03 July 2014

Thought for the day: perfection and simplicity

A quote from Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s Wind, Sand and Stars (which I found in an interview with the landscape photographer Andris Apse in the current issue of fll magazine):

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

I like that: it seems to have all sorts of applications. Apse quotes it in relation to his search for perfection in photography, but it could equally well apply to writing. I can certainly think of any number of books that would have been improved by judicious use of the red pen.

Beyond the realm of the creative arts, it reminds me of the process of abstraction that is necessary in solving most physics problems. Back in the dim and distant past when I taught physics, it struck me that students most often got into difficulties because they didnt simplify enough.

And, come to think of it, it could also be an expression of Franciscan simplicity – that radical process of self-emptying which cuts away all the clutter, internal as well as external, until all that is left is the image of God.

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