The Imperfection of Style

By Omri J. Luzon

On the elusive search for ‘perfection’ in craft.

When you sit down to read a piece written by Baudelaire you do not expect Dickinson sentimentality, nor a Shakespearean wit or Poe’s possessiveness with phonetical eeriness – you do expect a Baudelaire experience. But what is a Baudelaire experience? What makes Baudelaire a Baudelaire in comparison with Poe – is it the tonality, details, sentiment, vocabulary, sentence-construct or themes? Might it be the concepts, a certain point-of-view, an angle? Can you create your own style, by analytical and critical thinking, by learning the hypothetical curve and scale of these degrees, or by comparing different styles and reaching a sort of virgin-territory, one which is uniquely yours? What do you create in your style if not a human being, the most imperfect creature of them all, and can we, by describing the imperfect, reach perfection?

The chase for Perfection in the creative and artistic world became an obsessive occupation, a mindset which was designed to bedim the unexplainable indulgence in what we feel as complete creation in itself. We all strive for perfection, but what is that nitpick-fixation that the writer is so eager to achieve? And maybe more important – is it really what an artist wishes to maintain, is Perfection so profound that it justifies the hunt?

On Perfection

In Rhetoric, Aristotle defined “style” as a manner of gaining and heightening effects. According to him the four main conditions of style included:  Distinctions in types of style; the social necessity of lucidity and appropriateness in prose; purity in the use of language and the methods of heightening the effects of simple diction. Aristotle probably wouldn’t like much of today’s fragmented poetry, not to mention the more daring abstract approach, but he did create a basic platform for the art of deviation, the spirit of uprising, the source of evolvement. By defining the basics, Aristotle left an inflexible notion of what communication through writing meant (and of communication in general).

Most artists attempt to reach and touch Perfection within their art, but one has to ask just what that ever elusive Perfection is and just what is so appealing about it. When we put on our “efficiency glasses”, Perfection seems to be the simplest possible form of communicating an idea. The Perfect Form of a thing is flawless, faultless, impenetrable purity. Perfect is that which cannot be misinterpreted, because it has a clear and sound meaning that leaves no room for error. Imagine a blank page – by all communicative perspectives the message is clear — there is nothing written. The reasoning behind why it is not written, that no-message, might differ, but the bottom line is that there is no textual message, nothing that we as readers, can rationally point at without more information as to the “why”.

A Perfect Communication is the clearest way of passing on an idea, therefore the conception of that idea is irrelevant. Let’s say that I would like to communicate the idea that ‘I bought a new pair of pants today’. The clearest way to do so is to simply state – “I bought a pair of pants today”. That is an example for a flawed communication, since in no way was the idea of ‘new pants’ made clear. The misconception was created because it is assumed that the reader can fill the blanks, in a sort of grand understanding of things, that if not otherwise stated – the pants are new. Practicality, it might seem as an efficient enough communication, but it does leave a room for doubt, therefore it is not Perfection. A Perfected Communication would not leave room for misinterpretations, for instance: “I bought a new pair of pants today”.

For Perfection, one should look for the shortest possible sentence, since if there is a more succinct way of expressing the exact same idea all other variations are flawed by default. Let’s take an idea in attempt of communication – ‘The protagonist’s dog is set free of the leash in the evenings’, now compare – 1. ‘I take the leash off my dog and let him run wild every evening’, with – 2. ‘I let my dog run free in the evenings’. The first sentence is imperfect by introducing new ideas such as that the dog runs wild every time he is set free. The writer deviates from the attention of the main thought; the Perfect idea is now blurred by the aura of possibility. If the main idea was to communicate  that the dog runs wild when he is set free, a better way of writing it would be – ‘When my dog is set free he runs wild’. If the main idea was that ‘Every evening, when I set my dog free, he runs wild’, then the first sentence would be more fitting. But only the shortest, clearest and cleanest sentence can direct the reader to the Perfection of communicating an idea, but is that the goal of the writer –to simplify an idea to its barest form, and make it as simple to state as possible?

Breaking Moral Codes

When dealing with prose, the function of the writer is to assume the mask of storytelling – that of the author. The story, much like real life, is not as motionless as a brick wall, for it evolves, changes and becomes real in the mind of the reader. There is a need to penetrate the brick-wall of passiveness and animate the world of the story. As emotional beings, we are easy to manipulate, since we all look for the fantastic in a story. Therefore, it seems that a Perfect Story is one that would make the reader deviate from the known into participation in the fantastic-world conception, which might or might not be part of our notion of reality. The job of the writer is doing just that, while maintaining the consistency and solidity, without breaking the illusion of reality, or harming the authenticity of the story. In this context, authenticity has nothing to do with the Perfect Truth, and has everything to do with reliability and credibility.

Facts, as much as that Perfect way of communicating an idea, are suddenly moved to the background, and are shifted according to their effect on the reader and not their efficient functionality. It would be a horrible thing to twist a fact in real life, to say that a person can grow wings and fly might cause one’s hospitalization. But in the Fictional world fact-twisting is more than welcomed, it is expected. The moral code we are familiar with, and so eager to maintain in our law & ordered society, is not the same moral code we expect to maintain when we sit down to read a book.

In order to turn a reader into a participant, the writer must transcend the Perfection of unbiased moral ground, and use the tools in his arsenal that initiate feelings. Unlike ideas, feelings are the most personal and flexible concepts in the emotional-lexicon. The idea of ‘Letting the dog run every evening’, can be shifted by the addition of the word Wild’, but, as we said before, that would be a whole a new idea. Similarly, if we want to evoke Sadness in the reader, we can write that the dog died, got lost, or kidnapped. Each of these ideas might cause the reader Sadness, along with new ideas induced in the reader’s mind – if the dog is lost there might be a hope for reunion, or resignation at the thought that it might be better this way for some reason. Each of these reader’s ideas is different and individual, but the feeling, assuming it was well executed, should still be that of Sadness. In situations such as these, the writer might break a moral code in order to allow the reader, even if briefly, the chance of deciding what is best for the characters. But without the moral questioning, the instability of dubious role-playing, the participation wouldn’t be possible, the read will lose its fun. The morals society agrees on are questionable at best when it comes to the story-world, and it is the job of the writer to question the perfected for the sake of keeping the inner moral-ground of a story.

The problem with Perfection is that it does not leave much room for other possible versions or any at all. If something can be told in different ways that are seemingly Perfect – only one can actually be so. Perfection can have no substitutes. Therefore, in a perfect world everything would be the same, there would be no individuality, otherwise communication might end in different reactions, leading to a never ending butterfly–effect that would shatter Perfection into unpredictability, destabilizing it by introducing deviations. A good writer will welcome the deviations beforehand as the nuances that shape of individuality, as the Imperfection that is the author.

The Imperfection of Design

Taking Perfect communication ideas and rendering them imperfect, by changing, adding or subtracting, complicating, modifying, or filling with descriptions and alterations, can induce the effect of different feelings and ideas in the mind of the reader. An experienced writer will know what feelings and thoughts the imperfections he applies to the text might invoke. He will know that by killing the dog with a falling piano the reader will understand the joke or the effect of the thought on the randomness of life if it was a passing truck that killed it. The writer will know the need of executing these deviations skillfully, to manipulate the reader’s heart and mind into believing, through an author’s own unique voice, the author which the writer wishes to manifest by the cumulative of the deviations: The entirety of the Imperfection in a story should amount to one solidified voice, in order to nullify confusion and disorientation, which might lead to the loss of interest or even disassociation.

Finding the right deviations, the writer’s way of diverging from the Perfect, is the harsh road to creating a story. The importance is not on what the facts mean, but how telling them affects the reader so that the idea is communicated in the way the writer sees fit. The Imperfection is what gives a piece interest, flavor, taste and smell, it is what makes a dull fact fascinating; it is what gives man wings. By keeping everything so perfect one would lose sight of how uninteresting a perfected world is. Every deviation from the Perfect Form results in an Imperfect Form. Those imperfections create versions, these versions allow individualism. If versions are different approaches to the same idea, individualism is having a consistent way of writing versions to different ideas. Individualism doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no evolvement, it means that even during evolvement, that unique way of writing versions is still there. A writer doesn’t have to uphold just one ‘individualism’; s/he can shift and play with styles and versions. But without maintaining at least one consistent ‘individualism’, the entire persona of the writer might dissolve in a sea of inconsistency.

The importance of searching for the Imperfection is a part of creating an entire mindset, and when spread across a collection of creations leads to the creation of a writer. Having a collection of self-contained versions is much like finding your own personal voice, then presenting it in all its glory. The more bizarre and deviant the imperfections are – the more personal it gets, assuming there’s consistency and solidity. When a writer is in that mindset of searching for his own Imperfect Voice, Perfection seems to bow down to that which is an author.

The writer and author, therefore, are those who stand behind Imperfection.

Bibliography

Pavel, T. G. Fictional Worlds. Harvard University Press, 1989.

Todorov, T. The fantastic: a structural approach to a literary genre. Cornell University Press, 1975.

Harari, Josué V. Textual strategies: perspectives in post-structuralist criticism. Cornell University Press, 1979.

Lemon, Lee T. & Reis, Marion J. Russian formalist criticism: four essays. University of Nebraska Press, 1965.

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