Archaeology of Criticism



"[A] man is a work of his own hands and eyes, of his own lips and ears, a dram of his own passion and his own reason." [John O'Neill, Making Sense Together: An Introduction to Wild Sociology 38 (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1974)]

"The self has no pure identity, substance, core of its own; it is constituted by activities in engagement with the world. There is no self over and apart from the world. There is only a self in the world, part of the world, in tension with world, resistant to the world." [Michael Novak, The Experience of Nothingness 55 (New York, Harper Colophon, 1971)]

"Because we are rational beings, we devote much of our lives to creating and satisfying goals--goals that go beyond the instinctive activity patterns (sustenance, procretion, etc.) of other animals. Thus it is that people seek to construct their lives rather than just to live them." [Robert L. Palmer, When Law Fails: Ethics, Commerce, and Tales of Value, 2 So. Calif. Interdisc. L. J. 245, 248 (1993)]

"I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one can live. I could not live in any of the worlds offered me. . . . I had to create a world of my own, like a climate, a country, an atmosphere in which I could breathe, reign, and recreate myself when destroyed by living. That, I believe, is the reason for every work of art." [Anais Nin, "The New Woman," in In Favor of the Sensitive Man and Other Essays 12-19, at 12 (New York: First Harvest, 1976)]

"I do not write for a select minority, which means nothing to me, nor for that unadulated platonic entity known as ‘The Masses.' Both abstractions, so dear to the demagogue, I disbelieve in. I write for myself and for my friends, and I write to ease the passing of time." [Jorge Luis Borges, The Book of Sand 8 (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1978)]

"My determination to write an account of this search had begun from the conviction that unless I wrote about it I would lose my way. Yet for years I hesitated, not knowing in what form to tell it. I shrank from the thought of a direct personal account of what happened to me. . . . I was tempted to write my experience as the story of what happened to a friend, an imaginary character. . . . What helped me most was the gradually growing conviction that silence might be the privilege of the strong but it was certainly a danger to the weak. For the things I was prompted to keep silent about were nearly always the things I was ashamed of, which would have been far better aired and exposed to the cleansing winds of confession. I knew then that though my decision to write in direct personal terms would lead me on to dangerous ground, yet it was the very core of my enterprise. For I had often thought that novelists and poets had a special advantage in learning how to live, their writings providing them with an instrument that most of us were denied. By being able to dramatize their own difficulties they were in a far better position for solving them. . . .

I have often wondered whether what I have called my discoveries may be true only for me. My path may have wandered through deserts and wasteplaces which may be quite off the main highway. The records of how one traveler who has missed his way struggled back on to the right road are not interesting to those who knew which way to go from the beginning. To these, stories of strange birds seen in remote marshes may seem to be only the products of a distorted imagination. That I cannot tell, for in going through these records I have sometimes thought that my difficulties must seem childish to most people I know, but then again remembered how easy it is to slip into the mistake of imagining oneself to be unique. Certainly, however, in the later stages of what I had thought was a lonely trail I came upon the outskirts of a country which seemed to be well known to the few, though little spoken of and I think unguessed at by the many." [Joanna Field, A Life of One's Own 30-31, 32 (Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher, 1981)]

"There are times when you simply have to speak out. The chips are down. Damn the torpedoes. It's the only way to maintain your very integrity or self-respect. In such situations, once you have started, you are usually surprised how fluent (and powerful) your words are." [Peter Elbow, Writing Without Teachers 125 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973)]

"To speak forth honestly is to report the world as it is beheld (however precariously) in one's own perspective. Things have contexts, but only a person has perspectives. The essential excuse for writing, then, is to unveil as best men can some perspective that has not already become ordered into a public map." [Philip Wheelwright, Metaphor and Reality 15-16 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, First Midland Book, 1968)]

"In a stable society, composing a life is somewhat like throwing a pot or building a house in a traditional form: the materials are known, the hands move skillfully in tasks familiar from thousands of performances, the fit of the completed whole in the common life is understood. Traditional styles of pottery or building are not usually rigid; they respond to chance and allow a certain scope for individual talent and innovation. But the traditional craftsperson does not face the task of solving every problem for the first time. In a society like our own, we make a sharp contrast between creativity and standardization, yet even those who work on factory production lines must craft their own lives, whether graceful and assured or stunted and askew.

Today, the materials and skills from which a life is composed are no longer clear. It is no longer possible to follow the paths of previous generations. . . . Our lives not only take new directions; they are subject to repeated redirection. . . . Just as the design of a building or of a vase must be rethought when the scale is changed, so must the design of lives. Many of the most basic concepts we use to construct a sense of self or the design of a life have changed their meanings: Work. Home. Love. Commitment." [Mary Catherine Bateson, Composing a Life 1-2 (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1989)]

"One response to the world is to make a text about it, a reorganization of its resources of meaning tentatively achieved in a relation, newly constituted, between reader and writer. This is a way of acting in the world and on the world by using the language of the world. . . . Other activities are also texts in this sense, including the conversations that take place among us, at home or at the office or on the street, whenever we talk about what matters to us. We struggle to make our words work as we wish, to redefine them to meet our needs, and in doing this we remake, in ways however small, our language and our world." [James Boyd White, When Words Lose Their Meaning: Constitutions and Reconstitutions of Language, Character, and Community 4 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984)]

"Our care for language shapes our responsibility to ourselves and others; it is the mark of our faithfulness to the nature of things, to their shape and drift." [John O'Neill, Making Sense Together: An Introduction to Wild Sociology 18 (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1974)]

"This intimate tie between language and the being of the world and man, in whatever form it is experienced, appears then as a constant characteristic of the human consciousness of values." [Georges Gusdorf, Speaking (La Parole) 15 (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1965)(P. Brokelman trans.)]

"To build a world is to turn the precarious to our advantage, knowing all the while that in some form it shall be with us to the end. Although our endless struggle with the precarious may be an index to an imperfect world, it is also the occasion of our distinctively human celebrations." [John J. McDermott, The Culture of Experience: Philosophical Essays in the American Grain 142 (New York: New York University Press 1976)]

"Man's answers to the problem of his existence are in large measure fictional. His notions of time, space, power, the character of his dialogue with nature, his venture with his fellow men, his primary heroism--all these are embedded in a network of codified meanings and perceptions that are in large part arbitrary and fictional." [Ernest Becker, The Birth and Death of Meaning 126-127 (New York: MacMillan, 2nd ed., 1971)]

"When we look closely at any powerful cluster of metaphors, we can infer from it the maker's world." [Wayne Booth, The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction 335 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988)]

"The incubation of insights, the formulation of theories, are work for the imagination. And in searching for an explanation, we fall back over and over again on our own personal stock of visual images, metaphors, similes." [Liam Hudson, The Psychology of Human Experience 21-22 (Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 1975)]

"To learn is not merely to accumulate data; it is to rebuild one's world." [Robert Grudin, The Grace of Great Things: Creativity and Innovation 152 (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1990)]

"[W]hat we are is to be sought in the invisible depths of our own being, not in our outward reflection in our own acts. We must find our real selves not in the froth stirred up by the impact of our being upon the beings around us but in our own soul which is the principle of all our acts." [Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island 97 (Garden City, New York: Image Books, 1967)]

"It seems that the only way in which we can realize our fantasies without rupturing their integrity is by translating them into the language of the arts." [Liam Hudson, The Psychology of Human Experience 175 (Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 1975)]

"The artistic attitude attempts to create, or rather, the artist in the artistic attitude attempts to create an image of a world in such a way that it can be experienced directly, intuitively, emotionally, and naively. The work of art is thus a representation of a total and complete world, a province of meaning complete in itself. . . ." [Joseph Bensman & Robert Lilienfeld, Craft and Consciousness: Occupation, Technique and the Development of World Images 18-19 (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1973)]

"Today, each artist must undertake to invent himself, a lifelong act of creation that constitutes the essential content of the artist's work. The meaning of art in our time flows from this function of self-creation. Art is the laboratory for making new men." [Harold Rosenberg, Discovering the Present 218-219 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973)]

"I think that taking life seriously means something such as this: that whatever man does on this planet has to be done in the lived truth of the terror of creation, of the grotesque, of the rumble of panic underneath everything. Otherwise it is false. Whatever is achieved must be achieved from within the subjective energies of creatures, without deadening, with the full exercise of passion, of vision, of pain, of fear, and of sorrow." [Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death 283-284 (New York: MacMillan, 1973)]


  Contents: Archaeology of Criticism