This article addresses the role literature plays in facilitating processes of "self-making" (autopoiesis) and in negotiating an exchange between culture and self. Drawing on recent debates in cognitive psychology and object relations theory (Bollas), it explores literature's relationship to the formation and transformation of a sense of self. At the level of an individual act of reading, literature may function as an "evocative object" that helps to transform cultural experiences into the elaboration of psychic structures. At the same time, literature's effects also operate on a larger scale. Poetry, fiction, and related arts generate a certain cultural idiom, providing abstract shapes that resonate with, refine or transform culturally prevalent emotions, moods, tastes, values and mental structures. It is therefore not only the information literature provides about our own or others' histories and cultures, but also the shaping of psychic structures and patterns of interpersonal and intercultural relating that define literature's cultural and psychic work.