There are a number of reasons James Dickey has been among my favorite writers for a number of years, and I have posted about him and his fabulous novel, "Deliverance," more than once in the past.
The first piece I read of his was the utterly frightening and fantastic poem, "Falling," in which he describes the thoughts and actions of a stewardess who has fallen from an aircraft and is descending to certain death upon her impact with the earth. I was in graduate school at the time I read it, and had a number of jumps under my belt by that time. Each had involved a device known as a parachute, something not available to the unfortunate stewardess.
Having read and discussed that poem in class created a fear (well, just a little) that persisted powerfully until my next jump and was significantly greater than any fear I had known on any previous jump, including the very first. But, I was barely eighteen on my first, and men that age usually have no fear. (Age and experience give birth to fear.) Just to make things a bit more "poetic" and as a means to conquer fear, I actually read some of the lines from Dickey's "Falling" on that next jump.
But, I am drifting again, in a manner of speaking. Like who cares, hah?
Back to the here and now.
I had been an archer and a bow hunter since I was a boy, and Dickey's thought was new to my experience at the time. It expanded my entire perception of hunting and, to put it bluntly, of killing. Not only that, but I expanded my range of thought from Dickey's archery to firearms and the flight of a bullet from the weapon to the target.
No, we are not going there.
My whirling and swirling mind connected these thoughts (abstract dots) with a song sent to me a few nights ago. It was "Nichts ist vollkommen" or, in English, "Nothing is Perfect," from and by Romanian Michael Cretu and Austrian Peter Cornelius, whose musical careers include association with Enigma.
Yes, there is perfection in many things and in many ways, my mind countered as it immediately entered into argumentative mode while listening to the song. I have made a few perfect shots (firearms, not camera) in my life -- once with a handgun at more than a half-mile and once with a rifle at a touch and a breath beyond a mile. (Into the "great beyond," one might say, with a laugh on his lips.)
Of course, this depends entirely on the definition of "perfect." In my illustration, if, at one hundred yards, I placed a rifle bullet into a target the size of an American half-dollar, is that not a perfect shot? But, some would counter, if the target had been considerably smaller -- say the size of an American dime rather than a half-dollar -- and the round was off just enough so it would have missed a dime by the width of a hair while still striking the half-dollar, would the shot still have been perfect?
Although that argument is not silly and worth putting forward, is perfection the difference between a half-dollar and a dime when the target was a half-dollar and not a dime? Once again, define perfect. Is not perfection accomplishing the intended goal in the prescribed manner?
Here, we will depart from Dickey and his Zen of the arrow and mine of the bullet. Maybe, we will discuss it and its ramifications another time. Probably, never -- at least never here. Maybe, in a novel.
In my own opinion, I also have experienced perfection once or twice or three times in stories I wrote as a reporter. They were well written, were factually accurate, with all details and elements covered and had no grammatical or typographical errors. Might someone else have written them better? Could be, but I do not think so. Written them differently and equally effectively, sure, but better? No.
Wandering back to James Dickey for a moment, while his personal life was most imperfect, I think a case could be made that "Deliverance" is a perfect novel. The subject matter puts it into a category which probably does not appeal to a vast audience, but, from my point of view, Dickey captures the "thin veneer of civilization" concept in a most definitive way and lays bare the essence of (or the lack thereof) archetypal, primeval man.
I prefer to think that perfection is like happiness. It comes and it goes. It is momentary. It can and does exist now and then, here and there, once in a while -- then it is gone again.