How much control is needed to give structure to failure in a creative project that takes failure as its reason for being? How much control is desired? How open are we to chance and to the agency of the nonhumans and materials involved in this complex process of transforming sound through synthesized DNA, plasmids, E. coli, and related technologies? Is failure really failure if it is intentional? These are the questions I'm asking myself today.
I am reminded of Patrick Blenkarn's "On Failure," which is a review of Sara Jane Bailes's Performance Theatre and the Poetics of Failure, but is really so much more than that.
Shout out to Blenkarn:
If Bailes and those who find inspiration in her work are any indication, the failure that fails at being a failure is unintentional failure--the failure that has no roots, that can’t be tracked, that doesn’t conform to any logic of progress and development (for which, ironically, Marxism, like capitalism, is guilty).
I have no doubt that, for some artists, all of this may be far too pedantic--or perhaps just too semantic. The openness to failure by many artists is likely grounded in something more pragmatic. Maybe it gets them in a certain mood in the rehearsal studio, a mindset for experimenting--feeling like they can do anything. So if that’s you, and chanting to yourself “Fail again. Fail better” (or “Fail again, Fail better”) helps you make whatever you make, then chant away. However, for those who are eager to champion a certain kind of failure as an idealized aesthetic, let alone politicized concept, we might at least consider provisionally (this being the key term) granting intended and unintended failings their own conceptual categories. A linguist might propose writing them failure1 and failure2, but we could also say faylure and feilure. For, like Bailes, I too believe that representations are key to helping us shape the world otherwise. But I would argue to include words in that sphere of representations as much as any other signifier. Any promotion of “failure” that does not attempt to nuance, and hopefully also trouble, this distinction between intended and unintended events, or recognize the implied hierarchies being setup in any “failure”-friendly context, seems an example of lazy discourse and lazy pedagogy--two qualities, I imagine, most of us would want to change if we could make a new image for the world.
Performance Matters 2.1 (2016): 99−105