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Naked Singularity Big Read: Perfection

For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here.

In chapter 3x2x1 (aka Chapter 6) De La Pava introduces one of the major concepts for this book: perfection. This and the following chapter (simply named Chapter 7) are two of my favorite chapters in the book. Dane’s story of attempting to offer one client perfect representation is, in my opinion, one of the most original, most fascinating stretches of writing that A Naked Singularity has to offer.

[Note: you should read this post all the way to the end, since at the end of it I tell you how to win the first signed copy of the Xlibris A Naked Singularity that I'll be giving away.]

Perfection, it must be said, is something that De La Pava appears to look upon with great suspicion. You can see that in the epigraph to Chapter 3x2x1, which reads “Just think how you’ll feel when even your basest desires are quenched before they’ve even had the chance to fully form.” (A very Wallace-esque epigraph.) This could be seen as a form of perfection: perfect satisfaction. And yet, most of us reading that epigraph will not fail to notice how cynical and frankly awful it sounds, in a blatantly materialistic sense.

True to this, Chapter 3x2x1 presents us with a variety of forms of perfection. We can argue about if Dane’s version is noble or not: he decides to offer a guilty, destitute man perfect representation, which means spending inordinate resources on ensuring that the trial is perfect and that this man gets off. First of all: can perfection come in the form of a guilty man going free? And then there’s the fact that Dane’s quest is clearly much more about him and his client: should perfection be selfless? Or rather, could perfection only really be perfect selfishness in this world where we all tell ourselves we are creatures endowed with free will?

In contrast to Dane’s quest, at the beginning of the chapter Casi talks with his neighbor Angus about the second coming of Jesus, another form of perfection, at least if you adhere to Christian belief. Angus offers the opinion that “the fact that none of these pretenders [i.e. false Messiahs] effectively exploited Television is incontrovertible proof that they were not the real deal.” Angus continues for the bulk of page 133 on an interesting digression about how Jesus originally communicated his message and how he would in our times.

And then, a few pages later, the conversation in Casi’s neighbor’s apartment switches from the second coming to sex, namely, if it’s better now than it was in the 1970s. This is again an interesting question in regards to perfection, since you might consider sex as something unchanging: that is, given that we are all animals endowed with genes, hormones, etc, that have not changed significantly in thousands of years (if not more) wouldn’t the sexual act confer the same amount of gratification regardless of era? On the other side of that argument would be the possibility that Alyona raises, where cultural conditions can affect how enjoyable sex is. Again, the question of perfection—i.e. a self-contained, hermetic act that is essentially unchanging—versus an act that can be warped by outside influences.

And then again on page 139: “I now think that McDonaldland may be the purest province in our land.” This quote raises issues of the perfect society (how is it defined? crime-free? perfect equality? etc.; could McDonaldland really be it?), not to mention the question of if a human construction (i.e. a fake country created by McDonald’s for marketing purposes; or a poem) could ever really reach the status of perfection.

From here Chapter 3x2x1 gives way to Chapter 7, in which Dane explains his quest to Casi. More on that, and the rest of this week’s chunk of text later in the week. For now I’m dying to know what you make of some of the questions I’ve raised here, as well as other notable variations on this them that you’ve found in this week’s text.

And finally, here is how to receive the first signed Xlibris edition of A Naked Singularity that I’ll be giving away during the Big Read. Comment on a Big Read thread this week. That’s it. Everyone who makes a good faith attempt to participate in the discussion (I’ll be the judge of “good faith”) will be entered into a drawing for that free book.

For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here.

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8 comments to Naked Singularity Big Read: Perfection

  • Neil Griffin

    I’ll comment more on the questions you raise on this post after thinking it through more and re-reading the salient parts. I just want to say that this book is incredibly readable so far. Just like the Marias and Perec read, I’ve stopped looking at which chapter to stop at and am just powering through, which isn’t ideal for discussion purposes, but I can’t help myself.

  • Marcus

    I think one of the interesting things that De La Pava does with this idea of perfectibility is that he instills everything with a kind of agency. As you wrote: “could perfection only really be perfect selfishness in this world where we all tell ourselves we are creatures endowed with free will”. It is interesting to think about how every object or person strives towards an expression of its own perfect self. Think of how he narrates the presence of TV, which is always written as if it were a living thing, such as on pg. 194: “Television had been wheeled into the room and was awake in hope it would soon feed the room much-sought-after information”.

    The way this idea might reflect back on the social themes of the book is that all the characters, whether they be involved in the enforcement of the law or in the breaking of it, strive for a perfection of an individual code which is ethically stunted by the fact that it operates to the benefit of the person following that code. Let’s remember especially something that De La Pava stressed early in the book, that if “you learn only one thing from the ensuing maybe let it be this: the police were not merely interested observers who occasionally witnessed criminality and were then basically compelled to make an arrest, rather the police had the special ability to in effect create Crime by making an arrest almost whenever they wished, so widespread was wrongdoing.” (pg. 3) We cannot imagine anything as merely an interested observer, any action, every inaction entails a responsibility, and that responsibility may be a pre-programmed compulsion towards a certain incredibly personal idea of perfection. Think about the scenario Dane offers Casi, about helping the starving woman next door but not the one that’s out of sight. Is this just because the faraway woman does not impinge on our perfect ideal of ourself? Saying that we always helped when we were called upon is not the same thing as saying we always helped when we were needed. Do we only have an obligation to those who can make their misery personal to us?

  • Eric

    I’m fascinated by that pause at the end of Dane’s “perfect defense.” Because Dane has argued at some length that “a truly perfect defense” would involve “some appearance of imperfection in order to create a more acquittal-friendly atmosphere.” The pause starts out as a deliberate stumble, a piece of meta-artifice, which leads to a genuine loss for words and the collapse of the entire “perfect defense.” At least it does, for Dane. That moment of failure remains entirely subjective; the jury, after all, acquits “in nine minutes or something.” Who’s to say that his loss for words wasn’t the endearing human moment that perfected his defense? Who can judge perfection? (It goes without saying that Dane’s standards for perfection are idiosyncratic, given that he’s donned various disguises, smoked crack, and severely violated several professional codes in his pursuit of it.)

    In this vein, I love Dane’s thoughts on the “tautological perfection of God” (a perfect being acting perfectly). And his quick abandonment of his perfect-appeal writing project, because “writing is an often unsatisfying process even more fraught with error.” What strikes me here is that De La Pava is clearly interested in perfection as a theme, but he is not interested in *fictional* perfection. This is his great Dostoyevskian strength as a writer. He is willing to messy, ragged, uncouth, to make wild and uneven claims. In these chapters his bravery is thrilling to behold.

  • Eric

    It’s also totally wonderful that a chapter devoted to the perfect defense also includes the Senor Smoke anecdote and the appearance of Hurd with his third ear.

  • I think there’s a telling bit in chapter 1. “Sixteen hundred years they been playing this game and it took a homeless brother in the park to come up with the perfect opening” (p 23). Casi points out that there might be a problem with development. It really depends on how perfection is defined. An opening, a single moment, (a singularity?,) might be perfect in itself, in isolation, but it HAS to be considered within a context, it always bleeds beyond its own boundaries and definition, to include as mentioned above agency (motive? intent?) and the appearance of imperfection. So Dane’s trying to overcome this problem of development.

    I llloove the third ear, we usually hear about a third eye…

  • Eric

    That’s a great connection, Isabella. The whole beef between the homeless chess player and his friend has to do with that opening. So the concept of perfection is in dispute from the beginning. Foreshadows the whole idea of Dane as striver for perfection and the sole, flawed arbiter of that perfection.

  • Iain

    Dane notion of ‘perfection’ interestingly resists association with a rational objective. Dane’s project, to defend and have acquitted a guilty client, exists outside of a moral code and, in fact, demonstrates a fundamental problem with the American judicial system. He is able to undermine the ideals of the legal system in order to satisfy a personal desire. As satire, it is great. Dane’s notion of perfection is wrapped up with complete self-awareness, and his later efforts to involve Casi reflect his need for an external witness, someone to observe him achieve perfection (also, recalls the theory of the naked singularity).

    There certainly seems to be a parallel between Dane’s project and Angus’. Perhaps something about effacing the self, but rather than leaving it up to a moralizing system, they arbitrarily bind themselves to whatever is at hand (a postmodern moment, the absence of a dominant meta-narrative – a problematic notion in itself, as the predominantly white, male, educated class realizing they are not at the centre of the universe is comical).

    In relation to this, I had problems with the representation of women in the text. While the women of his family occupy a somewhat more human sphere, the other women of the text (his co-workers, the friend of his housemates, the women he rescues later in the novel) are fairly underdeveloped. Whether this is deliberate and relates to the author’s larger project, or is a weakness of the text, is something that I have yet to decide. I would be interested to hear what others think about this or what they notice as the read continues.

    De La Pava’s ability to create interesting voices sustained the novel for me. The early section of Casi’s exchanges with alleged criminals was excellent and while De La Pava continues to explore these themes, I wished he had stuck closer to the (gulp!) realist mode.

  • Gilly

    I hadn’t thought of it in quite this way before but I can now see that the theme of perfection is very important to the book. I’d seen Dane and Casi to a certain extent more like angels before the war in heaven – they believe they can achieve the perfection that is only achievable by God. Dane is a tempter, and offers Casi something very similar to all the kingdoms of the world. Casi’s defence of Juan Hurtado (whose third ear really blew my mind, it seemed so surreal, like the third eye, as Isabella said, but comical rather than spiritual) is a neat answer to the taxi driver’s question. Juan is obviously guilty, there were even nuns involved (!), yet Casi could get him off on a technicality, thus keeping his perfect run of trials. When he loses and spoils his perfect record, he does seem to go crazy; his world is unravelling. It’s interesting that in the first chapter of Part 2 his family notice it right away. Casi looks different.

    I love the Colombian family especially Casi’s sister, Alana, and I really love the perfectly imperfect Traci. I wish Traci didn’t disappear from the narrative later. It bothers me a bit that while de la Pava can write such interesting women characters they don’t play more of a part in the story. I wonder if it’s because Traci seems to throw Casi into a fit of sentimentality (“flaxen” “luminescence”). Are women irrelevant to young men in search of perfection? An entire history of asceticism would suggest this, but I had hoped for something else.

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