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
LA I think I owe a great
I love Mr. Siegel for what he taught me
which has made me a kinder, deeper person.
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?
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.
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.
"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
"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.