Dr Peter Cheyne—The Moving Finger: finding vitality in the aesthetics of imperfection

The Moving Finger: finding vitality in the aesthetics of imperfection

Peter Cheyne (Shimane University)

I. Higher-level imperfectionism over petty perfectionism

Previous discussion in aesthetics that has attended to imperfection and perfection work, despite important differences, within a shared assumption of a more-or-less straightforward imperfection–perfection opposition (Ted Gioia 1987, 1988; Andy Hamilton 1990, 2000; Yuriko Saito 1997). In this paper, I will propose a two-level model of imperfectionism and perfectionism in aesthetic creation that has bearing on the different ethoses that the different aesthetics entail.

II. Bill Evans, Sumi-e, and the Restrained Discipline of Time-Bound Art Forms

There is a looseness, especially to certain rhythmic arts such as the blues and improvised jazz, where the aesthetic of aliveness would be damaged if the artist went back and tried to ‘correct’ things. And we can take a broader concept of rhythm that applies to visual and plastic arts, such as Japanese pottery and calligraphy, where the natural flow of movement is an essential feature of the aesthetic. In this section, I suggest that imperfectionism in aesthetics is the disciplined refusal by an artist to return to make a correction. So-called ‘wrong notes’ might be played, or brush strokes made, but they are either left wrong as organic marks of aliveness, or, perhaps more usually, made right by what follows.

III. Insight or Wisdom against the Lower-level ‘Violence of Perfection’

I will then contrast what Byung-Chul Han ([2010] 2015) calls the ‘violence of perfection’, an activity I recast as lower-level perfectionism concerned mainly with imposing homogeneity of pattern, with a higher contemplative passivity, which I argue is a higher-level perfectionism that is equivalent to a traditional sense of wisdom that operates as a benevolent, calm attention in contrast to the lower-level hyperactive attention that has become increasingly prevalent in the digital, inter-hyper-active, mass-media-consuming age.

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Brief bio

Peter Cheyne is Associate Professor of British Literature and Culture at Shimane University, where he teaches philosophy and literature. He divides his time between Shimane and his native County Durham, where he is Visiting Fellow (2016–19) at Durham University Philosophy Department. He has published ‘A Coleridgean Account of Meditative Experience’ (Journal of Philosophy of Life Jan 2013); ‘The Art Of Poetic Life-Writing’ (Coleridge Bulletin Winter 2014); ‘S.T. Coleridge and the Varieties of Contemplation’ (Journal of Romanticism Spring 2017); ‘Encoded and Embodied Rhythm’ (eds Hamilton & Paddington Philosophy of Rhythm Oxford UP 2017). He is contributing editor to Coleridge and Contemplation (ed. Peter Cheyne Oxford UP 2017), and is completing a monograph on Coleridge’s Contemplative Philosophy (expected 2018).

This conference is supported by JSPS Kakenhi grant number 16K02109.

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