Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Deconstructing Failure

One of my students inspired and humbled me today with an essay she was writing for a college application. In it, she suggested that failure was more important to her than was success; her assertion was that she learned more from failure, and that ultimately it was a more valuable experience.

This wise interpretation of life's setbacks had me thinking of the various setbacks I've suffered lately, and I continued to ponder it as I drove home. For a writer, every setback, every perceived "failure," is a slap to the ego, or so I have always seen it. And my ego has taken quite a drubbing over the years. :)

But if I apply Jacques Derrida's notion of Deconstruction, then I can look at success and failure as binary oppositions, with success being the privileged term. However, my students' interpretation of the two make failure the privileged term, and suggests that through failure, one learns, grows, and ultimately is more successful, so that failure itself guarantees a level of success.

However, deconstruction also asserts that language is ambiguous, uncertain, ever-changing, and that existence has no center. Derrida would suggest, I believe, that the undecidability of any text, including the one I just created above, implies a multiplicity of meanings, and therefore ultimately has no meaning, or at least not one ultimate meaning.

My brain hurts. And you'll have to make your own decisions about the notions of success or failure, but my young student has me leaning in a more optimistic direction.


Anonymous said...

But what exactly is "failure?" That's an especially tough question when talking about writers and publishing. The fact that a book doesn't get published, or doesn't sell well (or well enough for the publisher) doesn't necessarily mean that the writer has failed. It might, but maybe not. A couple years ago Mary and I wrote a book which, to me, was a total success in that it is in my opinion, more like what I hope to achieve in a book than anything we've yet written. But it hasn't sold and probably will never be published. A failure? Not in my estimation, not on our part.

Julia Buckley said...

That's so very true, Eric! The whole notion of failure versus success is a question of philosophy. I heard a quote from Thoreau on the radio as I was driving home, which was, paraphrased, "Make yourself rich by having few wants." I suppose the same can be applied to making yourself a success.

I think that the publishing industry, in some cases, makes us focus on "failure"--as in the harshly worded rejection letter.

So we must rise above, perhaps to the truth.