“How Do Men Hurt Themselves? – In Love, the Family, Economics” By Bruce Blaustein

I publish this article by my colleague, Bruce Blaustein, from an Aesthetic Realism seminar.  It has knowledge that men—and women—are hoping for today, including an important critical understanding of a noted American play, “Death of A Salesman.”  – Anne Fielding

Lee J. Cobb as Willy Loman with Arthur Kennedy and Cameron Mitchell, his sons Biff and Happy
Lee J. Cobb as Willy Loman (right), with his sons, Biff (Arthur Kennedy) and Happy (Cameron Mitchell), 1949

One of the biggest ways men hurt themselves, and have for centuries, is in how we have gone after having our way and being important. This was certainly true of me. Growing up, I came to feel that if I made as much money as possible, had many material possessions, an impressive house and car, I’d show everybody how important I was. As a teenager, I thought if I just owned a Rolex watch then I would really be somebody. But even as I got more and more things, I felt empty and unsure of myself.

I didn’t know it, but the reason I felt bad was that my way of being somebody was essentially based on contempt, defined by Aesthetic Realism as “the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it.”  The contempt way of going after importance includes what Eli Siegel, founder of Aesthetic Realism, once described as “the tendency in a premature and not beautiful way to take things and make them part of oneself without having seen them.” This desire to grab things without wanting sufficiently to respect or know them is a large way I hurt myself—making my mind less keen, my feelings duller. Though somewhere I longed to have big emotions, and wanted to feel my life had real meaning, I had a pervasive feeling of hollowness, with all my outward cheerfulness and energy.

I. Seeing or Owning: An Early Fight in Me

As a boy, I loved learning about animals and had many pets: horned toads, chameleons, tropical fish, birds, hamsters, even a monkey. I would stay up late reading about the different species of animals, their sleeping patterns, feeding habits. Aesthetic Realism taught me that the desire to know these living beings represented my deepest hope: to like the world.

But I also had another desire. As I looked at these small beings in their tanks and cages in our basement, I would pretend that I was a powerful warden of a jail, and these creatures were my prisoners. Once, when a hamster tried to bite me, I punished it by not feeding it for a day. I felt omnipotent.

But I was troubled, and thought if people could look into my heart they would hate me. I felt I was mean. Aesthetic Realism shows that this contempt, this not seeing feelings outside oneself as real, is the cause of pain in every aspect of life—in love, the family, economics.

. . . . .

III. The Fight between Seeing and Owning in a Play of 1949

I speak now about some aspects of the 1949 play Death of A Salesman by Arthur Miller. Sometimes called “an American tragedy,” Death of A Salesman shows the everyday choices a man makes between owning and knowing—in love, the family, economics—and how these choices, in their ordinariness, can be terrifically hurtful.

“To live,” Mr. Siegel wrote in The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known #148, “is to have one’s way somehow”:

The question is whether we know our true way well enough. Our desire to have our way is always accompanied by what the facts are….Reality and the facts may be at one with our desire; or reality and the facts may not be in agreement with our desire. If we have contempt for reality, contempt for the facts because these seem not in accord with having our way and we go after our way nevertheless, the disaster called mental trouble may follow.

Death of A Salesman shows powerfully that the desire to impress others by accumulating a lot of money, beating out others— and using one’s sons to feel superior— is really a dangerous, crippling thing….more

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