Stephen Marche argues in the New York Times that for all the business world’s embrace of failure, they’ve got nothin’ on writers…
“Fail better,” Samuel Beckett commanded, a phrase that has been taken on by business executives as some kind of ersatz wisdom. They have missed the point completely. Beckett didn’t mean failure-on-the-way-to-delayed-success, which is what the FailCon crowd thinks he meant. To fail better, to fail gracefully and with composure, is so essential because there’s no such thing as success. It’s failure all the way down.
At the center of this web of catastrophes and losses and despairs and mistakes sits a single, obvious culprit: the act of writing itself. In the best work, the intentions of the author fall away, leaving an open field for readers to play in, and they create meanings that may have nothing to do with the author’s. Jonathan Swift famously intended “Gulliver’s Travels” as an indictment of all humanity but ended up leaving a story for children. The joy of language is also a torment. “Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to,” Flaubert wrote, “while we long to make music that will melt the stars.”
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