Sunday, March 06, 2005

On "Summer"--final installment

In this final section of actress and writer Carol McCluer's paper, she discusses how Charity Royall, the protagonist in Edith Wharton's Summer, deals with something that has confused women of all times, and certainly still does in 2005: What is the place of love and sex in our lives? How should we see it? And she writes courageously about what she learned from Aesthetic Realism on this subject:sex and knowledge have to go together, or we'll be unsure of ourselves and pained. Since we're on the subject, I'll point to a seminar that will take place at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, "What Should a Woman Be Passionate About?" which will be on Thursday, April 21. So, here is the last part of Carol McCluer's paper:

IV. Sex and Knowing
Charity and Lucius Harney find a deserted house where they secretly meet, and Charity makes the mistake which is the major cause of shame in love: through sex with a man, she makes the rest of the world seem powerless and even non-existent. But as she does this, she feels she is lessened, too; she feels like a ghost when she is not with Harney. Edith Wharton writes:

He had caught her up and carried her away into a new world, from which, at stated hours, the ghost of her came back to perform certain customary acts, but all so thinly and unsubstantially that she sometimes wondered that the people she went about among could see her.

I was once asked in a consultation: "Do you think you see love and sex as the most important thing in the world?" When I said yes, my consultants explained:

You see a certain relation of romance and body as God almost....Aesthetic Realism says what a person wants most is to be known, and to feel the way they see the whole world is fair. That does not exclude sex by any means, because sex is an aspect of knowledge.

I cannot say enough how grateful I am for the way Aesthetic Realism sees sex. It brought sanity and fresh air to an aspect of life I had used to have tremendous power but felt would forever cause me despair. In Self and World, Eli Siegel explains:

The being both within and without another body which is a basic situation in sex, is also a basic situation in knowledge. Whenever we know something, we give ourselves to that thing, and that thing gives itself to us. Both knowledge and sex, in other words, are expressive of a fundamental interaction of reality.

Aesthetic Realism taught me it's not the sex we're ashamed of—it's our purpose. Most often women use intimacy with a man to feel, "Now he's mine!" and think we don't need to know, to understand him. This is contempt, and it weakens our minds. Edith Wharton describes what goes on between Charity and Lucius Harney, making her painfully unsure of herself and of him:

[I]n his absence a thousand doubts tormented her, but as soon as he appeared she ceased to wonder where he had come from...

"Tomorrow I shall only see you from far off," Harney [said]. "But in the evening there'll be the dance in the Town Hall. Do you want me to promise not to dance with any other girl?"

Any other girl? Were there any others? She had forgotten even that peril, so enclosed did he and she seem in their secret world. Her heart gave a frightened jerk.

"Yes, promise."
He laughed and took her in his arms. "You goose—not even if they're hideous?"

In a consultation I described with shame an incident some years earlier, when I had been with a man secretly one night. I love my consultants for what they said then:

At the very moment that one is feeling most glorious, one can also feel most empty, most ashamed. If a person really sees that [through what she has been doing] she hurts her mind, she will stop. It happens it is possible to see a man in such a way, it helps your mind—because after all, we're not suggesting nunneries. But you cheapen yourself in not seeing that there's something very precious you want to protect in yourself. And it's not the ability to make a man silly.

There was something precious in me to protect, and it is precious in every person—our ability to see the world and people accurately, and be proud of our effect on other things. This is good will. "[T]he being able to have authentic good will," Eli Siegel said and showed, "is the greatest power in the world."

In the story, Charity finds that she is pregnant by Harney and also learns that he has been engaged all along to another girl. She decides to run away. Lawyer Royall, who has been portrayed throughout the story as a tumultuous person who hopes to be kinder to people, stops her from leaving and says he would like to marry her. Charity is affected by this and comes to respect him more. I was moved at the end by the way Mr. Royall and Charity change and become deeper, and there is a sense of awakening possibilities of seeing each other freshly and taking care of the coming child.

The principles of Aesthetic Realism are greatly powerful and will beautifully change the life of every person and the whole world when they are studied everywhere.

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Thursday, March 03, 2005

On "Summer"--next section

Here is the next section of Carol McCluer's paper:

"[P]ower is not just the ability to affect or change others; it is likewise the ability to be affected or changed by others," writes Eli Siegel in his Self and World. Charity Royall makes the same mistake I did: she is more taken by her ability to have an effect on someone than in being honestly affected by who a person is. A young man she has never seen before comes into the library and as he gazes at her pretty face, he forgets what he was saying:

"Have you a card catalogue?" he asked in a pleasant abrupt voice...

"A what?"

"Why, you know—" He broke off, and she became conscious that he was looking at her for the first time....The fact that, in discovering her, he lost the thread of his remark, did not escape her attention, and she looked down and smiled. He smiled also...."My name is Harney—Lucius Harney...I'm an architect, you see, and I'm hunting up old houses in these parts."

She stared. "Old houses? Everything's old in North Dormer, isn't it? The folks are, anyhow."

Charity sees that Lucius Harney is educated; he is passionate about architecture, and has been in bigger places than North Dormer. Wharton writes: "In spite of his shyness, he had the air of power that the experience of cities probably gave."
As Charity shows Lucius Harney around the town, she gets his attention off old houses and onto herself. She has no interest in learning why he cares for architecture. But she tells him things about herself and gets the reaction women think they want from a man. She says:

"You never heard, I suppose—I come from there. They brought me down when I was little."

"You?" He raised himself on his elbow, looking at her with sudden interest. "You're from the Mountain? How curious! I suppose that's why you're so different..." Her happy blood bathed her to the forehead. He was praising her—and praising her because she came from the Mountain!

"Am I...different?" she triumphed, with affected wonder.

"Oh, awfully!" He picked up her hand and laid a kiss on the sunburnt knuckles.

A woman can think this is love—I did. I felt victorious if I could get a man to say, "I've never met anyone like you in my entire life!" But even when I tried to believe it, I still didn't like myself. I know now the reason was, it was self-love, not true care for another person.

Charity and Lucius Harney go together to a nearby city for the 4th of July. As fireworks explode in the dark summer sky, Edith Wharton writes:

Harney's lips were pressed on hers. With sudden vehemence he wound his arms about her....[and] she gave him back his kisses. An unknown Harney had revealed himself, a Harney who dominated her and yet over whom she felt herself possessed of a new mysterious power.

Women need to know there is possible in love and sex a power we can like ourselves for having and being affected by. Mr. Siegel describes this power in Self and World as he writes:

"When one is tremendously excited, moved by femininity or masculinity, one is honoring with one's body the power and immediacy of existence itself. It is existence that is captivating us, driving us, tormenting us, and alluring us."

And I was learning about this power as my consultants asked me: "If a man were humble as to you, what would make you be humble, too?" "I don't know," I answered. "It is," they said,"to see that what he is humble about is reality itself. Do you like seeing that as a man is affected by Carol McCluer he is affected by reality?"

It was a turning point as I began to see that the effect I could have on a man stood for reality in its mystery and might. Now at the most intimate moments with my husband, Kevin Fennell, I want to be a means of his being stronger, kinder to other people—his co-workers, his family, his friends—and I feel through him reality is closer, dearer to me.

check back for the next installment