Escher Sentences

Escher Sentences

I didn’t read the assault on architectural deconstruction on 2 Blowhards in great detail. I wasn’t familiar with the people being discussed, and was quite busy with other things. However, as I read the counterpoint to its criticism I spotted some sentences that really bothered me:

If we consider deconstruction as a linguistic and iconic posture, then this explains why its supporters cannot come up with tangible principles that are worth defending. There is nothing there other than being conditioned to speak, write, and view reality in a certain peculiar manner.

The infinite regress involved here isn’t quite the same as the Escher sentences discussed on Language Log, but it shares an interesting affinity. If deconstruction is merely a “linguistic and iconic posture” then what makes the argument against it anything more than an alternate posture? The mind reels. As Geoff Pullum said:

The issue as I see it is not about whether the example type is ungrammatical, or whether it is merely semantically incoherent, or why. The puzzle is about why people initially don’t notice there is anything wrong with it at all.

Linguistic and iconic postures are all we have to go on, folks. “Tangible principles” don’t exist—except perhaps in the most basic forms of shelter keep the rain off, the cold out, fulfilling our animal needs outside language. Just how “peculiar” the manner that we talk about these needs is can only be discussed in relative terms. I nearly laughed out loud when I read this bit about the “cult” of deconstruction:

It is no coincidence that those who criticized my paper invariably urged everyone to study the writings of Bernard Tschumi and Peter Eisenman in great detail. Naturally, they could not summarize what their purported message is; but were honest enough to admit that the message is “complex, challenging, not superficially apparent, hard to truly understand, an abstract means of representation, etc.” They emphasized that one had to spend a great deal of time with those texts before expecting the message to come across — which is precisely the method of indoctrination.

Interestingly, the technique of “indoctrination” suggested here utilizes exactly the same method as poetry. The call for “common language” overlaps fiercely with John Locke; it amazes me how little progress we’ve made on these issues. Mostly, it’s because both sides insist on ferreting out prejudices that they claim the other side possesses. Of course, essayists often appeal to “tangible principles” and a freedom from prejudice that can’t exist, at least within a world inscribed by language.