Archaeology of Criticism



"O sancta simplicitas! How strangely simplified and falsified does man live! One does not cease to wonder, once one has eyes to see this wonder!" [Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil 28 (Chicago: Gateway, 1955)]

"Our capacity for self-deception has no known limits." [Michael Novak, Ascent of the Mountain, Flight of the Dove: An Invitation to Religious Studies 61 (New York: Harper & Row, rev. ed., 1978)]

"Opportunities for self-deception are never far away from any of us." [Owen Barfield, History, Guilt, and Habit 56 (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1979)]

"[I]t is common indeed that you will be (1) persuaded to ignore obvious facts by social pressure; (2) trapped into undesirable commitments by calculated rewards; (3) deluded by suggestive propaganda or even a neighbor's back-fence rhetoric; (4) misled into addicted behavior, where the ruts of habit are so deep they form virtual blinders; (5) enticed to surrender your autonomy, before you have even possessed it, by dreams of an intimacy able to cure the pains and perils of loneliness; (6) beguiled by ‘reason' into believing, contrary to fact that certain kinds of thought and areas of consideration are invulnerable to disruption or contradiction by even small penetrations of new experience; or (7) caught up in a frenzy of antireason and persuaded, by your emotional identification with a certain mood or movement, that you have transcended your boundaries, and that you are somehow more important to all other people than each of them is to you." [Robert A. Lloyd, Images of Survival 39 (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1973)]

"Denial is one of the simplest and most common of the defense mechanisms and in fact may be present in some form in most of the others. It is, simply stated, a method of avoidance. It is a means by which the mind simply does not see that which is present by ignoring or 'forgetting about it.' On an unconscious level, when there are unpleasant thoughts or events that we would rather not acknowledge, we simply 'make believe they are not there.' In a sense we figuratively turn away from the unpleasant thoughts, sights, or feelings which may beset us. If a situation is dangerous or traumatic or disparaging to the self, we simply turn our attention elsewhere. We selectively perceive those situations which make us comfortable and fail to perceive those which cause us anxiety or pain." [Lou Benson, Images, Heroes, and Self-Perceptions: The Struggle for Identity from Mask-Wearing to Authenticity 270 (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1974)]

"Contrary to our dominant presumptions, we are seldom conscious of what we are doing or who we are. We choose to stay ignorant of certain engagements with the world, for to put them all together often asks too much of us, and sometimes threatens the more enjoyable engagements. We profess sincerity and normally and try to abide by that profession, yet we neglect to acquire the very skills which will test that profession of sincerity against our current performance. On the contrary, we deliberately allow certain engagements to go unexamined, quite aware that areas left unaccountable tend to cater to self-interest. As a result of that inertial policy, the condition of self-deception becomes the rule rather than the exception in our lives, and often in the measure that we are trying to be honest and sincere. Sobering as this fact is, however, it does not license a wholesale charge of hypocrisy. Self-deception remains more subtle . . . .

To become explicitly conscious of one's situation...demands that one rehearse what one is doing. We seldom feel it necessary to spell out our engagements in any detail, however. Conventional descriptions of our actions are readily available, and they normally dispense us from spelling things out any further. There are many things we do every day--dressing, eating, playing with our children or talking with our spouses--that can be carried on without bothering to delineate how they may contribute to an overall life-plan. We seldom 'spell out' what we are doing unless we are prodded to do so....

A state of self-deception cannot issue from a single decision...but represents a policy not to spell our certain activities in which the agent is involved. Moreover, once such a policy has been adopted, there is ever more reason to continue it, so that a process of self-deception has been initiated. Our overall posture of sincerity demands that we make this particular policy consistent with the whole range of our engagements. In this way, a specific policy leads to a pervasive condition called self-deception . . . . Our protective deceits become destructive when they begin to serve our need to shape a world consistent with our illusions.

The power of fabrication makes it that much harder to uncover our illusions by masking them with sufficient plausibility to render them acceptable. Occasionally we are fortunate enough to be forced to face our deceptions, but ironically the very same imaginative and intellectual skills which lead us to discriminate falsity from truth also empower us to create those webs of illusion that lead plausibility to our original deceptive policy." [John Berkman & Michael Cartwright (eds.), The Hauerwas Reader 201, 204-205 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001) ]

"Societal roles provide a ready vehicle for self-deception, since we can easily identify with them without any need to spell out what we are doing. The role is accepted into our identity. It may define our identity in the measure that we feel committed to live out and defend our identification with it. In the narrow confines of a job and of corporate loyalty, such an individual can easily be caricatured as a 'company man,' and come under a simple censure of establishment myopia. Where the description is more exalted and vocational, however, the opportunity for deceiving oneself increases. A man may think of himself as a public servant concerned with the public good. Even though he may be party to decisions which compromise the public good, he has a great deal invested in continuing to describe them as contributing to the public good. To call certain decisions he makes by their proper name would require too painful a readjustment in his primary identification of himself as a public servant. Thus deceit can be a function of wanting to think of ourselves as honest persons . . . .

"[W]e will remain subject to those propensities which lead to a state of self-deception as long as we feel ourselves to be constituted either by the conventional roles we have assumed or by the level of awareness we have been able to articulate." [Stanley Hauerwas, Truthfulness and Tragedy: Further Investigations in Christian Ethics 87, 88 (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1977)]

"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)]

"Our traffic with other human beings is an endless talk of the obstacles set before our seeing things as they are. We are all capable of a quiet devastating perversity of will in distorting the situations we encounter daily. A man may go through life side by side with people whom he never sees truthfully and whose real relationship to himself remains hidden. He believes he loves when he really hates, hates when he loves, and alternately makes too much or too little of either. So we go on in our blindness . . . ." [Will Barrett, The Illusion of Technique: A Search for Meaning in a Technological Civilization 237 (Garden City, New York: Anchor Press, 1978)]

"Our conscious motivations, ideas, and beliefs are a blend of false information, biases, irrational passions, rationalizations, prejudices, in which morsels of truth swim around and give the reassurance albeit false, that the whole mixture is real and true. The thinking processes attempt to organize this whole cesspool of illusions according to the laws of plausibility. This level of consciousness is supposed to reflect reality; it is the map we use for organizing our life." [Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be? 91 (New York: Harper & Row, 1979)]

"[T]here are crucial modes of social life in which the antagonism between what is actually required and what must be believed is so massive that only unconscious denial will make the process bearable. The ubiquitous, overarching contradiction in capitalism between apparent independence and actual dependence, embodied in the formative institutions of family, school, work, and cultural imagination, are too excruciating to be continually recognized and consciously confronted." [Richard Lichtman, The Production of Desire: The Integration of Psychoanalysis into Marxist Theory 254 (New York: Free Press, 1982)]


  Contents Page for Archaeology of Criticism