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There is deep pleasure to be had...

Posted by Pamela on October 23, 2007

In Reply to: There is deep pleasure to be had... posted by Baceseras on October 22, 2007

: : : : : : What could be the meaning of "There is deep pleasure to be had in cement and gravel, cemeteries and the overgrown gardens of people who don't care."

: : : : : : The context is a piece that is talking about how bad it can be to have everything perfect. it's said that there is no future in perfection and nowhere left to go. then in the next paragraph after that it says that there is pleasure in decay, ... there is pleasure in states of disrepair, disuse, the doomed ...

: : : : : There is pleasure in work to be done? A state of perfection would be static. Boring. That's my guess.

: : : : .....
: : : : Fortunately we have the exact context at hand, from Lucy Ellman's novel, "Dot in the Universe."

: : : : "There was no other word for Dot and her life but: PERFECT.

: : : : "Ah, but near-perfection's better! The haphazard, the untried. There's no FUTURE in perfection, nowhere left to go. There's no LIFE in it. You stop loving, stop trying when everything is perfect.

: : : : "There is pleasure in decay, in the awkward and the fumbling, a good pianist muffing a Schubert sonata. There is pleasure in states of disrepair, disuse, the doomed, degenerate, unconnected, out-of-place, the miserable, malodorous, uncorrected and uncontained. There is a deep pleasure to be had in old cement and gravel, cemeteries and overgrown gardens of people who don't care. In lakes the colour of anti-freeze, in which bacteria bloom. In rotting refuse and its attendant gulls, old army bases, abandoned runways, brickwork as it crumbles. Buddleia thrusting itself between forgotten railway sleepers - the smell of it is GREAT."

: : : : Her biography can be found at, and reads, in part:

: : : :

: : : : "Lucy Ellmann was born in Evanston, Illinois . . . in 1956. She was later completely unnecessarily transported to England and forced to grow up further there. She remains in exile from her native land. After being thrown out of various art schools, universities and cocktail parties, she started writing. Her first novel, Sweet Desserts, won the 1988 Guardian Fiction Prize. It was followed by Varying Degrees of Hopelessness, Man or Mango? A Lament and most recently Dot in the Universe.

: : : : "Dot in the Universe was longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction and has been shortlisted for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Writing.

: : : : "After being a hermit for many years, Lucy Ellmann suddenly upped and married the American writer Todd McEwen. They currently live in Scotland but may move any minute."

: : : : You can read more about Lucy Ellman, and this book, at

: : : : [Dead link removed - ed]

: : : : Michiko Kakutani, in the New York Review of Books, calls "Dot in the Universe" "A blackly comedic fable..."

: : : : You can read more of Ms. Kakutani's review using the same URL.

: : : : The linked excerpt begins: "On the eve of her fortieth birthday, Dot began to fear death. Up until then, everything had been PERFECT...."

: : : : It is up to the reader to find Ms. Ellman's meaning. There is a reason literature is called an art, and a reason that people find good novels a path to meaning, but not always an easy path. It's easy to see Dot as a cranky version of Everywoman, suffocating in the notion of perfection, seeking relief and pleasure in the smaller things, the everyday sensuousness of the less-than-perfect--actually the FAR less than perfect.
: : : : SS

: : : I didn't take it that there was pleasure in imperfection because it represents work to be done, however. Pamela

: : N ot so much "work to be done", but somewhere to go. She specifically mentions "nowhere to go" from here, about perfection. I don't think that makes the meaning exactly transparent. It's HER psychol ogical state, not mine, so I'm guessing as to what, exactly, this means to her.
: : SS
: : SS

: The original post's quotation was opaque because it omitted a word which Smokey supplied: "old", as in "old cement and gravel". Without it I couldn't be sure what cement and gravel had in common with cemeteries and untended gardens, but OLD cement calls to mind the stains, powdery bloom, and crumbling that all befall cement-work after some time; and in the same vein, old gravel paths lose their well-laid definition, and become pitted, scattered, and blurred at the edges. These thoughts are all supplied by the context of a meditation on the pleasures of imperfection. So far so good.

: If the question was why one should find pleasure in seeing imperfection, the answers have so far suggested that imperfection gives one the opportunity to fix up or build better ---

: Bring dynamite and a crane:
: Blow it up, start all over again

: --- as in the song "Tobacco Road" by Lou Rawls.

: And that may be what the author meant; but the long quotation Smokey provided seems less about practical work, and more about the unconstrained mental state that comes to one who contemplates imperfection. Note that the examples given are not harmful, dangerous, or squalid. They are the kind of imperfections one can peaceably live with.

: There is a long tradition of poetic praise for such imperfection. Robert Herrick's "A sweet disorder in the dress"; Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Pied Beauty" and "Inversnaid"; or this by Robert Frost:


: A scent of ripeness from over a wall.
: And come to leave the routine road
: And look for what has made me stall,
: There sure enough was an apple tree
: That had eased itself of its summer load,
: And of all but its trivial foliage free,
: Now breathed as light as a lady's fan.
: For there had been an apple fall
: As complete as the apple had given man.
: The ground was one circle of solid red.

: May something go always unharvested!
: May much stay out of our stated plan,
: Apples or something forgotten and left,
: So smelling their sweetness would be no theft.

Perfection seems to be sterile to the writer; imperfection full of life. Pamela