Archaeology of Criticism



"There is nothing more difficult than to become critically aware of the presuppositions of one's own thought." [E.F. Schumacher, A Guide for the Perplexed 44 (New York: Harper & Row, 1977)]

"We are enmeshed in a world of secondary concerns, of side-issues, which monopolize our attention and distort our sense of reality. Our consciousness has been saturated with trivia, which have turned it opaque." [Robert A. Samek, The Meta Phenomenon 8 (New York: Philosophical Library, 1981)]

"Under inertial thinking, all presently existing circumstances are presumptively justified because the past was mere prologue to an inevitably better future. Our invented social narrative is a story of linear progress in which the world we inhabit is necessarily more humane, more democratic, more just than the world of our forebears because we are more knowledgeable, more humane, more democratic and more just than our forebears. To a person afflicted with inertial thinking, challenges to prevailing social institutions often see immature. Why aren't critics more grateful that they do not live in the less humane past? Why are critics so silly as to think that the better future can be hurried?" [Peter M. Shane, Why Are So Many People So Unhappy? Habits of Thought and Resistance to Diversity in Legal Education, 75 Iowa L. Rev. 1033, 1042 (1990)]

"[N]ew insights fail to get put into practice because they conflict with deeply held internal images of how the world works, images that limit us to familiar ways of thinking and acting." [Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization 174 (New York: Doubleday, 1990)]

"In the best of times, it is difficult to ask critical questions about yourself and your society; in the worst of times it is also dangerous. Some of the difficulties and dangers come from ‘the outside'; they involve social and political risks, for the critical explorer is often a nuisance to others, and at times a threat.

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The effort to remold, in one's own life, the culture one has grown into is heavy with danger. The searcher is likely to be treated as a criminal or a madman, condemned and criticized by his own society, ridiculed, even persecuted. Even if he is more fortunate--even if he is simply ignored by others--he must begin his struggle as a cripple. For to consciously reject the generalized attitudes' of the parent society is to reject positive reference points that have helped him evaluate his actions and accomplishments.

This is the price of freedom on the peripheries. We are able to free ourselves from our parent culture only by destroying parts of ourselves, much as an animal might escape the hunter's trap by gnawing off its own leg. But unlike the wounded animal, the detached person is doubly crippled; however he mutilates himself, he will never quite be free of the trap but will carry it with him in his new freedom." [Donald A. Hansen, An Invitation to Critical Sociology: Involvement, Criticism, Exploration 3, 40-41 (New York: Free Press, 1976)]

"It may well be that for some people to realize the game-like ‘unreal' nature of whatever they are doing is a form of liberation, but such extreme self-consciousness may also result in great unhappiness. There are situations in which it is preferable to suspend incredulity and happily play the game." [Stanley Cohen & Laurie Taylor, Escape Attempts: The Theory and practice of Resistance to Everyday Life 38 (New York: Penguin Books, 1978)]

"To free ourselves from internal blindness we may have to learn to distrust ourselves in painful ways, ways that destroy certain kinds of happiness forever." [Robert Lloyd, Images of Survival 34 (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1973)]

"Innovation is ipso facto dangerous, for if it endangers nothing else, it endangers the safety of a satisfied mind." [Robert Grudin, The Grace of Great Things: Creativity and Innovation 143 (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1990)]

"For it is hard business (though harder in some societies than in others) to wrench oneself loose, either emotionally or intellectually. To walk ‘alone . . . and in the dark' is bound to be frightening, even if one is on the road to enlightenment. Critical distance is an achievement, and the critic pays a price in comfort and solidarity." [Michael Walzer, Interpretation and Social Criticism 37 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987)]

"Our psychological reality, which lies below the surface, frightens us because it endlessly surprises us and drives us in a direction which society's rules and organizations define as wrong or dangerous." [Anais Nin, The Novel of the Future 43 (New York: Collier Books, 1970)]

"Liberation involves a bitter knowledge of solitude, failure, and despair, but also the sense of triumph that one feels when standing, unsupported, on forbidding peaks, seeing the unseen." [Walter Kaufmann, Without Guilt and Justice: From Decidophobia to Autonomy 232 (New York: P.H. Wyden, 1973)]

"Greek rhetoric and sophistry testify to the fact that the world in which we live is a world of speech, that the clever man can compose at will in order to trick others." [Georges Gusdorf, Speaking (La Parole) 20 (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1965)(P. Brokelman trans.)]

"[V]ictories are not inevitable . . . [E]ffort and rectitude may not be enough . . . [T]here is no certainty that the forces of light will prevail over the forces of darkness. In short, one may devote a lifetime to a purpose or a cause, make sacrifices of health and pleasure, and still be denied the satisfaction of seeing one's goals achieved. But there is perhaps an even more insidious realization. One may pay dearly to achieve one's purpose and succeed, only to discover that one's small triumph is too insignificant to matter; or, even worse, to conclude that one was mistaken in his choice of goals, recognizing that one's achievement has done harm rather than good." [Francis A. Allen, Law, Intellect, and Education 15-16 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1970)]

"The necessity of reform mustn't be allowed to become a form of blackmail serving to limit, reduce, or halt the exercise of criticism. Under no circumstances should one pay attention to those who tell you, 'Don't criticize, since you're not capable of carrying out a reform.' That's ministerial cabinet talk. Critique doesn't have to be the premise of a deduction that concludes: This then is what needs to be done. It should be an instrument for those who fight, those who resist and refuse what is. Its use should be in processes of conflict and confrontation, essays in refusal. It doesn't have to lay down the law for the law. It isn't a stage in a programming. It is a challenge directed to what is." [Jean-Francois Lyotard, "The Postmodern Condition," in Kenneth Baynes, James Bohman & Thomas McCarthy (eds.), After Philosophy: End or Transformation? 100-117, at 114 (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987)]

"The result of [dialogic] confrontation is unpredictable: it might be incomprehension, denial, or repudiation. Or it might be progress. If you ask me, the odds on progress are not favorable. That, however, is not a reason for not trying if there is nothing much to lose. And what is there to lose?" [Frank I. Michelman, Conceptions of Democracy in American Constitutional Argument: Voting Rights, 41 Florida L. Rev. 443, 490 (1989)]

"[T]here has never been nor ever will be anyone who could survey interpretive possibilities from a vantage point that was not itself already interpretive. The demand for self-consciousness is a demand for a state of consciousness in which nothing has yet been settled and choices can therefore be truly rational. But if all concepts or constructs remained to be chosen, there would be nothing--no criteria, no norms of measurement, no calibration of value--with which or within which the choosing could be done; indeed there would be no chooser, for if the question of direction were totally open the mind (such as it is) would be incapable of going in any direction at all if only because it would be unable to recognize one.

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[A]lready-in-place interpretive constructs are a condition of consciousness.... It follows then that the one thing you can't do in relation to interpretive constructs is choose them, and it follows too that you can't be faulted either for not having chosen them or for having chosen the wrong ones; moreover, it follows that it makes no sense to condemn as ‘non-rational' the reasoning that proceeds within interpretive constructs because that's the only kind of rationality there is. Finally, by the same reasoning, if you can't choose your interpretive constructs, then neither can you know them (in the sense of holding them in your hand for inspection), and if you can't know them, you can hardly be expected to take them into account when you come to explain the process by which you reached your conclusions." [Stanley Fish, Dennis Martinez and the Use of Theory, 96 Yale L.J. 1773, 1795, 1796 (1987)]

"[Y]ou can teach people how this or that view of the world is to be thought or conceptualized, but the real problem is that it is increasingly hard for people to put that together with their own experience as individual psychological subjects, in daily life." [Frederic Jameson, "Cognitive Mapping," in Cary Nelson & Lawrence Grossberg (eds.), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture 347-357, at 358 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988)(appended discussion comment)]

"The force against philosophy can be measured by two components: first, the protection of common sense against ‘outside' invasion; second, the insulation of common sense against ‘inside' erosion." [Maurice Natanson, The Journeying Self: A Study in Philosophy and Social Role 15 (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1970)]

"[S]ome people's capacity for agency, their ability to respond to a truthful story, is so buried by accidents of their history, so crippled by their past, or so determined by a story that has taught them to despise themselves, that they have lost (or never found) the ability to participate in the forming of their character. More plausibly, their lives are so complex, their responses shaped by so many different stories, that the unity of character which seems necessary to order the multiplicity of loyalties in their lives may well seem unattainable.

No guarantee can be given to insure any one person from being so ‘determined.'" [Stanley Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics 44 (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983)]


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