The Creature and the Culture

By Shear, Walter | The Midwest Quarterly, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

The Creature and the Culture


Shear, Walter, The Midwest Quarterly


The human creature has 'always had, indeed, needs, both an existence and a meta-existence. But the interplay of objective and subjective tends to mask animal being and to create an instability between objective identity and subjective identity, leaving animal being in need of recognition, a recognition that would be very like belief. While such a personal identity is constantly overlapped, and to that extent hidden, by an objective identity, the objective identity can never replace it. With their mental sensibility, human beings are more the active who than the objective what. But for most, the conscious recognition of a personal identity and the awareness of such a presence in others is the experience still waiting to occur, and it is always available. In the morning mirror, who is it that stares back? A nodding acquaintance? A friend? A stranger? Who has the most merciless stare and why?

THE RELATIONSHIP OF the human creature to its culture, befitting the two relentlessly evolving participants, is marked by both devotion and shifting, uncertain loyalties. It reveals a human animal that is not exactly trained but, perhaps because of an inherent susceptibility, undoubtedly conditioned. Culture is the great presence of human life.

Walt Whitman thought he could live with the animals. To him they were "so placid and self-contain'd" and unlike humans they "do not whine about their condition," are not "awake in the dark," weeping "for their sins." "Not one is dissatisfied, not one demented with the mania of owning things, /Not one kneels to another" (218). Sometimes it has seemed that simple--the neurotic anxieties of complex culture vs. the attractive, calm unworried existence of nature.

Yet civilization is not so easily surrendered and there has always been something disturbing in the idea of the human as another animal, the hysterical response to Darwin's Origin of Species being only the most notable instance of alarm. Even now when a tacit acceptance of science placing humans in the animal kingdom prevails, human culture would prefer to keep its distance. And yet, the kinship is there before our eyes, in the physiology of living itself---eating, sleeping, having sex, digesting, defecating, getting sick, birth and death--everything that forms that portion of life which is assumed and which largely manages to remain unnoticed until some critical stoppage occurs. This side of the human creature is cloaked, obscured, shied away from, and generally distracted with serious social and political issues on the one hand and intriguing amusements and gossip on the other. As summed up by Clifford Geertz, "We are incomplete or unfinished animals who complete or finish ourselves through culture--and not through culture in general but through highly particular forms of it" (49).

As conceived in this essay, culture is less particular forms than all that has been added to and seemingly transcended the animal: the processes of naming, connecting, explaining, cogitating, rule-making--in short all that involves the objectifying of the actual world and everything in it (even the conscious formulations in the pre-objectifying activities of reason, ideation, and imagination). It is this objectifying process at the heart of culture that claims a meaning in itself impossible to deny and as meaning it almost magically obscures its source, the human animal as objectified and objectifying being. At the root of such objectifying is language, making meanings and living within a world of meanings--names, titles, labels, relationships, proprieties. This essay will concern the human animal's uniqueness (this peculiar animal) and explore how the human creature's problematic relation to an increasingly potent and exponentially expanding culture places humanity in jeopardy. The current intellectual situation begins to imagine the irony of the creature overtaken by its own creation. Indeed, so pervasive is its purview at present that much of the time culture succeeds in totally absorbing the human animal. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Creature and the Culture
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.