by Nancy Huntting, from Women Are Various Seminar
August 2015 at the Aesthetic
Realism Foundation, NYC 10012
didn’t think I was intelligent in love, in fact, I felt I was foolish.
The song “Only Fools Rush In” by Elvis was a favorite of mine! In my
everyday life, however, I thought I was very smart: I did well in
school—for instance, I liked figuring out proofs in plane geometry and
physics. But love was a different world. In my teens, life took on new
excitement if a young man saw me as wonderful. If he didn’t, I was
bereft; and if he did, the joy did not last. For one thing, I felt it
was stupid to depend so much on a man’s attentions. I also felt other
things meant less.
Realism for the first time describes the fight in every woman which
makes for the trouble about both love and intelligence—the fight
between wanting to know and like the world and wanting to be glorious,
superior to, more important than the world. This second desire is
contempt, and it hurts our minds and our relations with
felt new hope and great relief when I learned from Aesthetic Realism
that I would be intelligent as to love if through knowing a man I
wanted to like the world itself. This is love’s true purpose.
“Intelligence,” Eli Siegel said in his lecture Mind and Intelligence, “can be defined as the ability to take care of ourselves and also to care as such.” Knowing this changed my life.
Tonight I will tell about what I learned, what my colleagues and I are
teaching women in Aesthetic Realism consultations, and about Sonya
Kovalevsky, a woman who lived from 1850 to 1891, and “whose
mathematical genius,” writes biographer D.H. Kennedy, “startled the
academics of Europe.” Born in Russia when that country and most of
Europe barred women from attending universities, she helped break
ground for other women, becoming a professor at the University of
Stockholm. Sonya Kovalevsky H.S. Mathematics Day is celebrated here in
the U.S. She was an admirable woman; she was also very much pained by
love—and I believe the division in her between intellect and caring for
a man, knowledge and feeling, helped to shorten her life. I’m sure she
wants to be used now for women to be more intelligent in love!
I. Intelligence & Non-Intelligence in Childhood
In his preface to Self and World, Mr. Siegel writes:
child has this debate: Shall I, with my categories and apperceptions,
see the world as magnificently and delicately as possible; or shall I
see the world as the material for victories for just me?
This debate was in Sonya Kovalevsky and can be seen her memoir, Recollections of Childhood, which was popular in her lifetime.
youngest of three children of a Russian General, describes growing up
on a large estate of forests, lakes, and gardens south of St.
Petersburg. She learned to read before the age of five by looking at
the newspaper and asking questions about letters and words. She would
recite aloud stanzas of Lermontov’s “The Prisoner of the Caucasus” and
wrote verses—some about the Panama Canal, much in the news at the time.
The children’s room was papered with the pages of one of her father’s
old math texts—Ostrogradsky’s lectures on differential and integral
calculus—and she spent whole hours pondering the formulas there until,
she said, though she didn’t understand them, many became “fairly
engraved on my memory.” And she tells of an uncle who she cared for
because “he conversed with me as with a grown-up person”:
heard from him for the first time….about the quadrature of the circle,
about the asymptotes (outer-most limits) which the curve always
approaches without ever attaining them, and about many other things of
the same sort—the sense of which I could not of course understand as
yet; but which acted on my inspiration imbuing me with a reverence for
mathematics, as for a very lofty and mysterious science…
Sonya wrote, “In general there runs through all the memories of my
childhood, like a black thread, the conviction that I was not beloved
in the family….This pained me very much.” From her nurse she heard that
her mother had been keenly disappointed she was not a boy. She wrote:
mother] seemed to me more beautiful and charming than all the ladies of
our acquaintance; but, at the same time, I constantly felt rather
hurt—why did she love me less than the other children?
There’s a constant sense in her writing of her being mistreated—including being disciplined unjustly by her father.
Realism taught me that a large reason children feel hurt is that they
do not feel their parents want to know them. But the unintelligent
thing that a child very often does is, our disappointment about this is
changed into a victory of scorn and superiority. And wanting to
continue to have that victory, we can arrange to be hurt by others.
In her Recollections
Sonya gives evidence that she had the desire to be hurt. For example,
she tells that one evening, after she finished her studies she ran up
to where her brother and sister were sitting with her mother at the
piano and laughing and talking “in so very lively a manner that they do
not observe my arrival.” She continues:
stand beside them for a few minutes, in the hope that they will notice
me, but they continue to talk about their own affairs. This is enough
to chill all my warmth. ‘They are happy without me.’ The bitter,
jealous feeling sweeps across my soul…I hide myself somewhere in a
corner, far away from them, and sulk.
too have a memory of a particular moment in my childhood which I used
to clinch my case that other people were against me. It was when two
school friends laughed derisively as I told them I’d had a peanut
butter and bacon sandwich for breakfast, and I was devastated. “It is
necessary to see,” wrote Mr. Siegel in The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, “that when the world or a person pains us, the stage for our superiority exists, even while we are unhappy.”
different from Sonya, I received much praise from both my parents and
felt quite special. However, I thought my mother was overly managerial
and easily fooled; we often fought. I was mean and spoke scornfully to
her. I didn’t feel I had to know her, to try to understand her—instead,
as I see it now, I had a motive to lessen her so I could feel superior.
Unknowingly, I was preparing for great unwisdom in love, as Sonya was.
II. Love Is Based on Knowledge
Mr. Siegel writes in Self and World,
“Love is in exact proportion to accurate knowledge.” He gives this
great description of how, in caring for another person, we are taking
care of ourselves and being truly intelligent:
self can say to another being, “Through what you do and what you are
and what you can do, I can come to be more I, more me, more myself: and
I can see the immeasurable being of things more wonderfully of me, for
me, and therefore sharply and magnificently kind and akin.”
writes in her Recollections that, “the craving for a strong and
exclusive affection developed early in me.” She was so “exclusive”
about her uncle that once when he took another little girl on his lap,
she bit her. But love is not exclusive; the real thing comes from the
desire to know and care for “immeasurable” reality through another
neighbor who was a physics professor recognized Sonya’s ability in
mathematics when she was 15—and her father arranged for a tutor in St.
Petersburg. It was there she began to learn of what were called
“nihilist” ideas. The term, from a novel by Turgenev, meant the
annihilation of differences between the sexes; a great difference was
that women were not seen as having the intelligence of men and not
allowed to attend universities.
to women’s education were changing in Europe, however, and a solution
was to arrange what was called a “nihilist” marriage with a man
sympathetic with these ideas. At 18, Sonya arranged for a nihilist
marriage with Vladimir Kovalevsky, age 26. Though supposedly a
“fictitious” marriage, I think she hoped it was a solution to her
dilemma about intelligence and love. Sonya wrote to her sister about
Vladimir from Heidelberg, Germany:
won’t believe how solicitous he is about me, how he waits on me and is
ready to subordinate all his desires and caprices to mine… I love him
really with my whole soul, but a little as one does a younger brother.
is somewhat patronizing. Vladimir was actually 8 years older and a
publisher of Russian translations of Darwin, Huxley, and other European
scientists. An ardent advocate of Darwin, he was getting a degree in
geology to enable him to do evolutionary research (commemorative stamp to the right). I think he respected
Sonya’s seriousness about study and liked her liveliness, but he began
to see another side of her, writing to his brother:
I love Sofa excessively….(but) She is a person one must care for as for
a child. She simply cannot spend an evening alone….I can’t promise that
I will change and become a Simon-dapifer (i.e. a noble devoted to the
personal service of a tsar)….Besides this, our work is so different.
For her no other science exists except mathematics ….
Though Sonya said she “felt no passion” for Vladimir, friend Julia
Lermontova observed, “she became jealous of his studies as it seemed to
her they excluded her, or relegated her to the last place in his
affections…and she began to disturb him with continual demands.” And
while Sonya saw herself as yearning for love, Julia wrote critically,
“She wanted to have without giving aught in return.”
I also saw myself as yearning to love someone, and
was constantly hurt as it was never sufficiently returned. Early in my
study of Aesthetic Realism, Mr. Siegel asked me questions about a man,
Tom Madison, I had thought I was in love with, and was hoping to marry.
Siegel. Do you think Mr. Madison is strong in needing you? The
way a woman’s mind is most confused is when she sees a man needs her
desperately. Are you proud of a man for needing you?
I realized I wasn’t. In fact, the more he seemed to need me, the more I thought he was weak. Mr. Siegel continued:
ES You should admit it casually. You’re a charming holding company. Do you want to own him?
ES What do you think or yourself for that?
NH It causes me pain.
Can anything be done about it? Is there any greater comfort in the
world than owning a person whom you desire? Do you believe you conquer
the world by having a man need you?
I came to see that it was this conquest, disguising itself as love, that was driving me.
III. The Infinite Is in Every Man & Woman
visited London with Vladimir, who was collaborating with Thomas Huxley
and Charles Darwin. There she was invited to George Eliot’s Sunday
salons and at Ms. Eliot’s suggestion, debated Herbert Spencer on
“woman's capacity for abstract thought.”
could spend an entire day working out partial differential equations,
and in this, there certainly was a great ability to care for what was
not herself. Mathematics however, Eli Siegel once pointed out, is a
world “where you don’t get egg on your shirt”—and it’s likely she saw
it as a “higher” realm than vexing humanity and the everyday moments of
studying for this paper I learned some of the ways that calculus
represents the aesthetic structure of reality: the oneness of
opposites. It arrives at a finite answer using infinitesimal divisions
of space and time. One of the problems she dealt with was about the
motion of a spinning top, or a gyroscope, which has “stability of
motion”—that is, even if it is knocked from its path, it will resume
its previous course! It is this beautiful relation of the opposites of
rest and motion that enables a mathematician to figure out its course,
because though complex, it has order. Sonya didn't know that the
opposites in calculus, that thrilled her, were also in Vladimir
Kovalevsky, and everyone she knew. And not knowing this, she suffered.
and Vladimir would separate, return to live together for several years
during which she gave birth to a daughter, and separate again. She
worked with some of the noted mathematicians of the time—then, barred
from a position in this field, she spent a decade writing, including
theatre reviews and a novel—and finally became a professor in
mathematics—a first for women—at the University of Stockholm.
at the height of her achievement, after winning the prestigious Prix
Bordin of the French Academy of Science in 1888, friend and biographer
Anna Leffler wrote:
said she would willingly exchange all the celebrity…all the triumphs of
intellect, for the lot of the most insignificant woman who lived in her
proper circle—a circle of which she was the center, and in which she
After making a painful decision to leave teaching, to marry again, she died, only 41, of influenza.
IV. Love Is Making for Greater Intelligence
Traherne*, a woman having Aesthetic Realism consultations by telephone
from Oakland, CA, told her consultants that she didn’t understand why,
after being very smitten by a man, she found herself acting aloof and
mean. We asked,
Do you think you’ve wanted to teach men a lesson: they shouldn’t mean
so much to you—they’re not that important?
BT: I think so.
C: Would you like to change your purpose to knowing them?
BT: Yes! That is what I want.
Have you wanted to do a man’s life good, by respecting and encouraging
the best in him? Or have you mainly wanted him to have a big feeling
BT: Definitely the second.
she began dating Richard Logan, a student of filmmaking, she was
studying good will, which, Mr. Siegel described as always “a true
mingling of kindness and exactness.” Two of the questions we asked
were: “Do you want Mr. Logan to feel stronger—more coherent—when he’s
close to you?”; and “How might a novelist see him?”
A high point for her was when Mr. Logan criticized her for how she described her day. She said:
I was telling him, I said this, and I said that—and he pointed out how
much the accent was on myself. He wanted to know what other people
said, too! And he asked “Do you want my approval as you tell me these
was surprised, but she was grateful because she felt he wanted her to
be better, and she did assignments in which she used her mind carefully
to know who Richard Logan was; she wrote how logic and emotion were in
him, and how five other people saw him. In an assignment titled “How do
I want to be affected by, changed by Richard Logan, as standing for the
outside world?” She wrote:
Richard points out things he sees, I’ve seen more meaning in the sky
over Lakeside Park, and the way two lit buildings look across the Bay.
I’m grateful he wants me to like things!
Traherne was changing; she had a directness and enthusiasm that was
different from the strategic, hidden young woman we first saw. She
increasingly valued her possibilities of mind, and became a teacher.
She’s told us how important it is to her that through the opposites she
can encourage children to see meaning in the letters of the alphabet.
She feels passionately that Aesthetic Realism should be the basis of
all education, and wrote to us:
the criticism and good will of Aesthetic Realism I changed from being
afraid of and angry at men and love to a person who wants to have a
good effect on people, including a man. I fell in love with Richard
Logan, a man I respect. I’ve had the tenderest, most sweeping feelings
for him as we talk.…Aesthetic Realism has opened up my eyes, my mind,
and my heart to the world.
Aesthetic Realism makes love, the real thing, possible—and the real thing makes a woman more intelligent!
* Name has