The Problem Of Exactitude


exactitude – not approximate in any way;
precise, from the Latin verb exigere – to thoroughly perform

The phrase the problem of exactitude occurs to me to describe a kind of left-field situation I encounter regularly when I’m working on music or writing about it. The situation can be described as a tension between my trying to be precise—to know where I’m going with a project, to make sense of the space I’m in—and the reality that I’m not so in control of all of the elements. The problem is this: trying to be precise about an artistic/aesthetic situation I don’t yet understand.

So working on a project becomes a process of precisely inhabiting a situation of inexactitude simply by responding to it. A John Cage quote from my blog comes to mind. “Doing something we don’t know how to do” he says. “No technique” (John Cage, Diary, p. 77). I like Cage’s no technique idea because it sounds nonchalant, but let’s refine it a little: there is technique, except that it’s not a musical technique. Instead it’s a conceptual move away from having the need for knowing—a misdirected precision—ruin the beauty of the still strange and not yet understood creative moment. In this left-field situation, the problem of exactitude suggests that I keep my precision, just aim it differently.


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