“A human being in action cannot represent perfection. You always represent one side of a duality that is itself perfection. The moment you take action, you are imperfect: you have decided to act that way instead of that other way. That’s why people who think they are perfect are so ridiculous. They’re in a bad position with respect to themselves.” — Joseph Campbell
In my previous post (Cakewalk Into Town? 1.8.19) I spoke of my own challenge in crafting the things I write, of often “picking through the weeds for the right word, the only word in the entire English language that will do at the given moment.” Now I want to make the distinction between the right word and the perfect word. The former is a sometimes illusive diamond buried in the undergrowth. The latter doesn’t exist.
Writing is an activity that requires continuous choice-making. Every sentence is one particular way of constructing a statement, chosen from a multiplicity of possible similar sentences with various configurations, styles, tones, etc. Each word is a choice of this one as opposed to that one. Sometimes that one would be suitable, but this one is more right because its denotation, or dictionary meaning, corresponds more precisely to what I want to convey, or that one has unwanted connotations or perhaps a broader denotation more easily misinterpreted, or perhaps this one just sounds better in the given context. We choose our words for all sorts of reasons.
As for perfection, fuhgetaboutit! Sure, in a spiritual sense we can say “it’s all perfect,” but I’m talking about Joseph Campbell’s feet-on-the-ground perspective (or in this context, pen-to-paper) regarding the work of being human. Language is an inherent human tool, inherently limiting. That’s what it is designed to do: limit, shape, define, distinguish, circumscribe, order our chaotic experience of this material world based on duality. As soon as I name something, I limit it. That’s the point. It is no longer perfect, in a non-dualistic sense (it is something, not nothing), but now I can deal with it.
So, perhaps I could say that my picking through the linguistic weeds for the best word is a quest for right imperfection.
Or maybe, as noted in certain Eastern philosophical traditions, it really is all about the process, not the goal. The juice is in the doing more than in the getting it done. The search for just the right word usually helps me toward finding out what it is that I’m really trying to say. It can be a catalyst for self-discovery.