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.

* * *

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

Sunday, February 20, 2005

On Aesthetic Realism and Edith Wharton's Summer, continued

The paper by Carol McCluer continues below

II. Real Love Is Care for the World
In one Aesthetic Realism consultation, when I said I liked going out with men I saw as impressive, my consultants explained:

Women want to have power over men they see as powerful....If a man is very much given to something, a woman would like to get his mind off it. So do you think you'd like Mr. J. to stop reading Tolstoy and give his attention to McCluer?

I answered, "Yes." And they said,

If you were really interested in him, you would want him to care more for literature, not less.

My learning from Aesthetic Realism that the purpose of love is to like the world made possible my marriage to Aesthetic Realism associate Kevin Fennell. Together we are the parents of a daughter, who is 11. In consultations, I began to get the education about love women are yearning for; I learned what it means to have a strengthening effect on a man, to see him just as he is and in relation to the wide world.

In one consultation assignment as we were coming to know each other, I wrote about Kevin in relation to this main principle of Aesthetic Realism: "The world, art and self explain each other; each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites." I was studying how he, like everything in reality, is an aesthetic situation. This is the power of seeing—completely opposed to the power of conquering. Through it, my feeling for Kevin Fennell grew larger; I liked myself for this kind of thought, and the triumph I had gotten through conquering men was hollow in comparison. I wrote:
Kevin Fennell...has a self that is like no other, making him a unique example of the human race. And yet he needs things and people in order to live...He needs books to know more and to feel more; he read Martin Chuzzlewit and his feelings mingled with those of Charles Dickens....There are impressions of the world in him....He has a memory of the Colorado River. As he talks or thinks about it, the river becomes him and he becomes it--both composed and excited at once.

As I continued having Aesthetic Realism consultations, I had larger, deeper emotions about everything—I saw the opposites in a plate of food, in cars on a city street, in a painting by Renoir, and in people, including the man who became my husband. And as I was more affected by things and people, I felt freer, more truly powerful: my thought was clearer and I had hope and happiness. And I knew at last I could like myself for how I was with a man.

More coming in my next post!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

What Power Do We Want?--by Carol McCluer

Here is the first installment of the paper by Aesthetic Realism Associate and actress Carol McCluer on this important subject--one every woman (and man!) needs to understand. As a woman, I respect very much how she writes about what she learned from Aesthetic Realism about the conflict in herself and in Charity Royall, the protagonist of Edith Wharton's novel Summer, between two kinds of power. This paper will appear in several installments.

What Power Do We Want?by Carol McCluer
including a discussion of Summer, by Edith Wharton

I am grateful to Aesthetic Realism for explaining that there are two kinds of power: a hurtful power based on contempt for the world and people; and the true power we really want, based on our deepest desire, to like the world. Wrote Eli Siegel:

The way that good power can be distinguished is through asking the question: "If this desire of mine were successful, and I were to have power over this person, would the world look better and would the person himself or herself be stronger?" Any power that a human being has over another that doesn't make the person it is exerted on stronger, and the world in which the power takes place look more beautiful is bad power.

Learning the difference between these two powers has been the kindest thing that ever happened to me. I was able to change a cheap, debilitating purpose I had, particularly with men, and was given something I was thirsting for: a criterion on which to criticize myself.

I. Two Kinds of Power in a Girl of New England
The novel Summer, by Edith Wharton is about a girl, Charity Royall, who, as a young child, was taken in by a man known as Lawyer Royall and his wife. She had been born into poverty in an outlaw colony people refer to as "the Mountain." Mr. and Mrs. Royall become her guardians, and they live in the small New England town of North Dormer. When Charity is about 13, Mrs. Royall dies, and the story takes place when she is 18. It is centrally about her desire for power over two men: Lawyer Royall, whom she thinks she despises; and a young architect, Lucius Harney, whom she thinks she loves, but who turns out to be cruel and deceptive.

Charity is in a fight between two kinds of power. On the one hand, she has large emotion through seeing the power of nature and liking it. Edith Wharton writes: all that was light and air, perfume and colour, every drop of blood in her responded. She loved the roughness of the dry mountain grass under her palms, the smell of the thyme into which she crushed her face, the fingering of the wind in her hair and through her cotton blouse, and the creak of the larches as they swayed to it.

But Charity also wants to have power through being superior, having an effect on people without being affected by them. Though Lawyer Royall is seen as an important man in town, she has scorn for him because of one incident in particular. About a year before, in a reckless moment, Mr. Royall, who had been drinking, had knocked on her bedroom door, showing that he saw her as desirable. Disgusted and furious, she had told him to go away. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Royall had asked her to marry him, but she ridiculed and refused him, and coldly used the fact that he was ashamed, to have power--to make him do things for her. She demands that he hire a woman to do the housework, and get her a job as village librarian so she can earn enough money to get out of North Dormer.
Mr. Royall consents, and Charity is victorious; yet Edith Wharton describes what she thinks of herself for this: "[S]he knew her power, knew what it was made of, and hated it."

Read more in my next post!

Monday, February 14, 2005

Carol McCluer on Summer

Coming soon: Aesthetic Realism Associate and actress Carol McCluer writes about Edith Wharton's novel Summer. Check back in a day or two!

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Wharton's "The Pelican"--Described by Eli Siegel

I have posted on my own website the report Alan Shapiro gave of Eli Siegel's lecture "Some Sentences in a Passage of American Literature," in which he discusses--among many other things--the powerful story by Edith Wharton. "The Pelican." Read it and see more about Wharton's critical observations of people's purposes with other people--in this case, a mother with her son--and how Aesthetic Realism explains these purposes. Since I'm having a bit of trouble with my link, you can read it on my website: Go to the "Reports" button, and you'll find it there. Have a great time reading!

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Eli Siegel discusses "The Pelican"

In my next post, I'll be featuring a report by Aesthetic Realism Associate Alan Shapiro of Eli Siegel's lecture "Sentences in a Passage of American Literature," which features a rich discussion of Edith Wharton's short story "The Pelican." This story has, as do her other works, her very keen and critical observations of people and their motives with each other--in this case, a mother and son. For now, I'll recommend other papers by Alan Shapiro--a jazz pianist and music teacher who, I'm glad to say, is my husband. Go to his website at