Archaeology of Criticism



"All of us contain within ourselves an inherent knowledge that we are in a fallen state and a state of exile. We know intuitively that humanity is lost in a maze of forgetting, trapped in neurotic selves, societies of violence and power, cultures of manipulation, and a realm of nature that is experienced as something alien to us." [Ken Sanes, What Is Transparency <website>

"It is almost as if our true self has been stolen from us and we are left with only traces, echoes, memories. The intimations of self that we have do not cohere; they hang about our lives but do not seem to constitute it." [Laurie Taylor, Escape Attempts: The Theory and Practice of Resistance to Everyday Life 206 (New York: Penguin Books, 1978)]

"Modern man's meaninglessness is a problem of what to do with life, what to do with it beyond simply living it out in a completely fetishized way. It is a problem, to use Augustine's example, of not looking up, of not looking deeply." [Ernest Becker, Beyond Alienation 212-213 (New York: George Braziller, 1967)]

"Something is wrong. I've noticed it for a long time, it's as if there is something odd or unreal about the world. Most of the time I'm busy with what I'm doing and don't notice, but, sooner or later, the persistent nagging awareness emerges again, telling me that something is peculiar about my view of things, and everyone else's too. I don't mean that the world seems to be collapsing--starvation, atomic bombs, pollution--it isn't just those things drastic as they may be. There is something still more basically wrong. It's as if you went to the movies and there was something odd about the projector or something strange about the camera that was used to take the movies in the first place. The images themselves seem normal, but the way it is put together is out of sequence, or taken at different speeds, or the perspective keeps changing. That's what I mean. There is something basically wrong with the structure of the world--as we have been taught to see it--but you might not notice it for a long time." [Arthur Deikman, Personal Freedom: On Finding Your Way to the Real World 1 (New York: Grossman Publishers, 1976)]

"Our intellect has achieved the most tremendous things, but in the meantime our spiritual dwelling has fallen into disrepair." [C. G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious 31 (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2nd ed., 1968)( R.F.C. Hull trans.)]

"I began to feel...that something was wrong with our entire world view. Western life seems to be drifting toward increasing entropy, economic and technological chaos, ecological disaster, and ultimately, psychic dismemberment and disintegration; and I have come to doubt that sociology and economics can themselves generate an adequate explanation for such a state of affairs." [Morris Berman, The Reenchantment of the World 15 (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1981)]

"In the global city of our civilization, girded by the high tension of our power lines, we have abolished the night. There glare of electric light extends the unforgiving day far into a night restless with the eerie glow of neon. We walk on asphalt, not on the good earth; we look up at neon, not at the marvel of the starry heavens. Seldom do we have a chance to see virgin darkness, unmarred by electric light, seldom can we recall the ageless rhythm of nature and of the moral law which our bodies and spirits yet echo beneath the heavy laughter of forgetting. The world of artifacts and constructs with which we have surrounded ourselves knows neither a law nor a rhythm: in its context, even rising and resting come to seem arbitrary. We ourselves have constructed that world for our dwelling place, replacing rude nature with the artifices of techne, yet increasingly we confess ourselves bewildered strangers within it, 'alienated,' 'contingently thrown' into its anonymous machinery, and tempted to abolish the conflict between our meaningful humanity and our mechanical life-world by convincing ourselves, with Descartes, that we, too, are but machines." [Erazim Kohák, The Embers and the Stars: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Moral Sense of Nature ix-x (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984)]

"[T]here is today a widespread feeling that our technology, our capacity to alter the earth and the relations thereon, is outstripping our ethics, our ability to provide satisfactory answers to how that power ought to be exercised. And there is the further feeling that even when we know, or believe we know, what would be the right thing to do, our social institutions, the bureaucratic machinery of courts and agencies, are incapable of bringing it about.

None of these feelings is new, of course. The gap between technology and morals is a theme that runs from Prometheus through Faustus, Frankenstein, and the low-budget sci-fi films in which our meddlings with nature inevitably linger to harass or destroy us. (After Hiroshima, it was everyone's first second thought.) The gap between morality and law has been playing since Antigone.

But it would be ironic to dismiss these laments because they sound familiar (almost every epoch in human history has voiced them). Rather, the laments sound familiar because they are among the central, continuing problems of civilization. And however unoriginal, it may be no idle conceit to suppose that today things have gotten worse....

The irony is that now, at a time when the interest in moral dilemmas is so high, ethics--the body of literature one might turn to for guidance--seems so often at a loss for anything to say. In its oldest, most tenacious form, this disregard of ethics takes the shape of moral skepticism, the position that there are no right or wrong nor perhaps even meaningful answers to moral questions. On this view, 'right,' 'wrong,' 'good,' 'evil' come down to matters of personal or class preferences paraded out in philosophic garb. The whole enterprise is fruitless and deceptive.... [N]o one who is under skepticism's sway (avowedly or unawares) can be expected to participate in moral discussion either earnestly or well." [Christopher D. Stone, Earth and Other Ethics: The Case for Moral Pluralism 17 (New York: Harper & Row, 1987)]

"Cloudless contentment is not open to man, and if he trades his freedom and integrity for it, the time will come when he feels cheated. This does not mean that he will openly regret the bargain. Most people have failed to cultivate their critical perception of their own present position and of the alternatives they might have chosen; precisely this is the trade they made; this is what they gave up for comfort and contentment. Now they feel cheated without knowing how and when and why. What they feel is a diffuse and free-floating resentment in search of an object. Having given up autonomy for happiness, they have missed out on both." [Walter Kaufmann, Without Guilt and Justice: From Decidophobia to Autonomy 213 (New York: P.H. Wyden, 1973)]


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