10 April 2014

imperfections and outliers

"Emilio had a scorch mark from the iron on his otherwise spotless shirt. It made him look quite fetching. A minor imperfection is always so seductive, especially if it hints at a story -- the faint trace of a scar, the most discreet of limps. The flawless tea-bowl is less beautiful, after all, according to the Japanese, than the tea-bowl with a slight distortion to its roundness, just as a full moon is less beautiful than a half-moon glimpsed through cloud, a cherry-tree in full bloom less beautiful than cherry-trees about to blossom, pristinely raked pebbles less beautiful than pebbles strewn with faded flowers. Emilio may well have less appealing imperfections (less accidental ones -- that is, more willed) but in the bar in the late afternoon light as he came towards us with his tray of sparkling glasses the mishap with the iron was working to his advantage."

I was reading this passage on page 131 in Night Letters by Robert Dessaix as I waited for the Bergren Forum to begin. This week's topic was outliers and the speaker was adjunct instructor of sociology Kelly Kirtland, studying for her doctorate at Cornell. Perhaps (non-criminal) outliers are more interesting because of their flaws even if they may play havoc with your sociological study.

This bowl is by Kohei Nakamura; image from http://www.art-it.asia/u/admin_ed_contri7/lNzJdw39a8pA76rF0Dcu

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