The pursuit of the perfect final thing can be both profoundly boring and punitive, and potentially generative in unexpected ways. In creative practices of various kinds, perfectionism’s twin is usually heartbreak, which is another double-edged source of clarity, sometimes, when given the chance. There’s nothing particularly interesting about heartbreak really, except that no-one knows what to do about it, and so we must do many things. Unlike broken legs and even literal heart organs, there isn’t an easy surgical procedure for fixing broken hearts. We don’t even know if they should be fixed. Creative practice arrives in the wake of unfixable heartbreak and doesn’t have a solution or a procedure, but sometimes illuminates the break by giving it a chance – saying this could be anything, even if it can’t be.
I’m interested in creative practice as a safehouse or a rehearsal room for wanting what you can’t ever have, and really wanting it, and really breaking your own heart in the wanting, and really sticking around to tend to the pieces, however unfixable, unmeasurable, hard to place.
‘Creative practice arrives in the wake of unfixable heartbreak and doesn’t have a solution or a procedure, but sometimes illuminates the break by giving it a chance – saying this could be anything…’
When it doesn’t have to arrive or resolve, and when the heartbreak of the unresolvable thing can be thought about without having to be fixed, ‘perfectionism’ in creative practice can somehow be used to exceed or undo itself. When I think about this, I think first about Schubert’s Ave Maria in b flat major, sung by Elisabeth Kulman in 2011. And then I think about black holes, which apparently make a noise in the same key, in b flat, thirty-seven octaves below middle C. We will never be able to hear the sound of the black holes, but we know that it is there.
To me, in some kind of essential sense, the human Ave Maria is the same as the unhearable Ave Maria of black holes, sung in the same key, but never able to converge. Here, all I want is to bridge the gap between the Ave Marias of earth and outer space – to allow them to hear each other, or to recognise that all along they were the same. This is an impossible pursuit of an impossible kind of perfection or completion, and I can’t have it, and I break my heart over it all the time. But because I know that I can’t get what I want, I am free to want many things. And in the gap between the Ave Marias that I know I will not bridge, I get to just…keep going and going.
‘[…] so that the fear is: if you allow yourself to become a writer, the catastrophe will be like an avalanche. But if you keep walking, you might be okay.’
Adam Phillips in Patience (After Sebald), 2012
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