restricted access Everybody Loves Imparfait: Academic Cultures of Imperfection
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Everybody Loves Imparfait:
Academic Cultures of Imperfection

When Twenty-Two-Year-Old Jennifer Lawrence fell on her way up the steps of the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles in February 2013 to accept the Best Actress Oscar, it must have seemed to many of the program’s viewers as it did to those in my house that the moment, while it may not have been not absolutely ruined, was certainly compromised. The fall itself was such a little thing, and Lawrence was charming in her gracious and honest reaction. Nonetheless, the fall became forever a part of the moment, a little interruption, a small event in the category of things we never want to happen to us (falling down in front of millions of viewers on live television) mixed in with the big event in the category of things that seem as if they would be pretty nice (winning an Academy Award—or, for that matter, any award). It was, or seemed to be, an imperfection, a bad thing adversely affecting a good thing, a flaw, a blot. But Lawrence’s fall also made for a curiously productive and interesting moment. In the hyperproduced and somewhat banal Academy Awards ceremony, it seemed oddly and importantly real. It was so evidently unscripted and so ordinary that it threw into relief the extraordinary weirdness that is the Oscars. It probably made lots of people feel sympathetic things. It made Lawrence kind of loveable, not least as she brought about a kind of [End Page 1] symbolic tear in the screen, on whose refracted surface most of us who watch the Academy Awards watch them. Popular culture makes much of such moments of imperfection in celebrity culture. Tabloids celebrate them or, at any rate, delight in finding opportunities to expose what are touted as the imperfections behind the seeming perfection of celebrities’ (and especially actresses’) skin, hair, bodies, relationships, lives. Perhaps, given the culture of tabloid exposure of flaws, it is not surprising that imperfection is central to so much Hollywood cinema: Lawrence won her Oscar, after all, for her role in a film, Silver Linings Playbook, that is focused on what is typically represented as imperfection across a number of registers—mental health, economic self-sufficiency, adulthood, families, marriages, houses. The film’s happy ending is itself arguably imperfect: only a moment between the realities of unemployment, institutionalization, debilitating meds, and scabby ceilings.

The short papers in this forum were presented at accute’s conference at the University of Victoria, 1–4 June 2013. Speakers in the panel were asked to think about imperfection with reference to the following questions:

  • • What constitutes imperfection? How relative is its assessment? How do we recognize it? Define it? Measure it?

  • • What are the politics of perfection? What does it mean to aspire to perfection? Or, for that matter, to aspire to imperfection? How can perfection operate as a standard—in the arts? in everyday life? How much do aesthetics come into play in our assessment and valuing of perfection?

  • • How do we engage with ideas of perfection in cultural representations such as reality television? To what impulses are such representations—of “perfect” homes, dates, bodies, wedding dresses—addressed? What does a critique of these ideas of perfection look like?

  • • How do academics engage with, resist, or embrace imperfection? Is academic work in fact characterized by perfectionism, in writing, editing, presenting? How much too much do we do toward perfection? How do we deal with imperfection?

  • • How much do we revert to and inhabit the imperfect tense, an index of what is never finished, always in process?

  • • How do we represent the things that militate against perfection: illness, grief, travel, family responsibilities, power failures, [End Page 2] lost files, missed texts, books we can’t get, archives we can’t visit, funding shortfalls, competition, filling out forms, applying for everything, trying to get the computer to work, making mistakes? Is it good that things get in the way of achieving perfection?

  • • Is there something, as the 2013 Ikea catalogue suggests of its new “designed by hand” Malin Figur duvet cover and pillowcases, in the idea of a “perfectly imperfect look” (289)? Is there...