We will be publishing Nikos Salingaros’ book, Unified Architectural Theory, in a series of installments, making it digitally, freely available for students and architects around the world. Part one of Chapter Two outlined the scientific approach to architectural theory; the following, part two of Chapter Two, explains why Salingaros considers this approach to be superior to that taken by deconstructivists. If you missed them, make sure to catch up on the introduction, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2A.
Some traditions are anachronistic and misguided, but as reservoirs of traditional solutions against which to check new proposals they are of immense importance. A new solution may at some point replace a traditional solution, but it must succeed in reestablishing the connections to the rest of knowledge. In the context of social patterns, architecture, and urbanism, new solutions are useful if they connect to traditional social, architectural, and urban patterns (i.e., all those before the 1920s). If there is an obvious gap where nothing in a discipline refers to anything outside, then there could be a serious problem.
Recently, Edward Wilson has introduced the notion of “consilience” as “the interlocking of causal explanations across disciplines” (Wilson, 1998a). Consilience claims that all explanations in nature are connected; there are no totally isolated phenomena. Wilson focuses on incomplete pieces of knowledge: the wide region separating the sciences from the humanities. He is happy to see it being slowly filled in by evolutionary biologists, cognitive neuroscientists, and researchers in artificial intelligence. At the same time, he is alarmed by people in the humanities who are erasing parts of the existing body of knowledge. These include deconstructive philosophers. Wilson characterizes their efforts as based on ignorance.
On Derrida’s work, he writes: “It … is the opposite of science, rendered in fragments with the incoherence of a dream, at once banal and fantastical. It is innocent of the science of mind and language developed elsewhere in the civilized world, rather like the pronouncements of a faith healer unaware of the location of the pancreas.” (Wilson, 1998b: p. 41).
Unfortunately, most of the humanities today subscribe to belief systems that damage the web of consilient knowledge. Although never directly expressed, the goal of deconstruction is to erase institutions of knowledge. What Derrida has said is alarming enough: “Deconstruction goes through certain social and political structures, meeting with resistance and displacing institutions as it does so … effectively, you have to displace, I would say ‘solid’ structures, not only in the sense of material structures, but ‘solid’ in the sense of cultural, pedagogical, political, economic structures.” (Norris, 1989: p. 8).
Many people crave novelty without regard for possible consequences. This craving is often manipulated by unscrupulous individuals. Not everything that is novel is necessarily good. An example of this is a new, artificially-developed virus unleashed into the world. Because of the immense destructive power that humanity now possesses, it is imperative to understand possible consequences.
In a hilarious hoax, Alan Sokal developed a nonsensical deconstructive critique of well known scientific claims in an article submitted for publication to a pretentious, deconstructive academic journal (Sokal, 1996). None of the referees for that journal challenged Sokal’s account before accepting the article as worthy of publication. Sokal was so obvious in his deception that he assumed it would have been exposed; but it was not.
Subsequently, Sokal and Jean Bricmont (1998) exposed deconstructivist criticism as nonsensical and showed that several respected deconstructive texts are based on nonsensical scientific references. This is only the most famous exposure of nonsensical deconstructive writings; there are many others (Huth, 1998). In a debunking of deconstructivist texts, Andrew Bulhak codified the deconstructivists’ literary style into a computer program called Postmodernism Generator (1996). It is remarkably successful in generating nonsensical texts that are indistinguishable from those written by revered deconstructivist philosophers.
Putting aside the question of truthful content, a discipline is not valid unless it rests on a solid intellectual edifice. One characteristic of a coherent discipline is hierarchical complexity, in which correlated ideas and results define a unique internal structure. Like a valid bank note, this structure should be extremely difficult to counterfeit. That is not the case with deconstruction. Thus, a phony article in Statistical Mechanics, using all the appropriate words and mathematical symbols in a nice-sounding but scientifically-meaningless jumble, would be detected instantly.
Even a single mistake in such an article could not survive unnoticed. It is the function of referees to check each and every step in the argument of a scientific article submitted for publication in a professional journal. The very survival of the discipline depends on a system of checks that identifies and expels bogus contributions. By contrast, the survival of deconstruction — in which there is nothing to verify — depends upon generating more and more deconstructed texts and buildings.
A well-crafted deconstructive text does make sense, but not in any logical fashion. It is a piece of poetry that abuses the human capacity for pattern recognition to create associations, employing random technical jargon.
As Roger Scruton has pointed out: “Deconstruction … should be understood on the model of magic incantation. Incantations are not arguments, and avoid completed thoughts and finished sentences. They depend on crucial terms, which derive their effect from repetition, and from their appearance in long lists of cryptic syllables. Their purpose is not to describe what is there, but to summon what is not there … Incantations can do their work only if key words and phrases acquire a mystical penumbra.” (Scruton, 2000: pp. 141-142).
The use of words for emotional effect is a common technique of cult indoctrination. This practice reinforces the cult’s message. Whether in chants that make little sense yet can raise followers’ emotions to fever pitch, or in the speeches of political demagogues that rouse a wild and passionate allegiance, the emotional manipulation is the message. Even after the exposure of the deconstructive philosophers’ fraudulent character, their work continues to be taken seriously. Deconstructionist books are available in any university bookstore, while respectable academics offer lengthy critical commentary supporting these books’ supposed authority. By affording them the trappings of scholarly inquiry, the impression is carefully maintained that they constitute a valid body of work.
Followers of deconstruction apply the classic techniques of cults to seize academic positions; infiltrate the literature; displace competitors; establish a power base by employing propaganda and manipulating the media, etc. They use indoctrination to recruit followers, usually from among disaffected students in the humanities. As David Lehman put it: “An antitheological theology, [deconstruction] … shrouds itself in cabalistic mysteries and rituals as elaborate as those of a religious ceremony … it 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. Yet, like a religion-substitute, deconstruction employs an arcane vocabulary seemingly designed to keep the laity in a state of permanent mystification. Putatively antidogmatic, it has become a dogma. Founded on extreme skepticism and disbelief, it attracts true believers and demands their total immersion.” (Lehman, 1991: p. 55).
Extracts from: Nikos A. Salingaros, “Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction” (AAAD), Third Edition (Umbau-Verlag, Solingen, 2008). Reprinted by permission. This Chapter is also available in Chinese, French, Italian, and Russian.
Christopher Alexander (2001) The Phenomenon of Life: The Nature of Order, Book 1, The Center for Environmental Structure, Berkeley, California.
Christopher Alexander, S. Ishikawa, M. Silverstein, M. Jacobson, I. Fiksdahl-King & S. Angel (1977) A Pattern Language, Oxford University Press, New York.
Andrew Bulhak (1996) “Postmodernism Generator”, available online from <http://www.elsewhere.org/cgi-bin/postmodern>.
John Huth (1998) “Latour’s Relativity”, in: A House Built on Sand, Edited by Noretta Koertge, Oxford University Press, New York, pages 181-192.
Léon Krier (1998) Architecture: Choice or Fate, Andreas Papadakis, Windsor, England. Retitled The Architecture of Community, with new material, Island Press, Washington, DC, 2009.
David Lehman (1991) Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man, Poseidon Press, New York.
Christopher Norris (1989) “Interview of Jacques Derrida”, AD — Architectural Design, 59 No. 1/2, pages 6-11.
Nikos A. Salingaros (2006) A Theory of Architecture, Umbau-Verlag, Solingen, Germany.
Roger Scruton (2000) “The Devil’s Work”, Chapter 12 of: An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture, St. Augustine’s Press, South Bend, Indiana.
Alan Sokal (1996), “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”, Social Text, 46/47, pages 217-252.
Alan Sokal & Jean Bricmont (1998) Fashionable Nonsense, Picador, New York. European title: Intellectual Impostures.
Edward O. Wilson (1998a) “Integrating Science and the Coming Century of the Environment”, Science, 279, pages 2048-2049.
Edward O. Wilson (1998b) Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, Alfred A. Knopf, New York.