When you sit down to read a piece written by Baudelaire you do not expect Dickinson sentimentality, nor a Shakespearean wit or Poe's possessiveness with phonetically eeriness. You do expect a Baudelaire experience. But what is a Baudelaire experience? What makes Baudelaire a Baudelaire in comparison with Poe - is it the tonality, details, sentiment, or maybe the vocabulary, sentence construct or themes; Might it be the concepts, or maybe a certain point of view or an angle? Can you create your own style by analytical and critical thinking, learning the hypothetical curve and scale of those degrees, or by comparing different styles and reaching a sort of virginity in style, that which is uniquely you. Who is that which you describe through your style if not a human being, the imperfect creature of them all, and can we, by describing the imperfect, reach perfection?
The chase for Perfection in the creative and artistic world became an obsessive occupation, a mindset which was designed to bedim the unexplainable indulgence in what we feel as a complete creation in itself. We all strive for perfection, as we assume that a perfected world is the top of the peek, but what is that Perfection that we so glorify and praise. What is that nitpick-fixation that the writer is so eager to achieve? And maybe more importantly – is it really what an artist wishes to maintain, is Perfection such a beauty that justifies the hunt?
This article is an attempt to discover the possibilities of Imperfectionism, an antithesis to the Perfection-aimed mindset. By striving to what we call Perfectionism I believe that a writer can easily lose his uniqueness, his selfness, or simply never achieve that ultimate dream of creating the self. I argue that an artist, and in this particular case the writer, is defined by his deviation of the norm, that could only be achieved by playing the imperfections, the holes that make you whole.
2. On The Perfection
In Rhetoric Aristotle treated Style as a manner of gaining and heightening effects. According to him the four main conditions of style include: 1. Distinctions in types of style, 2. The social necessity of lucidity and appropriateness in prose, 3. Purity in the use of language and 4. The methods of heightening the effects of simple diction (Brewster, 1905). Aristotle probably wouldn't like the fragmented modern poetry, not to mention the more daring abstract approach, but he did create a basic platform for the art of deviation, the spirit of uprising, the source of evolvement. By defining the basics, Aristotle left a harsh notion of what communication through writing means (and of communication in general); he went even further attempting to capture the human necessity.
George Seldes once said that "…all great ideas are controversial, or have been at one time." In order to become true to one Creative Identity, the unique character and tonality of a writer, one would have to cross the dreaded waters of accomplished-structuralism and redefine the meaning of style. Abstract poetry, for example, does not necessarily comply with the social necessity of lucidity, but it does appeal to the instinctual and intuitive nature of what being a human means. Another example is the usage of pure phonetics - gibberish based art is no longer a sin and prose is not a pure crystallized vision of Aristotle's predefined notions. The race now circles the arena of innovation - and there is no room left for boundaries. Style is now a wild beast slashing from within out, out into the world. Le style est l'homme meme (Conte de Buffon in Histoire Naturelle, 1753, VII. p. xvii.)
"The red retriever-haired satyr
Can whine and tease her and flatter,
But Lily O'Grady,
Silly and shady,
In the deep shade is a lazy lady;
Now Pompey's dead, Homer's read,
Heliogabalus lost his head,
And shade is on the brightest wing,
And dust forbids the bird to sing."
- "Popular Song", Sitwell'sFaçade (1923)
Most artists attempt to reach and touch that Perfection within their art, but one has to ask what is that Perfection in demand, what is so appealing about it. When one aspires for that ivory top – what is it that he is looking for exactly, and when you cut the individual out of the equation what is the unbiased Perfection.
When we put on efficiency-glasses Perfection seems to be the simplest possible way of communicating an idea. The perfect-form of a thing is flawless, faultless, impenetrable purity. The perfect is one that cannot be misinterpreted, because it has a clear and sound meaning that leaves no room for error. Imagine a white A4 paper without a word on it – by all communicative perspective the message is clear that there is nothing written. The reasoning behind why it is not written, that no-message, might differ from person to person and this or that situation, but the bottom line, the communicative perfection is that there is no message, nothing that we, as readers, can rationally point at without having some more information as to the "why".
A Perfect communication is the clearest way of passing on an idea, therefore the conception of that idea is irrelevant, from a Perfect perspective. Let's say that I would like to let you know that I bought a new pair of pants today. The clearest way to do so is to state – "I bought a pair of pants today". There is no clearer way of saying that I bought a pair of pants, but that is also a flawed communication in regard to the initial idea, since in no way was it made clear that the pants were new. That misconception was created because it was assumed that the other side, the reader, will fill the blanks in a sort of grand-understanding of things that if not otherwise stated, the pants are new. It might seem efficient that the reader will understand it, but it leaves room for doubt, therefore is not perfect. A perfected way would be not to give space for misinterpretation, such as in – "I bought a new pair of pants today".
One would look for any way of shortening a sentence, since if there is a shorter way of expressing the exact same idea then the longer version is flawed by being more complicated. Assuming the idea the writer is attempting to communicate is that the protagonist's dog is set free of the leash in the evenings, compare - 1. 'I take the leash off my dog and let him run wild every evening', with - 2. 'I let my dog run free in the evenings'. The first sentence is imperfect by introducing new ideas, such as that the dog runs wild every time he is set free. The writer deviates the attention of the main thought and the Perfect idea is now blurred by the aura of possibility, the possibility of imagining the situation in different ways. If the main idea to communicate was that the dog runs wild when he is set free, a better way of writing it would be – 'When my dog is set free he runs wild'. If the main idea was that 'Every evening, when I set my dog free, he runs wild', then the first sentence would be more fitting. But even then it would be imperfect, by the fact that the writer introduces the image of taking the leash off the dog, which is not part of the main idea that was stated. Only the shortest, clearest and cleanest sentence can direct the reader to that perfection of communicating an idea, but is that the goal of the writer – to communicate an idea as unbiased as possible? Is the writer's job to simplify an idea to its barest form, and make it as simple to state as possible?
3. Breaking Moral Codes
When dealing with prose the function of the writer is to assume the mask of storytelling. The story, much like real life, does not stay motionless as a brick wall. The story evolves, changes, becomes real in the mind of the reader so he can penetrate that brick wall of passiveness and become an active participant in the world of the story. Human beings as emotional animals are easy to manipulate, since we all look for the fantastic in a good story. Therefore it seems that a perfect story is one that would make the reader deviate of the mindset he already knows, and become active in some other-world conception, which might or might not be the same reality, but from a different paraphrase than the mindset the experiences every day. The job of the storyteller is to do all that without hurting the consistency and solidity of the story, without breaking the illusion, or in other words harming the authenticity of the story. Although in this context Authenticity has nothing to do with the perfect truth, and has a lot to do with reliability and credibility.
Facts, as much as that Perfect way of communicating an idea, are suddenly moved to the background, and are shifted according to their affect on the reader and not their efficient functionality. It would be a horrible thing to twist a fact in real life, to say that a person can grow wings and fly might cause one's hospitalization, or even worse – hurt his credibility. But in the Fiction world that fact-twisting is more than welcome, it is expected. The moral code we are familiar with, and so eager to maintain in our governmental society, is not the same moral code we expect when we sit down to read a good book. Even the harshest and roughest rules, the ones that we claim to make us humane, such as 'Though shalt not murder', becomes transparent in the sake of initiating the reader's acceptance of moral-dilemmas that entice his individualistic morality vs. the establishment's one.
In order to turn a reader into a participant the writer must ascend above the Perfection of unbiased moral ground, and use the tools in his arsenal that initiate feelings. Unlike ideas feelings are the most personal and flexible concepts in the complexity of human beings, for when you take an idea and play around with it every little shift will create a different idea, taking the thought of giving man wings resulted in planes, but playing with the notion of sadness – you have a rainbow of sad feelings. If you take the idea of 'Letting the dog run every evening' you can add the 'Run wild', but already we have a new idea which is unlike the first one. But if we want the reader to be sad we can say that the dog died, or maybe got lost, or kidnapped. Each of these ideas might cause the reader to feel sad, and they will also introduce new ideas in the reader's mind – when the dog is lost he might hope that the protagonist will find him at the end of the story, or might think that although sad it is better this way for the protagonist's life. Each of these reader's ideas is different and individual, but the feeling, assuming it was well executed, should still be sadness. In situations such as this the writer breaks the moral code by letting the reader, even for a second, decide what is best for the protagonist, not to mention playing with a person's life and assuming the job of God (even if a fictional one). But without all these little moral-questions, without the entire instability of dubious role-playing, reading stories wouldn't be fun. We are eager for a good fun challenge, even feeling sad can be fun at times, life is a drama and we are the pawns in the hand of a good story-telling. The moral, as society agrees on daily life, is questionable at best when it comes to the story-world, and it is the job of the writer to question the perfected in the sake of keeping the inner moral-ground of a story.
The problem with Perfection is that it does not leave much room for versions. If one thing can be told in two different ways that are both seemingly Perfect – one of them is not. A Perfect thing can have no substitute. You can't have two things exactly the same, for they will have little indents that will differentiate them, much like human beings, situations, artifacts and ideas. In a perfect world everything would be the same, we will have no thought of individuality, because then transferring an idea will end in different reactions. In these cases a never ending butterfly effect will break that Perfection into unpredictability, which will destabilize the Perfection, introducing deviations. A good storyteller will welcome those deviations, the individuality of writing, the Imperfect that is his.
4. The Imperfection of Design
Taking a perfect way of communicating ideas and making it imperfect, by changing it, adding or subtracting, complicating , modifying, fill it with descriptions and alterations, all that creates different feelings and ideas in the mind of the reader. A professional writer will know what feelings and thoughts the imperfections he applies to the text invoke. He knows that if he kills that dog by a falling piano the reader will understand the joke, or if the dog was being hit by a passing truck the thought of how random life can be will probably pass through the reader's head. He knows that he needs to execute these deviations in a way which will manipulate the reader's heart and mind to believe it, but first and foremost the good writer will try to tell the story in his unique tone. The entirety of imperfections in a story should amount to one solidified voice, or else the reader might get confused and disoriented, lose interest and disassociate the story with the writer. Imagine all of Shakespeare's plays so varied that one could never truly say that they all belong to one person.
Finding the right deviations, the writer's way of deviating from the Perfect, is the harsh road of creating a story. The importance is not what the facts are, but how telling them affects the reader so that the idea, the bottom line, comes through the way the writer wants it to. You can pass an idea in different ways that will leave different impressions, therefore the labor of giving an idea the exact feel you want it to have is the hardest job of the writer. The Imperfection is what gives a piece interest, flavor, taste and smell, it is what makes a dull fact fascinating, it is what gives a human wings. By keeping everything so perfect one would lose sight of how uninteresting a perfected world is. Using Aristotle's code of communication will surly pass an idea, but will it be the way that idea should affect the reader.
Every deviation from the Perfect form results in an Imperfect form. Those imperfections create versions, these versions allow individualism. If versions are different approaches to the same idea, individualism is having a consistent way of writing versions to different ideas. Individualism doesn't necessarily mean that there's no evolvement, on the contrary, it means that even when there is an evolvement that unique way of writing versions is still there. A writer doesn't have to hold just one individualism in his toolbox, he can shift and play with styles and versions as much as he wants, and create a different successful individualism with unique approaches. But without having at least one consistent individualism in the toolbox the entire persona of a writer might dissolve in the sea of other well consistent individualisms.
The importance of searching the individualist imperfection is a part of an entire mindset. There is a huge difference between searching the perfect and searching the imperfect, between aspiring to that which is collective, mastering and submitting to it, and finding the unique deviation which gives the writer a persona. Having a self-contained version is much like finding your own personal voice, then presenting it in all its glory. I believe in Imperfection, individuality. The more bizarre and deviant the imperfection is – the more personal it gets, assuming it is consistent and solid. When a writer is in that mindset of searching his own imperfect-voice, Perfection seems to bow down in admittance of how cruel it is to have a perfect version of everything.
Consider a perfect world, now ask yourself what is the role of an individual in that perfection. Consider all books, all novels, all plays and essays – everything is perfect to a fault. A piece of art must be flawed, it must be imperfect in order to maintain its unique integrity, personalized clarity, interest. The way the word perfection is conceived misleads the writer, tumbling him into a bath of sarcastic intent. Framing the freedom of creation by a pre-defined notion of what is there to aspire to, chokes individualism and recreates art in the same image we fight to burst.
The intuitive artist might rebel against perfection, without fully grasping what it is he is standing up to, the educated artist should consider the importance of the imperfect mindset, and allow the creative process to be immersed in the multicolored pool of deviation.