A corpse as art and the death of thought

A concrete result of the destruction by the Derrida virus and related strains of the ability to think like a normal human being: Hanging Corpse Admired as Sculpture on Campus. It was for this, it appears, that the Hungarians overthrew communism.

I find it extraordinarily illuminating to view modernism and postmodernism as collections of viruses. Like viruses they are defined by superficial attractiveness, emptiness of useful content, and an ability to replicate and substitute themselves for the complex and living structures that constitute a field of thought or activity. Let them do their work and people lose the ability to distinguish a long-dead corpse from a work of art.

Still, questions remain. Why do we have these viruses now and not previously? What was the immune system and where did it go? In the materials I linked a couple of days ago, Salingaros suggests “the mad pursuit of innovation,” “ignorant, egocentric architects,” and “the totalitarian dictates of an established power elite. That’s true as far as it goes, but in his unpublished paper “The Derrida Virus” he goes deeper:

“In the absence of commonsense standards and a respect for evolved wisdom, every group demonstrates its own power and reality by dominating, disordering, and destroying other groups and their beliefs. Everything becomes a nihilistic power game; hence the Nazi parallel mentioned in this paper is not accidental. Our sole defense against nihilism is connectivity …

“[M]uch of [deconstruction] comes from a putting individual subjectivity first in an absolute sense … It rejects the traditional good, true, and beautiful, identifying them as oppressive enemies of the self coming to us from the outside.”

Another author he quotes, David Lehman, in his book on the Paul de Man case, agrees: deconstruction “is determined to show that the ideals and values by which we live are not natural and inevitable but are artificial constructions, arbitrary choices that ought to have no power to command us.”

The problem, then, is that if we don’t accept in love that we live in a world with a moral and aesthetic order that precedes us and validates our thoughts and purposes, when they are indeed valid, then when that order of things impinges on us it will seem alien and oppressive and we will rebel against it by trying to destroy it and everything that reflects it—that is, everything good, beautiful and true. As Salingaros points out elsewhere, modernism and postmodernism in design are ultimately anti-God. (For a discussion of deconstruction and religious architecture, see his Anti-Architecture and Religion.)

What can we see in Derrida’s own words other than an assault on meaning and existence itself:

“All I have done … is dominated by the thought of a virus, what could be called a parasitology, a virology, the virus being many things … The virus is in part a parasite that destroys, that introduces disorder into communication. Even from the biological standpoint, this is what happens with a virus; it derails a mechanism of the communicational type, its coding and decoding. On the other hand, it is something that is neither living nor non-living; the virus is not a microbe. And if you follow these two threads, that of a parasite which disrupts destination from the communicative point of view—disrupting writing, inscription, and the coding and decoding of inscription—and which on the other hand is neither alive nor dead, you have the matrix of all that I have done since I began writing.”

[Brunette & Wills, ed., Deconstruction and the Visual Arts, (Cambridge University Press, 1994), 12.]

What could motivate such an assault other than a self-centered and indeed Satanic hatred of God? Our defense against it is not simple connectivity, as Salingaros sometimes appears to suggest, but faith in something transcendent—in short, religion. Unless we remain loyally in communion with the constitution of being we will have no defense against the viruses Salingaros describes. People used to think that atheism meant clarity and reason. It should now be obvious that it means the contrary.

7 thoughts on “A corpse as art and the death of thought”

  1. Lehman’s “arbitrary choices
    Lehman’s “arbitrary choices that ought to have no power to command us” really zeroes in on it, doesn’t it? The issue is who’s to be master, that’s all; don’t you dare tell me there’s fruit I mustn’t eat…..! A great posting.

  2. Jim:

    Check out Jeffrey

    Check out Jeffrey Cook’s book ‘Seeking Structure from Nature, the Organic Architecture of Hungary’ 1996, Birkhauser. Here is a case of an architecture which out of the cast off materials of utopian communism, when that utopia remade the world with dreary monoliths of concrete thrusting skyward, and which crumbled after years of neglect of maintainence, reconnected a subject people to her living traditions, and like a counterrevolutionary virus, killed the deadness of spirit these dreary monoliths created. The communist housing blocks, when new were conscious symbols of man shaking his fist at God, declaring independence from Him, declaring that belief in Him was an opiate! These blocks were symbolic vows that communist Man would reach perfection by his own means!

    The concrete apartment blocks that rose from the rubble of traditional dwellings destroyed to make building sites for the architecture of the New Man purported to break the traditions of the past that enslaved men to capitalism, etc. But the people forced to be ‘free’ by the dictatorship of the proletariat wouldn’t give up hope and some geniuses from among them created a remarkable organic architecture, with obvious connections to Hungary’s ‘symbolic memory’ (embodied in some very ideosyncratic architectural forms) which grew like wildflowers in the cracks of the decaying concrete…that became a counter symbol of resistance that the past and traditon could not be killed off by utopian culture killers. It was a good virus on the body of a cultural parasite, and when you see these forms, you will see potent symbols of a dead ideology as fertilized for a reborn and freed Hungary!


  3. Jim Kalb raises crucial
    Jim Kalb raises crucial questions, such as “why do we have these viruses now and not previously?”

    Clearly, the answers will help to determine what our future culture and civilization look like, and whether there will be anything left that is worth saving.

    I have thought about this from the point of view of communication—modernism and its viral successors could not have occurred without the 20C mass media, which helped to spread the visual viruses coupled to utopian ideals that people willingly swallowed. And yet, destructive cults have since the beginning of time periodically ravaged what civilization has put together; effectively utilizing the communication medium of that period.

    Perhaps now, with our improved understanding of how ideas spread, we can finally answer these questions.

    Best wishes to all.

  4. Communications technology
    Communications technology does have something to do with it. I think though that it’s part of the technological structure of life generally. People work for big rationalized organizations that are integrated with the world market. Culture is electronic. The schools debunk whatever young people learn at home, and substitute a combination of technical skill and social pliability (“tolerance”), with emphasis on the latter. What young people don’t get from formal education they get from TV, movies and pop music, which are also rationalized mass products.

    That situation affects how the world looks to people. Everyone seems a node in a huge network with no significance of his own. Knowledge and understanding become possessions of the network and the experts who speak for it rather than any individual. Legitimate knowledge is divorced from every particular experience and tries to be perfectly public and objective. What’s left to the individual is immediate subjective experience—what he likes and doesn’t like. The accepted criteria for decision thus become exclusively hedonistic and technological. What’s individual is hedonistic, what’s public is technological, and there’s no third possibility.

    Traditional knowledge therefore becomes discredited. It’s non-demonstrable, non-scientific and in general too integrated with subjective responses and particular local social settings to seem legitimate in a world that only views clear universal principles as authoritative. The experts have no way to take into account subtleties of experience, because they can’t be made universal and publicly testable. And no-one has the right to say he knows better than the experts.

    Since traditional knowledge is illegitimate people want to do away with it. Individuals don’t like it, because it can’t be reduced to immediate pleasure, which is all that’s been left them, and experts don’t like it, because they’re responsible for supplying the answers and they don’t like things they don’t know what to do with. In any case, traditional knowledge is oppressive because it’s not a technically-rational way of getting just what we want immediately, and technology has taught us that that the desire for something that does that is realistic and justified. I think that desire to destroy traditional knowledge and replace it with something perfectly clear and technically up-to-date has a great deal to do with susceptibility to the Derrida and similar viruses.


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