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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