On failure

Can failure be success? I tell my kids that failure is just a way of narrowing yourself down to success, like scratching off an item on the old to-do list. I failed 10 times in the last week to make that poem work, but now those possibilities are eliminated and I’m closing in on what does work. Of course, it just feels like shit at the time. And sometimes there are not enough years left to wade through the failures to find success, but I don’t tell them that part. A new book looks at the history of failure and how it’s used to work towards success.

“Fail again. Fail better,” wrote Samuel Beckett in what has become a familiar mantra in the world of business and tech start-ups – along with ‘Fail fast, fail better’ – where the notion of failure as a route to success has taken a firm hold. Recent years have seen a similar preoccupation seeping into literature, particularly in the memoir sector. Karl Ove Knausgård devoted several autobiographical volumes to everyday failures in My Struggle, and since then there has been a deluge of ‘fail-lit’, both in fiction and non-fiction. Could failure be the new literary success? And if so, doesn’t that mean it’s not really failure at all?

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