mythical hero, Kasabwaybwayreta stopped, and was marooned by his companions....[pp. 220—1]

 And so, Malinowski made both the practicality and the idealism of tribal society real to anthropologists.

2. One and Many in an Important Social Scientist

Bronislaw Malinowski had a beautiful, scientific insistence that a tribal society is a whole: that it consists of many aspects that fit together in an organic unity. Perhaps he was so insistent because he hoped to find the clue that would make him able to solve the problem of one and many in his own life, which he once described as “the tendency to disperse oneself, to chatter, to make conquests,” and called it: “the degeneration of the creative tendency” (A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term, p. 112).

He had two different ways of seeing women: Too much oneness, or exclusive concentration; and too much manyness, or fickleness and flirtation. He wrote this in relation to Elsie R. Masson, a young Australian nurse who was to be his wife. She was in Australia while he was in New Guinea:

After lunch passionate longing for E.R.M. [that is, Elsie]. ‘If I could get up and walk to her I’d start at once’...In the evening....I walked around the island; the stars were ablaze, the sea was phosphorescent. Went back home—all that time had been thinking of Elsie; I wrote to her.—Emotionally, my love for her—strong, deep, all—pervasive—is the main element of my life...Her body is like a sacrament of love (p. 113; 13 November, 1917).

In an Aesthetic Realism lesson, Eli Siegel asked me:

ES. Is there a tendency to worship any woman you care for?

AP. There is that, yes.

ES. Very good. But do you know how to worship?

AP. No.

ES. Do you think the altar creaks a bit?

AP. It does more than just creak.

ES. You get angry with it.

AP. Yes.

Malinowski went for worship and then without knowing it, avenged himself on that desire by going for contempt and conquest of women. He wrote, “Although only a few moments before I had ‘genuine’ and ‘deep’ feelings for E.R.M. [Elsie], I couldn’t keep my paws off the girls” (p. 132).

As surprising as it may seem, Malinowski was not unlike Harpo Marx in, for example, A Night at the Opera——the great Harpo sees a pretty woman and instantly he’s in love and follows her. Seeing another, he’s again in love and follows her. For example, Malinowski writes [in his Diary], “Resolution:...Stop chasing skirts” on page 122. On page 132 he writes, “Lecherous thoughts. I tried to chase them away.” On page 248, he writes, I “resolve write...every day, to E.R.M [Elsie]; to attain absolute mental faithfulness to her.” Yet, near the very end, page 282, he writes: “Longing for E.R.M., but in spite of that I scandalously pawed Nopula” (a young woman of the Islands).

Bronislaw Malinowski was the man who, as a scientist, made the inner lives of tribal people real. He wrote:

The goal is, briefly, to grasp the natives’ point of view, his relation to life, to realize his vision of his world. (Argonnauts of the Western Pacific, p. 25)

However he did not have the same purpose with women. Like most men, he was not sufficiently interested in the inner life of a woman.

To “grasp the natives’ point of view” he did painstaking translations from their language. Once he says: “Writing down and translating 8...couplets took me two hours!” (p. 293). Eli Siegel as literary critic said there are translations by Malinowski that are authentically poetic. --But with women, the anthropologist did not take this kind of care.

Often the latter part of the Diary, after he became engaged to Elsie, has an angry tone. Malinowski insults white acquaintances (some he calls pigs) and sometimes says he hates the Trobriand people. He uses the N word for the dark Islanders—a fact for which this diary is notorious. But, says the anthropologist Edmund Leach, Malinowski’s diary was written in Polish. The orginal Polish word “nigrami” should really have been translated as “the blacks.” (p. xxiii). Even so, Malinowski does write with contempt (which he himself calls “characteristic irritability” [p. 191]). Take this sentence: “The Vakuta people irritate me with their insolence and cheekiness” (p. 253).

I believe his ill nature intensified in this last expedition to the Trobriands because he was angry that he was so much affected by the Trobriand people and their culture. To the ego, having respect is NOT practical—it’s an outrage.

Malinowski was deeply ashamed of his contempt. I think it’s why he wrote so often of feeling emotionally low. It was far, far from the Malinowski who was kind and a true scientist. That is why the last sentence in his Diary is: “Truly I lack real character” (p. 298).

3. There Is a Solution

“Since you asked me,” said Eli Siegel to me in an Aesthetic Realism lesson, “the most useful thing for you is to be proud of how you see women. I don’t think you are....The reason—one of the reasons—is that it doesn’t go along with your intellectual life” (Aesthetic Realism Lesson, 6 July 1969, p. 1). I had done a great deal to train my mind, and had endured years of graduate school, but my body had impulses that seemed to have nothing to do with intelligence or taste. I was ashamed of these impulses, as Malinowski was. I learned the reason was that I wanted power over women and to use their bodies without the slightest knowledge of their feelings, hopes, or thoughts. I had ill will. Through the most knowledgeable of criticism Mr. Siegel enabled it to change.

He encouraged me, for example, to see that body and intellect can go together. He asked if I believed there was anything I could learn from touching another person’s shoulder. Yes, I said, as I thought of the texture of a shirt, the way the opposites of firmness and softness are in a shoulder, and the fact that friendliness—which is a fact——can be communicated in a touch. He asked if one could learn something from touching a radiator or a tree—and began a trend of thought about how the tactual senses and pleasure from them give information of a scientific kind.

I remember when I once kissed Barbara Allen—who thankfully is now my wife——with a definite desire to affect her, and stir her up. Ms. Allen was surprised and asked me what went wrong. I seemed too hard. I admitted that I had wanted to have a big effect on her. She said, Why don’t you try to know how I feel? We kissed again. And when I literally tried to understand what feelings she was showing through her lovely lips she said she liked better the way I kissed her. I esteem Ms. Allen enormously for her fine mind and scrupulous ethics, and the beauty with which she expresses her thought and feeling about the world--including by means of the flute. And I am grateful that she wants to have good will for me hour by hour.

Body and sex can be a means to know and have good will for a person. As mysterious as sex is, that can and must be a man’s intention. It’s what has made me proud of the physical closeness my wife and I passionately have today.

4. Corey Langland and the Practicality of True Ideals

     Cory Langland is a man who loves education. Even so, he began a recent Aesthetic Realism consultation by expressing a good deal of concern that when his wife questioned him, he got angry. They have been working together at a social agency whose purpose is to benefit young people in Northern New Jersey. But when Mrs. Langland didn’t agree with him, his response made him ashamed.

     We asked if he had some ideal in mind that he went to as justification for his anger and he said: “Yes. My father. My mother couldn’t disagree with him——don’t even think about it. Once when she tried he turned over the table. I know that I think, ‘If my father doesn’t permit it, why should I?’”

Consultants: Did you admire this?

Cory Langland: No. I resented it. But I guess with part of me I did admire it.

He, his wife Tracey, and his son were just arriving at the home of Jerry, a business acquaintance who just that week had somewhat inefficiently misplaced file folders. While the family was still together in the car, Corey Langland told them, “Bill’s got a screw loose,” and twirled his finger near his head.

His wife was critical of him, saying this was disrespectful. And he objected, brushing off what she said with words that insulted her. He told us:

Cory Langland. When I come out with things like that, I say some things that are very unkind. I try to punch holes in her questioning.

Consultants: Were you being honest?

Cory Langland: I really felt instinctively “She’s right.” But I couldn’t say it. I told her, “Right, you’re always right and I’m always wrong.” She was hurt, and I was getting deeper and deeper into it.

Consultants: Did you feel your wife was trying to be superior?

Cory Langland. Yes, that’s just what I felt. I also felt she was blowing things up that didn’t matter.

Consuntants. Was she really trying to be superior?

Cory Langland. (Thoughtfully) Well no, I don’t think so. Just last week, at our son’s junior high graduation, some other fathers were hooting and yelling when their children’s names were called to receive diplomas, and Tracey said to me: “You’re not going to do that, are you?” I felt like my expression was being cut off, and I said, “Are you doing too much managing?” “Yes,” she said, ‘You’re right. Thank you.” Why couldn’t I have just said Yes, Tracey, I’m glad you asked me that question, thank you.” Instead I got so angry.

Consultants. Do you have a limit on how deeply affected you want to be by your wife? If you let her be right, you’ll lose too much control?

Cory Langland. Well yes, that’s what I think.

Consultants. Well it’s a mistake. In a class discussion, Eli Siegel described how men want to think less of women because—and he put it humorously——a woman can’t lift a truck. Men have felt, because a woman may be smaller, has a higher voice, and doesn’t have his big muscles, therefore her opinions are inferior! Perfectly logical, don't you think?

Mr. Langland blushed but said he’d done that, and it looked ridiculous. There’s a true idealism which takes the form of good will for another person that Mr. and Mrs. Langland are learning to have for one another. This is the same as practicality for oneself. Because it is, Cory Langland’s large, sweet feeling for his wife is growing, as the interferences to it are better and better understood.

It is a fact, brand new in history, that through the study of Aesthetic Realism, men are able like themselves as never before as they go after their ideals with the utmost practicality.

Copyright © 2001-2009 by Arnold Perey. All rights reserved