the action or process of improving something until it is faultless or as faultless as possible.
Bear with me here: Comparing the views of the man who brought us “Off the Wall” with the opinions of the author of “Infinite Jest” may not seem like an obvious choice. However, Michael Jackson and David Foster Wallace were in similar spots career-wise when they shared their thoughts on perfection.
At the time of his interview, Jackson, 21, had just released his album “Off the Wall,” and people were going crazy for “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”
But despite the album’s success, Jackson admitted to interviewer John Pidgeon that a No. 1 hit isn’t enough for him:
I do believe deeply in perfection. I’m never satisfied. I’ll cut a track or something and I come home and I say: “No, that’s not right. We gotta to do it over. It’s not right.” And then go back and back and back. Then when it’s finally out, you say: “Darn it. I should have done this.” It’s No. 1 on the charts [and] you’re still screaming about what you should have done. If you’re satisfied with everything, you’re just going to stay at one level and the world will move ahead.
When Wallace, 34, sat down for his interview he had just released “Infinite Jest,” his much-revered 1,079-page, three-pound novel. Wallace — lover of the footnote and self-proclaimed “grammar Nazi” — shared that he had grappled with perfection in his younger years.
He told interviewer Leonard Lopate:
You know, the whole thing about perfectionism. The perfectionism is very dangerous, because, of course, if your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything. Because doing anything results in– It’s actually kind of tragic because it means you sacrifice how gorgeous and perfect it is in your head for what it really is. And there were a couple of years where I really struggled with that.
So we have two artists, both at high points in their careers, with competing views on the role perfectionism played in getting them there. Jackson attributes his success to being a perfectionist. It keeps him from getting stuck “at one level.” Wallace, on the other hand, has said so long to his perfection fixation; he’s learned to accept his work’s flaws in order to continue making work.
Who has the best grasp on perfection is no doubt a matter of opinion. I, for one, know that if I was hung up on perfection, this post would have never made it out of Google Docs. I’m definitely Team Wallace on this one.
Jackson or Wallace? Whose view of perfection most matches yours?