Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On Perfectionism

° Where I start from is incident of Stanley Cavell’s lecture today at Duke and quick thoughts about ordinary language philosophy as a spur of analytic philosophy, a technical corrective that does not quite get at basic ethic, which is, among other thing, connected with a perfectionist purpose—a desire to be exact, right, thorough, complete—that extends its hand in the arts, philosophy, development of personal ethics and so on.

° As Buddhist practitioner for 10 + years, I have been deeply inflected by a perfectionist impulse & it still draws me to analytic philosophy, to a generous sense of the value of good analysis, and a desire to get at what a thing is. The deep questions that finally made it impossible to “be a Buddhist” are connected to a critique of perfectionism & mastery projects. There is a connection between deep ambivalence for “desire” and its messy and unstable valances and ascetic project of getting at a thing. I chose in the end for desire.

° Theme of perfection haunts Pound/Olsen trajectory in American poetics. There is a discipline, and a withering critique of what is less than perfect and needs a cull.

° What I call a technical critique is a complaint about tactics and stance that does not repudiate an ethic.

° A critique of perfectionism is a difficult essay. It so quickly can be suggested that the critique itself, as such, is a correction and is, therefore, perfectionist in its purposes. I believe this involves a confusion of topics.

° People tend to read to their respective games. We discuss partly to shoulder each other to our respective interests. When a person points out you are being perfectionist in your complaint, they are reasserting the authority/regime of their game. Note that nothing has been said about the complaint, which quickly becomes a non-issue. This is called a counter-suit; in interpersonal relations, it means the other person is really not listening.

° Simply because a thing can be said to belong apparently to a species or series does not mean that this is what it is, or that the species definition is a sufficient delineation of scope, tendencies, character, and so on. All species definitions are simples.

° When I speak of a confusion of topics, I mean a difference in playing field. Surely there is a point to periodically pointing out that perfectionist purpose is not the only field we play on. Perhaps all poetic evocation of a second ground, all shamanic discovery of a second mode of being, is just a way of saying again there is something else, another thing we are doing.

° Perfectionism is a form of disciplinary violence and a regime. All regimes produce new adherents who will be willing to “go to war” in the name of protecting the regime.

° People read to their interests. In “Without Words” I suggested that my audience “reach through my words, to take whatever they desire”. Most often it’s a mirror of some kind. A desire to lay a set of cards on the table, designs, other plans, to have a conversation about that.

° I suppose I am as bad as anyone and half know this because I watch myself so close, each hand’s movement considered from several angles—an old strategy for making a still.

° Only a few—and is it just women?—seem to be interested in whether the mirror has anything to say. A different world back behind the black grasses hidden where the scotoma flicks eclipse across you.

° On bad days, I sort through the people who come at me after a reading. I know I am asking that they go beyond the surface of their expectations. They’ve looked for the coins they think should be flashed & not finding these go in several directions. Some, feeling the power in the piece anyway, go competitive and assume there must be some hidden demonic interest in what I am doing that they a) either want in on, or b) have to confront as an evil. This is called a projection. Others seeing clearly that I am not interested in power simply sneer at my “weakness”, at my failure to perform the prerequisite “dance of the chains”.

° On some days I do not mind the hands rifling through the drawers; other days its as if hands were brushing aside carefully considered webs//unheard whispers.

° Long ago, Lisa handed me this scrap of paper said “I am not of your race. I belong to that Mongol clan which brought forth on the earth a monstrous truth—the authenticity of life—and a knowledge of rhythm. You do well to hem me in with the thousand and one bayonets of western enlightenment, for woe unto you should I leave the dark of my cave and set about in earnest to chase away your clamoring.”

° I suspect I am of mixed race, since analysis still draws me, dazzles me with the promise that rigor will straighten a thing into appropriate habits and as a key to a mimetics that wants to make another feel a thing that passes.

° Slip, missed foot, bald spot make witness against a perfect finish. Chopped note, over play as elements to mingle alongside evidence of the perfect, not as a more perfect, but as a result of the desire to care, which also produces a consideration and wants a mimetics.

° Rilke speaks of praise—hence truth as praise rather than mantle, as call. A turn to things driven less by mastery or precision but by care, love, consideration, mercy.

° In Buddhist meditation aimed at developing one-pointed attention, one first has to grip hard to pull mind again and again back to its object. But, in time, the handler realizes this alone won’t quiet the horse, and, instead, you begin to let the rein loose again.

° I am asserting a bifurcation, or drawing the line more sharply. There is bluster here and hyperbole. I am dissatisfied with this, not because of its imperfection, but because I sense there is a dimension of care that hasn’t been reckoned, a line I’ve crossed.

° Someone else more experienced with the public arena is frustrated I am suggesting we go back to the beginning. We either have some choice or we do not. They’ve been sitting on the other side of the boat and have been working hard to steer it as well.



At 11:51 AM, Blogger Joseph said...

What a great meditation, and much to think on. The perfect, and perfectionism, are terms I've become increasingly aware of, aware that they have always been a part of my thinking about art, especially, as you might guess, in relation to an art of precision and light. There's a wonderful poem by Ives Bonnefoy that begins

Imperfection is the summit

remind me to show you that.

At 4:43 AM, Blogger Jehanne said...

Dance of the chains is a great image. As is rifling through the drawers...perfectionism and mirrors--something very closed and sad here. Thanks for this--as I learn not be so perfectionistic--it helps.


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