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Lynette Abel


Part 3, conclusion of The Inability to Appreciate--What Does It Come From?

     In a class, Mr. Siegel asked me:  "What obligation do you have?...Do you think you owe anything to people?" 

     LA   I think I owe a great deal. 

     ES    If you were on the subway and saw a woman ill, would you give her a seat? 

     LA   Yes, I would. 

     ES   If you can make anything stronger, would you want to do it?  If there were a smudge on the window would you want to brush it away? 

     LA  Yes. 

    ES  Obligation comes from the desire to have the world better.   It is in the nature of things because thought is in the nature of things--something can be better through something you do.   Good will is a terrific obligation, present with every beat of one's heart.   It is the most beautiful thing in the world...Every person has to see obligation as expressing oneself while at the same time taking care of oneself. 

 I love Mr. Siegel for what he taught me which has made me a kinder, deeper person. 

     When the party actually takes place, the few paragraphs Miss Mansfield gives to it convey an atmosphere of superficiality, mockery, and emptiness, accompanied by flattery.  She writes:

    "Ah, what happiness it is to be with people who all are happy, to press hands, press cheeks, smile into eyes."..."What a becoming hat, child!" "Laura, you look quite Spanish. I've never seen you look so striking."
      The party over, Mrs. Sheridan expresses her relief and says she is exhausted.   And when her husband asks her if she heard about the "beastly accident," : 
    "My dear," said Mrs. Sheridan, holding up her hand, "we did. It nearly ruined the party."..."It was a horrible affair all the same," said Mr. Sheridan....An awkward little silence fell. Mrs. Sheridan fidgeted with her cup. Really, it was very tactless of father..." 
      What is really annoying Mrs. Sheridan is her own conscience.   But instead of wanting to see the true reason she feels bad is because she has been brutally cold to her neighbors, she wants to evade.   Mr. Siegel explains, "Snobbishness, with all its attractive social aroma, is next to torpor and death; and it is next to brutality."   Mrs. Sheridan suddenly gets the idea that Laura should take over a hefty basket of all the uneaten sandwiches, cakes, and puffs.  Laura protests taking scraps from their party, asking, "Would the poor woman really like that?"  In an Aesthetic Realism class, titled "Poetic Difference and Sameness Are Much in American Literature," given by Mr. Siegel March 8, 1970, he spoke about Katherine Mansfield's "The Garden Party," and commented on Laura.  "[She] is like Wordsworth.  There was a sense of the dignity of a person....The more dignity you give a human being, the happier you are, the less [dignity you give a human being], the more you make yourself weaker.  And Laura is like that--she feels those people are human, they don't just want baskets." 

     She does take the basket,  and is uncomfortable.   Katherine Mansfield writes of Laura: 

    "Here she was going down the hill to somewhere where a man lay dead, and she couldn't realize it. Why couldn't she? ...And it seemed to her that kisses, voices, tinkling spoons, laughter, the smell of crushed grass were somehow inside her.  She had no room for anything else.   How strange! She looked up at the pale sky, and all she thought was, "Yes, it was the most successful party." 
 It's hard to make sense of the different elements that can be in a person's life--a garden party and a tragic accident, for instance.   And Laura has difficulty.   "Every time we make something vanish in us, that shouldn't vanish," Mr. Siegel writes, "we are welcoming emptiness."   When Laura gets to the house, she is shown in by Mrs. Scott's sister and she sees a woman anguished "with swollen eyes and swollen lips" who Mansfield writes "...couldn't understand why Laura was there....Why was this stranger standing in the kitchen with a basket?"  "Terribly nervous," Katherine Mansfield writes, Laura is anxious to leave. 

     In her commentary to The Right Of #1102, Ellen Reiss explains with logic and kindness what Laura needed to know, and every person. She writes: 

    "People long for interesting lives, meaningful lives. And they will have them when they begin to learn from Aesthetic Realism that there has been something at work in them which has taken the meaning out of things hour by hour. People will stop feeling life is colorless when they can learn that the pain of that feeling is accompanied by the victory of seeing oneself as the only vivid thing on earth. People will feel their hours are rich with meaning when they can learn from Aesthetic Realism to ask," Do I want to be fair to this person, this sentence, this tree, sky, sidewalk, leaf, apple, sound, see all the meaning it has, or have I been quietly making its reality less real than my own?" 
 Aesthetic Realism can enable every person to appreciate rightly the world and the people we know, to have the meaningful lives we are hoping for.

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