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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