Aesthetic Realism Consultant Nancy Huntting


Aesthetic Realism Public Seminar

Love and Criticism: Is There Any Relation?
by Nancy Huntting

  Given April 5, 2001 at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, 141 Greene Street, NYC 10012 

In an Aesthetic Realism class when I was 28 years old, Eli Siegel asked me a question concerning a man I was in turmoil about that every woman interested in love can usefully ask herself: “Do you want to conquer him, or understand him?” I said, “Both,” and Mr. Siegel asked, “Which is predominant?” I answered "I'm not sure" -- but the truth was that my desire to conquer was predominant. “Has it torn you apart?” he asked.  Yes, it had. 

And this is why I was in such pain about the men I’d had to do with. Studying Aesthetic Realism enabled me to change: to see how grand, cultural, wonderful it is to understand a man, and learn to be a true critic of myself and of him. 

“Contempt is what ruins love,” explains Ellen Reiss in The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known,issue 1447, titled “The Desire for Criticism”: 

We want criticism of our contempt, criticism that enables us to understand it so we can choose not to have it!...A friend is someone who cares enough for our life so that he doesn’t butter us or collaborate with us, but really wants what is hurtful in us to be less. 
We Need to Be Critics of Our Purpose

In my teens and twenties, while attending high school and college, I spent most of my time, like other girls I knew, thinking how best to dress and use make-up, and being in the right place at the right time to have a big effect on a young man.  What Ellen Reiss describes in another issue of The Right Of is right on the mark: “The nature of a woman’s thought about a man, has mainly been: how to get him, how to manage him, how to keep him liking her.” This ever-so ordinary procedure is contempt, defined by Mr. Siegel as “the addition to self through the lessening of something else.”  Miss Reiss explains:

Because men and women have seen the world itself as something to manage, not know, they have wanted to conquer another human being....Women have wanted a man to make them important.... And if our being made important is our purpose with another human being ...we will not be interested in knowing that person. The two purposes are mutually exclusive. [The Right Of #1252]
The first time I met Matthew Morrison, I was 22 years old and lounging on a couch, and Matt made a teasing remark about my being lazy.  I leapt from the couch and punched him in the solar plexis. I felt he’d hit a sore point in me--I was ashamed of how lazy I was, but angered he would question me.  I was also affected by his looks, energy, and down-to-earth manner, and this was the beginning of what I thought was the love of my life. 

Two years later, though, I sat at an oak table in the antique store which Matt and I had opened together, my limbs feeling heavy as lead, worried, and angry, saying to myself, “He’ll never understand me!” Yet, as I felt I was the hurt one, I was uninterested in the questions Matt had--what he felt about his mother who had died a few months after we met; the “block” he’d had for weeks, unable to design his senior project in architecture school. 

And the energy I had liked so much in him, I now resented. I felt he was a constant criticism of me and my lethargy, and that I didn’t have him securely enough--he was too busy with other people and things. This is the sheer contempt and ill-will that is in a woman wanting to conquer and own a man. Mr. Siegel would later ask me:

Where was he suspicious of you? The greatest suspicion of men is that in some way they don’t understand, a woman is trying to make them weaker. Was you purpose to have him dependent on you? 
Yes, it was! I felt my whole life revolved around having him “safe and sound”; we fought increasingly, and I felt desperate. It was then that I’m so grateful I met the kind, critical understanding of Aesthetic Realism!

I was asked this question in my first consultation, central to our subject tonight: “Do you think you can know Mr. Morrison just by himself?” Yes, I thought I could! But they explained: “Women make the big mistake of thinking they can know one person out of the universe and not have to know anyone else deeply.” In his great lecture, Aesthetic Realism As Understanding, Mr. Siegel explains:

There is no such thing as a true desire to understand which is only centered about one thing or a few things....Can we understand ourselves without understanding all that we are connected with? Aesthetic Realism says no, we cannot. 
I learned that day in April that I needed to know and be a just critic of the world to love a man, because it is the outside world that every man comes from and represents. It was, in fact, my attitude to the world which interfered in my caring for any man. 

My consultants asked: “Do you think the world you are in is good enough for you?” No, I answered. A man’s job was to provide an exclusive haven where I was supreme and didn’t have to be fair to him or to anything. 

As I saw how hurtful my scorn and aloofness were and began to be a critic of myself--and learned that the world and other people were, as Mr. Siegel described, the “outside explanation” of myself, my fatigue left. I began to be interested in understanding people and things, and I felt alive!

In Aesthetic Realism classes I had the honor to attend with Mr. Siegel, I was seen truly, with critical depth, kindness, and cultural largeness.  In one class, Mr. Siegel asked me: “What did you condemn yourself most for at various times?”

Nancy Huntting:  For wanting to do nothing.

Eli Siegel:  Have the read the poem “The Lotus Eaters” of Tennyson? Were they Hunttingish? [And] the desire not to be bothered is in Keats’ “Ode to Indolence.” 

I was learning that through studying these works I could understand myself and others! And then he asked something which surprised me very much -- ”Did you also get very angry?” I had cultivated a quiet manner, and didn’t like seeing myself as angry, but what immediately came to my mind was the time I threw a book at Mr. Morrison, and the many times I yelled cruel things at my mother.  How did Mr. Siegel know?  He explained: “People who have indolence can also tear up the place.” He composed this bold, dignified, humorous couplet I love, enabling me to have pleasure seeing the relation of two things that so troubled me: 

Excessive indolence and a tendency to wrath,
That is what Nancy Huntting hath.
Is Our Anger in Behalf of True Criticism--or Ourselves Narrowly?
Something like the relation of indolence and anger that was in me is in the young wife, Alison Porter, in John Osborne’s play “Look Back in Anger.” This play is courageous in showing how unkind a woman can be when she’s after her own importance with a man, and doesn’t give a damn for understanding him or encouraging what is best in him. 

Mr. Siegel said in a 1972 lecture, “Anger is of two kinds: anger that is large, or an anger for yourself” -- and he commented then on the term “the angry young men” -- used first about characters in plays and novels, including this play by John Osborne -- in relation to an anger he described as increasing all over the world because of the contemptuous use of people’s lives and labor to make profit. 

Jimmy Porter is 25 years old and from a working class family; his father died when he was ten as a result of wounds he got fighting against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War. Alison’s family is well-to-do, her father a retired colonel who served the British Empire in India, and her parents tried to stop the marriage, because they felt Jimmy had neither the money or background to be good enough for their daughter. 

But Alison liked Jimmy’s energy -- ”everything about him seemed to burn,” she says, “his eyes were so blue and full of sun.” He affects her very much--shakes her up, demands she think, fights her snobbish aloofness -- but she is angry that he does. Though she defied her parents to marry him, she is now using them to justify her being scornful of her husband and his lack of an impressive job; she dismisses his care for music and his trumpet playing, and it makes Jimmy furious. 

The stage directions describe Alison as having a “well-bred malaise”-- which, like my indolence, comes from contemptuously looking down on people. She has the ugly duality Mr. Siegel once kindly criticized in me when he said: “I see you as a person who wants to love something securely, and at the same time not give up your disdain.”

As the play begins, Jimmy and Alison have been married for a few years and it’s clear Alison has thrown cold water on her husband’s enthusiasm for some time, and stonewalled his criticism with cool silences and acting injured. Jimmy doesn’t know what to do, but he hasn’t given up on her. 

The stage directions tell us Jimmy has “a disconcerting mixture of sincerity and cheerful malice, of tenderness and freebooting cruelty.”  Sincerity and malice, tenderness and cruelty are opposites; and John Osborne’s play shows, as, I have learned all drama does, that to understand a self is to understand the opposites in that self. Jimmy Porter can be criticized, but he is not smooth, and the desire in him to be a true critic of things and people -- to put together where he’s for the world and against it -- can be respected very much.

It is a cool, cloudy Sunday evening in April, and in the Porter’s flat, Jimmy and his friend Cliff, who lives across the hall and works with him during the week in an open market stall, are reading the papers while Alison irons. Throughout the first act, Jimmy is the person who does nearly all the talking -- he has an interest in things and people that is deeply likable. 

As Jimmy reads the newspapers, he objects to phony, obscure writing in them, and, making an effort to get Alison’s attention, he asks:

Jimmy: “What about you?...Do the papers make you feel you’re not so brilliant after all?” 
Alison: [absently] “Oh--I haven’t read them yet.” 
Jimmy: “I didn’t ask you that.” 
Alison: “I’m sorry. I wasn’t listening properly.” 

This is clearly not the first time this has happened, and Jimmy shows how much he is hurt that his wife can just tune him out, as if what he says doesn’t matter. 

Jimmy.  "Old Porter talks, and everyone turns over and goes to sleep.  And Mrs. Porter gets ‘em all going with the first yawn."
Cliff.  "Leave her alone."
Jimmy [shouting]. "All right, dear. Go back to sleep. It was only me talking. You know?  Talking? [leaning toward her] Remember? I’m sorry."

There are painful situations like this occurring all over America now in kitchens and living rooms, and couples don’t know why. We asked Melanie Ward, a young wife who is having Aesthetic Realism consultations, “Does David Ward ever say --’You don’t listen-- I didn’t say that?’” “Yes,” she answered, “He said something just like that to me the other day.” In TRO #1320, Ellen Reiss writes about this, and what she says is criticism everyone needs to take seriously if they are going to be successful in love:

[O]ne of the most frequent forms of contempt is the ...putting on a show of listening while one’s mind is with superior company, the company within oneself.  Further...there most often is not full listening: the wanting to have another’s words really matter to one and to give those words the deepest thought possible.
Continued:The Purpose of Love and Criticism: To Like the World

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