Re: Postmodern Perl

Stephen Wynne (
Tue, 09 Mar 1999 22:26:24 -0500

In message <>,
Kragen Sitaker quotes Terence Sin, who had written:

. . .and [Larry] completely botched the definitions of
postmodernism/deconstruction, the tenets on which he
re-thematized the standard Perl duct-taping rhetoric into pomo

This is a matter of perspective. Keep in mind that Larry's academic
background is in linguistics. I'd argue that he didn't get specific
enough to demonstrate whether or not he was using the terminology of
poststructuralism accurately. I think he does hint that he grasps it
in the following paragraph:

. . . a Modernist has to decide whether this is true OR that is
true. The Modernist believes in OR more than AND. Postmodernists
believe in AND more than OR. In the very postmodern Stephen
Sondheim musical, _Into the Woods_, one of the heroines laments,
``Is it always or, and never and?'' Of course, at the time, she
was trying to rationalize an adulterous relationship, so perhaps
we'd better drop that example. Well, hey. At least we can use Perl
as an example. In Perl, AND has higher precedence than OR does.
There you have it. That proves Perl is a postmodern language.

Larry alludes with the comment about his operator AND taking
precedence over OR that Perl is inclusive rather than exclusive as a
language. This has no accidental relationship to poststructuralism,
which criticizes exclusive ways of thinking traditional in Western

Note: I recently bought copies of "Derrida for Beginners" and
"Foucault for Beginners" in the Writers and Readers series. I'll give
page numbers from "Derrida . . ." (ISBN 0-86316-139-1) to give Jim
Powell credit for ideas I've shamelessly lifted from his fascinatingly
illustrated book.

Much of Jacques Derrida's work was in reaction to structuralism; hence
the term "poststructuralism." Linguist Ferdinand de Saussure had
analyzed literature, semiotics, folklore, and anthropology looking for
their abstract structures. Derrida thought that this search for
essential nature of a given phenomenon was flawed. He wanted to
"unmask" the problematic nature of all centers. (21) He argued that
Western civilization had been pathologically driven toward the idea of
a single truth, ideal form, or God if you will.

Derrida thought that this Western tendency to find centers "spawns
binary opposites with one term of the opposition central and the other
marginal." (23) The process poststructuralists use to find binaries,
invert them, and show the potential for multiple views of human
intellectual assumptions is called deconstructionism. This process
makes us aware of a given impetus toward centrality. It then seeks to
invert the margin/center relationship. Once the reader sees this
inversion, many others are possible. (28)

So when Larry says that Perl is inclusive, and therefore postmodern,
he probably knows what he's saying. Perl *is* a kitchen-sink set of
tools, and it doesn't try to put arbitrary boundaries around what you
can and can't do. "Exclusive" characteristics such as type-safety and
class security are almost nonexistent, for example.

As an aside, it's worth mentioning that poststructuralists tend to see
all knowledge as textual. (20) Another contemporary of Derrida's,
Michel Foucault, investigated the problem opposites with a similar
degree of skepticism. He was especially interested in how
organizational power structures shore up themselves with binary

Speaking of knowledge as text, one of my favorite websites is Tim
Bray's, which has had "Knowledge is a
text-based application" as a caption for at least the past year.
Moreover, Perl started out as a text-processing tool.

Kragen Sitaker goes on to ask:

Can you define postmodernism and deconstruction for me? I am an
ignorant old man, and I do not understand these terms. (Please do
not tell me to go read Derrida.)

This is what I've been trying to do, but it's not easy since I don't
have the academic background on this subject to really speak about it
masterfully. I think "postmodern" is the trend away from purist,
symmetrical, form-follows-function world of the modernists. Modernism
was (and is) all about hierarchy; postmodernism (which includes
poststructuralism and deconstruction) says that man's intellectual
structures are often artificial.