5.28.2009

Practically Perfect

Count me among Alice Munro's admirers. But I've got a question: what is it about this woman's fiction that continually elicits descriptions of perfection? I'm looking for a nitty-gritty discussion of craft here.

Perfection implies fidelity to a pre-existing template. Formalism. I think with Munro the template is one largely of her own invention or, at least, stylization. It's hers, but we can recognize it from a mile away. Sometimes, also, "perfect" describes a nakedness of technical prowess, perhaps even of such impressive proportions that it eclipses emotional response. We admire perfection, but do we love it? In neither way is "perfect" a word that makes me want to read something (maybe a rhetorical text, but not a fiction.)

What does perfect mean when we're discussing Munro? Because I guess I can admit that I don't have as much love as I have admiration for this writer. Of the later, I have copious amounts. I don't want to understate that and thus invite misunderstanding. I think she's one of a kind, and she deserves all the laurels she gets. But I read her dutifully and without craving. Of course it's never very long before I'm engrossed and wondering why I don't read more Munro. But it never quite hits me where I live. As they say.

Should perfection be something fiction aspires to?

Does perfect fiction suggest one of those problematic but often fruitful conflations of a subjective model for a universal one? There's no subjectivity like the one so passionately experienced, so eager to be manifest for others, as the one that believes it is universal.

2 comments:

Grendel said...

Yeah, the mentions of perfection threw me as well. Obviously, nothing in fiction can be perfect (can it? should it?) I always compare to music, perhaps unfairly. Mr. Edward Van Halen is a technical virtuoso on guitar -- as were Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Perfect, you might even say, or as perfect as humans can get. But does that mean their music is perfect? Does it even have anything to do with their music -- or with the way music can affect you?

Does virtuosity equate with great art? For me, it doesn't. I might be floored by an incredible piano player, but a slurred, basic Tom Waits piano song can bring me to tears. Like you said, the difference between admiration and love. I do of course admire the work of Alice Munro, but I wouldn't say I love it. There's something human about flaws that perfection can't touch.

Shahsultan Pyarali said...

Perfection to me is about technical virtuosity rather than artistic ambition; the term calls up in my mind someone like Nabokov. Someone who may have not been the most ambitious (such as, for instance, Joyce and Musil), but who, whatever he did write, you could call a gem polished to perfection.