“Homosexuality is Against Art” – Eli Siegel
Insights on the Narcissistic Family from a Philosopher-Poet
In one type of family structure often seen among gay men, mother and son form a bond of specialness which excludes the father and ultimately constricts the boy’s true nature. The distorted bond affects all the boy’s future relationships and eventually forms him as a homosexual.
Philosopher and poet Eli Siegel (1902-1978) offers us some surprising insights into this developmental problem. A Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet, he established the Esthetic Realism Foundation in New York City, and enjoyed considerable cultural influence for a time.
Aesthetic Realism draws its principles from the worlds of ethics and art. It says homosexuality is “against art” because of its failure to make one out of opposites.
“The way you see the world is inaccurate,” he told his students. “As that changes, the homosexual situation will change…. Sameness and difference is what homosexuality doesn’t sufficiently honor.”
In short, he saw homosexuality as a false solution to a philosophical dilemma. And due to the fact that the condition typically “fosters contempt,” he said, it is “unjust” to the world.
Siegel’s philosophy in some ways parallels the Judeo-Christian understanding of homosexuality. Both traditions teach that we are designed for gender complementarity. Both hold that the purpose of life is found in self-giving—“loving the world,” as Siegel terms it, which requires bringing into unity the world’s opposites. Homosexuality is the tendency to turn back inward onto oneself, and one’s own gender, in a form of incompleteness that takes the form of narcissistic self-preoccupation. It is a misalignment with the world.
In the family where mother and son form a special bond that excludes the father, Siegel explains, the boy is flattered by this role because it places him in a special position of power. Yet mixed with his love for this woman who has put him on a pedestal is also a feeling of anger; Siegel calls it “adoring contempt.” Forever after, women will be experienced as too well-known— they are seen by the son as “boring,” “uninteresting pushovers,” and “easy conquests.” As one student of Aesthetic Realism explained, the homosexual man thus “robs a woman of dimension. ..he gushes over her, while he contemptuously dismisses her.”
The conquest of his mother was too easy; in adulthood, the son then desires to repeat that conquest with someone who is mysterious, unapproachable and distant— a man.
In the book, “The Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel and the Change from Homosexuality,” Siegel’s students describe discussions which one could never hear in today’s political climate. Not surprisingly, the Esthetic Realism Foundation has made efforts to distance itself from their founder’s ideas on this subject.
Here is a sample of Siegel’s statements:
—— “Being homosexual is not your problem. The way you see the world is inaccurate. As that changes, the homosexual situation will change. You made some bad philosophical and ethical choices at an early age which have to be revoked. ..you’ve had this superstructure so long, you think it is ‘you.’ I don’t think it is.”
——“How sameness and difference become one through completing each other, is everlastingly the greatest esthetic question; and sameness and difference is what homosexuality doesn’t sufficiently honor.”
——“Homosexuality is one way people have of dealing inaccurately with life’s opposites.”
——“It’s not essentially a sexual question. It’s an ethical question.”
——“When the homosexual love that is sought for is understood—when its motive is understood—that love has no longer the charm that it seemed to have.”
——“We all are in a fight between respect for the world and contempt for the world. This fight goes on in us all the time; it affects every particular choice we make.”
——“In love that is not entire— and homosexual love is mostly, not entire—…love has to be a love in which ‘intrigue,’ itself, is more of a value [than being known].”
——“In homosexual love, there is more quarreling—though certainly there is a great deal in all love— than in the love of people of different sexes. ..The feeling of romance fades more quickly in homosexual love than elsewhere; and the feeling about another’s body…also fades quickly….”
—-“Sex [with another man] often angers and makes for a dim, annoying vacuity… [because] the Self is a ‘to-be-known’ reality. If that knowing does not take place, the ‘deep and ordinary doom’ [depression] I have mentioned, occurs…it is a dull, basic tragedy.”
——“Pride in oneself which goes along with kindness and justice, is a beautiful necessity of every conscious being.”
The family structure that Reparative Therapy® identifies as the Triadic Narcissistic Relationship is vividly portrayed in Siegel’s discussions with his students. Here, we see descriptions of the characteristic unhealthy entanglements:
——(Siegel) “Mothers [of homosexuals] tend to foster a feeling of glory in their male child. ..A good way for a mother to increase her own glory, is to make her son as important as he can be….Mothers have encouraged contempt in their sons by encouraging superiority; and this encouragement of superiority is an encouragement of homosexuality, too.”
——(Siegel) “Praise that comes too easily, in time becomes wearisome. To be distinguished just because you are the son of a mother who wants to have an important son..is for awhile gratifying; but as time goes on, the cause of the praise and the person giving the praise don’t seem so interesting.”
—-(student) “I always thought that my father was more sensible than my mother. He didn’t give me the kind of utter approval that my mother gave me, which already made me feel that he was less warm to me. But also, he saw the team that my mother and I were in [together]. He felt pretty early that I preferred my mother and my mother preferred me, and he withdrew and got hurt.”
——(Siegel to student) “Do you think there can still be love between your mother and father?”
——-(Student) “My father is not capable of showing emotions.”
—- (Siegel): “He got married and welcomed the outside world as different, which is something you’ve not been able to do.”
——(Siegel to student): “You had your greatest love affair very early [with mother]….she acted as if you were there to save her, and you were the one mooring point in her life; otherwise her vessel was lost. It gave you a terrific feeling of importance….There’s a certain hushed tone that says, ‘How important you are to me, and how important I am to you— it’s a secret….[But] all good will that is ‘special’ is false…As soon as you have good will for part of reality that you can use, it’s not good will.”
—-(student) “Superiority and inferiority, high and low, are in a terrible relation in a boy who is going to become homosexual. At home with his mother, he feels like a prince. Then he can feel so inadequate, different, inferior, playing with other boys, or at school….It is well-known in the homosexual world that a homosexual person can go from superiority, feeling he is the greatest thing going, to great depression, feeling his life is worthless. This is what I felt….[it] describes opposites in a bad relation, the making too much and too little of another person. This is what I had done all my life…The changes in my mother’s life are as big as my own. We are both grateful to Aesthetic Realism for teaching us how to be kind to each other, and to use each other not for consolation, but as a beginning point to like the whole world.”
——(Siegel) “It happens that a child who is homosexual early, or will be homosexual later, becomes quite good in the early politics of love. He knows how to take away the darksome look of his mother…. A homosexual child finds early that the good mood of his mother depends on the contributions to her happiness he chooses to make.”
—-(student) “Some kind of disappointment is always present [in the parents’ marriage]. That’s why the mother turns to the son….. My mother was an accomplished person, and I had the feeling very early on that anything else, would be dropped for me. And I saw that she did not care for my father so much. I wanted to be—Mr. Siegel put it so bluntly—on the winning team.”
—-(student to Siegel) “My mother and I felt that we were two sensitive people in a crude world—which included my father and a lot of other people. We also talked about other people, including relatives, always to our enhancement. When I was with my mother, I felt snug and cozy. We approved of each other in a way that was unquestioned. It was a snobbish oasis, apart from the rest of the world.”
—-(Siegel to student) “I think both of you would like to break up this anti-world team you have. But you’ll have to see the tremendous sense of power you get from your mother. That sense of power, together with the contempt you have, is heaven to something in the unconscious. ..You’ll never see the world, including women, the way you want until you disavow this ugly way of using your mother.”
—-(student) “Why is it ugly?”
—-(Siegel) “You get so much ego importance from your mother that unconsciously you feel the rest of the world is like cold potatoes…If Aesthetic Realism is correct, your deepest desire is to like the world. You’ve used your mother, among others, to frustrate that desire….even as a child, you collaborated with your mother. ….You’re having some of your secret treasures taken away from you today, and something in you is furious. .. But I also think something deeper in you is relieved and grateful.”
—-(student) “As I changed from homosexuality, I felt this loneliness—which I had taken for granted as part of human nature—lift from me like a thick blanket…Mr. Siegel has enabled something inside me—dim, stagnant and buried away—to come alive.”
And so we are reminded that homosexuality can be understood not just within the realm of the psychotherapist and the clergyman, but also, through the eyes of the philosopher and the artist. They, too, see an imperative of nature in the harmonious bringing-together of opposites.
(Source: The Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel and the Change from Homosexuality, edited by Ellen Reiss. N.Y.: 1986, Definition Press.)