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Humanist Archives: Feb. 5, 2019, 6:11 a.m. Humanist 32.421 - deliberate imperfection or asymmetry

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 421.
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    [1]    From: John Laudun 
           Subject: The purposeful mistake (31)

    [2]    From: Mark Wolff 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.419: deliberate imperfection or asymmetry? (46)

    [3]    From: Alec McAllister 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.419: deliberate imperfection or asymmetry? (7)

    [4]    From: Inna Kizhner 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.419: deliberate imperfection or asymmetry? (29)

        Date: 2019-02-04 16:58:32+00:00
        From: John Laudun 
        Subject: The purposeful mistake

Hello, Willard! Actually the idea of an introduced flaw into weaving in
Persian carpets is entirely an invention of European, and later
American, merchants. Henry Glassie pretty thoroughly debunks it in
"Turkish Traditional Art Today." As he describes it, weavers aspire to
perfection but understand as mere mortals that their work will
inevitable be flawed. As they note: "Only God is perfect." Perhaps the
mercantile version of this was not so much intentional as a simple
misunderstanding that then, as so many things do, stuck.

In a similar vein, as someone who has made the run to the North Carolina
pottery district a few times over the years, it saddened me to see the
rise of pottery that was purposeful made to look handmade: unnecessarily
heavy and uncomfortable. Weirdly, a second renaissance among the potters
seems to have displaced that. But NC pottery long ago left behind its
"folk" nature and has long been at the mercy of larger marketplaces of
art dealers and tourists. Each potter has to navigate for him or herself
their own economic viability.


John Laudun
Doris H. Meriwether/BORSF Endowed Professor Department of English
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Lafayette, LA 70504-4691

        Date: 2019-02-04 16:52:55+00:00
        From: Mark Wolff 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.419: deliberate imperfection or asymmetry?

Hi Willard. Georges Perec implemented what he called the clinamen (from
Lucretius) in order to introduce an element of unpredictability in his work. The
most famous example is the missing chapter between 66 and 67 of Life A User’s
Manual, where Perec deliberately did not follow his procedure of using the
knight’s move in chess to touch every square on a 10x10 grid. In an interview in
1981, Perec insists it is important to include anti-constraints within a system
of constraints: ‘[the system] must not be rigid, there must be some play in it,
it must, as they say, “creak” a bit; it must not be completely coherent […]’
(see Motte, Warren F., Jr. “Clinamen Redux.” Comparative Literature Studies,
vol. 23, no. 4, pp. p263-281). According to Harry Mathews, “For Oulipians, the
clinamen is a deviation from the strict consequences of a restriction. It is
often justified on aesthetic grounds: resorting to it improves the results. But
there is a binding condition for its use: the exceptional freedom afforded by a
clinamen can only be taken on the condition that following the initial rule is
still possible. In other words, the clinamen can only be used if it isn’t
needed.” (Mathews, Harry, and Alastaire Brotchie. Oulipo Compendium. Atlas
Press, 1998.).

I recently published an article on Perec where I argue that several of Perec’s
texts explore the possibilities of combining rule-based systems with
indeterminate exceptions through an approach that aligns with Alan Turing’s
theory of computation:

Wolff, Mark. “Invoking the Oracle: Perec, Algorithms and Conceptual Writing.”
The Afterlives of Georges Perec, edited by Rowan Wilken and Justin Clemens,
Edinburgh University Press, 2017, pp. 85–101.



Mark B. Wolff, Ph.D.
Professor of French
Chair, Modern Languages
One Hartwick Drive
Hartwick College
Oneonta, NY  13820
(607) 431-4615


        Date: 2019-02-04 12:23:52+00:00
        From: Alec McAllister 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.419: deliberate imperfection or asymmetry?

Has anyone ever researched the possibility that the whole "deliberate mistake"
trope might simply have been a glib response to a customer spotting an
accidental mistake?

Alec McAllister
University of Leeds (retired)

        Date: 2019-02-04 09:19:48+00:00
        From: Inna Kizhner 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.419: deliberate imperfection or asymmetry?

Dear Willard,

Viktor Erlich's famous book on Russian Formalism cites Andrei Belyj's work
from 1910 as an example of approach to poetic rhythm as the 'symmetry of
deviations from the meter' (Belyj, 1910, cited from Erlich, 2012). Erlich
writes further

'In his study.. he (Belyj) tends to judge the rhythmical richness of a poem
by the frequency of deviations from the metrical scheme or, more exactly,
by the number of missing accents'. Brjusov, another Russian poet, commented
on this observation saying that 'Missing accents become a factor of
rhythmical gracefulness and ease only 'if they occur in felicitous
combinations with caesuras and with other elements of verse', if this is
not the case, they may produce the impression of clumsiness' (Erlich, 2012,
p. 38). This last combinatorics comment seems to be in line with your last
observation on computing and unpredictability. This may be also true for
carpets, other cases of decorative motifs, music, and  dialogues in
standard communicative situations when the most interesting exchange starts
when we have deviations from standards that are in harmony with other


Inna Kizhner
Department of Digital Humanities
Siberian Federal University

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