Aesthetic Realism
A New Perspective for Anthropology & Sociology

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Reprinted from:

A Journal Devoted to the Study of the Native Peoples
of Australia, New Guinea and the Islands of the Pacific Ocean
Published by the University of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

XLV, No. 3, March, 1975


THE Oksapmin people live in the West Sepik District between the headwaters of the Fly and the Sepik. The essential problem they are trying to deal with is the aesthetic one: how to take care of themselves and at the same time be fair to the reality outside themselves. The problem shows in every phase of Oksapmin culture, including the consanguineal kinship terms. 

I became aware of it by studying the Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel and by realizing I have this problem in common with the people I studied in Oksapmin, 1967-8. In The Aesthetic Method in Self-Conflict2 Eli Siegel writes: "There is a deep and 'dialectic' duality facing every human being, which can be put this way: How is he to be entirely himself, and yet be fair to that world which he does not see as himself? The definition of aesthetics is to be found in a proper appreciation of this duality. We all of us start with a here, ever so snug and ever so immediate. And this here is surrounded strangely, endlessly, by a there" (p. 9). 

In Oksapmin kinship terms we see a picture of the close intimate here surrounded by a more remote there: we see body join the outside world that endlessly surrounds it. This occurs in three ways. 

1. A Relative is Part of One's Self and also Separate. 

Parts of the body are used to represent most of the very close relatives: 

    nona - nipple, milk - Mother. 
    kana - hand, man -  Brother. 
    mona  - thigh - Brother. 
    kaka - head - Father's Brother, Brother's Son. 
    ita, ata  - (eta, penis) - Father.
Parts of the body, one's own warm and intimate body, also represent other people. The other people are part of the world outside of oneself. Thus body and world symbolically join. 

2. Relatives are Both Near and Remote. 

The other members of the kindred are not so close. They are called by geographical names, representing the remote world. Awa, translated as both wind and sky, is given to relatives far away in age: grandparents' generation and grandchildren's generation. And uma, the name of the Om River (the Strickland), is given to all cousins. 

Most relatives in the awa and uma categories are at the very boundaries of the kindred. They are where the person's kindred ends and the next kindred begins. They are both included and excluded at once. They represent the junction of intimate familial existence and remoteness, strangers. 

3. The Terms of Address, as a Whole, Join Intimacy and Remoteness. 

In the kinship terminology as a whole (see Figure) there is a picture of a person joining what is remote from him: the external world. We have a human body: head, nipple, hand, thigh and penis. And we have the cooler-than-body natural elements, almost a map of Oksapmin: sky, wind and Om River. They join because they join within the Oksapmin mind. 


Eli Siegel, The Aesthetic Method in Self-Conflict (Second edition; New York: Definition Press, 1965). 


1Department of Social Science, Queensborough Community College, Bayside, New York 11364. 

2A chapter of Eli Siegel's Self and World: an Explanation of Aesthetic Realism (New York: Definition Press, 1981), which was published separately prior to 1981. 
To Aesthetic Realism Foundation
where Eli Siegel's thought is taught
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