Thursday, January 27, 2011

Eric Hoffer: a quotation

No. 2

There is something unhuman about perfection. The performance of the expert strikes us as instinctual or mechanical. It is a paradox that, although the striving to master a skill is supremely human, the total mastery of a skill approaches the nonhuman. They who would make man perfect end up by dehumanizing him.

-- Eric Hoffer --
from Reflections on the Human Condition

Do perfect performances strike one as nonhuman? I remember reading a review by a music critic in the BBC Music Magazine. He criticized a CD by the The Tallis Scholars (a choral ensemble specializing in liturgical music led by Peter Philips) for being too perfect and inhuman and, therefore, he could only rate them a 4 on a 5 point scale.

I found that to be strange.


  1. Dear Fred,

    I'm not certain about inhuman--but I do recall going to watch Baryshnikov perform and thinking that it was a walk-through--technical perfection--gorgeous dance and not a smidgen of involvement--as though he were simply going through the motions. Empty perfection and hence, not perfection at all.



  2. Fred,

    "Too perfect and inhuman". I sometimes think this about CGI in movies. Sometimes it actually takes me OUT of the movie experience, thinking about how well they did that shadow over there, or the sunlight's reflection off of a reflective surface over here. It's so perfect that I don't have to use my imagination to immerse myself into the movie. I feel less part of the movie experience, then, and just a passive observer. (Does that make sense? It's a hard thing to express.)

  3. Steven,

    I think this is the point Hoffer is making.

    My only question would be concerning Baryshnikov's performance. Is this typical of him? Does he always appear to be so detached while performing or was this an off night?

    If this was typical of him, then I would agree with you that he would be an excellent example in support of Hoffer's point.

  4. Cheryl,

    Are you saying that things that aren't finished off completely or perfectly are more interesting than things that are perfectly done?

  5. Fred,

    Perhaps - at least as far as movies are concerned. I personally feel that having to "fill in" what's missing makes me more involved by using my imagination. That's a more interesting experience. But maybe that's just what I, personally, am looking for in a movie. Other people may just want to be passively entertained for a while, and not give any input to the process. ( I've been there, too, when going through a stressful time.)

  6. Cheryl,

    I guess films do leave us less to do than books, for example. The imagination takes a vacation when watching a film very often. It's all there before us.