The basic enterprise of contemporary literary criticism is actually quite simple. It is based on the observation that with a sufficient amount of clever handwaving and artful verbiage, you can interpret any piece of writing as a statement about anything at all.

This is a degeneration of Derridas Deconstruction which could be viewed as an attack on the then dominant (& stagnant) school of Structuralism or a way past it. To use a mathematical analogy: mathematics (in one sense) is about axiomatic systems, but this does not mean that any axiomatic system is of equal value. Likewise not every interpretation of a piece of writing is of equal value. Judgements of taste must still be made.

The broader movement that goes under the label "postmodernism" generalizes this principle from writing to all forms of human activity, though you have to be careful about applying this label, since a standard postmodernist tactic for ducking criticism is to try to stir up metaphysical confusion by questioning the very idea of labels and categories.

Postmodernism is a questioning and reaction of Modernism; in the same way that Romanticism was a reaction to early Modernism. From some point in the future looking back it may be seen as part of Modernism. Its really too early to say (though of course one does).

"Deconstruction" is based on a specialization of the principle, in which a work is interpreted as a statement about itself, using a literary version of the same cheap trick that Kurt Gödel used to try to frighten mathematicians back in the thirties.

Deconstruction is roughly about inverting dominant modes of interpretation, in various modes, and its not a new technique: after all Marx inverted Hegel to present a critique of Capitalism. One could say that Deconstruction is both a literary & political tool.

Godels theorem, from a mathematical logic perspective is not a cheap trick, but certainly it has been used as a cheap trick by philosophical & mathematical hustlers. Paradox & antinomies have been used by serious philosophical thinkers, such as Hegel and Kant (in passing only) in the West; and by Nagarjuna and Daoism in the East.

Godels achievement, in context, is one part of the reinvigoration of formal logic since Frege, he introduced new techniques and questions into mathematical logic. However most popular expositions miss the importance of Paradox and tying it into the larger framework of Paradoxical thought in Philosophy - they settle for an exposition of Godels proof, whereas his main ideas are explicable in fairly simple terms - as they should be - and they do not give the larger & broader picture of Mathematical Logic: categorical Logic, intuitionist logic, inconsistent mathematics, paraconsistency and so on.

There is an incredible amount of verbiage about *Godels Theorem*, important though it is, which should be contemplated alongside the incredible amount of verbiage around *Deconstruction*, important though that is.

One of the elements of Badious Programme is to prune back this verbiage & metaphysical idiocy by making mathematics the site of ontology. But one should note that his book *Being & Event* references the *Event* of Derrida in the paper he presented at Columbia University which was to consolidate Structuralism but actually became a springboard for Deconstruction.

Although, Godels Theorem is presented usually as a death-knell of Mathematical Logicism, there has been found ways past it; certain parts of his programme has been completed. For example Gentzens proof of the consistency of PA, paraconsistent logic helps overcome contradictions in the rational architecture of mathematics by localising them.

There appears to be a general tendency towards Logical Pluralism which might be considered the outcome of the Logical Monism of Hilberts programme after a century of thought.

So far from Post-Modernism being inconsequential, one can see that the grand narrative of logical monism which may be seen as part of the modernist project has become Post-Modern by moving towards Logical Pluralism. Not the One but the Multiple.

It is well understood that the truth of a system cannot be ascertained within the system itself -- Could you make a metal detector out of metals alone? Godel shows that mathematics is no exception. – sova – 2011-06-17T02:38:00.410

@sova: A magnetized piece of iron is a metal detector after a fashion. Barring the example, however, that's a reasonable summary of the idea, I believe. – Jon Ericson – 2011-06-17T17:24:15.560

@Jon: +1. A very good question! with very good answers! – None – 2011-06-22T16:07:55.327

I created a relevant chat to discuss the exactly how how Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem is “cheap trick”

https://chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/109314/defining-godel-incompleteness-away

The key "cheap trick" aspect of Gödel's Theorem is its foundational basis: A theory T is incomplete if and only if there is some sentence φ such that T ⊬ φ and T ⊬ ¬φ.

Every formal system capable of representing self-contradiction is defined as "incomplete" on the basis that it can express self-contradiction therefore making a sentence and its negation unprovable.

Instead of saying that the self-contradiction of the liar paradox sentence: "this sentence is not true" makes the liar paradox ill-formed we decide that English is "incomplete" because English can express the liar paradox. – polcott – 2020-06-18T03:10:01.990

3In the interest of improving the question, anyone care to comment on why there are downvotes to the question? I'm guessing the phrase "cheap trick" is the problem. – Jon Ericson – 2011-06-08T23:21:27.800

5No idea why there are downvotes; it's best not to pay too much attention to them. If someone has a useful opinion regarding an actionable way that your question can be improved, they'll leave a comment. Otherwise, just keep on doing what you're doing. A +1 from me. – Cody Gray – 2011-06-09T05:04:48.837

4I'm pretty sure only those who doesn't like it would call it a "cheap trick". That's a typical rationalization put forward when reality bites. – Lennart Regebro – 2011-06-09T07:48:03.413

1@thei: What I meant was a) in the context of the article, the critique of Gödel was helpful in understanding the critique of "Deconstruction" and b) the idea that Gödel Incompleteness is a trick fits with every account I've read. And of course those statements are commentary on

whyI ask the question. The next paragraph contains the question, which has been answered once so far. (And your question is nothing like mine.) – Jon Ericson – 2011-06-09T17:41:19.6971I can't understand why, if it was a "cheap trick", is still used by many people to stylize their literary works, including the criticizer himself.. – johan.i.zahri – 2011-06-10T17:22:36.407

@johan.i.zahri: You probably need to read the article I linked to: it's a frontal assault on the concept of "Deconstruction". I see now that the passage I quote is not typical of the brutal attack, but just the bit where the author defines what deconstruction does. – Jon Ericson – 2011-06-10T17:26:41.323

@Jon Ericson: well isn't he himself using some "unprovable" arguments/assumption such as "Engineering and the sciences have, to a greater degree, been spared this isolation " if he himself use this "cheap trick", isn't it hypocritical of him? – johan.i.zahri – 2011-06-10T18:15:47.753

1@johan.i.zahri: I don't see how using "unprovable" arguments, if they are in fact unprovable, would be an example of the "cheap trick". The trick is to interpret something as making a statement about itself and use that interpretation to undermine the work itself. The point of the quote you pulled is that engineering and the sciences resist deconstruction because they can normally be tested against the physical world. – Jon Ericson – 2011-06-10T18:45:19.367

@Jon Ericson:wasn't it that the reason he is able to undermine the work because of the unprovabality caused by the interpertation? – johan.i.zahri – 2011-06-10T19:17:50.470

@johan.i.zahri: I see your point now. That, I suppose, would be part of his attack. But the more critical thrust of his argument seems to me that certain academic circles have become "epistemologically challenged" as Chip calls it. He defines the phrase as "a constitutional inability to adopt a reasonable way to tell the good stuff from the bad stuff." The problem is less with results as it is with methods. – Jon Ericson – 2011-06-10T19:29:19.907

4Very good job on attacking the fallacies behind the "deconstruction" movement. But unfortunately the person in question did not understand the theorem, probably. I've seen doctors in the humanities who can't even understand a simple Cartesian x-y linear graph. Instead, they are trained to despise everything "Cartesian". – Rodrigo – 2015-11-06T18:33:08.117

@To anyone: Is there any evidence in any of Hilbert's writings on logic and foundations that the 'arithmetization of mathematics' has anything to do with 'coding' in the Goedel sense? If there is, please cite the reference (I think that won't get you into any trouble with the Hilbert-Bernays project). This would go a long way in answering Jon's question. – Thomas Benjamin – 2015-11-23T23:57:54.647

@JonEricson don't understand the downvotes either – fifaltra – 2015-12-21T15:03:14.930