"The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites," — Eli Siegel
Statement of Purpose
It is possible--in fact it is necessary--for people of one culture to be able to understand people of any other culture. If it is true, as some think, that every culture is so completely unique that the feelings of a person born into it cannot be understood by a person of another background--well then, how can there be hope for the world to be kind? How can there be hope for citizens of the United States, steeped in American culture, to understand the people of Iraq from within and so, be kind? How can there be hope for Palestinians and Israelis to understand one another so deeply that war and hate are no longer the compelling things they have been for years?
For mutual understanding between people of different backgrounds to be possible--and we know it has occurred in history at certain times--there must be things that every culture has in common, every person has in common. It is this common basis that makes possible the "translations" we know have occurred--as when, for example, Sir Walter Scott wrote about a Jewish family, Isaac and Rebecca, with sympathy and accuracy in his novel Ivanhoe--"translating" the feeings of people different from himself for others to read about and experience .
Certainly every culture is unique: the culture of Japan is unique. The culture of the Paiute-Shoshone nation is unique. But is every unique culture made up of general components shared by all cultures?
The answer is Yes. I once thought that I, as a unique individual couldn't be made of the same general elements other people were made of. The philosophic, ontological opposites, as explained by Aesthetic Realism are THE elemental structure of every culture and every self. See Eli Siegel's " Is a Person an Aesthetic Situation?" to begin learning about them in the human self. And they are in the art of every culture--see Eli Siegel's "Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites?" to see how, for the visual arts, these philosophic opposites are the inevitable structure.
And so, to continue, every unique individual human isbeing made up of general qualities--the philosophic opposites--shared by all people. It is like the elements Zinc, Potassium, and Argon which are, all three, unique while built of the same elementary particles: protons, neutrons, electrons, mesons, and more.
There is an obligation on the part of every anthropologist to use our discipline, anthropology, to respect and to bridge the cultural differences that people have used to separate themselves from one another--that people have used to have contempt for one another. As students of culture we ought to be in a unique position to make international understanding a reality. But that has not happened--and cannot happen--through the accustomed channels.
The big reason is this: Anthropology is still looking for a way, or method, of understanding a culture so that (1) the anthropologist can describe it truly and (2) people of any other culture can understand that description. Through that understanding will come respect and kindness.
It is the mission of this website to show that the method of Aesthetic Realism--the philosophy founded by the poet, critic, and scholar Eli Siegel--is the means to the understanding that can meet this large and humane goal of scientific anthropology.
The Permanent Opposites Are the Natural Units Anthropology Needs
In every branch of science there are natural units by which measurements can be expressed. What are the natural units of anthropology?
A meter is a natural unit of length which is unquestionably used to measure--anything: the diameter of a star; the circumference of a diamond ring; the height of a child. Writes www.learner.org, "The meter was originally based on the size of the Earth, with the distance from
the equator to the North Pole being arbitrarily defined as 10 million m."
What about the feelings of people? Are there natural units within them? For instance, if a person in China a thousand years ago left home to go on a journey, and then came back, would his or her feeling be intelligible to a person in any part of the world, of any culture? Are tears universal? Are smiles universal? Is longing universal? Are reunions universal? Here, I would say two pairs of "natural units" are the opposites of Separation and Junction, and For and Against.
The poem of Li Po (AD 701 - 762) "The River Merchant's Wife" has the immense poignancy of separation and junction, for and against. These opposites are so deeply and exactly seen by Li Po that the power of his poem to communicate deep feeling transcends cultural barriers. This poem enables a human self of ancient China to show itself clearly to a human self in America. It was translated by Arthur Waley and then Ezra Pound. All successful art refutes the notion that people of different cultures cannot communicate their deepest feelings.
A major purpose of this website, and these Journal entries, is to show how the natural units of anthropology--the actual elemental forces in the human self, and in culture, and in society--are the opposites that philosophy, aesthetics, and physics employ.
Among the most salient opposites in anthropology are: self and world, difference and sameness, separation and junction, order and freedom, for and against. They are aesthetic opposites, as first defined and described by Eli Siegel. I refer the reader, for example, to his Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites? (1955). Look at Freedom and Order and ask, Is any society without both? I will be saying more about the natural units of anthropology as time goes on, and why they are necessary and also give anthropology a beauty akin to art and literature.