Language has lost its power, its power to persuade people with arguments or to enchant them with the poetry of words. Language was a weapon of enlightenment, used to construct arguments and meaning, and to probe truths – or at least a potential, critical truth.
Language could be refuted by language; arguments by other arguments. Working from inside out, critical language aimed to revolutionize the bourgeois and capitalist social order by liberating it from the conservative, repressive values of the past.
Now language has forfeited its enlightening competence. It has lost its seductive power. There is nothing new, nothing critical, nothing true in language that cannot be turned into its opposite and claimed to be equally true. Language has become an empty vehicle of information. Truths, half-truths, and untruths rub shoulders as equals in our so-called information society. Language does not produce authentic content or deeper meaning because it has been deprived of credibility in embodying these values. Since it is no longer trustworthy, it has become impotent, reduced, fragmented, or relegated to the realm of academia.
Text is perceived as design, pattern, or decoration, comparable to the once potent symbols and signs, now tattooed onto human bodies without number. Language, words, entire passages as ornamental tattoos? The language that we encounter here is like an archaeological find, as fascinating to us as ancient scrolls or coins because we sense that its time is running out.
Herzog & de Meuron, 2018