Comments on an Aesthetic Realism Lesson
The transcript of an Aesthetic Realism lesson now appears on the website of an individual who has made attacking Aesthetic Realism something of a life-industry. We’re very happy to provide here some necessary background for that transcript.
The individual who has posted it prefaces the transcript with misinformation—including fabrications about persons no longer alive. Such misinformation is, alas, what one has come to expect from that particular source. Meanwhile, the basis of the lesson, the technique, the reason for various pedagogical choices made by Eli Siegel, who conducted it, are not, of course presented, and they need to be if the unedited, unproofread transcript is to be understood. So we comment on them here.
The lesson is that of a boy of 2, Michael Andrew Freedman. He now uses another name and is the aforementioned attacker of Aesthetic Realism. The lesson itself is a mingling throughout of humor and seriousness, and Mr. Siegel begins it humorously. However, he was aware that there were things which troubled this boy, about which his parents and grandparents were concerned, as they indicate in the course of the lesson.
The principal thing Mr. Siegel was trying to counter was the boy’s not wanting to listen to other people—not wanting to acknowledge the existence or importance of people other than himself. One of the ways Mr. Siegel tries to counter it is through having other people speak—take center stage, as it were—even sing. There is a lightheartedness as this goes on, but a purpose. And for the most part, Michael Andrew Freedman acts as though he’s ignoring each speaker or singer.
The boy’s grandfather, Jack Musicant, notes about Michael that the boy is not “a good listener.” His grandmother, May Musicant, mentions that Michael seems to “have to eat all the time.” His mother gives an example of something that has concerned her: “Michael, every once in a while when he’s in a room—like once he was in a room by himself and he started crying. I asked him what was the matter and he said, ‘The man was screaming.’” Mr. Siegel, who was meeting the boy for the first time, at a certain point relates those three matters, with a largeness and immediacy; he explains that the sense that someone was screaming was a way of criticizing oneself for the fact that one doesn’t listen:
Michael Andrew has part of the Malady of the Age . . . : a certain painful separation. . . . That’s why this thing came about with the man screaming—because there is the tendency [to separation], and not listening is the most salient way of its being shown. Eating also is a way of having the world to yourself. —Yes, dear, I’m talking about you.
Other matters which persons mention they have observed in the boy are: 1) he orders people around; and 2) he won’t use the word yes. One of the ways Mr. Siegel opposes the first is by asking people present to give each other orders. This has jocularity; but it enables a child to see objectively, so he can change, a way of being which has made him ashamed and unsure. As to the second: Mr. Siegel asks a number of people questions to which they can answer a clear “Yes,” so that the snubbed word is resoundingly honored.
When a child as young as this one had an Aesthetic Realism lesson at the request of his parents, there could not, obviously, be the rich, consecutive question and answer fundamental to lessons of older persons. In the lessons of very young children, there was much activity, there were aspects of performance. It was expected, of course, that not every word be understood by the child. But even a child who can’t or doesn’t want to “concentrate” is affected by what goes on around him; and that fact was within each choice Mr. Siegel made as he spoke to others attending and asked them to speak.
For example, early in the lesson Mr. Siegel asks persons to give rhymes for particular words. Rhymes are about relation: they show that, through sound, one thing has to do with—has a likeness to—something very different. The child having this lesson, like every person, needed to see himself as related to other things—not as regally and hurtfully apart. And he needed to see that the diverse aspects of the world were related.
Similarly, when a number of people in an extended family, whom a child could see as in some ways at odds with each other, are asked at a certain point to say the same lively verse—it is a way of having a child see that people whose differences can be confusing are also in agreement and that there is a composition among them.
[Note. For a long time, the attacker of Aesthetic Realism has claimed on his website that he had Aesthetic Realism lessons taught by Eli Siegel when he was two months and six months old. He presents this falsehood as evidence for how ridiculous (and worse) Aesthetic Realism is—expecting a two-month-old to learn at a lesson! Well, of course there were no such infantile lessons—he didn’t have them. Now he provides a transcript: he was two years old; and his parents mention, in the letter quoted below, that this lesson at two years old was “Michael Andrew’s first Aesthetic Realism lesson.” What we see is: there’s a wish to make Aesthetic Realism look bad, so why should minor things like facts get in the way?]
These days, blessedly, people are no longer counseled to act as though everything a child does is wonderful. There is criticism of children; and there is the popular TV personality Supernanny, celebrated for her advising that some tendencies in children be firmly checked. But people don’t know just what to criticize; and how to criticize; and how to relate encouragement and praise of a child with criticism of that in a child which hurts him- or herself. The means to learn is in Aesthetic Realism.
For example, there is the boy’s giving orders and managing people. His father says in the lesson: “He does do that very much.” His mother says: “I feel he wants the managing fought in him.” Mr. Siegel replies, “We’ll try to understand it more.” He says to the boy—and along with humor there is a striking accuracy about the consequences: “Do you want to be like many other children who want to run everything they come to? That was the trouble with Nixon as a child. Do you want to be like him?” So Mr. Siegel is critical; and he also wants a child to see himself as important accurately, widely: he says, “Everyone is learning from you.”
Early in the lesson, through what he observes, Mr. Siegel asks the child a question which explains a good deal in relation to the present: “Are you competitive?”
All over America parents are looking to counselors and educators for means to understand their young children. They want those children to hear things which will make them happier, more intelligent, more composed, and which will combat troubling tendencies. Two days after this lesson, the parents of Michael Andrew Freedman wrote Eli Siegel a letter, in which they said in part:
Dear Mr. Siegel,
Thank you for Michael Andrew’s first Aesthetic Realism lesson. It is hard to convey the happiness and serenity it has given all of us. Michael seems both more composed and more enthusiastic. The effect Aesthetic Realism has on a person is tremendous. We value the knowledge and kindness.
The following are some of the texts through which one can learn about the principles, and understanding of children, on which this lesson was based. They are by Eli Siegel: