A Statement About Perfection and Kanye West

Last I checked, it is the final week of 2010, which means it is time for every publication and blog to issue its annual Best Ofs and Round Ups. If time and attention allow it, we at AUFS will be no different. (We may be the most powerful theology blog on the block, but with such power comes great responsibility & expectations. My fart jokes simply will not cut it.) Of this time-honored genre, the internet has a special fondness for ranking music. That the internet has made so much different music so readily available at a moment’s notice makes this understandable and maybe even a little appropriate.

While it is by no means unanimous, one of the clear favorites this year is Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” Now, don’t get me wrong: I like this album. I like it a lot, even. Indeed, should I assemble a “10 Favorite Albums of 2010″ list (I would be incapable of ranking these ten – another of my many moral failings), it might very well be one of them. Consequently, I have no qualms with Pitchfork deeming it the best album of the year. A reasonable choice, I say, given their tastes, audience, etc. Where I depart from the  corporately cool taste makers,  however, is their decision to bestow a perfect-10 score on the album.

In internet-time, this is, of course, old news. I stewed about it a little bit at the time (late-November, right?), but decided to let it go. For some reason, though, I couldn’t help mulling over this matter of perfection. Personally, I have a particular fondness for ambitious imperfection: works whose grasp rival their reach, but slip up in some crucial way. Like a chipped tooth, I savor obsessing over those moments where things don’t quite work for me and/or things go completely off the rails. Or, at the very least, flirt with the breaking-point so decisively that I am forever unsure where or if they actually do so. Now, that’s just me, and I’m certainly not inclined to assert that aesthetic inclination as a kind of universal. My point is that regardless of your own inclination, the very best works are those you have continually to engage, rather than passively enjoy; or, to switch registers slightly, the point is that the best works are those that are just as likely to consume you as you are to consume it.

If this is true, and maybe it’s not, but I think it is, what place (if any) is there for perfection? Don’t get me wrong: I’m not prepared to give up on the idea. It’s just that I think it is something that happens rather by accident, rather than something one achieves (whether by aspiration or not). Moreover, is it just  me, or does the assessing of something as ‘perfect’, the fleshing out of the accident, let’s say, take more time than we are these days willing to allow? This isn’t to say that we need necessarily to ‘slow down,’ etc. I’m not making a strong moral argument against the pace of contemporary culture or the speed of internet publishing. Speed has something to do with, but is not fundamental to, the notion that if perfection is applicable at all, it is usually only ever so in retrospect. For is something truly ambitious if one is immediately sure that it not only ‘works’ now, but blazes a new path to future successes and alternative paths unforeseen? One doesn’t need to go along with my affection for the shaggy dogs to agree that if successful ambition takes time to suss out completely, perfection may well take even longer.

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11 Responses to “A Statement About Perfection and Kanye West”

  1. Timothy Sommer Says:

    It’s funny you should mention this. About a month ago the Village Voice review of the album (which, in my opinion, is the best to surface so far: ) concluded:
    “People will reach to call this a perfect album—it can’t be that. Not because art can’t be perfect, but because the point of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is imperfection.”

    http://www.villagevoice.com/2010-11-17/music/kanye-west-finally-unraveled/

  2. Brad Johnson Says:

    As far as I can tell the last perfect pop album was Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” back in ’98.

  3. 2010 Year in Music Review « bottle of what Says:

    […] no one is doing anything else around here, so I might as well post some thoughts about music. As others have noted, the internet seems to lend itself particularly well to year-end music lists. I think […]

  4. Chris Rodkey Says:

    I wish I had time to keep up with new music like I used to. That being said, Santa didn’t bring me the new Einsturzende Neubauten compliation, so I guess I’ll have to buy it myself.

  5. Brad Johnson Says:

    Timothy, thanks for the link to the VV review. That’s fantastic.

  6. RFD Says:

    If I remember correctly — and it’s entirely possible that I don’t — Pitchfork’s 10.0 rating is supposed to mean essential, not perfect. (This is based on a possibly-outdated ratings guide that was on their site years ago.)

  7. Brad Johnson Says:

    I don’ t pay that close attention to their reviews, so that is very possible. Though I have to say, scoring the degree to which an album is essential seems even lamer than just scoring its quality.

  8. Alex Says:

    I’ll go with them on I See A Darkness, Ok Computer and Kid A for 10/10 scores, and Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea should certainly be there, but Bricolage by Amon Tobin?

  9. micah Says:

    supposedly Aeroplane was scored less originally but they went back and re-reviewed it

  10. Brad Johnson Says:

    I’m actually not too opposed to changing reviews after the fact, provided there remains a record of the old one. Sneakily doing away with the former review seems as silly as it is dishonest. I see no problem in critical opinion of an album or book changing, assuming of course the critical opinion in question is worth its salt to begin with (which is a very generous assumption indeed).


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