August 6, 2014

Fourteen quotations on failure

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He identified with what are usually called failures, he said. But what, he asked, is a failure? Perhaps a man with less than all the talents imaginable, but talented, more talented than many successful men. He has those gifts, he said, but he does not make use of them. He wastes them. So, he said, in essence he wastes his life. He was fascinated by all of those failures who wander around, especially on the fringes of the intellectual world, always with projects and books they mean to write, he said. There are many, he said, all over the place, but some of them are very interesting people, especially when they get older and know themselves well. I would search them out, he said, when I was young, as one seeks out the wise. There was a fellow, for instance, that I used to see often. In Poland. This man had made a career of being a student at the university, without ever being able to make up his mind to take the exams that he needed to finish his degree. In fact he left the university just before getting a degree in mathematics and had then left his fiancée waiting for him at the altar on their wedding day. He saw no particular merit in finishing anything. One night, Tardewski tells me, we were together and they introduce us to a woman that I like, that I like a lot. When he observes this he says to me: Ah, but how is it possible? haven’t you noticed her right ear? Her right ear? I answered him: You’re crazy, I don’t care. But then, take note, he told me, Tardewski. Take note. Look. At last I managed to look at what she had behind her ear. She had a horrible wart, or a wart anyway. Everything ended. A wart. Do you see? The guy was a devil. His function was to sabotage everyone else’s enthusiasm. He had a deep knowledge of human beings. Tardewski said that in his youth he had been very interested in people like that, in people, he said, that always saw more than they needed to. That’s what was at issue, he said, at bottom: a particular way of seeing. There was a Russian term, you must know it, he tells me, as I understand you are interested in the formalists: the term, in any case, is ostranenie. Yes, I tell him, it interests me, of course; I think that’s where Brecht got the idea of distancing. I never thought of that, Tardewski tells me. Brecht knew a lot about the theory of the Russian formalists and the whole experience of the Russian avant-garde in the twenties, I tell him, through Sergei Tretiakov, a really notable guy; he was the one who invented the theory of literatura fakta, which has since circulated so widely, that literature should work with raw documents, with the techniques of reporting. Fiction, said Tretiakov, I say to Tardewski, is the opiate of the people. He was a great friend of Brecht’s and it was through him that Brecht surely found out about the concept of ostranenie. Interesting, said Tardewski. But returning to what I was saying, that form of looking that I would call ostranenie: to be always outside, at some distance, in some other place, and thus to be able to see reality beyond the veil of custom and habit. Paradoxically, the tourist’s vision is like that, but so too, ultimately, is the philosopher’s vision. I mean, he said, that philosophy is definitely nothing other than that. It is constituted in that way, at least since Socrates. “What is this?” Right? Socrates’ questions everything, continually, with that sort of vision. That aberrant lucidity, of course, makes them sink deeper into failure. I was very interested in people like that, in my youth. They had a devilish enchantment for me. I was convinced that those individuals were the ones who exercised, he said, the true function of knowing, which is always destructive. But here we are at my house, Tardewski says now, going up to open the front gate.
- Ricardo Piglia, Artificial Respiration



Failure is a mystery. A man does not mesh somehow with time-place. He has savy, the ability to interpret the data collected by technicians, but he moves through the world like a ghost, never able to find the time-place and person to put anything into effect, to give it flesh in a three dimensional world. I could have been a successful bank robber, gangster, business executive, psychoanalyst, drug trafficker, explorer, bullfighter, but the conjuncture of circumstances was never there. Over the years I begin to doubt if my time will ever come. It will come, or it will not come. There is no use trying to force it. Attempts to break through have led to curbs, near disasters, warnings. I cultivate and alert passivity, as though watching an opponent for the slightest sign of weakness.
– William S. Burroughs, Interzone



Failure exists in Relation to goals. Nature has no goals and so can’t fail. Humans have goals, and so they have to fail. Often the wonderful configurations produced by failure reveal the pettiness of the goals. Of course we have to go on striving for success, otherwise we could not genuinely fail. If Buster Keaton wasn’t genuinely trying to put up his house it wouldn’t be funny when it falls down on him.
– Cornelius Cardew



Everybody knows that failure is the key to everything. But then what’s next? If we know that failure is the way to get anything done that feels good, then it’s about getting the space to imagine the actual utopia that follows it. So yes, fail, but also allow yourself to imagine what could come next – not the perfect world inside of this world, but the perfect world that seems impossible. That is the thing that I hope comes out of a million failures.
– Erin Markey



I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.
– Michael Jordan



Lacan is not this kind of poet of failure. The truly traumatic thing is that miracles – not in the religious sense but in the sense of free acts – do happen, but it’s very difficult to come to terms with them. So we should reject this idea of a poetry of failure. For Lacan, Real is not this kind of Thing-in-itself that we cannot approach; Real is, rather, freedom as a radical cut in the texture of reality.
– Slavoj Žižek



You’re going to make some mistakes. Every time you make something that somebody likes, your impulse is to remind them that if you hadn’t made some of these other things that they hated, you wouldn’t have been able to make the thing that they liked. The attitude toward the stuff they don’t like is so extreme because they don’t understand the role that it has in your development.
– Steven Soderbergh



The almond tree with its white blossoms teaches him that fruition is a sign of completion, the moment of failure to which everything aspires. The trees have fulfilled their cycle, turn white, click off, and die.
– Fanny Howe, The Needle’s Eye



I assumed that everything would lead to complete failure, but I decided that didn't matter – that would be my life.
– Jasper Johns



Success and failure are greatly overrated. But failure gives you a whole lot more to talk about.
– Hildegard Knef



There's nothing that gets my heart going like the sense that I will fail.
- Miranda July



The greater the success, the more closely it verges on failure.
– Robert Bresson



If at first you don't succeed, failure may be your style.
– Quentin Crisp



Never a failure, always a lesson.
– Rihanna



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