Symptomatic Asymptotic Syndrome

To review:

An asymptote is a straight line (like an axis) on a graph which a curved line (like a parabola) approaches but never touches.  You can extend that curve into infinity, and the distance between the curve and the straight line will get narrower and narrower, but it will never be zero. (I think I got this backwards in the book.  2nd edition.)

As Wikipedia puts it, since our experience of lines is pencil on paper or pixels on the screen, it's hard to remember that lines in Math World have no width at all; thus our understanding of asymptotes requires an "effort of reason rather than experience."

We work through the cycle of ABORTIVE ATTEMPTS/GESTALT/SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION, and our goal—we think—is to make our painting/short story/ballet/cocktail perfect.



Our work is asymptotic.

Then again, here's Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his First Circle:

"Now listen to the rule of the last inch. The realm of the last inch. The job is almost finished, the goal almost attained, everything possible seems to have been achieved, every difficulty overcome — and yet the quality is just not there. The work needs more finish, perhaps further research. In that moment of weariness and self-satisfaction, the temptation is greatest to give up, not to strive for the peak of quality. That’s the realm of the last inch — here, the work is very, very complex, but it’s also particularly valuable because it’s done with the most perfect means. The rule of the last inch is simply this — not to leave it undone. And not to put it off — because otherwise your mind loses touch with that realm. And not to mind how much time you spend on it, because the aim is not to finish the job quickly, but to reach perfection."

So which is it: we never reach perfection, or we keep pushing through that "final inch" until we do?

It is not necessarily a paradox.  As we work through GESTALT, the final shape of the project becomes clearer and clearer until we finally realize there's no more work to be done.  It's time for ABANDONMENT.

The problem comes when we can't allow ourselves to recognize that — perfection not being possible in this dull sublunary world — it's time to quit. We keep pushing and pushing through what we think is the final inch when all we're really doing is spinning our wheels.

We don't trust ourselves, we don't trust the work, we fear ABANDONMENT.  And so we nibble and scratch and dabble forever.  We have succumbed to Symptomatic Asymptotic Syndrome.

And when that happens, we're no longer artists.