Sex, like being human, is contextual. Attempts to isolate it from its discursive, socially determined milieu are as doomed to failure as the philosophe‘s search for a truly wild child or the modern anthropologist’s efforts to filter out the cultural so as to leave a residue of essential humanity. And I would go further and add that the private, enclosed, stable body that seems to lie at the basis of modern notions of sexual difference is also the product of particular, historical, cultural moments. It too, like opposite sexes, comes into and out of focus.✧ Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud
I do not present this view of history as one that is stable and must prevail. Whatever validity it may claim, it is certain, on its own premises, to be supplanted . . . However accurately we may determine the ‘facts’ of history, the facts themselves and our interpretations of them, and our interpretation of our own interpretations, will be seen in a different perspective . . . as mankind moves into the unknown future. Regarded historically, as a process of becoming, man and his world can obviously only be understood tentatively, since it is by definition something still in the making, something as yet unfinished.✧ Carl Becker, “Everyman His Own Historian”
We must be aware of the dangers that lie in our most generous wishes. Some paradox of our nature leads us, when once we have made our fellow men the objects of our enlightened interest, to go on to make them the objects of our pity, then of our wisdom, ultimately of our coercion.
♦ Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination
And the triumph of empiricism is jeopardized by the surprising truth that our sense data are primarily symbols.
♦ Susanne K. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key
But our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable “I.” We are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensées; we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.
♦ Joan Didion, “On Keeping a Notebook”
The notion of ‘just now’ has been lived out indeed in a century already divided into decades with names and nicknames, ranging from the dynastic to the dynamic, from Edwardian to Roaring. Most important, an instant-by-instant difference in the actual experience of historical time lives out—and in—the rhythms of an unprecedented and accelerating pace of change in the history of material cultures. Accordingly, the imaginative experience of temporality moves beyond one of crisis time to one of time itself in crisis: a formerly natural, apparently gradual time of diurnal days and seasonal rounds has been lined ever more finely and grandly by the developing mechanisms of chronometry, which have worked in ways little and large—from the division of the globe into twenty-four equal time zones to the parsing of micro-times within a supposedly seamless instantaneity—to unsettle temporal measurement itself.
♦ Vincent Sherry, “A History of ‘Modernism'”
Marilyn Strathern . . . taught me that “it matters what ideas we use to think other ideas (with).” Strathern is an ethnographer of thinking practices. She embodies for me the arts of feminist speculative fabulation in the scholarly mode. It matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties. It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories. Strathern wrote about accepting the risk of relentless contingency; she thinks about anthropology as the knowledge practice that studies relations with relations, that puts relations at risk with other relations, from unexpected other worlds.
♦ Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble
In the past we have always assumed that the external world around us has represented reality, however confusing or uncertain, and that the inner world of our minds, its dreams, hopes, ambitions, represented the realm of fantasy and the imagination. These roles, it seems to me, have been reversed. The most prudent and effective method of dealing with the world around us is to assume that it is a complete fiction – conversely, the one small node of reality left to us is inside our own heads. Freud’s classic distinction between the latent and manifest content of the dream, between the apparent and the real, now needs to be applied to the external world of so-called reality.
♦ J. G. Ballard, 1995 Introduction to Crash
Of course the pornographic imagination is hardly the only form of consciousness that proposes a total universe. Another is the type of imagination that has generated modern symbolic logic. In the total universe proposed by the logician’s imagination, all statements can be broken down or chewed up to make it possible to rerender them in the form of logical language; those parts of ordinary language that don’t fit are simply lopped off. Certain of the well-known states of the religious imagination, to take another example, operate in the same cannibalistic way, engorging all materials made available to them for retranslation into phenomena saturated with the religious polarities. . . .
♦ Susan Sontag, “The Pornographic Imagination”
What is new is not that the world lacks meaning, or has little meaning, or less than it used to have; it is that we seem to feel an explicit and intense daily need to give it meaning: to give meaning to the world, not just some village or lineage. This need to give meaning to the present, if not the past, is the price we pay for the overabundance of events corresponding to a situation we could call “supermodern” to express its essential quality: excess.
♦ Marc Augé, Non-Places