Paul Hernadi
Cultural Transactions: Nature, Self, Society
Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1995 (166 pages)
Presentation  |  Contents  |  Prologue
Book cover

Publisher's presentation: "In this provocative book, Paul Hernadi goes beyond current intersubjectivist approaches to cultural phenomena, maintaining instead that the natural, the personal, and the social are complementary dimensions of all human making, doing, and meaning. His chief concern is with verbal communication, but he also considers music and architecture, cooking and business, television and film, basketball and chess.

For centuries, Hernadi notes, people viewed either matter or mind--nature or spirit--as the ultimate principle of being and becoming. In contrast, much contemporary theory assumes that reality is socially constructed. While recognizing the powers of culture, Hernadi pays close attention to the material conditions and personal responsibilities of human agency as well. Tracing both continuities and disruptions in key intellectual traditions, he relates his conceptions of culture, existence, and experience to three classic triads: the rhetorical aims of moving, delighting, and teaching; the psychological capacities of willing, feeling, and knowing, and the evaluative criteria of justice, beauty, and truth."

Paul Hernadi is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara.


Preface and Acknowledgments vii
Prologue: Enticements and Forewarnings 1
1 How to Do, Make, and Mean Things with Words 7
Action, Production, Signification   8
Speaking, Writing, Thinking    13
Communication, Expression, Representation     21
Intersubjective, Objective, Subjective      28
2 The Performance, Recording, and Mental
Rehearsal of Cultural Transactions
Discourse between, among, and within Human Beings      36
Sound and Image in the Age of Rampant Reproducibility      39
The Multitemporality of Arts, Crafts, and Games      49
3 Who We Are: The Rhetoric, Grammar, 
and Logic of Communal Identities
The Grammar of Saying "We"      63
The Rhetoric of Saying "We"       69 
The Logic of Saying "We"       73
4 Society, Nature, Selves: Freedom and Diversity 80
Four Principles of Being and Becoming      80
The Grammar and Rhetoric of Self-Making       82
Role-Playing, Responsibility, History       89
Freedom and Its Discontents       96
Liberation through Diversity       102
5 Four More Triads and Beyond 108
To Move, Delight, and Teach       109
Willing, Feeling, Knowing      115
Justice, Beauty, Truth      126
Consensus, Coherence, Correspondence      134
Epilogue: Loose Ends and Afterthoughts 141
Index 149

Prologue: Enticements
and Forewarnings

Posted only for scholarly/educational use. Please contact the publisher directly for permission to reprint.

This book approaches culture, existence, and experience as elongated, overlapping shadows of three familiar activities: doing, making, and meaning. The shadows are elongated because culture, existence, and experience -- our ways of being with, of, and toward a radically plural world -- surpass particular acts of doing, making, and meaning. And the shadows overlap because human beings concurrently do, make, and mean things as players of socially assigned roles, as productive and reproductive organisms, and as self-conscious persons.

Doing, making, meaning; ways of being with, of, and toward the world; overlapping shadows. Why resort to such plain language -- some might call it baby talk -- at our advanced stage of terminological maturity? I am not allergic to technical terms. Nor am I reluctant to switch on (mostly in the notes that a hurried reader may decide to ignore) some high-powered searchlights that theorists since Plato have trained on everyday phenomena. But I find the current idiom of much humanistic inquiry more removed from ordinary speech than I think it ought or has to be.

This state of affairs often keeps us from productively affirming or criticizing what familiar words prompt us to do, make, and mean. My ensuing affirmations and criticisms are designed to be therapeutic, even self-healing. For example, I hope that the discussion in chapter 3 of saying "we" may give both you and me the cautious confidence to speak, write, and think of "us" -- a much maligned but insufficiently understood pronoun -- without defensive quotation marks. In other chapters too, I try to remove blinkers that prevent culture, existence, and experience from coming into view as complementary horizons of social activity, natural facticity, and personal identity.

The resolutely three-dimensional approach should help my book outgrow what it grows out of: the current intersubjectivist bias in the humanities and social sciences. For many centuries people viewed either matter or mind -- either nature or spirit -- as the ultimate principle of all being and becoming. In contrast, a great deal of recent thinking stipulates the "social construction of reality."[1] I recognize the world-making and self-making powers of language and other vehicles of culture but also wish to heed the material conditions and personal responsibilities associated with the exercise of such powers. After all, even face-to-face verbal communication -- a quintessentially intersubjective process -- is simultaneously geared to personal identity, social activity, and natural facticity whenever an I talks to at least one of you about one or more of them. Such interplay of first-, second-, and third-person orientations at the very heart of intersubjectivity suggests that no circumspect understanding of culture, let alone of existence or experience, can be based on the study of social activity alone. Seen against the second-person horizon of intersubjective activity, human beings emerge as players of social roles. Against the respective horizons of third-person facticity and first-person identity, they emerge as natural organisms and personal selves.[2]

To be sure, we typically experience ourselves at any particular time in just one of three ways: as objectively existing organisms, as players of intersubjectively assigned and evaluated roles, or as subjective selves. Yet we should, I think, avoid elevating one type of experience into a master doctrine that debunks the other two as mere delusions. Exclusive concern for only one strain in the texture of our lives easily leads to dubious totalizing claims like "It's all in the genes," "Individuals are mere products of their society," or "Every person is a fully autonomous moral agent." The undeniable appeal of each such tenet stems from its capacity to permit its adherents to deal with one, and repress two, of three profoundly troubling aspects of being human -- death, interdependence, and responsibility. It is true that acknowledging just one dimension of our threefold plight can provide temporary relief from anxieties linked to the other two. By contrast, accepting each set of constraints associated with our lives as organisms, role-players, and selves imposes on us the task of staring down three predicaments rather than just one: natural (or supernatural) determination, social coercion, and personal conscience. The task is hard, yet recognizing all three predicaments seems to be required for achieving viable degrees of existential congruence, cultural consensus, and experiential coherence in our postmodern worlds.

The diversity of human worlds gives rise to many conceptual schemes without being encompassed by any. It is indeed tempting to insist that the multiple worlds shaped by our physically, socially, and mentally inhabiting them do not constitute a single world. [3] But such insistence is more unitarian than it appears because it surreptitiously implies the privileged existence, after all, of a particular world in which the notion of the world is "well lost." [4] To avoid deluding myself and my readers about this kind of trap, I often refer to the world(s) which I view and discuss as more than one pluriverse -- in the singular. The inconsistency involved might have pleased Friedrich Schlegel, who noted almost two hundred years ago: "It is equally lethal for the mind to have a system and to have none. It may very well have to decide to combine the two."[5]

I cited Schlegel's aphorism in two earlier books,[6] but my work on the present one has even more urgently required me to keep in mind the shrewd romantic ironist's paradoxical message. I hope that Schlegel's protopostmodern advice has helped me once again to stay alert both to the life-sustaining force of theoretical systems and to their self-induced decadence. To be more specific, this book intertwines several triadic sets of conceptual coordinates, some of which destabilize each other. I thus attempt to meet the mind's demand for both having and not having a system by way of arguments whose dialectical "marriage of heaven and hell" -- to invoke William Blake, another ironic romanticist -- simultaneously procreates and devours all "portions" of the "whole."[7]

To give a capsule summary of what lies ahead: Chapter 1 pleads for approaching all discourse (whether oral, written, or mental) as concurrent doing, making, and meaning. Chapter 2 amplifies the initial conceptual framework by extending it to cover the performance, recording, and mental rehearsal of nonverbal communication, expression, and representation as well. Chapter 3 explores how the first-, second-, and third-person horizons of our potential for being active, receptive, and represented participants in cultural transactions can be fused into the shared identity of "we"-sayers. Chapter 4 attempts to shed light on the intertwined social, natural, and personal evolutions that have enabled us to emerge as (inter)active role-players, (re)productive organisms, and (self-)conscious individuals. Chapter 5 both relates and contrasts my conceptions of culture, existence, and experience to three time-honored triads -- the rhetorical aims of moving, delighting, and teaching, the psychological capacities of willing, feeling, and knowing, and the evaluative criteria of justice, beauty, and truth.

The brief Epilogue presents a few afterthoughts in a conversation about some of the book's loose ends. One of the critical voices raised likens the study as a whole to the Escher sketch of two hands drawing each other.[8] Let me expand on that remark and on Escher's image of reciprocal self-articulation as follows. My chief aspirations have indeed been (1) to show that culture, existence, and experience are the social, natural, and personal dimensions of each other and (2) to prompt critical readers to draw my drawing hand into their evolving systems and nonsystems. We certainly need a lot of hands as we try to piece together today's cultural, existential, and experiential puzzles. More often than not, doing so requires us to combine having and not having a system -- to intertwine the diverse without reducing the diversity of the intertwined.


1. 1 borrow the quoted phrase from the title of Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (New York: Anchor-Doubleday, 1967).

2. There is growing recognition of the three-dimensionality of being human. For tripartite approaches comparable to mine, see Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, vol. 1, Reason and Rationalization of Society, trans. Thomas McCarthy (Boston: Beacon, 1984), esp. pp. 10, 16, 45, 52, 69-75, 100, 278, and 308 on subjective, objective, and intersubjective (or social) "world relations," and Rom Harré's recently completed "trilogy": Social Being: A Theory for Social Psychology (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1980), Personal Being: A Theory for Individual Psychology (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), and Physical Being: A Theory for Corporeal Psychology (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991). My own approach is quite different, however. For example, neither Habermas nor Harré suggests that the subjective, objective, and intersubjective (or the personal, physical, and social) are reciprocally constitutive dimensions of each other or that culture, existence, and experience interface in a utopian "we"perspective of intertwined diversity.

3. See the section titled "The Many Worlds" in chapter 21 of William James, The Principles Of Psychology, 2 vols. (New York: Dover, 1950), 2:291-93. This edifion is a reprint of the 1890 edition published by Henry Holt.

4. See Nelson Goodman, "The Way the World Is," Review of Metaphysics 14 (196o): 48-56; Richard Rorty, "The World Well Lost," Journal of Philosophy 69 (1972):649-65; and Nelson Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1978).

5. In the original, the fifty-third of Schlegel's "Athenaeum Fragments" (1798) reads: "Es ist gleich tödlich für den Geist, ein System zu haben, und keins zu haben. Er wird sich also wohl entschließen miissen, beides zu verbinden." Quoted from Friedrich Schlegel, Kritische Schriften und Fragmente, 6 vols., ed. Ernst Behler and Hans Eichner (Padeborn: Schöningh, 1988), 2:109. For a somewhat different English version, see Friedrich Schlegel, Lucinde and the Fragments, trans. Peter Firchow (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1971), p. 167.

6. Paul Hernadi, Beyond Genre: New Directions in Literary Classification (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1972), p. 2, and idem, Interpreting Events: Tragicomedies of History on the Modern Stage (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), p. 11.

7. See esp. plate 16 in William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), p. xxiii: "One portion of being is the Prolific, the other the Devouring; to the devourer it seems as if the producer was in his chains; but it is not so, he only takes portions of existence and fancies that the whole."

8. See Escher on Escher: Exploring the Infinite, trans. Karin Ford (New York: Abrams, 1989), p. 66, where the Dutch artist remarks: "Some years after I made this print I saw exactly the same idea of two hands drawing each other in a book by the famous American cartoonist Saul Steinberg." This reference is probably to Saul Steinberg, The Passport (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1954), [p. 231, lower left comer. For some reason the 1978 edition of The Passport does not include the drawing in question.




Maintained by Francis F. Steen, Communication Studies, University of California Los Angeles