Of literary critics and rocks

One of my all-time favorite jokes is this one:

Q: What do you get when cross a Mafioso with a deconstructionist?

A: Someone who makes you an offer you can’t understand.

Do you have to be anti-intellectual to think that’s funny? I hope not. It’s just that I’m straightforward to the bone, and wouldn’t know subtext if it jumped up and bit me, so a school of literary criticism that maintains that things mean either A) the exact opposite of what you think they mean, or B) nothing at all, holds few attractions for me.

(The trend toward deconstructionism in food, though, cracks me up. Put the peanut butter next to the jelly and voila! you’re post-modern!)

Literary deconstruction, the kind that gets the –ism, bears little resemblance to literal deconstruction, no -ism. While deconstructionism is abstruse and abstract, plain old deconstruction is accessible and concrete – particularly when it involves rocks.

Back in the fall I started building the foundation for our wood-fired oven. We bought two pallets of stones and spread them all around what passes for our front yard. We dug a hole, four feet by four feet, and filled it in with the kind of sand that is supposed to interlock and make a solid base. Then I started building the base, one stone at a time.

It started off pretty well, I thought. I used big, flat stones that stacked well and looked good. Unfortunately, as the walls got higher, the job got harder, both because I was working with an increasingly irregular surface and because I was running out of good stones. I persevered, though, and the thing was about three feet high when I decided it was just no good.

I had help with this decision from our friend Rick. Rick is a stone guy. He reads about stones, he thinks about stones, he scours the countryside for wayward stones and takes them home to bring order to the landscape around his house. He built a beautiful retaining wall at the foot of the hill that slopes down from his front door, and he has a stone staircase leading down to his waterfront.

As soon as I saw Rick’s work, I knew I’d have to start over. As soon as Rick saw my work, he agreed. Sigh. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected to become a stonemason overnight.

There was no song in my heart as I started removing the stones I had so painstakingly stacked. No matter what you’re doing, moving stones is hard, but when you’re constructing it’s so … constructive. Deconstructing is just deflating.

Hey, maybe it’s got something in common with deconstructionism after all.

6 people are having a conversation about “Of literary critics and rocks

  1. Your rock wall does look a bit, well, loose, and the stones look awfully big. My understanding (disclaimer: I’ve never built a stone wall) is that wall-building, like bonsai, pine needle basketry or other hand-brain endeavor, is an art which requires years to develop. Yet first attempts do not always have to be discarded, and with an outdoor oven, function may trump beauty. Have you consulted with my daughter-in-law up the road? I’ve seen some of her walls, and she’s good. And then there’s always Stone Masonry for Dummies . . .

  2. Rick — Rock on, indeed! I can taste the chewy-crispy crust now …

    Mimi — Loose, it was. And I suspect you’re right about the years required, but I’m just hoping my second attempt is better than the first. One step at a time.

  3. Dry stone walling is an artform. Rick’s wall belongs in a museum (move over Carl Andre)

    I have a wonky finger as a reminder of the one and only time I attempted to repair a stone wall and dropped a sizeable rock on it. There are easier ways to get out of work.

    If we’re telling favorite jokes: There are 10 types of people in this world – those that understand binary and those that don’t.

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