The Debate In Everyone: Should I Feel More or Less?
From an Aesthetic Realism Public Seminar
by Miriam Weiss
When I was 17 I wrote about a man who had broken up with me:
Last night while listening to melancholy Japanese music, I was crying about Kazu and this morning upon waking I couldn’t care less about that bastard. Now as the day progresses--it is 12:30 p.m.--a fraction of anxiety has accumulated.
While my tears had a good deal of self-pity in them, what I wrote represented a definite trend in my life: thinking it was wise to have less feeling rather than more. I remember times when I would be enthusiastic about something at night and wake up embarrassed, telling myself I had wildly gone out on a limb.
Aesthetic Realism is beautifully clear on this subject, showing that the debate: Should I feel More or Less? is about the central ethical debate in everyone: Should I have respect or contempt for the world? In The Right of Aesthetic Realism to be Known titled “How Much Should We Feel?,” Ellen Reiss writes:
[Our] desire [to feel more] stands for life itself, to have the world with its things and happenings and people do something to us, cause emotion, affect us, mean much to us: that is what our minds and senses are for.
And she also explains this most crucial thing:
There is a desire in every person to have less feeling, to be less affected by things, to be unstirred, unmoved….To be affected is, willy-nilly, to respect the power of the world and of that particular instance of the world. And if the effect is good, we have to be grateful to what caused it! The ego says, “Never.” The ego wants to be superior, and the one way to be wholly superior is to be completely unaffected.
I came to see my emotions didn’t mysteriously deflate; they were punctured by my own desire to have contempt—to feel I’d be giving too much of a tribute to the world and people by showing they affected me. Early, I came to associate having a lot of feeling with sloppiness and anger—there were often fights between my parents--and I vowed I wasn’t going to let myself become out of control and undignified. But I was also scared that life was passing me by and that I so often felt empty and tired.
In an Aesthetic Realism class taught by Eli Siegel that I attended years later, he asked me: “Have you come to think that the less you cared for, the more successful you were? Have you tried to get yourself into a state of uncaringness?” “Yes!” I said, feeling so described. Then Mr. Siegel kindly asked: So what have the results been? “I haven’t liked myself”, I said.
Increasingly I felt that the things I showed feeling about should be only things I thought made me superior to others. For instance I loved The Tale of Genji written by the 11 th century Japanese novelist, Lady Murasaki, and after reading it decided to study Japanese. But I used it to think not too much else was worth being excited about. It was about this same time that I began experiencing waves of anxiety that would suddenly come over me. “Anxiety, Mr. Siegel explained “deeply is the feeling that somewhere we are wrong as to what concerns us most.” And he said in a lecture:
How grateful I am that I found out that my purpose, beginning at birth, was not to water-down or manage anything that might affect me, but to have proud, accurate, unbounded feeling about the world and people!
It seems that the purpose of living is to care for living, that the whole bloodstream is for it; and if something in you is going to say, “Please bloodstream, act as little as possible by not feeling anything,” you are going to be in a jam.