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Posts tagged failure

repost They also ran
a lens culture photography weblog post, 12 December 2008 :: first posted here 6 March 2009


In 2nd: The Face of Defeat, Canadian photographer Sandy Nicholson documents the competitors who are forgotten about and under-celebrated — the second-place finishers.

Nicholson visited a range of fierce competitions, including the Air Guitar Finals, the Dance Sport Championships, rodeos, a spelling bee, a hamburger-eating contest and The Pillow Fight League. Just after the competitions end, he photographs the near-winners. The results are at times heartbreaking and hilarious. . .

See more photos, and read the book review in Lens Culture.

from "Oscar alternative: The beauty of bad movies," by Rex Huppke, Chicago Tribune, 26 February 2010 :: via The Morning News

Duerfahrd recently brought his 29 students to the Music Box Theatre in Chicago for a special screening of the 2003 film “The Room,” widely reviled as the “Citizen Kane” of bad cinema.

“Everyone was talking during the movie and throwing things at it and chanting things at it and responding to it,” Duerfahrd said. “It was a beautiful event.”

Tommy Wiseau, director of the now cult-classic movie, was even on hand.

“The students all wanted to meet the man to blame for the movie,” Duerfahrd said. “It was more like a pilgrimage. Twenty-nine students wouldn’t have gone to see Spielberg or a successful director. They wanted to see Wiseau, this guy who made this horrible film.”

And that’s the heart of the professor’s respect for rotten movie making. It’s easy for us to watch and be entertained by a high-quality film. It’s a passive experience. Deriving enjoyment from a bad movie takes work, imagination and creativity – all the skills the bad movie’s creators failed to utilize.


“Most of the things that go on in our own life look like they’re out of a bad movie,” Duerfahrd said. “Forgotten lines, dropped engagement rings, poor acting. That’s what makes the bad movies so much like the life we lead.”

Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.

—Thomas Merton, in a letter to Jim Forest dated February 21, 1966 (via

from "Student Leaders Reflect, 20 Years After Tiananmen," by Louisa Lim, NPR, 3 June 2009

Zhang, the former journalist who brought the students to the square, has taken a different path. Once, he preached for democracy; now he preaches for Jesus. Formerly No. 17 on Beijing’s most-wanted list, Zhang today is a pastor at a Chinese church in Fairfax, Va.

After the clampdown, Zhang spent two years in hiding, much of it in a remote mountain cabin near the frozen Russian border, where he lived off wildlife that he caught. He also spent a month in a Russian prison. It was at that time that he found God.

“I read the Bible and began to know God,” Zhang remembers. “I gained sustenance from it. People really needed God then. They needed a future. I couldn’t see the future with my bare eyes.”

Zhang finally escaped China through Hong Kong and sought asylum in the United States. These days, he throws himself into ministering his flock. He is planning to build a 16,000-square-foot church for his congregation, which currently numbers about 300.

The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars. One of the basic and difficult lessons every artist must learn is that even the failed pieces are essential.

—David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear :: via Cool Tools,

from "That Synching Feeling," by Eric Felten,, 5 February 2009

“There’s too many variables to go live. I would never recommend any artist go live because the slightest glitch would devastate the performance,” [explained Jennifer Hudson’s producer regarding her prerecorded Super Bowl anthem.] His justification echoed Itzhak Perlman explaining why the all-star classical quartet at the inauguration was prerecorded. “It would have been a disaster if we had done it any other way,” Mr. Perlman told the New York Times. “This occasion’s got to be perfect. You can’t have any slip-ups.”

My, what a standard of perfection is now demanded. No longer is a good or even a great performance good enough. Now we must have performances free from the “slightest glitch.” And since no one—not even a singer of Ms. Hudson’s manifest talent nor a violinist of Mr. Perlman’s virtuosity—can guarantee that a live performance will be 100% glitch-free, the solution has been to eliminate the live part. Once, synching to a recorded track was the refuge of the mediocre and inept; now it’s a practice taken up by even the best artists.

excerpt Not as I do
from "The Truth about Hypocrisy," by Scott F. Aiken and Robert B. Talisse, Scientific American, December 2008 :: via 3quarksdaily

One surprising truth about hypocrisy is its irrelevance: the fact that someone is a hypocrite does not mean that his or her position on an issue is false. Environmentalists who litter do not by doing so disprove the claims of environmentalism. Politicians who publicly oppose illegal immigration but privately employ illegal immigrants do not thereby prove that contesting illegal immigration is wrong. Even if every animal-rights activist is exposed as a covert meat eater, it still might be wrong to eat meat.

More generally, just because a person does not have the fortitude to live up to his or her own standards does not mean that such standards are not laudable and worth trying to meet. It therefore seems that charges of hypocrisy prove nothing about a topic. Why, then, are they so potent?

The answer is that such allegations summon emotional, and often unconscious, reactions to the argument that undermine it. Such indictments usually serve as attacks on the authority of their targets. Once the clout of an advocate is weakened, the stage is set for dismissal of the proponent’s position.

business card holder, found by Kyle in Seattle, published as FOUND Magazine's Find of the Day, 30 October 2008 :: via FFFFOUND! (no relation)
excerpt A crying shame
from "Loving Where it Hurts the Most," by Nate Anderson, Christianity Today, 21 November 2008

With its pressed tin roof, scuffed wood floor, and the sort of chairs that make you glad the lights are dim, Cincinnati’s Northside Tavern looks an unlikely spot to see the world’s 65th-greatest living songwriter. It’s two hours past the posted showtime, and Mallonee sits on a chair near the door and tunes a duct-taped guitar as the sun falls behind the scruffy mix of vegan restaurants, Somali groceries, and Buddhist centers outside.

“Are you here to see Bill?” I ask the only woman who appears to be waiting for the music.

She looks toward the bay window that serves as a stage, a mirror ball dangling improbably overhead.

“Who’s Bill?” she replies.

In June 2006, Paste magazine ranked the hundred finest living songwriters and put Mallonee at 65th place—ahead of Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, and Michael Jackson. Mallonee gained some prominence in the 1990s as the lead writer and singer for Vigilantes of Love, but these days the brutal economics of the road have stripped him of a backing band; the entire tour operation now consists of Mallonee, his wife, and their black Scion.

At the Cincinnati bar, only a handful of patrons pay attention to the music. But Mallonee sings in signature style anyway, eyes closed and throat shaking out the words as though each syllable must first be wrested from the bone.

from "For Sale: 200,000-Square-Foot Box," photo and text by Julia Christensen, Slate, 19 November 2008 :: via GOOD/blog

The challenges of repurposing big-box stores are not limited to dealing with their unwieldy size. Often, the real estate can be tied up in complicated arrangements. The potential buyer of a big-box store might encounter any number of stipulations on what the building, parking lot, and land can be used for in the future. These stipulations can make it difficult for other businesses to move into an abandoned big-box—but they also open up such spaces for more creative use. The Calvary Chapel in Pinellas Park, Fla., purchased an abandoned Wal-Mart building across the street from its previous home. The deed specified that the structure could not be used by one of Wal-Mart’s various competitors for several decades. But for the moment, at least, churches aren’t on that list. Many former big-box stores have been reclaimed by civic institutions—a library, a courthouse—and by churches. Before moving into this old Wal-Mart, the Calvary Chapel had made its home in an abandoned Winn-Dixie grocery store across the highway.

from "Yearning After Books," by Thomas H. Benton,, 10 October 2008 :: via Alan Jacobs

Larry McMurtry, in his just-published elegy, Books (2008), evokes the narrative of decline and fall: “How did one of the pillars of civilization come, in only fifty years, to be mostly unwanted?”

For such people, the bookstore is more than a business. “We always wanted not just books but a shop,” writes McMurtry. He laments the disappearance of secondhand bookshops, and concludes with a list of booksellers, many of which are marked, simply, as “gone,” the way 19th-century newspapers used to list the casualties of the battlefield as simply “dead.” “The complex truth,” McMurtry writes, “is that many activities last for centuries, and then simply (or unsimply) stop.”

The most eloquent reflection I have found on the future of books is Alberto Manguel’s The Library at Night (2006), which strikes a balance between romanticism and realism, nostalgia and foresight. His reflections on books and technology emphasize complementarity rather than conflict: “The birth of a new technology need not mean the death of an earlier one: The invention of photography did not eliminate painting, it renewed it, and the screen and the codex can feed off each other and coexist amicably on the same reader’s desk.”

And, it may be that electronic technology is even more fragile than books. “There may come a new technique of collecting information next to which the Web will seem to us habitual and homely in its vastness,” Manguel writes, “like the aged buildings that once lodged the national libraries in Paris and Buenos Aires, Beyrouth and Salamanca, London and Seoul.”

from "The Long Defeat," by Alan Jacobs, The American Scene, 12 October 2008

Late in the book, when Kidder begins — and very skillfully too — to draw together the threads of his narrative and to sum up (as best he can) his understanding of Farmer, he notes Farmer’s fondness for a particular phrase: “the long defeat.” At one point Farmer says to Kidder,

“I have fought the long defeat and brought other people on to fight the long defeat, and I’m not going to stop because we keep losing. Now I actually think sometimes we may win. I don’t dislike victory. ... You know, people from our background — like you, like most PIH-ers, like me — we’re used to being on a victory team, and actually what we’re really trying to do in PIH is to make common cause with the losers. Those are two very different things. We want to be on the winning team, but at the risk of turning our backs on the losers, no, it’s not worth it. So you fight the long defeat.”

In an interview Kidder gave earlier this year about the book, he commented on the phrase, and says that Farmer “probably picked [it] up from reading Camus.” But that’s not right: he got it from what we learn in Mountains Beyond Mountains is his favorite book: The Lord of the Rings. Galadriel says it: “Through the ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.” And Tolkien himself, in letters, adopted and endorsed the phrase: “I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’ — though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.”

It seems to me that this philosophy of history, if we may call it that, is the ideal one for anyone who has exceptionally difficult, frustrating, even agonizing, but nevertheless vitally important work to do. For such people, the expectation of victory can be a terrible thing — it can raise hopes in (relatively) good times only to shatter them when the inevitable downturn comes. Conversely, the one who fights the long defeat can be all the more thankful for victories, even small ones, precisely because (as St. Augustine said about ecstatic religious experiences) he or she does not expect them and is prepared to live without them.

excerpt Chicken stock
from "Goodbye 1 Billion Salary Hello Campbell Soup," by Henry Blodget, Yahoo! Finance, 30 September 2008 :: via The .plan

Campbell Soup Co. was the only stock in the S&P 500 that escaped yesterday’s historic sell-off. That’s right: 499 fell, and just one rose.

Could there be a clearer metaphor for Americans refocusing on the basics after a decade of greed and excess?


Medicine | A medical journal says a vast amount of cancer research is never published, perhaps because clinical trials show the drugs or treatments didn’t work. That deprives other researchers of valuable knowledge. Why this happens: scientists, medical journals and drug firms all have an interest in touting breakthroughs and not failure. [Business Week, Oncologist]

excerpt Failed writers
from "Robert Giroux, Publisher, Dies at 94," by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt,, 5 September 2008

His ambition to write may have prompted an exchange with T. S. Eliot, then in his late 50s, on the day they met in 1946, when Mr. Giroux, “just past 30,” as he recalled the moment in “The Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes,” was an editor at Harcourt, Brace. “His most memorable remark of the day,” Mr. Giroux said, “occurred when I asked him if he agreed with the definition that most editors are failed writers, and he replied, ‘Perhaps, but so are most writers.’“