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An imperfect introduction to Imperfection.

The abstract noun, ‘Imperfection’, has quite a comfortable locale in our everyday modern vocabularies. But take a minute to really sit on the word. To repeat it out loud a few times. To think about what on earth it actually implies. You will find that ‘imperfection’ ceases to be a straightforward entirely; it becomes quite a mysterious entity of word.

Ours is a perfectionist post-modern society. An example among many is the occasion of recording in music. We no longer have to attend concerts; we can simply spread our limbs across the living-room sofa and select a piece, an artist and an edition. Not only can we adjust the volume but we can skip whole sections with a simple drag of our index finger across the screen.

Henry Pleasant is far from wrong in suggesting that we have become an audience “charged with laziness”; our ears refuse to make an effort with anything unfamiliar and we become accustomed to the polished feel of recordings that have been revised, corrected and auto-tuned.

Comfortable, routinely and reliable is the three-pronged vanguard that constitutes the make-up of our today. Since the fin de siècle, our new perspective of life from the Eiffel Tower and the airplane brought with it the hope that ‘perfection’ is finally within our grasp. Why allow anything less than the ‘perfection’ of one’s comfort zone when it is so attainable in our advanced modern day? Every little helps because you’re worth it. Anti-ageing cream vows to slow down that dreaded human journey of physical deterioration.

In his book, ‘A short history of Truth’, Bagginni talks about our post-truth fear of “openness to other perspectives”, our lack of “spirit of collective inquiry” and an unwillingness to learn from mistakes that will inevitably happen. It follows that, “by retreating into bubbles of the likeminded, people can strip out inconvenient complexities a wider perspective could give to simpler but distorted network.”

We are in the midst of an era of stuff, things and products. Marketisation ensures that we are prompted to purchase the new iPhone and to download the meditation app that will solve our problems. As soon as our jumper acquires a moth-eaten hole, it belongs in the dustbin and not in the hands of our grandmother who has a sewing kit.

Susan Sontag claims that photography has effected an ‘aesthetic consumerism’ in which we all play a role – taking photographs is our way of needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced. ‘Products’ – for example, technology – are largely to blame for perfectionism.

Education today is concerned with producing uniform children who are capable of little more than gainful employment. It’s not about personal experience, it’s about passing your A levels with three A’s so that you are accepted into a redbrick university. The problem is that children, in a progress obsessed world such as ours, scarcely know who they are before they are tagged as successful.

A sense of monoculture encourages a limited scope of possibility in what we can and cannot do – different is unstable. We all differ vastly from one another, but, in a way, we are told to suppress this. Perfect is the only option in the lives of “uniform, media-minded grown-ups” who “feed the marketplace with workers, managers and consumers”, according to Nachmanovitch.

I think it is safe to say that we think of ‘perfection’ as something to aim toward, and ‘imperfection’ as a deficiency that needs improving. It is as if we regard ‘imperfection’ as encompassing the long and laborious journey to the ‘perfect’. Imperfection is the ‘not quite there yet’, the ‘this needs fixing’ and even the ‘scrap this; I need to start anew’; therefore, it is entirely inferior.

However, our world is not perfect de facto. It is beautifully, painfully imperfect. We say silly things and spill tea on the carpet. Earthquakes destroy architectural masterpieces and famine kills thousands of young children every year. Forget anti-ageing cream – the corners of your mouth will eventually acquire fine lines when you smile.

Indeed, perhaps, there is a mysterious allure to imperfection.

The Aesthetics of Imperfection workshops in Newcastle on Saturday 6th and Sunday 7th of October will address themes of process, improvisation and incompleteness. How can imperfection be enjoyed aesthetically? This is the overarching question of the next two days.

My following two articles will intend to extract, quite briefly, the big questions that come to light in the next two days of workshops, with the aim that readers will think about Imperfection and its role in not only music, visual art and architecture, but in the everyday.



Illustration by Mimmo Paladino of James Joyce’s Ulysses, taken from

This entry was posted in: Music

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