Aesthetic Realism
On this site you are learning the crucial place of aesthetics in anthropology and sociology

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Dissertation Extracts:   1   2        5   6

Selection 3: 

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

Note: for this website I am reprinting short selections of my doctoral dissertation and giving a descriptive heading to each excerpt. A.P.

The Aesthetic Structure of Oksapmin and of Culture as Such

from Chapter 1, continued

Having looked, then, at the definitions and usage of two critical terms, aesthetics and opposites, it is necessary to describe the overall aesthetic structure of Oksapmin. In his "Four Statements of Aesthetic Realism" (1967:xii) Eli Siegel describes in compendious form the aesthetic situation of a person in any culture: 

1. Every person is always trying to put together opposites in himself.

2. Every person in order to respect himself has to see the world as beautiful or good or acceptable. 

3. There is a disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the outside world. 

4. All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves. 

These four statements are the basis of the method of Aesthetic Realism, somewhat as the formula E = mc2 is the basis of Einstein's Theory of Relativity. In this thesis, I will attempt to demonstrate that they explain Oksapmin culture. 

     Illustrative of the first principle, in Oksapmin culture we find people trying to be selfish and generous at the same time (see for example Chapters 2, 7, and 8), harsh and useful to each other (see Chapter 12), both angry with and grateful to the world or the unknown (see Chapters 12, and 13), both free and secure (Chapters 6 and 13), both energetic and reposeful (Appendix III). 

     The second statement finds expression also in Oksapmin, for we see people, and indeed a whole culture, having criticisms of itself. The people unconsciously see themselves as incomplete, not worthy of entire respect, their interest in the world outside themselves as disproportionately small. Oksapmin ethics center on this self criticism (see particularly Chapter 12), and Oksapmin art stresses both the criticism of selfishness and the necessity to appreciate the world (Chapter 13). 

     Every instance of competition in Oksapmin is explained by the third statement. In competition one person's advantage is seen as another's misfortune. The fact that importance can come from weakening another is best shown in Chapters 2, 8, and 9, but it is also found in Chapter 12 and elsewhere throughout this thesis. Contempt for one's enemy, or simply for another person, is a value in Oksapmin. 

     And the fourth statement says that the conflict of opposites is resolved in art, and indeed in all beauty. This explains why opposites are made one in the Oksapmin arts, as discussed in paragraphs before this one and in Chapters 6 and 13. It also explains why the beauty of a person's character can be seen as made up of affability and justice, sharpness and kindness, or courage and tenderness (see Chapters 9, 12, and elsewhere). 

     The four principles of Aesthetic Realism provide an extremely economical way to find and describe essential structures in any culture. I have found them capable of resolving problems in understanding Oksapmin culture when no other method I knew would work. Without wishing to lessen the value of other valid approaches in anthropology, it is my careful opinion that the method of Aesthetic Realism can give more clarity and organization to our analyses. It will, I believe, give us a greater understanding of culture.

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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.