TOO MANY WORDS

KrierI was listening to a lecture on YouTube by Léon Krier. He was in full apocalyptic mode, his rousing talk illustrated by his charming but barbed drawings. At one point he recounted a quotation: “I wish I could speak a language where no word is repeated.” Krier couldn’t remember the source–it sounds like Marcel Duchamp or Max Ernst to me. In any case, Krier’s point was that this could serve as a maxim for today’s modernist architects, who judge themselves–and are judged–almost solely on their originality. What makes the metaphor so cutting is that a language of unrepeated words would be simply meaningless gobbledygook, which encapsulates Krier’s opinion of the architectural avant-garde. He maintains that meaning in buildings emerges not from the maker’s imagination but from a shared tradition. He characterizes this tradition as a blend (in the proportion of about 20:1) of vernacular and classical. (This formula is an implicit criticism of modern classicists, who drape the orders on everything–big and small, important and humble–with sometimes reckless abandon.) While I was fruitlessly trying to identify the no-repeated-word quotation I came across another. This one from Alexander Pope:

In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold;
Alike fantastic, if too new, or old:
Be not the first by whom the new are tried,
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.

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