Archaeology of Criticism


"We begin in the midst of things, that is to say, when it is already late and we are caught irrevocably in the web of understandings, borrowed back and forth against the time we have spent together--in thought, in work, in play, in love or in hate." [John O'Neill, Making Sense Together: An Introduction to Wild Sociology 1 (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1994)]

"For the most part we live our lives focally, that is, within a familiar range of experiences rendered clear to us by our conceptual systems or simply accepted by habituation. Ideally the focus opens outward, reaching toward a fringe of experiences, often vague and inarticulate but subtly continuous and profoundly meaningful." [John J. McDermott, The Culture of Experience: Philosophical Essays in the American Grain 106-107 (New York: New York University Press, 1976)]

"Nor can we set out until we are ready; and thus our voyage begins at home in the world of familiar objects, among friends and everyday scenes. We cannot take our leave without a word or a smile; without checking the ropes, our trusty knife, the matches, the salt, the back door, the tickets, and the passports. Whether we leave for the Orient, the cottage, or the moon, we do not expect to encounter a totally alien scheme of things. We take along toothpaste, a clean shirt, and everyone's best wishes for our new life, whether in marriage or in Canada. We remember all we have been told by friends, novelists, poets, wise men, and even science-fiction writers. We never go alone; we are always ambassadors, representatives of the people, missionaries, or anthropologists." [John O'Neill, Making Sense Together: An Introduction to Wild Sociology 2 (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1994)]

"It is sometimes said, either irritably or with a certain satisfaction, that philosophy makes no progress. It is certainly true, and I think this is an abiding and not a regrettable characteristic of the discipline, that philosophy has in a sense to keep trying to return to the beginning: a thing which it is not at all easy to do." [Iris Murdoch, The Sovereignty of Good 1 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970)]

Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy 80 (New York: Anchor Books, 1956) points out that Aeschylus and Sophocles disguised information about what had taken place before the play begins. They "used the subtlest devices to furnish the spectator in the early scenes, and as if by chance, with all the necessary information. They had shown an admirable skill in disguising the necessary structural features and making them seem accidental." Euripides, on the other hand, noticed that during the early scenes of the play the spectators "were in a peculiar state of unrest--so concerned with figuring out the antecedents of the story that the beauty and pathos of the exposition were lost on them. For this reason he introduced a prologue even before the exposition, and put it into the mouth of a speaker who would command absolute trust."

"[W]e never start de novo or from scratch. We carry with us a heavily funded memory of things previously discovered to be valuable, ends or goods to which we feel committed as prima facie validities. The list will not be the same for everybody or for any one all the time." [Sidney Hook, The Quest for Being 52 (New York: Delta Book, 1963)]

Beginning Again

"The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for. . . ." [Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory 19 (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1966)]

"The most profound human questions are the ones that give rise to creation myths: Who are we? Why are we here? What is the purpose of our lives and our deaths? How should we understand our place in the world, in time and space?" [Barbara C. Sproul, Primal Myths: Creating the World 1 (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979)]

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day." [Genesis, The Bible (King James Version)]

"In the beginning, Eurynome, The Goddess of All Things, rose naked from Chaos, but found nothing substantial for her feet to rest upon, and therefore divided the sea from the sky, dancing lonely upon its waves. She danced towards the south, and the wind set in motion behind her seemed something new and apart with which to begin a work of creation. Wheeling about, she caught hold of this north wind, rubbed it between her hands, and behold! the great serpent Ophion. Eurynome danced to warm herself, wildly and more wildly, until Ophion, grown lustful, coiled about those divine limbs and was moved to couple with her. Now, the North Wind, who is also called Boreas, fertilizes; which is why mares often turn their hind-quarters to the wind and breed foals without aid of a stallion. So Eurynome was likewise got with child.

Next, she assumed the form of a dove, brooding on the waves and in due process of time laid the Universal Egg. At her bidding, Ophion coiled seven times about this egg, until it hatched and split in two. Out tumbled all things that exist, her children: sun, moon, planets, stars, the earth with its mountains and rivers, its trees, herbs, and living creatures.

Eurynome and Ophion made their home upon Mount Olympus, where he vexed her by claiming to be the author of the Universe. Forthwith she bruised his head with her heel, kicked out his teeth, and banished him to the dark caves below the earth." [Robert Graves, 1 The Greek Myths 27 (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1955)]


  Contents: Archaeology of Criticism