Aesthetic Realism Consultant Nancy Huntting

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

- Part 2 -  

Love & Criticism Have the Same Purpose: To Like the World

The purpose of criticism, Mr. Siegel showed, is to value things and people truly -- a critic, he said, “makes a good thing look good, a bad thing look bad, and a middling thing look middling.”  Early in the play "Look Back in Anger," Jimmy is criticizing all three of them:  

Jimmy:  "We never seem to get any further, do we? A few more hours, and another week gone. Our youth is slipping away. Do you know that? Oh, Heavens, how I long for a little ordinary human enthusiasm. Just enthusiasm -- that’s all. I want to hear a warm, thrilling voice cry out hallelujah. Hallelujah! I'm alive!" 

Jimmy wants to like things, and he wants his wife to encourage that. He's asking for something Alison herself hopes for, but she feels stabbed, and tries to hurt him by speaking in a belittling way of his relation to a woman he cared for in the past.  

Alison [to Cliff]. "Madeline . . . she was his mistress. Remember? When he was fourteen, or was it thirteen?"  
Jimmy. "Eighteen." 
Alison. "He owes just about everything to Madeline."  

Madeline meant a lot to Jimmy, and he tells why a few minutes later: “to be with her was an adventure. Even to sit on the top of a bus with her was like setting out with Ulysses.”  Mr. Siegel explains what Jimmy is hoping for in these sentences, which I love:  

Within every person there is a notion of self that is complete, though what it is, one doesn't know.  One is looking to things outside of oneself to bring it out, the self which is deeper, more entire, more beautiful than the self at any one moment. If we meet some person who cares for us, who understands us, who can see what we feel -- be for it, be against it if need be, but in terms of understanding -- then there is a chance for ourselves to be complete. [The Right Of #693]
But Alison Porter is hoping something will happen to finally prove once and for all, her husband is a brute. Later, as she tries to describe to her friend Helena why she and Jimmy are having trouble, we see her cruel and irritated disdain -- his past, the people he cares for, his relation to the world, are interferences to her:  

Alison [to Helena].  "It isn't easy to explain. It's what you would call a question of allegiances . . . . Not only about himself and all the things he believes in, his present and his future, but his past as well.  All the people he admires and loves, and has loved. The friends he used to know, people I've never even known -- and probably wouldn't have liked.  His father, who died years ago. Even the other women he's loved. Do you understand?"  
Helena.  "Do you?" 
Alison. "I've tried to. But I still can't bring myself to feel the way he does about things."  

 One of the most moving scenes in the play shows how much Jimmy is yearning to be known by his wife and others. He speaks about what he felt years before, as his father was slowing dying of the wounds he got in the Spanish Civil War, and he then, age 10, was the only person with him every day for months:  

Jimmy.  "He would talk to me for hours, pouring out all that was left of his life. " 

We understand Jimmy more deeply; every person's past matters, is tremendously meaningful. But Alison hasn't been interested.  

In Act 3 she has decided to leave Jimmy, and her father comes to take her back home. This is a high point in the play -- for we see the stiff, conservative Colonel Redfern, the opposite of her husband, tell his daughter that he and her mother were wrong; they shouldn't have been against her marriage. To Alison’s further shock, he says Jimmy is right, that he's honest, and: 

Colonel.  "Perhaps you and I were the ones most to blame." 
Alison.   "You and I!" 
Colonel.  "I think you may take after me a little, my dear. You like to sit on the fence because it's comfortable and more peaceful."  

Her father's criticism helps Alison to change, along with tragedy: she loses the baby she is pregnant with.  Shattered by this, she becomes less arrogant, and the play ends with her returning to Jimmy, with a much greater desire to understand.  

Every Man Represents Reality 

In his essay, “On a Person's Not Being Known,” Mr. Siegel writes: 

[I]f someone is to know us, we must feel that that person sees us as representing reality. . . . if we feel that someone sees us in a confined way, in a cozy way, only, we do not feel we are understood. . . . we want to be seen as a moving assemblage of light and shade: we abhor being “summed up.” 
Melanie Ward, who could have a serene, madonna-like quality, and also be a tough manager, was finding after the birth of their little boy, Douglas, that she and her husband David Ward were more distant, and she told her consultants she'd asked herself, “What happened to the good feeling we had for one another?” David Ward, she said, “feels I don't get excited about the world, and that I don't have a steady interest or care for too many things.”  When her husband wanted them to go out and see things together, she insisted on staying home and she would often get stony or scornful. The Wards were also affected by what couples across the country are, worry about having enough income.  

We asked Melanie Ward if she wanted to put aside her husband: “Have you hoped David Ward mean less to you? Could he get very angry because you want to keep him at a distance, yet still have him do what you want him to?” Melanie Ward wrote in a document for her next consultation that, as she thought about this question, she saw, “I do want to keep my husband at a distance. [And I'm seeing that] I've wanted to manage him and my son, by insisting that things be done my way.  I've felt extremely important doing this, while despising myself for being cold and unfeeling to what a person deserves.”  

We spoke to her about how strong the desire in a woman is to feel she is better than the man she's married, and the urgency of her having good will, which Mr. Siegel described as “the desire to have something else stronger and more beautiful, for this desire makes oneself stronger and more beautiful”: 

Consultants: Do you hope to respect your husband, or do you have some other hope? If you see something like a weakness in him, do you use it to have contempt, or do you truly hope to respect him more and place the weakness in such a way that you have more respect for the whole world, and see the deepest thing in another person? 

One of the assignments Melanie Ward did that broke through the spurious superiority she'd been cultivating, was writing about her husband what Eli Siegel asked in the poem “Ralph Isham, 1953 and Later” -- one of the most important questions ever asked about a person-- 

What was he to himself?  
There, there is something.
She tried to describe her husband's thoughts about his own father, and she told us it had her see how much it mattered to David Ward that he be kind and think deeply about his father, who he had been so angry with in the past, and that she wanted to encourage that.  

 “I have such a renewed love for David,” she wrote in a document to her consultants: 

and I see how beautiful and necessary it is to choose good will . . . . [He], like myself, is a relation of sureness and unsureness, hope and uncertainty, the known and unknown . . . . I see how much I need my husband and the good effect he has on my life . 
Melanie Ward's life shows that when people everywhere can meet and study Aesthetic Realism -- one of the tremendous, longed-for results will be real love, critical and kind, between men and women!