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in praise of failure

May 20, 2009

Human beings have a tremendous capacity for failure and our failures take many forms. The range of literary failures available for our perusal should thus come as no surprise. Indeed, the field of failed works is immense—immense enough to make it nearly impossible to till the whole thing. So I have chosen to overlook second-rate writers and those who simply aren’t very good at their craft and have limited myself to discussion of remarkably bad works by remarkably good writers. The advantage of narrowing the field in this manner is twofold. For one, it helps me guard against readers who would suggest that I draw examples from my own writing. It also invites us to compare writers’ failures with their successes and in doing so, attempt to understand how literature and the minds that create it work. And, of course, don’t work.

Isn’t it high time we started thinking about all the crap good writers make? Wouldn’t it benefit us to understand the creators of these works and, as part of that understanding, pay homage to their moments of fatigue and inattention? After all, whereas perfect works, isolated by their completeness, hardly offer a hook on which to hang a critical thought, failed works offer insight into the intricate mechanisms of creation by which we might come to recognize the improbable alchemy that gives rise to great literature.  (read)

from How to Improve Failed Works
“Alas!” or “Wow. That Sucked.”
by Pierre Bayard translated by Suzanne Menghraj

2 Comments leave one →
  1. rjp123rjp123 permalink
    May 20, 2009 10:18 am

    Who is your favourite writer ?

  2. May 20, 2009 10:38 am

    Hmmm… interesting question in a post on failure… i am assuming you are referring to novelists, or at least i will limit myself to them, though i read fiction only rarely and in a very narrow genre, that said however the top of my list would contain such as Samuel Beckett, Robert Pinget, Thomas Bernhard, Peter Handke, John Banville, Irme Kertesz and J.D. Salinger…

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