Perfect Imperfection

The human capacity to imagine perfection sets you up for a losing battle. Sarah Gorham’s “Study in Perfect” offers a creative and emotionally poignant glimpse into the illusive promise of perfection, and the humanizing (and more likely) results of imperfection.


| February 2015



blackbird

The chapter “Be There No Human Here” looks through a lens of birds—people with pet parakeets, dreams of flight, well-meaning birdwatchers, the cultural meanings of “blackbird”—to delve into the subjectivity of perfection.

Photo by Fotolia/ivanhor

Perfection is not always what it seems. Study in Perfect (University of Georgia Press, 2014) was written by Sarah Gorham, winner of the AWP Award for Creative Nonfiction for her writings that probe the human capacity to imagine perfection and to cope with imperfection. Drawing from the realms of science, philosophy, linguistics, social history and personal reminiscence, Study in Perfect delves into the perfections, and often imperfections, that mold a human existence. The following excerpt is “Be There No Human Here” from Study in Perfect.

To find more books that pique our interest, visit the Utne Reader Bookshelf.

Anthropomorphism is a way to comprehend the stars, seasons, weather, animals, any kind of nonhuman behavior. It’s an ancient storytelling tool that makes life more familiar, its many dangers and losses orderly, simplified. The stars, for example—explosions of hydrogen and helium. Observing them, we have nailed down eighty-eight constellations with names like Cancer (the crab) or Orion (the hunter). Once upon a time, thunder had a human face (Jove), as did spring (Persephone). Gods on Mount Olympus were mired in human rage, jealousy, and greed. As long as we have been thinking creatures, stumbling across the earth on two legs, we’ve assumed human qualities could be attached to anything.

Up in the sky a pair of hawks brush the high point of my vision, imperceptibly lifting the hairs from my scalp. I lean, and lean my head back. A certain privacy surrounds them: two black accents in a field of blue, two eye motes. They follow not road signs and easements but invisible pipes, cones, funnels of wind.

To see as they see—pasture cut by road, beeches sorted from the river, weeds twitching, and then, a camouflaged mole in hyperdetail, as if under a magnifying glass. The rest of the landscape is suddenly blurred, irrelevant. To aim with just one thing in mind, even if it is, comparatively, a small mind.

And yet, how I love the gray-and-blue-tinged basin of air between us. It is like standing at the edge of a continent, a kind of reprimand: You can’t have everything. The world will always be greater than your desires.