Homage of the Black Star of Perfection (1965)
Homage of the Black Star of Perfection (1965)
Subject: Achieving Perfectionism and Being Perfect.
Symbol Evocation: The Aristocratic Vision of the Perfect.
Comments:The concept of perfection has two overlapping meanings. The first is “completeness,” “wholeness,” or “integrity.” Something is perfect when it is free from all defects. The second is the achievement of an end or a goal. The Greek word teleios means “perfect” and the word telos means “end” or “goal.” Both words lead to the Latin telo – the origin. As a phenomenon perfection has been examined, first, under its aspect as an element of religion, and second, in relation to its moral or ethical aspects and both aspects are connected to the notion of change: no change or changing.
Plato (427-347 BCE) for instance, in Books 8 & 9 of The Republic describes imperfect societies as examples of moral degeneration below the time of the philosopher kings. Timocracy (where people are ambitious, energetic, athletic, but a prey to inner uncertainty and conflict); Oligarchy (a society in which wealth is the criterion of merit and the wealthy are in control, there is also the appearance of a “drone” class of criminals and malcontents); Democracy (equality of political opportunity and freedom for the individual to do as he likes produces the versatile but lacking in principle, desires are a mixture of the necessary and the unnecessary); Tyranny (the conflict of the rich and the poor in democracy gives rise to the tyrant as a popular champion, along with his private army and growth of oppression revealing the tyrant as a criminal). In fact it is possible to show that in the end the tyrant is 729 times more unhappy than the philosopher king.
The future of the perfect is now called perfectionism. It is an ethical vision according to which individuals and their actions are judged by a maximal standard of achievement. While no fully worked-out system of perfectionism has been attempted, aspects of this doctrine have appeared in philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) and Aristotle (384-322 BCE). As an attitude perfectionism may depart from or dispense with standards of the conventional, which then appear to be non-moral values. This is a search for rare levels of human achievement like artistic and other forms of creativity. These activities are often deemed noble such as heroic endurance in the face of great suffering, the rare genius, the inspired few, and the suffering but courageous artist. The perfectionist would tend toward a non-egalitarian or aristocratic vision of humankind.
The first time I experienced a man of perfectionism was during my summer vacation after the fifth form (the11th grade) in prep school. My father was beginning to be concerned about what I would do for the rest of my life. “Painting” was my stock answer “and not houses.” We had this conversation many times before but that day a new element was added. “You think you have talent, why don’t you try doing what my grandfather did?” He was referring to my great grandfather who made violins that he sold to the Boston Symphony Orchestra and music schools in the Boston area. After reading up on who’s who in violin making and all the parts from the tickets to the F holes, I had 3 months and figured I could turn out 3 violins. I took an inordinate interest in what he suggested I do. At the end of the summer I felt I was ready because I made 3 violins. I was told where to bring them for evaluation. It was a small workshop along Huntington Avenue on the Symphony Hall side. Ascending the stairs to the second floor I entered a long hallway, which opened, into a large room with many workbenches and people hovered over them. A tall gaunt elderly man beckoned to me to come forward. “I know who you are, I apprenticed with your great grandfather and your father told me you were on your way. Lay out some of what you’ve done.” He cleared his workbench. I opened my suitcase and carefully laid my treasures. I assumed he would be impressed that I used all Stradivari models, and not Amati’s or Guarneri’s. He noticed that I imitated three different F holes designed by Stradivarius from the Betts, the Dauphin, and the violin from 1694. There were all kinds of tools for finely detailed work and measuring. As he was examining, he began to mutter things like, “My god I could pick the purfling out of these things with my fingernails.” At this point he put all three things back on the bench and reached for a very large violin bow billowing with rosin dust. After playing each one he laid them back on the bench. At this point I asked if he could sell them (I had visions of them being in the front windows of the shop). “Sell them,” he shouted, “I couldn’t give them away to a deaf student. I’m no violinist but I can play through these things and the E strings hardly vibrate.” I reached to pick them off the bench. But he stopped me, and with a mallet he smashed all three of my violins, and threw the wreckage into a large waste barrel. “Why did you do that?” I asked astonished. “Those things were not violins. You do have some talent and out of remembrance to your great grandfather who taught me, I am willing to teach you. If you wish to begin come back at 9:00 AM 3 tomorrow and be ready to work harder than you ever have before. I predict you will not produce your ‘first’ violin until your 38th attempt. And if you do not come back tomorrow, never, never do this again,” pointing now in the direction of his barrel.
A number of years went by and I learned about black holes in the universe and of course, never attempted another violin. The black hole is the perfect celestial object. Since it emits no light it is not subject to change and is always present, therefore, at its discovery light emitting bodies are born, mature, and die and are always subject to the past capacity of our physical senses. A black hole is a black star and is perfect.
Paul Laffoley: The Sixties. Kent Gallery, New York, 2009.
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Interstellar. ISABELLA BORTOLOZZI Galerie, Berlin, 2015. Curated by Michael Bracewell