SKEPTICISM AND THE ORDINARY from Burnt Norton to Las Vegas

By Vinegar, Aron | Visible Language, January 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

SKEPTICISM AND THE ORDINARY from Burnt Norton to Las Vegas


Vinegar, Aron, Visible Language


ABSTRACT

The premise of this article is that Venturi, Scott Brown and Izenour's Learning from Las Vegas exemplifies a full-scale engagement with the implications of philosophical skepticism. Drawing on the philosopher Stanley Cavell's work on skepticism and the ordinary, I take up the classical questions of skepticism and bring them to bear directly on questions of language and architecture in that text. I argue that instead of light irony, complicity with the "culture industry," or the simple equation of architecture with communication, Learning from Las Vegas is fundamentally about the "intolerable wrestle with words and meanings" in the city.

Words strain, crack and sometimes break, under the burden, under the tension, slip, slide, perish, decay with imprecision, will not stay in place, will not stay still. Shrieking voices scolding, mocking, or merely chattering, always assail them. The Word in the desert is most attacked by voices of temptation.

T.S. Eliot, "Burnt Norton," The Four Quartets

__ Challenging texts such as Learning from Las Vegas do not make reading easy. They are "difficult" to put it in Eliotian terms and are deceptive, as if calling forth a weak skepticism in response to their robust version. In fact, much of the criticism and commentary on Learning from Las Vegas from its initial publication in 1972 has circled around the question of skepticism without directly addressing its philosophical premises. At its furthest extreme skepticism manifests itself in nihilism: the radical denial of shared meaning altogether; the other extreme - to live without skepticism-would be to fall in love with the world.1 Some critics took Venturi and Scott Brown's evaluation of the Las Vegas Strip as "almost all right," to mean simply all right. Other cultural critics, mostly from the perspectives of critical and postmodern theory, would implicitly identify them with their full-blown nihilistic interpretations of America, Las Vegas and the "culture industry." In between the two extremes, they were most often branded as liberal ironists embracing a witty, but ultimately innocuous and possibly reckless, cultural pessimism.2 But I have a hunch that what made the book so infuriating is that it had more of the flavor of courting the extremes without occupying them or the middle ground. This state of affairs is best captured in the graffiti that the "pop-artist" Ed Ruscha saw scrawled in the ruins of an abandoned hotel structure near Glassell Park in Los Angeles: "FUCK THE WORLD... AND FUCK YOU IF YOU DON'T LOVE IT."' I take this as a more prosaic formulation of the real stakes of skepticism as outlined by Stanley Cavell: that there are endless specific succumbings to the conditions of skepticism and endless specific recoveries from it, and between the temptations of excessive despair and false hope is a quest for the ordinary and its perspicuousness.

Simply stated, the premise of this essay is that the visual and textual arguments in Learning from Las Vegas exemplify a full-scale engagement with the implications of philosophical skepticism. I am by no means claiming that Venturi and Scott Brown "intended" to exemplify skepticism when they wrote Learning from Las Vegas, merely that the resultant book does so. I take my basic orientation from the two fundamental aspects of the threat of skepticism: the uncertainty of knowing the world out there and knowing other minds. These aspects of skepticism are not mutually exclusive-far from it. So-called other minds and external world skepticism often allegorize their respective commitments.4 Further, I take it that the approach to words in Learning from Las Vegas is allegorical of both external world and other minds skepticism. "As if," as Cavell has put it, "to write toward self-knowledge is to war with words, to battle for the very weapons with which you fight."5 A position also echoed in T.S. Eliot's lines from the Four Quartets that ends the first part of Learning from Las Vegas: "That was a way of putting it not very satisfactory: A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion, leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle with words and meanings. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

SKEPTICISM AND THE ORDINARY from Burnt Norton to Las Vegas
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.