Monday, May 3, 2010

Abandon the search for perfection?

The eminent Indian author, Radhika Jha, has a very interesting, but somewhat puzzling, suggestion for changing this world and making it a better place. I mean puzzling for so creative a person as her.

She believes that we should get rid of our obsession with perfection – that we all want the unattainable – the perfect wife, the perfect child, the perfect car, and so on.

She proposes that, instead, we form a club of the 99 percenters, those who do not search for perfection because “perfection is not creative”.

We should instead, she believes, “make imperfection our goal”, and acknowledge that there are many solution to our problems, none of them perfect.

This is an interesting challenge, but one that, I think, goes against brain realities, especially in art.

Let me first say that she is probably correct, from a neurobiological point of view, in saying that perfection is not creative. For once a painter has created the perfect painting, for example, the impulse to carry on is somewhat dissipated.

I recall Balthus, the French painter (who never allowed me to view his canvases when he was still working on them), once surprisingly inviting me to his studio to see a painting that he had all but finished. Why, I asked him, was he giving me this privilege which he had always denied me before?

“Because”, he replied, “I am, for the first time, satisfied with this painting. And that is the end of me”.

What is creative is the seeking of perfection – and not attaining it.

This perhaps is not a recipe for making the world a happier one, because of the frustration that it entails.

But it is a recipe for making the world a richer one.

And consider this: Radhika Jha has said that she searched for the “ideal” village to describe in a novel but could not find it. So she created one from her imagination instead.

Exactly so.

Perfection (and the ideal) as I have argued in my book Splendors and Miseries of the Brain, reside in the brain, a synthesis of many experiences. But the individual example may not satisfy the synthetic one created from many examples.

Hence the impulse to create, and reflect in a creation, the synthetic concept in the brain.

This is a frustrating and very difficult task, more often than not accompanied by failure, but a failure that leads to greater creative efforts.

So, in a sense, by creating the ideal village from her own imagination, Jha is disowning her suggestion that we should not seek perfection.

Interesting thought!


Liben said...

“make imperfection our goal”

How imperfectly we have to follow her suggestions to achieve this goal?

Fatjona Lubonja said...

In order to get some ideas of understanding perfection I would refere back to your statement that “The brain demands knowledge. Art directly feeds that demand with new ways of thinking” (Zeki, 2009). According to Adorno (2000) “Art’s capacity to generate new meaning is a version of the old philosophical problem, considered by Plato in the Meno, of how new ideas can arise from old” (p.202).

Anonymous said...

It was Rita Levi-Montalcini who, quite convincing seen her record of service to science, called her autobiography "In Praise of Imperfection".