Aesthetic Realism
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Oksapmin Society and World View
by Arnold Perey, Ph.D.
Columbia University, 1973

Dissertation for degree of doctor of philosophy.

- ABSTRACT

     This dissertation describes the newly contacted people of Oksapmin in the West Sepik District of New Guinea, who live in a mountainous region between the headwaters of the Fly and Sepik Rivers. 

     The researcher collected ethnographic data, especially economic information, for two hypotheses he came to before entering the field. Upon return, the researcher began to study the method of Aesthetic Realism with Eli Siegel, the principal statement of which is, "The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites." This made for a change of orientation, including further study of aesthetic and configurational approaches to which he had earlier been exposed. They include those of Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, Alfred L. Kroeber, and Claude Levi-Strauss. 

     It gradually became clear that Oksapmin culture is an aesthetic oneness of opposites. This perception, as ethnographic description, is in the first part of this dissertation as Oksapmin society and culture are presented. 

     The second part is a detailed analysis of Gwe Parish economics including the effect on children of inequalities of wealth among their fathers. Personal feeling and impersonal statistics are here. 

   Part three describes the anthropologist's change of orientation upon return from the field. It is the detailed theoretical basis for the fourth part. Part four is an analysis through opposites of Oksapmin culture. 

     In particular, the opposites recurrent in all phases of Oksapmin life, and central to explaining its aesthetic basis, are Self and World, For and Against, and Separation and Junction. These are among the opposites described by Eli Siegel as necessary to understanding the relation of world, art and self. 

     Oksapmin economics, to present one instance of Oksapmin society and world view, is based on two opposite feelings: one, that a person's own good comes from being against others, and the opposite, that it comes through usefulness to others. This duality and its resolution in art, is in for example, the Oksapmin story "The Man with Pink Skin," and can also be seen as resolved in arrow carvings, dance, poetic lines: in them elements separate, clash, and join. 

     Oksapmin society itself in its abstract structure solves the aesthetic problem and also life problem: How can things or people join and remain individual at once? The researcher believes that describing a culture in terms of its aesthetic structure makes for explanation of how such diverse fields as its dance, agriculture, folklore, kinship, economics, and ethics are related.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

    I should like to thank the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health for their support of the research on which this dissertation is based. 

     I also want to thank Margaret Mead and Robert F. Murphy, without whose integrity this thesis would likely never have been. 

     And I want to thank Eli Siegel, the founder of Aesthetic Realism, for the principle: "The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites." I see this as the most significant idea in all human thought; and through studying its meaning my life and work have become more what I always hoped they would be.

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Aesthetic Realism, the philosophy founded by Eli Siegel in 1941, is taught in classes, public seminars & presentations, and consultations at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City. Nationwide outreach includes speakers from the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, consultations by telephone outside New York City and internationally, and the work of the Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company. The Class Chairman, Ellen Reiss, teaches the classes for Aesthetic Realism associates and consultants in which I study. I am proud to say that as a consultant on the Foundation's faculty I teach anthropology, teachers' workshops, and am an instructor in consultations for individuals who want to learn the aesthetic way of seeing the world and themselves.  More links are provided below so you can find out more.
 
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