In Pursuit of Perfection

My sometime blogs are infrequent, I know, and that’s not because I have no appetite to jot down my musings. This is something I do every day—all day long, in fact—in my notebooks.

My erratic blogging I put down to a surfeit of pressure placed on my shoulders. The pressure to create an edition of YES & NO. The next edition will be Number 8—the last of Volume 2. As soon as one edition’s done and sent out in the world, the next one looms on the horizon. And the challenges and excitement start all over again!

Unwilling—actually it’s something I feel incapable of—to create a magazine that isn’t of the accepted standards, the very high standards I put in place a long time ago, I lunge myself into the work at hand.

When the bar is set so high, one cannot aim one’s eye beneath it. It would be foolish to do so. And, in any case what would be the point? The challenges I face when approaching a new YES & NO demand that I give it my all—100% focus and concentration. This is the ideal. The reality is that daily, hourly, I am bombarded with a plethora of stuff; and this stuff never goes away. It’s all important of course when one looks at the bigger picture. But often it’s a distraction when one is trying to commit one’s mind to the complex business of putting together a YES & NO edition. 

Sometimes I think it requires a super human strength to block out everything that isn’t crucial to the magazine’s creation. It’s an impossible task. Ordinarily, I collaborate with around 100 individuals on any single edition of the magazine. This doesn’t take into account the planning for future editions.

Why so many people? How so many people? This isn’t just the individuals featured within the pages of the magazine, it’s also the scores of people behind-the-scenes; the people in the background, all of whom are as dedicated to achieving the highest possible standards for YES & NO as those that will be featured inside.

The goal isn’t just to create a great magazine. Though that’s a given, it’s something I never take for granted. The goal is also to create a unique publication. Each edition of YES & NO has its own identity. It’s not themed in the way many other magazines are, but it is structured in a way that makes all the stories fit together and resonate hopefully in some meaningful way. I probably don’t always get this right, but that’s the aim, at least.

Along the way, every detail needs to be checked and double-checked. My mantra is, “Excellence is in the detail.” It’s through these details that the stories find subtle and nuanced connections—either through common threads or underlying ideas and concepts or, formally, through image, colour or other outward appearances as distinct from the content.

One is striving for perfection in the full knowledge that in human terms perfection is impossible to achieve. One can only really ever achieve an illusion of perfection, and that’s absolute. But that doesn’t take away from the thrill of the pursuit of it. Nor does it diminish the desire to create something perfect. And, I am happy to say, everyone who gets involved in YES & NO shares this singular desire.

We continue to strive for unobtainable goals. What else can be done? Lower the standards? For the sake of what? For the mediocre? That’s not an option. Admit defeat, out of human failings, and settle for easy solutions? Don’t think so.

Why is it that some people push for the heights, while others give up at the first hurdle of difficulty and end up settling for a ‘could’ve been’? What differentiates between those that do, and those that don’t?

Stanley Kubrick, arguably the most iconic filmmaker of the second half of the twentieth-century, had a reputation for being a meticulous perfectionist to the nth degree. I never met the man, but people I speak to who worked with him are unanimous in testifying to the veracity of the myth, the enigmatic aura that’s become mainstream since his death in 1999.

Whether one is a fan of his films or not, he didn’t make that many over his five decade career, most people have a ready-made received opinion about his modus operandi; it’s so much a part of the popular culture, I need not go into it further here.

The first Kubrick film I saw in the cinema was 2001: A Space Odyssey. I was around 6 at the time. Of course I didn’t know I was watching ‘A Stanley Kubrick Film’, I just remember thinking I had been magically transported to outer space. It was like a dream. This feeling was compounded in my young mind against the backdrop of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing. I say young mind. It was also a mind that was already bursting with a fertile imagination. Quite like most 6 year olds…

Undoubtedly Stanley Kubrick is now a bona fide brand. A household name—not just for his films, but for who he was as a filmmaker, and as a man. The Kubrick ‘brand’ is propagated through all the available channels of the Age of Mass Media. And after nearly two decades of talk of a major retrospective of his life and work, the show has finally come to London Town at, of all places, the Design Museum. When I saw the exhibition, a few weeks back, I couldn’t help think about the building’s former use as the Commonwealth Institute—indeed it had been built for the purpose in 1962. The Design Museum, an interesting choice of venue for Stanley Kubrick…

The last time I had been to the Commonwealth Institute was in the early 1980s when I saw Aswad play a gig there. It seemed bizarre to me at the time that an English reggae band should play in a place like that, and bizarre still, now that it’s been repurposed as the Design Museum. But I guess Noël Coward wasn’t kidding when he wrote his play ‘Design For Living’ back in 1932.

The new YES & NO will hit newsstands soon. In the meantime, please feel free to sign up and become a YES & NO subscriber. Your support is welcome—indeed it’s needed for an independent magazine such as this to survive—and, by way of thanks, our subscription deals save you dollars on the cover price.

Kubrick’s camera — one of many

Kubrick’s camera — one of many

Dawn of Man? From “2001: A Space Odyssey”

Dawn of Man? From “2001: A Space Odyssey”

Scientific Man—Kubrick Merchandise

Scientific Man—Kubrick Merchandise

YES & NO