highly detailed image of a deconstructed city streetlamp showing all of the lamp's parts laid out in a knolling view
[ This image was generated with AI. ]

The Deconstructionist

Since he could remember, he’d always had the urge—some might go so far as to classify it as a compulsion—to undo things. No matter where he’d found himself, if an object within his visuospatial proximity had possessed a perceptible crosshead or hex socket, or a removable bolt of any size, he’d feel as if he had no choice but to loosen and remove it. (Objects in question ranged from 5-inch model cars to 6-foot bicycles, interior city bus structures to gym and playground equipment, to name a few.) The reason was unclear as to why he’d felt this obligation, but he’d of course had his speculations: perhaps he’d wanted to indulge his curiosity as to whether each piece of hardware was essential to the structure of the object in question; it is possible that he enjoyed the practicality and feeling of security in the self-demonstration ensuring his freedom, his ability to choose whether or not to dominate and control the fate of the objects surrounding him; or it could be that he simply derived a primitive sort of satisfaction from the firsthand evidence that ‘physics’ (as he understood it) works, that spinning his hex key counter-clockwise will always produce the effect that is ‘loosening’. He’d discontinued speculation as to why—assenting most firmly toward the first of the above three—one day when it became clear to him that, no matter the reason, nor the self-awareness of the reason, his urge to deconstruct was not about to disappear any time soon. It was a part of him, just as much as his torso was a part of him.

This knack for taking things apart oftentimes transferred to other aspects of his life. He once took upon the task of investigating the threshold at which language became superfluous, from which he eventually, inevitably concluded that no verbal language was truly necessary (at the very least not in the sense he was interested in—that is, that not one sentence he had ever spoken felt entirely natural, that the majority of people talk at one another, not wishing for their counterpart’s views, but for a silent acknowledgement that the speaker himself exists, is an autonomous entity capable and worthy of autonomy—which for him was enough to form the above conclusion, and which was what ultimately influenced his decision only to speak for the reason of convincing others that he, too, was a human person). Reading a section of a novel in which a passage appears in any way out of place, or includes information not entirely necessary to push the story forward—e.g., pages-long descriptions of the pastoral setting the characters’ thought/actions happen to be encased within, seeming to him only to be included to push what should be categorized as a ‘short story‘ into the syntactical parameters of a so-called ‘novel’—pained him in such a piercing way mentally as to trigger also the physical pain receptors in his skull.

Much like the names we receive at birth to differentiate one another, he had his own mental system to identify each particular morsel of any given set of items. What one would normally group together, assigning a precedent ‘a’ to the genus term, by some categorization method whose mechanics were unknown even to himself, he would simply be able to sense what exactly made each specimen wholly unique, not naming anything in any lexical sense, but placing each singular aberration into its own special mental box. The minute details accompanying natural phenomena seemed to always transcend superfluity in this sense—a bird, or a tree, upon initial inspection may appear indistinguishable from another of its kind; however, after further investigation, a discolored splotch of feathers, or the delicate difference in location a poplar’s limbs happen to branch out, all contribute to the singularity of the individual entity. Although this may be true also of the physical human form, the manner in which the majority of social interchanges—especially verbal—among his fellow human people initialize and unfold is quite another case.

Along with his toolbox of ever-increasing size, he always kept tucked in his pocket a small notebook and pencil, in which he jotted the precise point of collapse for each object—for this he would subtract the number of pieces removed by the total sum of hardware initially associated with the object, while of course making note, via a constantly developing system of number-coupled color-coding, of the variance in size, and type, of each piece of hardware. He was only partially aware that the reason he’d eventually switched from pen to pencil was for the latter’s erasure ability, in the events that he found a given note to contain a single speck of superfluity. When he would deconstruct a wall-mounted bus seat or a locked up bicycle, after the structure’s collapse he would not bother reassembling the components. He would simply make the appropriate markings in his notebook at once upon task completion (so as to keep particularities fresh in his mind), and, before casting off in search of the next object, would perform a final perimeter check to ensure that his net hardware count upon arrival corresponded with his parting count.

Once, as a child, he’d tried to unscrew the bolts that held in place a downtown light post. He’d tried and tried, sweating in the terribly hot midsummer day, exhausting himself. Even the eventual epiphanic moment revealing that the instalment of these bolts had clearly been completed by some oversized machine failed to deflate his determination, from which necessarily followed a second epiphany concerning what exactly it is that must be done. Wrench still applied to bolt, zoned in to the rudimentary mental image of the potential contraption he supposed might be required, the event had concluded with a tackling by large blue bodies, bloodied face chafing against asphalt, taut steel wrist cuffs, and ear-shattering, tenuously pointed accusations, the majority of which involved turns of phrase virgin to his ossicular chain.

~~~

Trouble had found him in his makeshift workshop. He was in the business of taking things apart; never once had he made an attempt at any form of construction. But he knew he had no other choice, if he wished to succeed in removing the bolts of a light post—all the while successfully preventing a denouement akin to the last—than to design and construct a machine that would undoubtedly be able to complete the task. At first he thought something handheld would suffice, but on further speculation he was sure he would require a larger, mechanically-driven device.

What he was to do, he figured, was to imagine the completed prospective tool in all of its minutiae, and to mentally deconstruct each of its individual components one by one. Upon the completion of this task, all that would remain would be to reverse the order of the above steps, and he would be left with the instructions for assembly. In theory this appeared to him an impenetrable plan. However, as with many novel theories, the cracks in its foundation revealed themselves quite immediately upon applying its principles within the boundaries of the physical world.

The process carried forth as follows: He would begin with each tool he deemed necessary, accompanied by a generous supply of each of their hardware counterparts. Upon each attempt at construction, he realized that he had little to no experience deconstructing the kind of apparatus he required, i.e., those of mechanical nature. He was eventually aware that in order to build this necessarily self-propelled machine, a system of belt drives would be in order. But which mechanism to employ, was what troubled him most. Flat belts, rope drives, spring belts, V-belts, multi-groove, ribbed, rolling roads. Hieroglyphs. Chance had most often led him to contraptions that were fundamentally static, free from wiring or batteries or any form of mechanical composition. After several hours of mental self-laceration with respect to the absence of mind he’d carried into his high school physics program, through fatigue he was made aware of the futility of such reproach, and resolved to take the matter into his hands.

He began with simple battery powered devices, and slowly progressed on to small power tools, from which he drew the conclusion that his was to be a gas-powered machine. To better understand the processes underlying complex gas-powered mechanisms of the relative size in which he was interested, he eventually took his studies to the streets. He couldn’t manage to find the time he needed with parked vehicles, as the owners, or nearby security, would always appear after mere minutes in a fit of screaming, appointing—falsely, of course, and without any apparent introspection—attempted thievery to be the crime of the young man whose actions were simply taken in the name of science. So, he took his work elsewhere, thank you very much.

~~~

After a certain amount of surgical work on his mother’s car—by which he felt justifiable on the grounds that it occupied the majority of his workshop, leaving him only the edges and corners of the already small, unfortunately shared space—upon reaching the experiential threshold he felt to be adequate, he took to his task. Picturing in his head the triumphant prospective light post scene—himself standing taller than this once-goliath, right foot on its fallen base, crowds of suits applauding the clearcut display of ‘good prevailing over evil’—all a result of his own self-propelled creation, he found himself falling victim to frequent periodical spurts of giddiness, unable to sit still and concentrate for long enough to make any significant headway in single exertions. These disruptions manifested as such: he would find himself staring blankly into his far-from-completed device, lost in the above vision, rise from his desk chair and pace around the borders of his workspace, body reverberating in excitement, voice box producing the incomprehensible sounds of pure joy to the point of exhaustion, when he would return to his station and continue for too short a time to be productive enough to see any observable progress by the time he would actualize his next giddy excursion.

After six days he finally found this pattern to diminish, and after three weeks of trial and error, of frustration and revision, he found in front of him a near-finished prototype. He had but a few minor finishing touches to implement, namely, the attachment of the several components he had had to construct independently from the central mechanism. And so, with a zeal akin to that he had previously been unable to control, he took the steps to properly fuse the isolated parts to the whole, though this time unperturbed. However, the following problem presented itself: each time his device would arrive at a level of evidently self-sufficient stability, he would feel that characteristic urge to re-undo it to the point of collapse, in order to test each individual component’s structural necessity. He repeated this arpeggiating cycle of addition and subtraction, never quite reaching a satisfactory point of completion, until finally he could no longer find any mental strength to continue.

And in this standstill the clarity re: why construction had (likely) never stirred much interest in him struck him like a hammer to the temple. The fear of materializing some thing containing even a speck of superfluity had crippled the mere thought of any potential that he might create anything in this world. As he had known for the majority of his life, he was in the business of taking things apart, and the risk of crafting something that another might deconstruct (due to components he himself might be unable to identify as unnecessary) was enough of a preemptive confirmation of his fears—of becoming a symbol of the very principles he worked so hard to fight against—to convince him never to make any attempt at construction again.